Spaghetti Sauce

So with the load of tomatoes on my counter I decided to try something new. Growing up, extra tomatoes turned into salsa. Currently, salsa sounds like heartburn to me so I was up for other options. I had froze some for cooking earlier, but now I wanted to try my hand at canning. My experience with canning has been occasionally helping others and doing grape juice earlier in the week. (So super easy and we’ve actually almost drank all 6 quarts we’ve made.)  Canning spaghetti sauce would be a new adventure.

The first thing that happened was the water was shut off. I sat there for a second and stared at my tomatoes waiting to be washed and decided to run to the store. I went and bought one plant and a few stones and discover the sale associate at Wholesale Landscape Supply knew who I was. He helped me buy a van full of plants earlier. I’ve never actually gone to a store enough for people to know me. Guess I just needed a store I liked enough.

When I got back, the construction guys (who I believe were supposed to be done in July) had the water back on. So I went at it, blanching, peeling and squeezing tomatoes. I was interuppeted by story time (where my toddler suprisngly sat and paid attention the whole time) and lunch (which my visiting sister prepared). Eventually I had all the tomatoes cooked down, and seasoned. I tasted it and discovered that the difference between store and home-done tomato sauce is the same as store and home-grown tomatoes. They don’t really compare. I will being doing this again.

I followed the directions here. That site seems to have all the preserving instructions I’ll ever want. I’ve been there a lot during harvest season. The only thing that didn’t match was I had less than 15 lbs of tomatoes (mostly romas), and still made over 7 pints of sauce. Which might be because I did have mostly romas that are a whole lot more meatier. I froze the extra quart I had.



Can you spot the red?

Slowly, plants are producing bounty. My fourth-of-july tomatoes are in full production and I’ve picked a few romas. I have three cucumber plants that all are producing quite a bit. I planted a couple of striped armenian cucumbers and thought they both died and replanted with different varieties. I was pleasantly surprised to fine that one did survive. I have loved the variety too. They grow quite large,curl and are beautiful when sliced. My sister mentioned that one looked exactly like a question mark. I’ve picked quite a bunch off of it already, and have taken them to whoever I visit. Here’s a picture of a small one, not quite ready for picking:

The picture above are my cucumber plants. The one on the left is a regular armenian cucumber. It has a horrible case of powdery mildew. So does the watermelon. But the striped armenian seems a lot more resistant. (It’s on the right.) I’m surprised at how bad my powdery mildew is. It’s killing back the plants. Still haven’t come across a control measure I feel comfortable with, so I’m hoping it just won’t get worse.

My potatoes also appear to have a vascular wilt disease. There’s really nothing I can do there but be disappointed. Hopefully I’ll still get a few.  It stinks that I actually know quite a bit about plant diseases but can’t solve the problem. The funny thing about plant diseases is there’s usually not a lot you can do. Control measure are things like get rid of all your plants so at least is doesn’t spread,  rotate for three years, water properly, and plant resistant varieties. Not a lot you can do when the disease strikes the plant, as fungicides are often pretty ineffective to combat infections once in the plant.

Not a horrible year so far, but not quite as good as I was expecting thanks to a long wet spring.

Planting Vegetables

Monday morning my little family went out and planted our vegetable garden. This might be the earliest I have ever planted my vegetables. Out in the community garden, many participants were getting their plants in. It was great motivation to work on my garden as well. I waited past one cold storm and then went for it. I’m glad I did with all the rain we’ve been having. I don’t have to worry about watering.

Most everything was planted through black plastic. On one garden, I had soaker hoses underneath (the other is stuck with lawn sprinklers). I love using this method: less wedding and higher yields in my experience.

All the transplants I planted I grew myself.  I was pleased with the results. They were better than some box store ones I’ve seen, but not as good as transplants from a good grower. I learned a lot from doing it as well.

One problem I had was forgetting to fertilize. I had used some slow release on the early tomatoes I seeded, but then forgot to fertilizer that other plants until their leaves were yellow. After some liquid fertilizer they did a lot better, but there was irreversible damage. When I worked at the greenhouse, we would fertigate about twice a week. It’s pretty easy to do that with a watering can and liquid fertilizer at home, if you remember. The slow release granulars also worked well when I put it on not too long after germination.

Next time, I think I will use two rows of florescent lights over a single shelf. The ones on the out edges were a lot smaller than the ones right under the light. When the weather warmed up, I just put them outside and forgot the less than ideal light situation.

I ended up with a lot of transplants. I over-planted them in the garden a bit (I do not need two zucchini plants), but still have more.  If you where a little less gung-ho than I was, by growing transplants at home you could do exactly what you wanted. Sometimes that’s impossible with store bought ones because they are often sold in four packs. But the good thing about over planting is they are fun to give away. By the way, if you live close I have extra pepper, tomatoes, and eggplant transplants I’m giving away.

The garden is in, the rain has come and I’m taking a break from gardening. But only until it stops raining, and then I can rectify the patchy spray job I did on the grass out front.


I planted tomatoes!!!! It was a very joyful experience. If you live around here you may be wondering: temperatures at night are still occasionally dipping below freezing. Tomatoes will freeze out in the garden and it’s not time to plant for at least another three weeks. But that’s if you are not being tricky. I used a common “trick” that enabled me to plant around four week early.

I grew my own transplants this year, and had several Roma plants ready for planting. I knew I seeded them a little early, but I was planning on doing some season extension. I used what are generally referred to as walls of water. It forms a mini-greenhouse around the plant and keeps them very well insulated from cold temperatures. They have been planted for a few days, and there’s no sign of any cold injury. (Of course, temperatures for those days haven’t gotten below freezing either, so the real test is yet to come.)

To plant them out, I first put down a layer of black plastic to warm the soil. Ideally, this should have been done several days before planting. (I just did it right before I planted, and so far it seems okay.) I cut holes in the black plastic and planted my tomato plants. I took off the bottom couple of leaves and buried the stem. (Very useful on the slightly leggy transplants.) The walls of water are filled with (surprise) water. I actually filled them with warm water: you could also leave them outside for a few days before planting. It should help in creating the warm conditions I want faster.

Now I can’t wait until my first harvest! Most of my seedlings are also coming up in the garden: the radish were first followed by lettuce and now peas. We planted leeks last week, and I’m planning on doing potatoes and onions this week. Great time of year right now.


I love the smell of tomato vines. It is my favorite smell either. I planted an early batch of tomatoes and finally got them transplanted today after they were way past the seed-leaf stage. I start all my seeds in trays with a seedling mix until they sprout and get those first two seed leaves (and longer if I don’t get around to it) and then put them in their final container. It works well. I’ve been mildly interested in what others do. I’m trying to remember what we did the time I took Greenhouse management and worked in the greenhouse. I think we seeded stuff in vermiculite in grooved trays, and after that transplanted to the final growing pot. Elsewhere I’ve seen soil bl0cks, plug trays, and an assortment of odd containers.

I was wondering about the small plastic tops that are frequently put on top of a seed tray. Something like that is absolutely essential for cuttings, but is it really needed for seedlings? I couldn’t remember using them (I think we might have, but I’m not sure), so I went to look it up. And found out that I sold my greenhouse textbook. This is the second time I’ve gone looking for information in it. Maybe its time to buy it again. I used my other basic horticulture textbook. It mentions using the top, or putting a plastic bag or saran wrap. It does help keep in the humidity and prevent it from drying out. I think the benefit only extends until shortly the first leaf development. I haven’t used anything. My soil retains moisture very well (wetting agents help), and I spray it down when I see it drying out. Everything is germinating quickly and well.

What do you do to start seeds?

Define: Garden

Utah was way ahead of the trend. People here have been growing vegetable gardens for longer than they have been growing flowers. Actually, the whole flower garden hasn’t caught on that much. Most landscapes are lawn, a few lollipop shrubs, and the vegetable plot in a forgotten corner. Seeing a garden filled with flowers (petunias don’t count, and neither do professional landscapes that all look the same) is a rare and pleasant experience.

So, people around here grow their vegetables so much so that when I say “garden” people automatically assume I am talking about growing vegetables. It annoys me. A garden is much more than vegetables! It can include grass, flowers, trees, shrubs and whatever other plant you feel like. (Although I do have to admit that lawn and lollipop shrubs don’t count as a garden.) I wish people would start looking at their landscapes and actually see potential for beauty. A landscape can be a rough canvas for a myriad of colors and textures. Most landscape around here could use a lot less mowing and changing that term “garden” to include flowers.

The Art of Pruning

Learning how to prune is very scientific. My first experience with pruning is going out with my dad to the ancient orchard out back. He told me some basic rules, like make sure you cut on an angle above the bud and get rid of all the water sprouts, or branches that go straight up. In high school I went to a pruning demo a neighbor put on. I actually read the extension bullietin on pruning around that time too (and it’s long). It was one of the first skilled horticultural tasks I learned how to do.

In college the education continued in fruit production class, and with my internship at the Extension office. But one of the most unexpected places I learned to prune was Environmental Plant Pathology. We didn’t talk at all about pruning. But I learned how plants grow, and most of all how they utilize sunlight.

Here’s the interesting thing about plants. Most all of the sunlight is captured in the first layer of leaves. Those leaves underneath get a measly percentage of sunlight to try and do something with. That first layer is where all the photosynthesizing and productivity goes on. So when I prune, I try to imagine my tree having a single layer of leaves. I don’t want the leaves to be layer too much, but I also don’t want any holes. And I try and remember the sun moves and changes angles as well, so it’s not just from a top view that I want that layer of leaves.

The trees I’ve usually dealt with are old and ill-trained. Training systems makes the whole above goal a lot more attainable. Last year I finally went through my parents orchard (very old and ill-trained one, and becoming increasingly overgrown) and thinned out the trees, trying to get them a little more on track. I was worried this would just result in a mess of water sprouts this year, but I’m finding out that its not that bad. I went out for the first time while visiting last weekend and started tackling the trees. Since they are thinned out, there’s just less wood to prune. I wish I would have done it ages ago instead of pruning too many small branches for years.

The rules of pruning are scientific and based on plant growth. But when I prune I feel like I am an artist. I cut and shape the tree to just where I want it. I see some pruning jobs that are straightforward (just lop off everything growing straight up and  you are done), but for me every cut is a decision. Will this help my overall goal for the tree?  Will it help it produce fruit? In some ways the old trees are more fun this way. There’s usually lots going on, a lot to correct and not a very straightforward way to do it. So it turns into art for me.

It is fun this time of year to be able to enjoy warm winter weather and get out in the garden. Maybe that is why I love pruning so much: it’s the first garden task of the season when I can get out and do something with plants after a long boring break. It’s also the the first garden task I learned how to do right, and the first one I felt I was good at. It’s transformed for me from a chore to a science to an incredible art form.

*For more information on pruning go here.

Seed Catalogs

I have this wonderful pruning post that’s almost finished, but I feel it is too serious to match my mood right now. Instead I would like to give a great big shout-out to all those wonderful bloggers who talk lovingly about pouring over seed catalogs. I took some recommendations and ordered some.


I have found the joy that comes from pouring over pages and pages of seed catalogs and now I want to start a small farm so I can try everything. (My first gardening love is kitchen gardens. Flowers came after I started growing tomatoes. So I still get way more excited over purple carrots than I do pink echinacea.) This year I will have more than my patio garden.

I am currently in charge of starting a condo garden for my HOA. It will be great. I will have room to grow vegetables, be able to see other people’s vegetable gardens, get rid of some of the massive amount of turf around my apartment, and retain control of the sprinkler system that seriously over watered last year. Downside is that I’m in charge. Last community garden I did I wasn’t the one in charge, just the one that ended up doing everything that no one else would do. (Which was lots of weeding, plot layout, designing an occasional flier and wondering why shovel would mysteriously disappear and reappear. Maybe time I won’t have to weed so much.) I’m mostly excited. So far all I’ve accomplished is a spot picked out. It’s still covered in lawn and snow.

So because I’ll have my own kitchen garden this year, I also have plans to start my own seeds. Again, all I have done is picked the spot to put a seed-starter. This was all decided before I got seed catalogs, and now my plans are cemented. I will not go to Big Box Store and buy transplants. (Bad lazy habit I wish to rectify.) I will grow all of my vegetables from seed and end up with much more interesting plants. That is if I can skip my natural inclination to try everything and decide on the few I want to plant.

Grandmother’s Garden

This was by far on of my most favorite gardening projects this fall. My grandparents love to garden. But they are old, and its not so easy anymore. Their garden in recent years has turned into a weed patch with a few veggies. Now that I’m in Utah County, I was able to help them out. One big project was getting rid of the quackgrass. I also helped maintain the rest of the garden and helped them put in their veggie garden.

Last week, we pulled out the tomatoes that had far outgrown the small tomato cages. We held them up–over six feet tall! (I had the thought that one key to getting tall tomatoes is to have large tomato cages.) They raved the weeks they harvest dozens of large cantaloupes. There was a constant supply of zucchini, cucumbers, beans and grapes. They struggled to harvest all the peaches.  It was a successful year: better than they’ve had for a while.

I didn’t do a lot. Just enough to get them started, and lots of tricks to keep it going with minimal maintenance. I was there every couple of weeks or so, and thoroughly enjoyed my time. Not just out in the garden, but getting to know them more. It’s easy for me to get out of touch with my family members, but in my grandmother’s case, the garden brought us together.

Next year, no vine-type tomatoes in the grow boxes, and no peppers planted too close to the tomatoes. The raspberries and strawberries we killed off with the weeds will be replaced. I’m excited to spend another summer gardening with my grandparents.

Eating Cucurbit Leaves

My parents vegetable garden did not look so hot this year. Cucumber beetles and squash bugs ate the cucurbit crops. A recurring pest of pocket gophers decided to eat the tomatoes close to the ground. The squash was attacked by powdery mildew. One zucchini and tomato ended up dying before the season was over. There were wilt diseases present.

I gave my parents some recommendations on how to overcome the pests. But nothing was sprayed or done to control the pests even at its worst. And you know what? The garden came through. There was still good harvests, including the largest cantaloupe I’ve ever seen. Maybe the harvest wasn’t as plentiful as it could of been. But it was good enough. Plants and nature can often take care of themselves, even against seemingly impossible enemies. I don’t think we need to worry about pests as much as we do.

The garden has been in the same small plot for 16 years. It is moving next year. That should help the vegetables continue to have good harvests.