Spring to Fall: Gardening Across the Seasons


Aunt Ruby’s Green Tomatoes

The changing angle of the sun, shorter days and cooler temperatures signal that Fall is sneaking up. It also tells me it is time to reflect over the past six months and the gardening adventures. This year, starting in March, I went all in with starting seeds indoors and setting up a series of indoor greenhouses outfitted with grow lights. As discussed in my previous post, it was quite the production, including multiple trips to various stores, to get it all set up.


Hardening off the tomato and pepper plants

It then got tricky. The seedlings had grown into solid leafy plants but the fluctuating weather meant that I had to wait until after Mother’s Day in mid-May before I could safely plant outside in the community garden plot and at home in my patio container garden. So we spent the good part of a month “hardening off” all the plants to get them ready to go outside. This hardening off process was a feat in and of itself because although I was able to use our two outdoor unheated greenhouses, there were many a night where the temperatures would dip too low for tomato and pepper plants.


Outdoor unheated greenhouses

The challenge was these plants were getting quite big and had already outgrown the indoor greenhouses. So I had to find another home for them when they needed to be shuttled from the outdoor greenhouses where they resided during the day back to the safety of the house at nights.


Hardening off process. Using a bedroom for overnight protection with unpredictable temperatures in April and May.

I ended up taking over my son’s bedroom where the door could be shut to prevent Hagrid the cat from digging up and destroying the plants. (Previous years’ experience told me he could take on five plants and eviserate them in 15 minutes flat.) The benefit of my son’s room is that I could open up the window out to the patio and hand the plants to my husband who then carried them to the greenhouses. Then we reversed the process the next morning. Tedious? Yes. But necessary.


Compost. Ready for use.

We then got the community garden plot and the containers at home ready. We used our own compost and compost tea that we had pulled from our Envirocycle composter and collected in empty cat liter plastic tubs. I’m a fervent composting booster. We compost everything we can. It’s very easy because we have a colorful ceramic canister on the kitchen counter and just drop in appropriate food waste in it.


Rotating the compost from holding bin to Envirocycle composted.


Compost tea.

Then my husband takes it out to an old scuba box that he had buried in the backyard. It has two compartments so we can rotate. Then when one side is full, we scoop it into the Environcycle composter, add dry leaves that we had collected from our yard and give it a spin periodically. Then when the compost is ready, we store it in the cat liter tubs. The tea is made from the droppings and is collected in a bin under the rolling part of the composter.


Community Garden Plot.


Taking an iPhone break in the Community Garden Plot.

Over a series of weeks, we began setting out the plants in the community garden plot and in our home patio garden containers.

This year’s harvest was bountiful to say the least. I am a huge fan of the Hudson Valley Seed Library. From now on, that is the only place I will get my seeds from. Not only are the seeds of high quality, the packaging is fun. There are “art packs” with vibrant colored artwork that differs from pack to pack. I just LOVE these seeds and the art. Here is the link to their website: http://www.seedlibrary.org


Baby Bok Choi.

We planted baby bok choi seeds indoors. In previous years, I tried to direct sow the seeds but did not have success. This year, the seeds loved being started indoors and when I transplanted them, given they tend to bolt when the heat starts, I put them in containers on my patio so I could move them out of the direct sun when needed. Also, since they also do not like really cold weather, I rolled them into the outdoor greenhouse and put a row cover over them when the nights got too cold.


Brilliant Beets.

My family loves beets. So we planted seeds indoors from the Brilliant Beet Blend. I had read conflicting reports on whether it was a good idea to plant beet seeds indoors since they can easily be direct sowed into the ground once the soil is ready to be worked. But I was on a planting frenzy and decided to give it a go. I am so happy I did. My beets got a great head start and were ready early. In addition, I went ahead and direct sowed beets later around the existing beets. I had beets all summer and still do. We had beet salads, pickled beets and I froze many for use in the winter.


Two varieties of Kale.

I also went ahead and started indoors two varieties of kale: Vates Blue Curled Kale and Dino Kale. In the past I would direct sow the seeds but with the varying weather and heat, it was a mixed bag. I also planted Silverado Chard. The key to getting healthy chard is to keep on top of the bug problem. There is a beatle that comes around fairly early in the season and will damage the leaves. But if you frequently check under the leaves for the eggs and scrape them off, then all is well. There is also a beatle that likes Kale and later in the season they can nearly swarm the plant. But these all can be picked off too. The key is to be vigilant and check leaves and pick off the pesky bugs.


Donation bin: “Produce for the Community”

This year I had more kale and chard than I could keep up with. So I gave away some of my plants to fellow community gardeners. After I had frozen enough to get us through the winter, and the harvest was nearly overwhelming, I brought in bags for my colleagues at work and also donated bags to our local food kitchen. My husband built a bin at the community garden for folks to donate extra produce and every morning after dropping me off at the Metro to catch the train to work, he stopped by and picked up the donations and took them to the food kitchen. In past years I often felt overwhelmed with the combined produce that we grew ourselves and the weekly community supported agriculture share from our local farmer. But having the food kitchen donation was perfect.

IMG_3298The tomatoes were amazingly hardy and productive. In past years, the blight, being a common problem in our region, was a constant battle. But this year it was not so bad because we had a surprisingly mild summer and the humidity was not as oppressive. I grew Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Goldie, New Yorker and Mama Leone. I had an abundance of fresh tomatoes throughout the season (and still going even now).

photo-3The peppers were just as successful. I grew King of the North bell peppers and Gatherer’s Gold Sweet Peppers from seed. I also picked up a sweet banana pepper plant at our local nursery. With the harvest, I was able to fill up my freezer with homemade pasta sauce and salsa as well as can whole tomatoes for the winter.

IMG_0529Of course I had lots of basil and have lots of pesto cubes in the freezer. Finally, as in past years, I had two shelves of herbs, strawberry plants, spinach and lettuce on the patio. In the community garden plot, I grew a few cucumber plants to ensure a supply for pickling.

The community garden plot and my home container garden is starting to slow down but still producing. I figure we have another four weeks or so before it will be time to call it a day and clean up for the winter. I had planned to do some Fall planting but frankly am worn out. It has been six very active months, my freezer is absolutely full, I still have some pickled cucumbers left from last year and I have canned enough tomatoes to get us through the winter.


Pulled from the composter: a few vegetables that sprouted and looked like little compost creatures ūüôā

So all that I planted is some lettuce. I am going to conduct an experiment to see how they do in the indoor greenhouse and then the outdoor greenhouse when the weather dips. So with that, I am bringing this gardening season to an end.


Hagrid jumped in the little greenhouse as soon as I had removed the seedlings.


To Everything There is a Season


It’s that time of year again. The winding down of the vegetable garden. I always feel a mix of emotions including relief, sadness, satisfaction and exhaustion. The cycles of nature are tracked through the work of a gardener. The fall brings a sense of transition with hot weather plants browning and struggling to eek out a few more red tomatoes and healthy peppers. ¬†It also brings out the gardener’s lowering energy levels that come with shorter days and the preceding six months seemingly non-stop activity of planting, harvesting, canning and freezing. Then the cool weather plants of swiss chard and kale are growing at a moderate pace calling the gardener to keep moving. For reasons that are beyond my understanding, my fall lettuce planting was a big bust. Two times up planting seeds, two times I struck out. A few beets are keeping up but the rest of the seeds that I planted are a no show.

So all in all, my fall planting crop is a mixed bag. But I am too tired to worry about it. I’m in that space between memories of spring/summer energy that gets me through cleaning up the garden to visions of winter hibernation on the horizon. As my own leaves turn a lovely hue of orange, I’m being called to curl up with a good book, and well, read about gardening instead of doing it.


The Community Garden plot before the grand clean up


The Community Garden Plot cleaned up. Getting ready for the cold frame installation.


Calvin returning from the Community Garden Plot on his bicycle


A straggler eggplant


Calvin and me outside the Community Garden


The final tomato harvest. Now what to do with all the green tomatoes…….

Saut√©ed Kale with Kohlrabi


This week’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery included two Kohlrabi bulbs. ¬†I had no idea what to do with them as I have never cooked with Kohlrabi and don’t recall ever eating one. ¬†I also had mounds of Kale from my Community Garden plot. ¬†So what to do? ¬†I entered Kohlrabi and Kale into my search engine and up popped a recipe that sounded perfect. I learned that both vegetables are from the same family (brassicas) so work nicely together. ¬†I was sold. ¬†So I tweaked the recipe a bit and tried it out on my family today.

Here are the ratings from my husband Patrick and son Calvin:

Calvin ***** (five peas)

Patrick: *** (three peas)

Sautéed Kale with Kohlrabi


  • 1 1/4 pound kohlrabi, bulbs peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds kale (2 bunches), stems and center ribs discarded
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup salted roasted pistachios, chopped


Slice kohlrabi into 1/2 inch slices.  Then slice each 1/2 slice into quarters.  Then slice in half each of these quarters.

Whisk together lime zest and juice, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss kohlrabi with dressing.

Finely chop kale. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Sauté garlic until pale golden, about 30 seconds. Add Kohlrabi. Sauté for about 1 minute. Then add kale by the handful, turning and stirring with tongs and adding more kale as volume in skillet reduces. When all of kale is slightly wilted, sauté with 1/2 teaspoon salt until just tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Add pistachios.

(I adapted this recipe from the September 2009 edition of Gourmet magazine.  The original recipe can be found at  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Sauteed-Kale-with-Kohlrabi-354974#ixzz2Vkse5HPE)

Garden On!



Post winter clean up of community garden plot. Chard and Kale in the back growing well post removal of the winter cold frame tunnel. Planted lettuce under the floating row covers.

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow! Everything is planted and ready to go. My garden crew and I spent the past month and a half clearing out the community garden plot and patio pots, weeding and planning what to plant.  (Garden crew aka my husband Patrick and son, Calvin, age 9).

The swiss chard and kale planted in the Fall were doing great under the low tunnel cold frame so we pulled off the plastic and set them free. The strawberries planted the year before last were back and doing well.  So was my thyme.  Then we planted lettuce and sorrel seeds under the cucumber and squash trellises, thus providing shade once the vines start their trek upward.


Greenhouse with the parsley that had been over wintered, the tomato seedlings from the nursery that were biding their time until planting and my newly planted basil and cilantro seeds in pots.

Next came beets and onions and a few seeds to begin replanting the swiss chard and kale. That was it for the “cold”weather planting. ¬†So I started planting a few things in the greenhouse including basil seeds and cilantro seeds. I also kept back a few herb pots that I had over wintered until I felt they were ready to leave the protection of the green house.

Then I began my yearly period of angst trying to predict the weather and our last frost. ¬† Every year, I know better but can’t help myself. I know that mother nature has her own rhythm. ¬†Then of course global warning throws in a few curves just to remind us that we cannot control mother nature. But after a long winter, I just so want to plant my “warm” weather plants: ¬†tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and squash. I know that to do it too early will result in stunted growth and vulnerability to disease at best, ¬†and maybe even premature death of the plant. But to wait too late could mean the plants won’t have enough time to root and get settled before the wicked summer heat settles in. So I need to work with the predicted last frost dates, my intuition and chance and hope for the best.

Calvin taking a nap at the garden nursery....

Calvin taking a nap at the garden nursery….


Community Garden Plot

So this year I split the difference and planted tomatoes at home in my patio garden early (and ended up covering them with row covers and bedsheets a few nights of a cold snap) and waited to plant in my community garden plot.  The lettuce and sorrel were already growing strong. But eventually I could no longer wait to plant my warm weather crops so went ahead and planted my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and squash in the community garden plot.

At the same time, I also added the peppers, cucumbers and squash to my patio container garden.  Okay, I guess I got a little ahead of myself, perhaps, and had to run out (well, Patrick did for me :)) and cover it all ever so tenderly with row covers and plastic bags to survive the freak cold snap two nights, but hey, it was worth it. Everything was planted just before a major rain storm period started and YES all was good.

Patio Container Garden

Patio Container Garden

I know from experience that planting on a gray day before a period of rain is golden.  It gives the plants a great head start. Then a few days of rain and next thing you know, the plants are well rooted and seem to double their size overnight. So all is well in garden land. We have been harvesting the lettuce and enjoying fresh salads each night. And this is just the beginning of the growing season. Garden on!

Lettuce in community garden plot

Lettuce in community garden plot


Herbs in patio container garden


Lettuce, basil and lavender in patio container garden


Strawberries in patio container garden


Swiss chard and kale that had over wintered in the tunnel cold frame, plus beets and onions that I planted this spring.


Harvested lettuce from community garden plot.

Peppers, Eggplants and Tomatoes, Oh, My!

A trip to the community garden this past weekend resulted in the harvesting of a few white eggplants called “ghostbusters,” a purple eggplant called “little fingers,” multiple beautiful banana peppers and a few tomatoes. Together with some garlic and onions from my last Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery and mixed herbs from my patio garden, all of these fresh out of the garden wonders were chopped up. ¬†Then the peppers, onions and garlic were slowly sauteed with olive oil until tender, then combined with brown ground beef and slowly cooked for quite a spell. Salt and pepper made their grand entrance to the mix during the cooking process. Using my lovely Le Creuset french oven pot, the eggplant was then layered with the meat/pepper/onion/garlic mixture and put in the oven for more slow cooking. Result: ¬†Poof! yummy creation. ¬†Well, more like a drawn out “poooooooooof,” given the slow cooking process, but you get the point.

This Week's CSA Delivery

I am so totally loving this summer of harvesting and cooking. Now I just need to get moving to find new recipes because this week’s CSA delivery arrived last evening and my community garden plot and patio container garden are both on the verge of an eggplant, tomato and green bean explosion. Oh. my!

Giving the Eggplants a Little Love

Eggplants Today

I love everything about eggplants. ¬†I love their beautiful purple color, especially the Ichiban variety’s purple stems and most amazing flowers. ¬†I love the many varieties and sizes. We even planted a white variety (Ghostbuster) this year. What I particularly love is that they are happily growing like crazy in my community garden plot. I am blown away because in past years, my eggplant yield was less than ideal.
Our community garden has a listserv and someone posted today a question on what the plotters did who have eggplants that are nearly pick-able.  Here was my response:

"Hello my Eggplant. You are Beautiful!"

Greetings from Plot #14.  We planted quite a few eggplant varieties this year to see how they would do and hope to have them ready to harvest on a rolling schedule.   The Little Fingers and the Ichiban are doing really well and a few are near ready to pick. One Little Fingers plant has about 9 going with some really big ones and others just starting.  The Ghostbusters (white) are just beginning to peak out. The other varieties are just now barely starting to flower so much further behind the others.    So I think it depends upon the variety.    

We have grown eggplants in containers on our patio in the past and did not get the number that we are getting now. ¬†I am thinking it could be because the plot gets full sun all day and the eggplants like that. ¬†We got them in the ground a week and two weeks after the plot opened. ¬†We worked hard to really prepare the soil deeply for the roots to have growth space and with a lot of hand tilling, crumbling the clay into small chunks, removing rocks and clots and working it with fully done compost from our home composter bin plus some Maryland’s Leafgro from the Takoma co-op. ¬†Then when things started to get going, we gave them some¬†compost tea¬†from our composter. ¬†Then after planting, we added a bit of leafgro to the top as a dressing. Once it got really hot, we put a light layer of mulch around things (Mulch from¬†Takoma Park city). ¬†

Show 'em a Little Love

One more thing. ¬†We talk to them ūüôā ¬†Sounds funny but I talk to them as I water and weed and admire them. We visit the plants frequently to see how they are doing, water when needed, etc. ¬†Maybe showing a bit of love is the key. Who knows but talking and visiting them frequently doesn’t hurt ūüôā¬†

First Tomato Harvest

Tomatoes, Cubanella Peppers and Basil

The first tomato harvest of the year! What a difference a little, well a lot, of sun makes. Growing tomatoes in my home garden has been tough because  my side yard gets limited sun and my patio container garden gets about half of a days worth of sun. My community garden plot, on the other hand, gets full sun all day. The difference in production is amazing. My tomatoes at home are growing slowly but still green. The tomatoes in the community garden plot are growing like crazy and turning red in half the time.  The cubanelle peppers could have grown a bit bigger but I could not wait (well, Calvin would not wait).  So we picked them. We also harvested more basil (there types as shown in the photo above) and created our second batch of pesto. (See earlier post for recipe.)

Can’t wait for the tomato production to get to the levels that I can start canning as we go rather than do the summer end canning with purchased tomatoes. My plan is to can only the community garden tomatoes and combine them with the weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery. Maybe, just maybe, there will be enough tomatoes to make and can spaghetti sauce too! ¬†Woo hoo! Well, I better not get ahead of myself…..

“It Makes my Heart Happy”

First Tomatoes Turning Red

I stopped by my community garden plot this evening to check in. To my sheer delight, I had tomatoes turning red, eggplants growing and peppers harvest ready. It seems that the last two days of heavy downpours, followed by sun, helped the garden out.

As I left the community garden, a woman approached me. Gazing over the garden plots, she said that when she looked at all the things growing, it reminded her of her home country and how they grew vegetables. I asked her where she was from and she said, Ghana. We spoke excitedly about the power of gardening and farming and she said that in Ghana, everything her family ate came from their own plot. She asked how one could get a community garden plot and, concerned that she worked during the week, how much time it took weekly for me to keep my plot up.

I told her all about the process of getting a community garden plot through the county and how I tended my plot around my full-time +¬†work schedule. ¬†She then paused, gazed once again over the community garden, and with a joyful facial expression said, “It makes my heart happy to see this!” ¬†I agreed. It makes my heart happy to be part of this amazing opportunity to plant, grow and cultivate from my own community garden plot. I got back in my car and as I drove away, we waved to each other¬†and smiled, acknowledging the joy in our hearts.


Bell Pepper

Banana Pepper

Little Fingers Eggplant

Cubanelle Pepper


Building Community

Wisdom comes at unexpected times. I stopped by my community garden plot today to give the plants a drink of water in advance of the heat advisory level temperatures pushing into the 90’s. My plot borders the community garden front fence. ¬†A sidewalk lines the other side of the fence and whenever I am working in my plot, I see and greet people who periodically pass by. Sometimes I am asked what is going on in the area and how someone else could get a similar plot. Sometimes I am engaged in conversation and offered gardening advice, as I was two weeks back when a kind gentleman warned me that my plants were inaccessible and I needed more walkway space in between my rows of plants. (Ever since then, as I work from the walkway spaces to weed and pull suckers from my tomatoes, I smile and mentally thank him, as he was right.) ¬†So today a gentleman stopped and asked me the routine questions about what is going on and how does one get a plot. ¬†Then he asked if he could come in. I let him in and, as he surveyed my plot and the other plots, I could tell he did not approve.

He told me that he was from Sierra Leone.  (Sierra Leone is a country that continues to rebuild after being ravaged by war. A few years ago, I landed by plane in Sierra Leone on my way to Liberia but we only stopped to let off passengers and then went on our way.) He told me that he had horticulture experience and that what we needed to do was to get together as a community and agree upon a certain crop that we would all grow.  Then we should rotate our crops each year and plant something else.  He described how rotating crops helps to prevent infestation and disease.  Otherwise, he said, we would be encouraging bacteria and bugs to get cozy in our garden year after year and eat our crops.

You know, he said, the problem with people here, is that they do their own thing, focus on their own ideas. ¬†They separate out and stay to themselves. They don’t know their neighbors and don’t work together as a community. Translating this to the garden, he said that by doing their own thing in a community garden, people fail to successfully yield the level of crops they want. Worse, they end up destroying the land and the future crops. ¬†But if they collaborated and worked together toward a common purpose, they would all succeed together and harvest much more.

I was struck by the simplicity of his words. ¬†Moreover, I was struck by the wisdom of what he was saying in that I thought about how we promote “rule of law” abroad yet each organization or country comes in with their own ideas on how it should be done. ¬†Each works independently and separately from the other organizations and countries. Then we wonder why progress is not made. ¬†Or worse, why things in some cases deteriorate on the justice and security front.

As I was working through these parallels in my mind, he went on.  You know, he said, I used to go out to the countryside of my country to help the people grow more crops and share with them ideas on how they could do that. He explained how he was from the city and educated and how he knew that due to the conditions in villages, if he ate the food, he would get ill.  But he said that he could not go into a village and refuse the food because that would be an insult and he would not succeed in building the trust needed to help increase their ability to grow more food. So he said he used diplomacy.  If the food had salt, he would say that his doctor  would not let him eat salt for his health. Then he would have a good reason not to eat the food and all would be well.  He said it is important to use diplomacy to make a difference and not cause barriers to getting development work done.

We exchanged a few more words and then he left.

I stood there for a few minutes and smiled and mused about how lucky I am to have the community garden that is not only growing vegetables, but is also growing community. It has been so rewarding to share tips, ideas and time with my fellow plotters. I’m thankful that it has created the doorway to such unexpected encounters with passersby, not only enriching ¬†my gardening but my work in peacebuilding as well.

Dispatches from a Tent

I am in a tent. In the backyard. Camping with a seven year old and an eight year old. Calvin and Lila (and a gaggle of stuffed animals) are having a sleepover. This is after an evening where we decided to plant some pumpkin seeds, have a BBQ in the backyard, play some music for our own dance party and then pitch a tent and camp out. So here we are. Me with my computer.Calvin and Lila giggling, chatting and telling ghost stories and entertaining themselves with shadow puppets.

Lelia Hauling the Tomato Stakes

While they are entertaining each other, I will relay the happenings of the day. My friend Lelia came over today to join me in the community garden. In the morning, we walked over to the plot. Calvin with his scooter. Me pulling the wagon filled with potting soil and watering cans. Lelia hauling a bunch of large poles for the tomato plants. We installed the poles and took time to do some weeding.

Me Hauling Soil

Lelia Enjoying the Soil

Then Calvin, Lelia and I went to the nursery. Lelia picked up a few eggplants that we would plant for her in the plot. Calvin picked up a venus fly trap to join his other two at home. Three is company. I picked up some Thai and fragrant verigated basil plants to plant in the community garden plot. Calvin and I succumbed to the lure of colorful knee pads (after the morning spent on our knees on the hard ground yanking weeds) and picked up a bright green and pink one for me and a red and yellow one for him. Then I grabbed some bean and basil seeds. Lelia found a houseplant for herself. Then we were off.


After we dropped Calvin off at home, Lelia and I continued on the gardening marathon and traveled to Lowe’s hardware store. We were in search of a pot for Lelia’s houseplant because the prices at the nursery were insane and I knew that Lowe’s had the best pots for the best price. We found a very nice glazed ceramic pot for Lelia as well as a plant stand. Then we picked up a few strawberry plants for Lelia to plant in the plot. I grabbed some bricks to create a barrier between the planting area and woodchips. ¬†Then added a trellis for the beans that would be planted in the community garden plot. All was well in garden purchasing land until we got to the car and attempted to put the trellis in the car. After trying various positions and entry points, it was clear that it would not fit. So after a moment of thinking that we would need to return the trellis, I realized that we could put the trellis on the roof and tie it down. But then what would we tie it down with? Oh! The tomato ties, of course. I had purchased tomato ties and could use them to tie the trellis to the roof. ¬†And so we did.

Then we left Lowe’s, stopped at the store to pick up a few things for the BBQ and headed home and arrived just when Lila and her parents were arriving. And we have come full circle from the beginning of this entry: planting pumpkin seeds, BBQ, dance party and camping out………….it’s after 10:00, they are still awake…….getting extremely silly, a sign of hitting the over-tired zone……..gotta go and get them to sleep………….