About elzbthc

I am a Graphic Artist and The Tomato Lady in the Spokane Valley, WA. I love creating beautiful things, horses, quilting, traveling, sightseeing, cooking, entertaining, and reading among other things.

Container Gardens

I think out of all the things that I know, this is my favorite subject to talk about. It is my heart for everyone who wants a garden, to be able have a garden, no matter how small. Something therapeutic about growing your own food and flowers.

Whether life’s circumstances have forced you to move someplace where you don’t have room for a massive garden like you had back on the farm or you’re getting up in years and can no longer take care of one, you can still have a “pot of posies”. Preferably with a vegetable sharing the real estate.

Containers are great. They can be moved around if you don’t have enough sun (put them on rollers), you don’t have to weed much, if you move, you take them with you, your food is closer to your back door, and the list goes on. Another nice thing about container gardens is you can brighten up your sitting area.

You can grow herbs, vegetables, and flowers in them. Patios, balconies, porches, anywhere you are getting some sun, although there are flowers that do like shade. I grow lettuce in pots and while they can’t take deep shade (think maple tree) they will take dappled shade and some sun in the morning.

“Rules”

There are some definite “rules” that I tell all my customers:

  • The BIGGER the pot the better (more soil volume, less drying out, less watering. less leaching of fertilizer)
  • Always make sure there is DRAINAGE in the bottom (if your plant is wilting despite consistent watering, it is probably growing and you forgot to put in drainage of some sort)
  • NEVER use garden soil in them, ALWAYS use a quality potting mix. (garden soil is not your friend in a pot, it is heavy and creates an environment where beasties can flourish)
  • WATER consistently and frequently, on hot days it will probably be every day (see first “rule”)
  • FERTILIZE frequently, depending on the plant, half or quarter strength once or twice a week. Read the labels. (It is harder to fertilize organically, and Miracle Gro has never been known to grow a third eye. Just saying)
  • Provide ADEQUATE SUN or SHADE. Know your plant and only plant those that like the same conditions in the same pot. Cool or hot temps, sun or shade, dry or wet.(impatiens and pansies are bad companions, as are fuchsias and petunias)

Containers

The sky is the limit when it comes to what kind of container to use. We cruise garage and estate sales for pretty and inexpensive pots. Having a limited budget, I can’t afford to buy those $150 containers that I drool over at the garden centers, so I try to find them gently used at a more reasonable price.

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Old cooking pots make great containers; soup pots, stock pots, teapots, coffee pots and old blue-spotted canners, I like to use colanders to plant my lettuce bowl (perfect drainage).  Broken pots can be used in the garden. Old black plastic tubs that used to hold trees and large shrubs can be had from landscape businesses, old wheelbarrows, really old washing machines, tubs, horse troughs, wooden barrels, large heavy-duty plastic planting containers, metal gutters, watering cans, metal pitchers, you get the gist of it.

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Just be sure to put holes in the bottom. Make sure that you choose a large one if it is going to be in the sun all day. I have a bit more freedom to use smaller and cuter pots (such as the turtle, snail and “flower bed” pictured below} for shade plants because that won’t dry out so fast.

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My next post will be about what to grow in these pots. Did you know that I actually grew carrots in pots last year? Stay tuned for that.

 

How Do I Start A Victory Garden?

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There are really a lot of ways to start a garden. Search online for things like straw bale gardens, lasagna gardening, square foot gardening, container gardening, edible gardening, no=till gardening etc. I will cover in-ground, raised bed, edible landscaping and container gardening. These are methods I am familiar with,

In-Ground
If you have a plot, small or late in the backyard that gets 8 hours of sun and is accessible to water, you can start there. Clear the ground of weeds and or grass. an easy, but time-consuming way, is to lay newspaper or cardboard on the ground cover and let the weeds smother. It does take some time to accomplish this. As someone who didn’t take the step to remove the grass in the area I wanted to put a garden in (I just rototilled it in), I advise you to not skip this step. Trust me.

Dig up the area, using a shovel, rototiller or tractor. (We wish we had a tractor!) Dig as far down as you can go, 12″ or more if possible. Roots on some veggies need to go down quite a ways. Apply organic fertilizer such as composted cow manure, horse manure or compost (if it smells like manure, it isn’t composted enough, it should look and smell like dirt). You can use bags from the store or ask your local farmer or landscape supply company. Work it in thoroughly. Smooth it out with a rake. Lettuce, carrots, beets should be planted in a row, squash and melons do best in mounds, corn does best in large blocks etc. Read the backs of your seed packets or search online for the particular vegetables ou want to grow.

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Raised Bed Gardening
For me, this is far superior to in-ground gardens. We have extremely rocky soil and it was a nightmare for us. We went to raised bed gardening in our entire plot. We still tilled where we placed our beds so as not to develop a hardpan situation when we brought in our three-way mix.

You can use a lot of things for building the beds. Wood is very pretty but you will have to replace it sooner than later.  You don’t want to use railroad ties or other treated lumber since you don’t want it to leach into the soil. We used standard cinder blocks and capped them with pavers. Worked very well and we won’t have to replace them, plus, we have something to sit on as we weed, and the soil warms up faster in the spring. the pavers keep the weeds from growing up but if you were so inclined you could -plant flowers in the pockets. We laid down a weed block between the rows, followed by bark. Eventually, weeds will sprout but they are a lot easier to pull out! Fill with a three-way mix from a reputable supply company. Depending on the size (make them no wider than 4′ for ease of planting and weeding, you can comfortably reach from either side) and quantity of beds, you will need yards of this stuff.

Every year, we clean up the dead plants and spread mulched leaves from our trees in the fall and let it sit over the winter. In the spring, we put an average of two large wheelbarrows of composted horse manure on them and my honey turns it over with a shovel. That is the only time, human feet step into the beds. We avoid walking in them when possible to keep from compressing the soil. My beds are all 4′ across and vary in length.

This is my motto: “If you take of the soil, it will feed your plants”. I almost NEVER have to add additional fertilizers.

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The last thing I want to talk about is Edible Gardening. Vegetables can be pretty. Lettuce comes in many colors and shapes and makes excellent fillers. You can plant them in your flower beds amongst the perennial and shrubs. Just ensure that they are not shaded out by other plants.

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My next post will discuss container plantings and then we will cover veggies that are perfect for them.

 

Revisiting The Victory Garden

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I have always enjoyed gardening. Flowers for the soul and vegetables for the belly. For me, there is nothing more soothing and joyous than picking fresh beans or squash for the supper table with a side of colorful flowers in a vase to brighten my day.

People have always gardened for food, since the beginning of time. Their goal was to feed their families. Today, we can buy any kind of produce any time of the year (thanks to worldwide markets and transportation)  in our local grocery stores. I wouldn’t say that everything tastes great but it is available. Back in the day, if. you didn’t grow, you didn’t eat.

It is important to know where your food is from and how it was grown. Poor hygiene in the fields is pretty common. Several times last year, you couldn’t eat Romaine lettuce because of some nefarious pathogens. There are many examples of this kind of thing.

If you grow your own veggies you can control what fertilizers or pesticides are used on them. You don’t need to wax them to keep them fresh. Nothing tastes as good as a sweet, juicy Sungold cherry tomato straight from the vine, warmed by the sun.  Or a crisp, crunchy cucumber you discovered hanging from a vine at the back of the row.

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During World War I, there was a food shortage. Initially called the War Garden Movement, people were encouraged to grow their own. Here is a quote from an article on the history of the Victory Garden,

“. . . advocating that civilians “Sow the seeds of victory” by planting their own vegetables, the war garden movement (as it was originally known) was spread by word of mouth through numerous women’s clubs, civic associations and chambers of commerce, which actively encouraged participation in the campaign. Amateur gardeners were provided with instruction pamphlets on how, when and where to sow, and were offered suggestions as to the best crops to plant, along with tips on preventing disease and insect infestations.” To read more click on the link:  https://www.history.com/news/americas-patriotic-victory-gardens

With our “shelter in place” orders and possible food shortages, you too can have your own garden. it is a relaxing way to spend the time. Feed your family and if you have an abundance, feed your neighbors!

You don’t need a half-acre or a large garden plot in your backyard to accomplish this. Containers are ideal for those with balconies, small patios, or small yards. The only real thing you need is at least 6 – 8 hours of sun and the ability to keep them watered. There are things you can grow even with partial sun and veggies/flowers that like cooler weather.

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This is the first in a series of posts that will help you to grow your own vegetables and flowers. I will talk about types of containers, growing in the ground, types of veggies best suited for various conditions, etc. Stay tuned.

You may find that after this crisis is over you will still want to grow for fun!

 

Concerning the Virus And Our Tomato Business; We Will Still Be Selling

This is primarily for customers who come to the house and/or the Garden Expo

Good afternoon! Despite the virus situation plaguing our country, we will still be selling plants; tomatoes, peppers, flowers, and veggies. I am transplanting out in the greenhouse and will have some numbers of plants soon. Right now, I am transplanting the third wave of seeds. I was going to do another wave of seeds but right now, I don’t know if the Garden Expo will be canceled or not. My goal is to have 3100 larger plants and around 2000 plus of the smaller plants. We hope to open on April 15th, fingers crossed. You are still welcome to come to the house and browse. I am considering for those of you who are high risk, of filling your orders and running them out to the car for you, or making special appointments where you are basically here alone. My problem is having an area that is warm for putting an order. Obviously, it would have to be picked up immediately, at least within 24 hours. Not sure yet how that is going to look. I feel that with the run on the stores, it’s still more important than ever to control your food source, plus it is most gratifying to grow your own healthy food. I will be sending out an email and putting this on my website and blog when I can get to it.

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Winter Has Raised it’s Snowy And Cold Head For The Weekend!

Just when we breathed a sigh of relief and started looking forward to an early spring, Old Man Winter has come for a brief visit. Two days ago, we in the upper forties, last night it was 15 degrees out at night and maybe it got to 23 in the daytime. Tonight is supposed to be cold also and the wind? It has been blowing like crazy. Brrrrrrrr.

I was going to start transplanting into gallon pots but that needs to be done outside for reasons of my potting station is too big to bring into a greenhouse. I also need to transplant the 2000 or so babies that are under lights in the house and are rearing to go.n Too cold to take them out to the greenhouse. The good thing is we are going to back in the low fifties by Wednesday!

seed greetings r manceseed greetings mayan jaguar 2My cards are called Seed Greetings – Why Send Just a Card When You Can Send a Gardenlettuce-spinach-collage---1

My cards are called Seed Greetings – Why Send Just a Card When You Can Send a Garden?

Meanwhile, I am doing inside work, as in making these nifty little cards with seeds in them (that includes using photoshop to turn my pics into watercolors and working up instructions sheets), getting ready to work on the website, organizing and making large display tags, organizing my vegetable seeds etc. All while watching out my window as it dusts snow over everything.

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Costoluto Genovese and Costoluto Fiorintino: Old Heirloom Tomatoes from Italy

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Costoluto Genovese The fluted, old Italian favorite that has been around since the early 19th century. Fruit is rather flattened and quite attractive with its deep ribbing. This variety is a standard in Italy for both fresh eating and preserving, and known for its intensely flavorful, deep red flesh. They were also one of the varieties planted at Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello in 1809.

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Costoluto Fiorentino Heavily ribbed (costoluta) flat Italian heirloom beefsteak type from Florence. Red, 12-16 ounces slightly flattened fruit. Outstanding taste. Large, vigorous, indeterminate plant with good production. Similar to Costoluto Genovese but slightly flatter and higher-yielding.

Costoluto refers to the distinct flattened, heavily-ribbed shape of various Italian heirlooms. Both of these tomatoes are shaped like this. some of my customers don’t like the ribbing but I think it is pretty and the taste is good. There is a reason these are heirlooms!

Both these pics are from my garden the year that I grew them.

Latah, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Shoshone: New Tomatoes from The Tomato Lady

We have some new tomatoes that I was just tickled to find. They were developed locally at the University of Idaho. Latah, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Shoshone, I have great expectations for these four. Here is what I found on the Snake River Seed Cooperative site. I discovered this company only just last year. I was happy to find seeds that are bred to be acclimated to our region, (although there are many microclimates in this area). I also believe in buying local whenever I can. This is what the Snake River Seed Cooperative has to say about themselves and their seeds (the short version):

“Snake River Seed Cooperative is a collective of family farmers in the Intermountain West who work together to produce a wide diversity of locally-adapted seeds.”

 

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LATAH Early, productive, and yummy variety bred by University of Idaho–perfect for containers! Latah county growers Kelly and Russell Kingsland grow this little gem, and they offer this description: Compact determinate. Bred at UI (in Latah County), Latah is well suited to Idaho’s cooler nights and relatively short growing season. A prolific producer of 2-3 oz, delicious well balanced, red fruits with good texture.

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MOSCOW The largest of the U of I bred tomatoes. Good slicer and canning tomato. Not the earliest of the U of I bred tomatoes, but certainly the largest. Big, indeterminate plants spit out dozens of large, 4-5″ red fruits good for slicing and canning. Almost lost to the ether but for a Utah gardener who kept it as his main canning tomato.

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SANDPOINT The smallest and earliest of Idaho bred varieties…great for containers! Extremely early variety bred by the U of Idaho in the 1960s. Small fruits range from cherries to saladette size, on very compact plants–excellent for containers, and for short-season areas.

Want a bumper crop of tomatoes? Listen to this guy

SHOSHONE Early-ripening Idaho-bred tomato! Compact plants with lots of round red fruits! Of all the varieties bred by the U of ID in the 1960s, Shoshone tied for the earliest harvest and blew the standard early-ripening varieties out of the water for taste, compact plant size, and productivity. Excellent for containers and small spaces. Fruits vary in size from cherry to large saladette tomato.

Keep in mind that I haven’t grown these yet in my garden so these aren’t my pictures. They are ones that I found in doing an internet search. Next year they will be my own. I love taking lots of pictures of everything I grow. Most of them I am pretty proud of.

I hope that these varieties will help some of my more northern customers be more successful with their tomatoes.

Insights Into How I Run My Business – The Tomato Lady

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Every year I try to be more organized with my business. I ask myself questions like these:

  • What do I want to offer this year?
  • What tomatoes or peppers did I not like?
  • What do my customers want?
  • Are there any new and astounding introductions that I need to try?
  • How much soil and germinating mix do I need?
  • Do we have enough stock of the amendments we incorporate into our mix?
  • When do we want to open?
  • When do we need our other greenhouses up?

And then I have to think about updating the website, doing research for descriptions, pictures, making large tags, small tags, marketing, doing the bookkeeping/taxes . . . etc.

I think one of the biggest concerns is figuring out how far back to plant the seeds so they are ready at a certain time. It doesn’t matter whether they are tomatoes, peppers, flowers or veggies. When I first started my business, I planted everything on March 17th. That didn’t work out so well. I had ginormous plants in small pots. (We called them trenching tomatoes!)

One variable we can’t control (a big one) is the weather. Since we grow ours as close to nature as possible, we heat only to keep them from freezing. We don’t grow ours as the bigger operations do with climate controls for even temperatures. It gets hot, it gets cold. (I think that is why ours do really well here in our part of the world). When the sun comes out, even if it is cold outside, it heats up very quickly. Cooler temps encourage root development so they have a stable base to start reaching for the stars when it gets warmer. We have had some of our varieties grow a foot in one week! (I know that sounds great but that is not good at all).

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My dining room becomes the seed starting room for several months. Shelves, fluorescent light banks, germinating mix, water jugs, seed packets, plant lists, pixie stakes, anything needed for planting. It is quite the mess! This is the room we use for our game nights twice a month, needless to say, we are relegated to the living room playing Scattergorries or Charades for several months.

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This year we are going to try and have 2500 gallons for sale. That is 1000 more than last year. They are easier to keep happy, don’t require as much water (don’t dry out) and have a BIG headstart over the ones in the smaller pots. That is really important in my part of the world where there every other town/location seems to have a different growing zone! Our weather. isn’t really consistent. sometimes we have a long growing season, sometimes we don’t. Last year we had a frost/snow late September. One year it didn’t get ugly until November. All it takes is one frost and your plants are done, it doesn’t matter if we have two months after that of temperate weather. With some varieties, it is important to have the headstart.

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Take the Pink Brandywine. It has a long growing season and really needs the extra two months. I have found that it is not the size of the plant but the maturity of the plant that determines whether you harvest something or not. Pineapple is another one that benefits from this, as do a lot of the bigger heirloom varieties. We will still have our regular pot size.

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I just finished my first cup of coffee and as I contemplate going out to transplant some more tomatoes, I am glad I could tell you some of what I do and how I do it.

I know this is a long post but I wanted to share some of the workings and thoughts behind being an “urban farmer”. It’s not all fun and games and takes quite a bit of planning and thinking and of course hard work! To the gentleman who said that farming is a no-brainer occupation, I’d like to invite him to put himself in my shoes and the shoes of every other farmer out there and let him see how hard it really is! It’s not as simple as digging a hole and dropping a seed in it. I use a lot of gray matter to grow my business!

 

Pepper Varieties: Glow and Volcano Candy, Sweet and Spicy

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Glow

Glow is a sweet pepper that caught my eye as I was thumbing through the catalogs. It literally looked like it was glowing. Amazing.

Since I haven’t grown these yet, I have to rely on the descriptions I read.

Tapered, thick-walled, 2-3 lobed fruits are 4-5″ long and are deliciously sweet and fruity. Medium-size plants yield well. Early and easy to grow in diverse climates.

It’s cute that people tell me they want and orange (or red or yellow) pepper. They say the green peppers don’t agree with them. The reality is that most peppers start out green, when they mature, they turn color. That is why the green ones in the store are so much cheaper, they can be picked earlier, leading the way for more peppers to form.

 

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Volcano Candy

One of my husband’s new favorites. We grew these for the first time last year. originally named, Devil’s Kiss, we took artistic license and renamed them. Volcano Candy. Dark red, round fruits, very prolific, somewhere between the heat of a jalapeno and a habanero. The husband says they actually have a peppery fruity flavor and that if you cut them and removed the seeds and membranes, the flesh wasn’t hot at all. They look like cherry bombs. We kept this growing in our greenhouse (along with our Yellow Bull’s horn) long after the first frost and it did well until mid-December when we decided to pull the plant. We just couldn’t keep the greenhouse warm enough to maintain their health.

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October 11, 2019, My husband standing next to our Corno di Toro, still growing strong in the greenhouse with its friends.

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Notice how the leaves are starting to droop. 
They got worse as the month went on. At first, I thought it was a lack of water but their fruits were just as firm as ever. I realized it was temperature. Peppers come from warmer climates after all.

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Corno di Toro (Yellow Bulls Horn) Here is a picture of what we harvested on December 22 right before we pulled the plant. That pepper is 7 inches long. Believe it or not!!!!

Hello Spring! (I think)

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One of my many harvests last year. Wishful thinking!

it’s been very cold here or maybe I am just getting older. Lots of sunshine and the birds are starting to make melodies so I expect it to be considerably warmer than it feels. I go through this every year right around February.

I have transplanted 0ver 900 pepper plants already and they are snug as a bug in a rug in our “pepper greenhouse”. I planted 62 varieties this year and will be showcasing some of the newer and favorites on this blog in the future.

As for tomatoes? This year I have over 200 varieties, by far the most that I have ever done. Last year I had 178 and wanted less. Yup, you can blame it on the catalogs. With their pretty pictures and fantastical descriptions such as “the best tasting”, “brilliant color palette”, “earliest for northern regions”, “most prolific”, “an heirloom older than dirt” etc. (the last one, not really, but it sounds like something someone would say.)

I got rid of some I didn’t like or that were hard to sell and of course, kept my favorites and the favorites of my customers. In all, what with taking away and adding, I have 203 varieties. Uh huh, that is a lot! I order mostly from seed catalogs like Seeds n Such, Totally Tomatoes, Tomatofest, Harris Seeds, Johnny’s Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, and others. I also peruse our local Northwest Seed and Pet for their offerings. This year I found some seed by Snake River Cooperative, Shoshone, Moscow, Latah and Sandpoint, seeds developed in our area by Idaho State University. I am anxious to try those and see how they do.

As with the peppers, I will showcase some of the tomato varieties also.

This is my busy season, buying and researching seeds, ordering supplies, figuring out a planting schedule, making big and little tags, ordering preprinted tags, planting and transplanting babies, updating the website, organizing marketing materials and email lists, creating blog posts, watering, fertilizing, arranging heaters and keeping an eye on the temps, taking cuttings and rooting them, to name just a few of my responsibilities

Good thing I love what I do!.