Archive for the ‘fertilizing’ Category

Continuing my retrospective garden updates…

At the beginning of July, I discovered that the rightmost (back row) Best Boy was drowning– somehow the drainage of the pot got blocked. I carefully untied the (still spindly) plant from its stake and Husband helped me tip the pot to drain the excess water and pull off the attached saucer. You can see in the photo below that the foliage was yellow and drooping. Thankfully, simply removing the saucer seemed to be enough to fix whatever blockage was happening, and the plant eventually perked up again. (At the end of this year’s growing season, I will remove the rest of the saucers and possibly drill more drainage holes in these pots to prevent future issues like this.)

Best Boy tomatoes on July 4, 2021

July was when I first really started seeing fruits start forming and growing on my tomato and cucumber plants. Mouthwatering potential!! It’s always such a wonder to me, especially when starting a plant from seed: this tiny, tiny thing has grown up and is producing these beautiful fruits.

young fruit in my garden, July 12, 2021
Best Boy tomato, July 21, 2021
heirloom purple cherry tomatoes, July 21, 2021
Brad’s Atomic Grape tomatoes, July 21, 2021
Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato ripening on July 22, 2021

I made some of my first harvests in July! I started keeping a spreadsheet of each variety’s harvest (number and weight) so that I can compile some data at the end of the season.

First, the herbs: We cut small bunches of chives and clipped parsely leaves to put on our suppers. I LOVE having fresh herbs as a finishing touch! Some of my lavender started drying on the plant, so I began cutting those stems off to put into a sachet. The basil grew like crazy, and I cut a whole bouquet for my Husband to make into pesto.

Spicy Globe basil bouquet, destined for pesto. July 13, 2021

I harvested my first couple of cucumbers (these are from the Ferry-Morse vine).

first cucumbers: July 21, 2021

We also started getting small bowlfuls of purple cherry tomatoes:

I LOVED watching the Brad’s Atomic Grape tomatoes ripen and change color. Since it’s an unusual-looking tomato, I had to really learn when to harvest them. They split very easily (sometimes long before they are fully ripe), so I eventually learned to harvest them a little early so that they could finish ripening on the counter, where if they were split, they wouldn’t rot or attract pests.

first Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato, July 25, 2021

I did have some more hornworm challenges: there was (at least) one plaguing my purple cherry tomato plants, and it wreaked quite a bit of havoc before I managed to find it.

hornworm damage woes, July 24, 2021

I mentioned in the June post my 10th tomato (unknown variety) that had fallen over and gotten quite damaged. I was not sure that it was going to make it, but it turned into a wonderful comeback story. I was so glad to to see it putting out new shoots– and even flowering again!!

July 22, 2021: comeback tomato (unknown variety)

Ending on an artisitc note: mid-month, I participated in a photography challenge within the Simple Scrapper membership to play with macro photography. At first, I didn’t know what I would photograph, but as I was watering my garden one day, I realized that there was such a variety of pollinators visiting my garden! I decided to get out my camera to try and capture some macro photos of them. I used both my kit lens and my zoom lens (some of the insects were too shy to be photographed up close!). These are my favorite shots from that little session:

comparison of the garden on July 12 (left) and July 31 (right)

Throughout the month, although I was beginning to harvest cucumbers and tomatoes, I started noticing that the plants got spindly and increasingly sad looking. I didn’t really figure out what was going on until the very end of the month. I’d been listening to a gardening podcast, and they were discussing garden maintenance, and I realized that my garden might need to be fertilized! My plants needed nutrients!

comparison of the garden on July 12 (top) and July 31 (bottom)

In my previous years’ gardens, I’d used “regular” not-organic potting soil that had added fertilizer, so I’d not come across this obvious lack of nourishment before. This year, I’ve been using Miracle Gro Organic potting soil and I have to say, I haven’t been impressed. I don’t like the texture of it (it seems too dense) and I didn’t expect to have to add fertilizer. (Admittedly, that is probably from inexperience using organic potting soil.) Thankfully I had some fertilizer on hand from several years ago, and I added some to all of my large pots on July 30 (I choose to err on the side of too little, since I was afraid of burning the roots). I definitely saw an improvement quickly at the beginning of August. I’ll write about that in my next update post!

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There are lettuce and pea sprouts in my outdoor pots!  Whee!  Last Saturday the weather was so beautiful that I had to get outside.  So after I got home from helping some friends move in the morning, I went out and set up my pots on the balcony.  Since I’m using potting soil for the second (and third, for some of it) year in a row, I bought some slow-release fertilizer to add to the soil once I got it into the pots.  I planted lots and lots of mesclun mix and Black-seeded Simpson seeds– 3 pots of each, and 12 pea seeds in a pot.  I didn’t have enough potting soil for the other pot in which I plan to plant peas.  Husband and I bought another 2 cu ft. of potting soil yesterday, but it’s been rainy enough today that I didn’t get out to do that last pot yet.  Maybe if the weather is nicer tomorrow…  I can hope!   And maybe there will be photos in my next post… we’ll see 🙂

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I’m not very good at following through with planning ahead for the garden.  I get really excited about it all, but I don’t do any planting research enough ahead of time and when I get to the planting part, there are things I find out that I would have liked to have done.  This year, I’m trying to change that.

So, in years past, after planting my peppers (the first year) and tomatoes (the first and second years) I found out that calcium is a good fertilizer for them, and an easy way to boost the calcium content in the soil is to add crushed eggshells to the planting hole.  So after New Year’s, when we got back from visiting family for the holidays, I started collecting the shells of all the eggs I use.


I couldn’t tell you how many there are right now, but every time I crack some eggs for baking or some other yumminess, I rinse out the shells and put them into an empty ice cream bucket we had on hand.  It also saves me from having to wonder whether I should be putting the shells down the garbage disposal or into the trashcan 😉

So when it comes time to plant, I will crush all the dried eggshells and sprinkle them in the bottom of each of my tomato plants’ holes before I stick the seedlings in.

I found out about the eggshell thing originally on pg. 138 of my copy of The Bountiful Container (see the Reference Books tab for more info), and I also found a couple useful articles when I googled “eggshells as fertilizer”, including this one:


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Husband and I harvested some more goodies from our garden yesterday.  There are a number of yellow pear tomatoes that are starting to get yellow, so I’m looking forward to having more than one or two at one time soon.  

I have to be honest, I am a little disappointed in how few tomatoes we’re getting this year.  Last year we had several harvests large enough to make sauce and still have tomatoes to slice onto salads.  I was thinking about this problem last week and realized that one reason is probably the lack of nutrients in the potting soil.  The soil was “new” last year, and came pre-fertilized (it was Miracle-Gro infused), so I got used to not having to regularly add fertilizer.  Even though I bought fertilizer toward the beginning of the summer, I’ve forgotten to use it.  So last week, I worked some into the soil.  A little late, I know, but maybe it will boost the tomato production for these last few weeks/months? of the season.

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New fertilizer

Until now I’ve been using Miracle Gro (the multi-purpose formulation) to fertilize my garden. It works fine, but I ran out 🙂 So I went to the store today, and started looking at the fertilizer options that they had.

I’ve learned that fertilizers mainly contain three nutrients necessary for plants’ growth: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (for leafiness, floweryness, and rootyness & vigor, respectively). The package will give a ratio that tells how much of each three (in ratio) are present in that particular formulation.

Because I have only fruit-bearing plants left (the lettuces have bolted and are basically done), I want to promote the flowering/fruiting part of the growing. So I decided on a 9-12-12 fertilizer made by Pennington:

The instructions on the back were kind of minimal, so I interpreted them as best as I could– I sprinkled about 1 Tbsp of those granules around each pot, then watered them all thoroughly. The package said give each plant 2-3 Tbsp every 3-4 weeks, but I thought I’d start out slowly, since the plants are in pots–the drainage might be different, and I don’t want to burn the plants’ roots.  I’m going to have to be good about watering those plants every day! 🙂

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My black-seeded Simpson is not doing very well.  I’m not exactly sure what the problem is.  Ever since I thinned them, the sprouts have languished– one of them has even flat out died.  They don’t seem to have any self-support the way they used to, and I usually find them sort of lying down.  Perhaps when I thinned the seedlings, I disturbed the roots of the ones I left (I did cut the extras out rather than pulling them up…)?  I think that I have been watering them enough, and it has certainly been raining a lot here lately.  The last time I watered the plants, I added fertilizer (Miracle-Gro) thinking that it might help.  I also planted a couple new seeds to replace the sprout that died.  

Does anyone have an idea of what might be going on?  Not enough sun?  Too much water?  Not enough water?  

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When friends come over to our place and see the balcony garden, their comments are always along the lines of, “Wow, you’ve got a jungle on your balcony!” I take that as a compliment 😉 It must mean that our plants are thriving. Here’s a picture that I took of the garden yesterday.


There’s so much there that it’s hard to fit it into one picture.

Like an earlier post said, my cucumbers have been doing better. The other day I chopped off yet another vine, so there are only 5 vines left in the pot. I think the remaining vines are happier and more willing to produce cucumbers now. Yesterday I ate one that I’d cut the other day, and there was another one on the vine :


…until I cut it today for imminent consumption 😉

And the peppers are finally turning red. There’s a mini post below this one about the reddening of the peppers… I thought it had gotten posted on Saturday, but I guess I clicked the wrong button and it was saved as a draft instead.


In summary, the garden seems to be doing well. I watered it yesterday with a half-strength Miracle-Gro fertilizer mixture (I didn’t realize until afterward that I hadn’t put in the full tablespoon of crystals in each gallon).

Yesterday I decided that it was certainly time for me to make from-scratch tomato sauce. I got a recipe from J & B (J being the one who cared for my garden while I was gone, and they had given us some sauce they made from tomatoes of mine and theirs) and combined it with a recipe from Better Homes & Gardens as well as a “recipe” for tomato sauce my brother got from his landlady when he lived in Italy a few summers ago. (She liked him a lot and would have him down for dinner… and he got her homemade sauce recipe at the end of his month’s stay.)

J & B had advised me to definitely remove the tomato skins before making them into sauce! To do this, I blanched them in boiling water:


until their skins split.


I probably overdid it a bit… but since the tomatoes were going to be chopped and cooked down anyway, it didn’t matter too much. I would love to learn my grandma’s trick to blanche tomatoes and remove their skin without hardly cooking them. You can slice them and eat them on salads and hardly know the difference from raw!!

Here’s a photo of most of the ingredients assembled for the sauce:


fresh tomatoes, peeled

1/2 (29 oz) can of concentrated crushed tomatoes (if I had enough tomatoes, I’d probably make my own tomato puree)

1 white/yellow onion, diced

lots of garlic cloves, crushed (or minced)

fresh herbs: basil, parsley, oregano, chopped

1/2 c. wine (white is best)

1 small red bell pepper + 1 larger green bell pepper, diced

1 carrot, shredded (adds sweetness)

salt, freshly ground pepper, and sugar, to taste (I like my sauce pretty sweet, myself)

I sauteed the onion and garlic in olive oil until it was tender and browned slightly. Then I added the wine and the carrot to cook down a little, and then added the bell pepper. Finally, I added the tomatoes, which I had roughly chopped after removing the skins, and the tomato puree. I seasoned the sauce and let it simmer for a few hours until it was cooked down to the thickness I wanted.



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So it’s time for an update!

My husband and I were in Corsica for two weeks, which is part of the reason there have been no updates on this blog for a good long while. The other part of the reason is that I have been very busy with research (partly due to the fact that I took a 2-week vacation!) But we’re back, and I’m still getting back into the swing of things… even though we’ve been back for a bit already.

While I was gone, my best friend took care of the garden. And boy, did she do a fantastic job! She not only watered it and made sure everything was okay each time she came, she also did some hand-pollinating of cucumbers, kept track of the produce from the garden (25 tomatoes, and 4 cucumbers while we were gone!!), and even kept a fantastic journal of how the plants were doing each day and how the weather was acting. She even sent me pictures partway through our trip! And on top of all that, she and her husband made fantastic tomato sauce from tomatoes from our gardens (theirs is in-ground) and left us a good portion of it in our freezer to enjoy when we got home! Totally above the call of duty! I am so grateful, I can hardly express it. Thank you, J!!!!!!

So of course, the garden is in fantastic shape (it always thrives under J’s care!) and the next wave of tomatoes is about to hit. We also have some cucumbers about ready to be picked (thanks to the hand-pollination done while we were gone) and the pepper plants are bending over from the weight of the peppers that are growing on them.

Do pepper plants need support, just like tomatoes? I’ve never heard of that before (not that I’ve done so much research into it)… but my plants are extra-bendy, it seems. Plus, the stems are pretty fragile. On a day closer to when we arrived home, I was out on the balcony gloating over my plants ( 😉 ) and I brushed past a pepper plant (hardly touching it) and the whole stem snapped off (two small peppers, included). So I’m wondering if there’s something wrong that is making the plants so weak. They are very tall (what’s the typical height?) — perhaps too much nitrogen is making them extra leafy.

I fertilized the garden last Sunday– my plan is to fertilize about once per month (this will be the second time) unless the plants look like they need more.

Now that I’m back, hopefully I’ll be posting more frequently (and of course, with pictures).

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The garden is getting along smashingly… and on Independence Day, I picked our first produce– the double cucumber highlighted in this entry. I rarely buy cucumbers in the grocery store because they just seem outrageously priced, even though I absolutely love them. So eating this cucumber was such a treat!



I probably could have waited a bit longer before picking it, but it was getting so fat that I decided to clip it while it was still young and tender ;-). There are a couple more long (more normal!) cucumbers on the vines that may be harvest-able soon.


In other garden news, the aphid infestation seems to be gone! I’m excited that such a simple solution (no pun intended ;-)) of soap and water did the trick. I’ve been noticing a lot of flowers blooming, and we have at least three or four peppers starting to grow (and actually getting bigger than the last time, when they just seemed to disappear).


Finally, the tomato plants are producing more and more green fruit. But ever since the beginning of June, when the first fruits were being set (is that the proper terminology?) they haven’t turned red, not even a hint… Could it be that they aren’t getting enough direct sunlight? What is it exactly that ripens a tomato? It’s certainly been hot enough…


I’ve been having to “ruthlessly” prune the tomato plants because they grow so fast!  They’re already far past the top of the cages and higher than the (high) balcony railing, and I don’t want them to get too much taller.  So I’ve been clipping off the growing tips whenever I see them starting.

One last note– I gave the plants a dose of fertilizer last Sunday (01 July).  I mixed regular strength fertilizer solution (1 Tbsp of Miracle Gro All-Purpose Plant food per gallon of water).  I then gave the cucumbers and peppers a whole gallon of the fertilizer solution and the tomatoes each 1/2 gallon of the solution.  My plan is to fertilize every 2 weeks.

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I’m a bit late this week… but better late than no post!

This week I am thankful:

* for the rain (and the fabulous thunderstorms) and the extra bonus of not having to water my plants every day

* that hand-pollination is working and I have hope that the cucumbers will grow up to be eatable

* for date night with my husband

* for good Bible teaching that sticks with me!

* for the redeeming power of our Lord

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