Early in the spring I dug up a pretty big plot for my first garden. It was about 6×7 feet. I dug up all the grass by hand, turned all the dirt over by hand, sifted out the rocks by hand. I picked up a few bags “Garden Soil” from Home Depot and mixed those in too. Sometime after the last frost in April or May (I don’t remember exactly when) I put in a selection of plants:
- 2 big tomato plants labeled “Heirloom Beefsteak” with a picture of big juicy tomatoes on the tag
- 1 “Cherokee Purple” tomato plant, that was supposed to yeild big purple fruits
- 1 “Mr Stripey” tomato plant with a festive picture of yellow and orange striped tomatoes
- 1 Cherry tomato plant (I don’t remember the name of the cultivar)
- 1 Serrano pepper plant
- 1 Cowhorn pepper plant
- 1 small thai pepper plant (claimed to be an ornamental but the little peppers tasted good and had a zing to them)
- 1 Cantelope plant
- 1 Cucumber plant
- 1 stupid little mystery pepper.
I planted the cantelope and cucumber plants close to the edge of the garden and encouraged the vines to grow out into the surrounding lawn to avoid crowding. The tomatoes were probably a little closer together than they should have been and a few times over the summer I had to go out and do a little pruning to keep them from bunching and encouraging enough air flow. The pepper plants had their own little corner, but towards the end of August the remaining tomato plants were starting to invade and threatened to choke the peppers to death.
I say “remaining tomato plants” above because a few weeks ago I totally hulked out and smashed a few of them to death, chopped them into pieces, and angrily tossed those pieces into the compost pile.
How did my first garden as a first-time homeowner turn out? Not well.
The cucumber grew aggressively and became a huge unruly plant in only a matter of weeks, but it seemed like fruit didn’t set until a little bit later than usual. I got one decent sized cucumber off the vine before it got totally consumed by some kind of disease. Early on the plant was covered in little bugs that looked like yellow lightning bugs. I didn’t pay them any mind at first but after the plant started getting obviously sick I looked them up: Cucumber beetles. They don’t cause too much harm themselves but they are a transmission vector for nasty things like blight and cucumber mosaic virus. Great. I cut off the vines that were completely diseased and tried to salvage the last few cukes, but they all turned yellow and had a real spongy feeling. Since I didn’t know what they were sick with, the vines and all the cukes ended up in the trash instead of the compost. What a waste.
The cantelope, despite being right next to the cucumber and susceptible to many of the same ailments, didn’t seem to get any disease during the summer months. It set it’s first fruit later than the cucumber did (not until early August did I see the first ones). At it’s peak it had about a half dozen cantelopes growing, but none of them got very big. Only three of them got anywhere near ripe, and all of those three split open after a late August rain storm and were inedible. I didn’t get a single bite of cantelope for all my efforts, but at least this plant looked healthy enough to compost. Silver linings!
The two beefsteak tomato plants I got grew to be huge bushy monsters, but something was missing: Tomatoes! The two of them, despite being the biggest plants in the garden, didn’t set a single tomatoe until mid August, and the ones it did set were small, ripened extremely slowly, and were prone to splitting. By the beginning of September we had only gotten two small tomatoes from these two plants combined, and there was nothing on them worth waiting for so I went completely crazy and ripped them out by the roots. I also said some cursewords and kicked some things.
The weird purple tomato plant produced more tomatoes, but they also ripened extremely slowly, were prone to splitting and the vines always had a sickly look to them. We got one or two off this plant and there are still a few more big green ones on the vine that might be waiting for until the end of the season. The weird yellow-and-orange tomato plant progressed similarly, producing maybe three or four through the season worth eating. I ripped this one out at the same time as the beefsteaks, because there was nothing on the vine that I expected to be ripe and edible before the end of the month.
The cherry tomato plant was the standout star. Despite being in the same exact soil less than a few feet away from the other poor performers, it’s produced a pretty large crop of very sweet and tasty little tomatoes. At some points we had so many cherry tomatoes that we didn’t know what to do with, that we started making all sorts of things that typically required some larger volumes of tomatoes: salsa, bruchetta, pasta, etc. Encouraged by this performance, I fully intend to grow more cherry tomato plants like this next year.
This picture shows the huge clusters of tomatoes I still have on my little cherry tomato plant. In the background you can make out one of the larger “Purple Cherokee” tomatoes starting to ripen. These are the only two tomato plants that I haven’t ripped out in an angry rage.
The Serrano and Cowhorn peppers both grew well and produced good crops of peppers. We don’t eat a lot of peppers (Dana doesn’t really eat them at all) so I had the good problem of having more than I knew what to do with. I mixed up a few small jars of pepper relish, have a few cowhorns hanging up to dry, have a jar full of serranos in vinegar to make hot sauce, and have plans to make some pepper jelly with the ones on the vine right now. I’m letting this next crop of Serranos ripen fully and turn red before I make the jelly.
This picture shows the cowhorn and serrano pepper plants right next to each other, with several from each plant ready to be picked. The cowhorns are on the left. The serranos are pickable now, but I want to wait a little longer for some of them to turn red.
The little thai pepper plant produced a crapton of beautiful red peppers, but they were too pretty and too much effort to harvest so I’ve left most of them on the vine. It’s a gorgeous plant, but I probably won’t grow this one again because the peppers are too small and just don’t have enough kick or flavor to make the enterprise worthwhile.
I’m already using this information to help plan out what tomato varieties I want to grow next year, now we just need to get through the long winter months!