Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

by Celia Hayes

I was inspired by an old blog and Facebook friend, Katie Barry, to have a go at making home-made ketchup this weekend. I had often intended to try it before, as this condiment is one that we (as Katie points out in her own housekeeping blog) all have in our condiment collection. I was put off some of the recipes for it in my own collection of canning books, because they called for simply awesome quantities of fresh tomatoes, and unless and until my garden starts producing tomatoes by the ton … well, I like fresh home-grown tomatoes too much to condiment them. But Katie’s recipe started with canned diced tomatoes, and I thought … oh, that is doable. One six-pound can of diced tomatoes from Sam’s Club, and I am in business. I took a recipe from one of the canning books, since I do want to can the resulting ketchup for later use … and I would also like to duplicate the splendid spicy Whataburger ketchup, too. Excellent stuff that is, but home-made might be even better. On consulting the listing of contents on the label of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup it seems that the secret ingredient is red jalapeno pepper puree … and red jalapenos were not available in my local HEB … although I may have my own from the garden in a month or so, by allowing the jalapeno pepper plants to ripen all the way. But I had it in mind to make ketchup this very weekend, and I thought that adding a smidgeon of smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would certainly amp up this batch to an exciding degree of spicyness.

So – amend the recipe in Sunset Home Canning for spicy ketchup, by using canned diced instead and pureed the entire six-pound can of diced tomatoes with a whole onion and one peeled and seeded red bell pepper … which had been peeled, sealed in Foodsaver bag and frozen.

Simmer and reduce the resulting puree over medium heat for about an hour or until reduced by half. Tie into a piece of clean cheesecloth 1 ½ teaspoon each of mustard seeds, black peppercorns and dry basil, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, one dried cayenne chili pepper, a large dried bay leaf and a 2-3 inch length of cinnamon stick. Add the spice bag to the reduced tomato puree with ¾ cup packed brown sugar and ½-2 teasp. Paprika. Continue to simmer, lowering heat gradually and stirring frequently as it reduces to approximately 1 quart. In the last fifteen minutes, I stirred in ½ cup cider vinegar, which had been pureed with 1 3-oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Salt to taste – and we agreed that it did have a rather pleasant chipotle smokiness. If it had been just for myself, I would have put in another 3-oz. can. It came out to three pints and a bit – the recipe said it would yield two pints. Likely I could have reduced it a bit more, but it did seem quite thick enough already. Katie’s recipe called for powdered herbs and spices, rather than the whole version steeped in a cheesecloth bag. I’ll experiment with this in the next batch, and see if it makes a difference in flavor.

I poured it all into three sterilized pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. The extra bit went into a plastic freezer container – waste not, want not. It came out a very nice red color, and a bit grainer than the commercial version – but well-worth the effort and the Number 10-can.

2014 Garden Update

Maytime Revels in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Having been pretty serious about watering the garden every day – and that it rained buckets for a couple of days – the back yard veggie garden is looking pretty darned good this week. The beans have pretty well covered the tipi of poles arranged for their climbing convenience, and the bush beans have so far been somewhat productive. I have several batches of them going, having started them at different times since March 1. The tomatoes go up – or hang down in fairly impenetrable thickets, and we have this very week harvested the first couple of handfuls of cherry and tiny yellow pear tomatoes. The resident rat has nibbled at one or two … but I think that putting out the trap for him will put and end to that nonsense within a couple of days … before the seriously large heirlooms ripen.

Even so, the tomatoes in the larger hanging planters are covered with grape-sized green fruit, and the tomato plants in the raised beds of hardware cloth or chicken wire are doubled that, so the rat will have to be the size of a cocker spaniel in order to make much of a dent in them … but it’s still the principle of the thing. I didn’t spend more than $50 at Rainbow Gardens and about the same at Lowe’s for a nasty furry rodent freeloader to come along and help himself. He’s already helping himself to some of the pepper plant and eggplant leaves, too – biting them clean through the stems – and last week the most nearly ripe yellow banana pepper was eaten, every scrap but the stem. I had plans for that banana pepper, too. Think of the rat as a walking dead rat.

This year I took a chance on a couple of tomatillo plants – which have grown to near-shrub size, and adorned with little green balloon-like tomatillo husks … but as of yet, no evidence of tomatillos. Likewise with the bed of squash; two sorts, the round green patty-pan sort, and some kind of Lebanese zucchini variant. The plants are huge and sprawling, with some flower buds on them, under the leaves. I did send away from some specialty seeds for French gherkins, so that I can make proper cornichon pickles. It worked out to about .17 cents per seed, for a teeny packet of about twenty seeds – but they have also burgeoned to the point of climbing energetically their own tipi-arrangement. Note to self – save one of the resulting gherkins and allow to go to seed … for next year, of course.

The frost-killed shrubs that were planted originally to attract humming-birds have come roaring back as well. The back garden looks so very pleasant now – after the barren wasteland that it was in January and February – that I was moved to bring home some cans of pastel spray paint and re-do the café table and chairs in colors that matched the house, or trim and some of the pavers. The café set was a bargain from Big Lots, bought these many moons ago because they were attractive, sturdy and relatively cheap, but the colonial red I had painted them then had gotten faded and began to chip. Really, I think my next project will be to reclaim the back porch as a pleasant place to sit and view my garden bounty.

And did I mention the apple tree? Yes, I found an apple tree – but now I have to plant another one, so they can pollinate each other.

Gardening March 2014

Planning for the Garden

By Celia Hayes

Once more into the breach, my friends; with the date of the last predicted frost in South Texas historically being in mid-March, it’s time to get started with vegetables. Indeed, the local HEB began putting out vegetable starts late in February, when the temperatures became so balmy and mild that I was seriously tempted in indulge – after all, $1.00-1.25 for a four-inch pot with a healthy young plant in it? Yes, I was eager to enter the fray once again, after last years’ disastrous tomato-growing debacle. It was too hot, too soon, and those plants which did manage to bear fruit … well, the rats got to them. Not just the tomatoes, but the fresh young sprigs, and the leaves of the pepper plants as well.

The very Sunday afternoon that I finished setting out the various starts from HEB – even as I was assembling the patent tomato cage, the cold front blew in. There I was, working in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on a warm and muggy afternoon; we had even been running the AC, since it was so warm. Then, suddenly, I felt a cool breeze, as if the AC had suddenly kicked in outside, and within ten minutes it felt as it it had dropped fifteen degrees. We rushed the newly-planted tomato and pepper starts into the greenhouse, along with the tenderer of the potted plants, but to no avail. The water in the birdbaths was frozen hard the next morning, and the newly-planted lantanas by the walkway were pretty well frost-scorched. Even the new green leaves on the ash trees were hit. Curiously, the long containers of lettuce and salad greens by the new flower bed at the front door as well as the bulbs in it – all of which had just sprouted in the last week or so — survived just fine, under cover of a heavy blanket. But everything else, even the pole beans which had just put up two or three leaves … alas.

So they are not kidding when they tell you how fast a cold front can blow in. And they also were not kidding about the last frost being in mid-March. Fortunately, I still had plenty of pole and bush bean seeds, so I’ve only lost a couple of weeks as far as they are concerned. And on Friday, we bustled over to Rainbow Gardens, which offered row upon row of tomato starts, plain, fancy, heirloom, large and small, early and late. I’ve gotten half a dozen of them into the grow box, and the rest must wait for a bag of fresh potting soil to go into the topsy-turvy planters. I’m also figuring out a way to do space-saving and self-sustaining raised beds, rather than depending on the compost bin and my vast collection of large pots. There’s a kind of raised circular bed called a key-hole garden, with a working compost heap in the center, which looks very attractive and useful, but being circular would take up too large a chunk of the back yard. Another suggestion was a series of low columns about the diameter of fifty-gallon drums, made of chicken wire lined with straw or even weed barrier, with compost working in the bottom two-thirds, and a layer of potting soil on top with plants growing in it, which would be a bit more practical for me, space-wise.

And that is my week in the garden – yours?

Front Porch Finale

Leaping into Spring Projects

by Celia Hayes

In between those days of bone-chilling cold, my daughter and I finished up the raised flower-bed part of the entryway to the house this week. The stump of the photinia is buried deep in garden soil, home-brewed compost, with a layer of weed barrier on top of that, and a thin layer of river rock on top of that. We visited Lowe’s over the weekend and were sorely tempted – and succumbed to several interesting varieties of day-lily and gladiola corms, and a rose-bush. I might, at a later date, put in some lavender plants, as the soil mix in the raised bed is just what they like; sandy, easily drained, full of good nutritious compost – the very opposite of the heavy clay which occurs naturally around here.

We raked in some good rose-food, planted the corms and the rose bush – and for good measure, my daughter scattered seeds from of a good handful of packets of annuals around the edge of the weed barrier, covered it all in river-rock … oh, we’ll need to go and get a few bags more of the river rock. We always under-estimate these things. The tools are cleared away, the empty sacks removed and the sand swept up – and the front entryway now looks pretty good. Not Parade of Homes quality, but still pretty good. There aren’t quite enough bricks left to continue paving over the narrow little flowerbed which runs along the side of the house between the walkway and the exterior wall of the garage. This has always been an annoyance for me; when I first bought the house it was filled with ivy. It took five or six years to eradicate the ivy. Now there are a couple of rosemary bushes, and a climbing rose that goes along the house wall – but the base of the bed always looked a mess; leaves blew in and it was a chore to rake them from underneath the rosemary. We’ll pave it with the last bricks, augmented with concrete pavers, leaving small square areas filled with more gravel around those established plants – which ought to reduce the mess-quotient by several degrees.

The cold snaps this winter have done a pretty thorough job of killing off everything that wasn’t sheltered in the greenhouse. Likely we will have to start all over again with Bell and jalapeno peppers. Among the other temptations in the garden section at Lowe’s was a good assortment of seed potatoes. I’m hoping that when the weather lets up a little I can plant them – and do better than last year. I’d like to eat more produce from my own garden than I buy at the grocery store, but so far, the only thing that flourished regularly were salad greens.

Potatoes weren’t the only temptation in the spring starts, seeds and roots – I committed to another grape vine; this one I intend to train up on wires strung between eye-bolts screwed into the back fence. My neighbors with the beautiful garden had done this; why not go vertical, in a small enclosure. My daughter bought a blackberry vine – and that will also go up on the trellis wires. Finally – among the stock at Sam’s Club last weekend; young fruit trees; apple, apricot, plum and peach, for a very reasonable price. Yeah, I bought two of them; when we lived in Utah, it seemed like every house of a certain age had at least one bearing fruit tree in the yard. With the mulberry cut back, I think there will be sunshine enough for the peach and plum saplings. So, that’s my plan for this spring in the garden…

Front Porch

The Shape of the Porch to Come

by Celia Hayes

All righty, then – last week to Lowe’s for two bags of mortar mix and an inexpensive bricklayer’s trowel, so that we could complete two segments of the porch project. For reasons known only to the original developer, the basic plan of my house (and a handful of other small garden cottages in Spring Creek Forest) were built with the front door actually about half-way along one side of a long narrow house – with a kind of square divot indented into the side. A third of a divot was made into a small, covered front porch and the rest just left open. Most people chose to make it into a flower bed, although the whole thing in concrete would have made a generous porch with wide steps going down to the walk.

The original owner planted a photinia in it, which eventually quite overwhelmed the raised flower bed that I made of that space and turning the room behind it into a cave. Finally I had the tree guys take the whole thing out, cutting the stump back to ground level. My daughter and I re-vamped the raised flower bed a couple of weekends ago, laying most of the bricks in a bed of leveled sand – but those along the edge needed to be mortared together, for stable footing, and three courses needed also to be made into a low wall to surround a smaller raised bed.

So, we split the effort; my daughter did the edge, and I began on the low wall. This is one of those things which looks so easy when the professionals do it, but it is possible to do it yourself with satisfactory results … although it will be a bit messy at first, and likely every professional bricklayer in town will be rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably at your efforts. Spraying down the bricks first with water will make the mortar stick to where it should, and a certain degree of obsession-compulsion when it comes to keeping things in a regular, tidy, symmetrical pattern will come in handy. So will a level and a mallet; the first to ensure that the bricks are indeed level, and the mallet for whamming them into place. Sprinkle with water, spread with mortar, wham the next brick into place, scrape off the excess mortar … and repeat as needed, several hundred times. Let set, sweep away the excess sand and crumbs of mortar, and there you are.

We plan to fill the raised bed with a mixture of sand, compost and garden soil, topped with gravel to keep the rainwater falling from the roof edge from splashing dirt onto the side of the house. Since it faces south and is a very sheltered space, we’ll plant it with sun-loving, flowering plants like lantana, salvia and Russian sage. There’s a concrete bird-bath to go in the middle of it – just about where the stump of the photinia will – we hope – peacefully will rot away. I also have a number of low, rectangular terracotta planters that will fit nicely at the foot of the raised bed – that’s where the mixed lettuces and salad greens will grow, as soon as it is warm enough to set out seeds. And that’s the plan – next weekend should see it all complete.

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

The Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

by Celia Hayes

It’s one of my habits – established when we lived in Athens in the early 1980s – going to the local street or farmer’s market. It was the custom of the country that every neighborhood had a day of the week, when a three or four-block length of one of the main streets in the suburb would be blocked off, and the local vendors and farmers would set up two rows of booths and sell to the community, beginning just before dawn and continuing through midday. It was usually seasonal fruits and vegetables, and each little booth pretty much specialized in one item – lemons, or artichokes on long stalks, or potatoes with patches of the damp soil they had been grown in still clinging to them. There was an egg-vendor, who sold the eggs in cones made up of newspaper, and a storekeeper with a larger trailer who had a variety of dried beans and macaroni, and often a crate of live snails, rustling and clicking their shells together. All was absolutely fresh, straight from the farm and cheaper than cheap.

I’ve always hoped that our farmer’s markets here could duplicate that experience; and the goods are fresh and straight from the farm, but alas, not as inexpensive as they were in Greece. The farmer’s markets here do have their advantages though; the one held every Sunday morning save Easter in the parking lot of the Quarry Market is a perfect example; as half the venders seem to do the traditional fruits and vegetables, the other half a wide assortment of prepared gourmet foods. [Curious though, I didn’t find the Quarry Market on the GoTexan Farmers Market list. (They probably should be listed.)] Cheese and chocolates and pies, oh, my! Imagine a pie made with fruit or nuts from Nanette Watson’s Frio Farm, with their own eggs, butter churned by Nanette herself, and with her very own home-brewed flavoring extracts. That is a piece of pie that it is a delight to savor.

We cruised the two rows of booths – threatened rain didn’t seem to hamper turnout at all, though there were some vendors on the Quarry Market Farmer’s Market list who didn’t seem to be there because of it. Most everyone had samples on offer – and scrumptious they were. La Panadaria’s chocolate bread was absolutely scrumptious, and the chocolate samples from High Street Chocolate were out of this world. Peggy at High Street (she lives in Comfort, of course) is adventurous with flavoring, too – she has one flavor of chocolate, called Spicy Aztec which features … well, red pepper, among others. That is a chocolate with an interesting burn, which sneaks up on you. My favorite is a thin expresso-flavored chocolate, which I believe would be absolutely divine as the chocolate element in gourmet chocolate-chip ice cream … and if Peggy could work with Nanette at Frio Farm, and combine home-made ice-cream from Frio Farm’s eggs, cream and vanilla … I believe they would have something which would make Ben and Jerry’s finest taste like something from Tasty-Freeze.

The final booth that we visited was – I think – the Lemonade Company, purveyors of fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice. The scent of the oranges teased me from three booths away. There is nothing so evocative to someone who grew up in Southern California as the scent of fresh oranges and lemons – and the sublime flavor of the juice freshly squeezed. Nothing like it in the world, and it has spoiled me ever since for supermarket orange juice. And that was my Sunday morning – yours?

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.

 

Suburban Garden

The Many-Splendored Suburban Garden

by Celia Hayes

Given a nice big lot, spectacular situation, mature trees, an architect-designed mansion, and massive infusions of money, it’s practically a no-brainer that there will be a beautiful garden, or even a merely adequate or maybe just a functional one adorning it all. What is really a challenge for a hard-core gardener is to create a lovely garden on a tiny lot, in a fairly ordinary suburb of small and relatively plain houses … and on a budget. Sounds impossible, but it has been done by at least three homeowners in my very own neighborhood of Spring Creek Forrest. One of the very loveliest gardens, alas, has since declined since the original owner sold the house. At it’s best it looked like the pictures of a classical English cottage garden in one of the glossy home-and-garden magazines. Admittedly it was high-maintenance, with stone and gravel pathways, a patch of lawn and flower borders to die for; that first owner had no social life at all, outside of work. She spent all her time on the garden, and it showed.

But the second spectacular garden that I know of has been established on an even tinier lot – and the best of it isn’t even visible from the street. You’d never know, just by looking – although the fact that the front lawn and the single well-manicured flower bed in it would likely give a clue. The house is one of those very like mine; a narrow rectangular cottage built close to the property line on one side, with the garage at the front. There is a gate into the long and skinny side yard, which leads to the front door – which isn’t actually at the front, being that it is in the middle of the long side. A lot of the smaller houses in Spring Creek Forest were built like that, which means that at worst, the windows along that side offer a splendid view of the long blank wall of your next-door neighbor’s house, at a distance of about fifteen feet or so.

Not this house, though – a number of small ornamental trees planted by the original owner masked that unenticing prospect. The original owner also had a screened back porch installed at the back of the house – which was one of the main reasons that Bess and James bought the place as their retirement home about two years ago. They loved the screened porch, and the tiny yard that it overlooked. The house had one more advantage; some very tall trees in neighboring yards provide shade in the afternoon; a good thing, especially at the height of summer. And because of the slight grade present, none of the neighboring houses windows overlook that patch of pocket paradise.

One of the first things that Bess and James did was to tear out a wooden deck and gazebo along the side, and replace it with a walkway of flagstones set into decomposed granite gravel. There are several benches and chairs along that skinny side garden; it feels larger than it really is. The screened porch looks out on the back yard, and another paved area, shaded with a fig tree. Bess has many flowering plants in pots lining the walkway. They do have hopes of a small patch of healthy lawn – but near-constant shade makes it iffy. And almost the best part is that nothing planted in it is particularly exotic or high-maintenance; in fact, Beth laughs, because just about all of it came from Lowe’s.

Our Little Backyard Garden in April

April in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Ah, the rain which fell last week; glorious, bountiful rain, just when we had given up all hope of seeing such again. And just about when I had concluded that we had skipped over spring entirely and gone straight into summer. Having to run the air conditioner because it’s ninety degrees outside – freaking ninety degrees! – in March! That is just wrong … especially when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is suffering cold, rain, snow. If I could have figured out a way to swap about twenty degrees of Fahrenheit for about ten inches of rain over a week or so, I would so do it.

On the other hand, the cycle of undue warmth and a sudden generous rain has worked out in the long run, so I ought not to complain too much. The big raised bed is filled with squash sprouts – zucchini, golden and the round greenish ones which my grandmother always called ‘patty-pan’ squash. This is a promising start, for as of yet they are only sprouts: Whether or not my ambition to have squash by the bag-full to inflict on the neighbors remains to be seen. The five seed potatoes that I planted at the far end of the bed are also sprouting vigorously. I had a thought – potatoes might make a very attractive bedding plant, if interspersed with some kind of flowering annual. And at the end of the season, you could harvest the potatoes; ornamental and edible!

Now the small raised bed, full of three kinds of beans is going to town. I thought that all three of kinds planted there were bush beans – but it seems that the middle row is sending out exploratory tendrils towards the chicken wire that I wrapped the raised bed in, so as to prevent the dogs from trampling all over them. My ambitions are to have two more small raised beds, so as to keep the bean crops going as long as possible, and now I see that a trellis of some kind will have to feature in them.

I had three ornamental wire plant towers, bought here and there, now serving as either tomato cages for the tomatoes that I planted in earth boxes, or as supports for sugar peas. I planted the sugar peas just last week, and after seven days there are tiny green slips sprouting in the earth box. The tomatoes in the home-made hanging containers are also thriving; they were started the earliest and so are already putting out embryonic tomatoes. The largest is the size of a marble. Several weeks ago I discovered Rainbow Gardens as a source for exotic tomato starts – a veritable rainbow of colors of tomatoes. I loved the little lemon-yellow tomatoes that we had last year; ‘Yellow Pear’ was the name, and so that’s one kind that we’ll try again. Last week I bought a huge, gangly variety called a ‘Black Krim’ which comes from southern Russia and is supposed to thrive in heat … which we can guarantee!

I’ve held over a number of plants from last year; notably various peppers which had been growing in the pepper topsy-turvey. They did OK in the topsy – not spectacular, but OK. I put them all in pots – much, much better. I will never have to purchase cayenne or jalapeno peppers ever again, and as for bell peppers – a single plant from last year now has nearly a dozen half-sized green bell peppers on it.

And that was my week in the garden – how was yours?

South Texas Garden Plans

Plans for the Garden – Spring 2013

by Celia Hayes

When just about everything in the garden was done producing for the year and the weather began to cool off, my daughter and I put up the folding gazebo-greenhouse which one of our San Antonio neighbors decided was surplus to needs. Into it went all the surviving plants, and the delicate things, like the patchouli plant, the pepper vine, an earth-box full of salad greens and lettuce, and another with three tomato plants which had self-seeded from last year’s crop. In advance of the first cold snap, we zipped up the window openings and doorway, and aside from unzipping the door long enough to water everything once a week, we pretty much ignored it. All the plants inside thrived on this regimen, and one of the tomato plants has already put forth baby green tomatoes the size of grapes … in late January. We do not know, of course, what kind of tomatoes they are – could be the black cherry sort, the yellow pear-shaped sort, the heirloom beefsteak variety or even the egg-shaped roma tomatoes … all of which we had in the hanging planters last year, or in one of the earth boxes. Any of them could have self-seeded – and the resulting plants are thriving. So – yes, we will keep the gazebo-greenhouse up. As a matter of fact, it was such a pain to assemble that we are extremely reluctant to take it down.

As it turned out for us last year, although the hanging turvy planters, the earth boxes and the pots of various sizes produced a splendid-looking assortment of vegetables, and the garden looked nearly the best that it ever has been, the actual crop wasn’t that impressive. It wasn’t enough to entirely supply our salad green and vegetable needs throughout the summer and fall, and certainly not enough that we were going around to the neighbors leaving sacks of zucchini and peppers on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running away.

So, this year, we’re moving on to Plan …well, by this time it is Plan C. Plan A, back in the beginning was in just digging in lots of sand compost to what is essentially hard clay – which worked for some things, but but vegetables. Plan B, which was to plant the vegetables in containers, was what we did last year – and there just isn’t enough container space. Plan C is – a series of raised beds, made from wide pine planks, and filled with compost and good potting soil. This is what we have started; last weekend I built the largest one, from a pair of 12-foot planks, which the nice people at Lowe’s were kind enough to saw into 4 and 8 foot lengths. Four pairs of corner joist fasteners and a handful of wood screws – and there we go. Fill with soil, and put square concrete pavers around the edge so that we’re not waiting through the mud every time we water … and there’s the first raised bed. We should be able to build and fill two or three more, and fit into various unused spaces in the back yard, which will offer lots more space for vegetable-growing.

We’ve carried over enough cayenne, jalapeno and bell pepper plants from last year that we need not buy any more for this year. Alas, one of the tomato turvys has split and disintegrated under the stress of two years hard use, and I suspect the remaining two are very close to following suit – so, here we go, looking for more. With the greater space available in the raised beds, we might better be able to grow more squash, zucchini and bush beans – and just today when we were at Lowe’s for some shelf brackets, I noticed that they had bags of onion starts and seed potatoes … and those are definitely things that I’d like to have. And that’s the plan for my garden this year – what’s yours?