Here’s My New Blog

This is it! I’ve been talking about launching a new blog for several years. I’ve been planning to set up this website, thegardenerwife.com, ever since I started writing The Gardener Wife newsletter two years ago. And now, finally, I’ve begun my blog.

My posts here are going to be organized around the three themes* that run throughout my newsletters:

  • GROWpractical gardening tips
  • EATgarden-to-table eating
  • ENJOYgarden style living

I’ve been writing an email newsletter since June 2018 and now have several hundred subscribers. If you’d like to join them, you can sign up for The Gardener Wife newsletter right here.  It’s not just about gardening—it’s about garden-style living! You’ll still get practical tips for growing; plus, with my garden-to-table recipes you’ll learn how to use what you grow (or what someone else has grown). 

What people are saying—

Excellent! Well written, informative, fun!!

… you’re right on. Keep it coming.

April Wong Loi Sing

Lots of good, no – EXCELLENT info!

Donna Hirsch

Wow! What a great newsletter. You are soooo very thorough in your writing. I love it.

Diane B.

You can subscribe to my newsletter right NOW!

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What else do I do—

I’ve also been posting on social media. Here’s where to find me, @thegardenerwife:

  • on Instagram – for lots of photos
  • on Facebook – for more details and information + garden-related events and news
  • and even on YouTube – for occasional videos
Giving a Gardening Presentation

Plus, I’ve continued to give garden talks.

Need a speaker for your club, library, or other group?
Email Debbie@thegardenerwife for information on my topics and presentations.

The Gardener Wife

Other services that I provide are listed on my Work with Me page. I’m doing all this because . . .

want to help you to GROW SOMETHING, something beautiful–even better, something to eat!

Thank you for stopping by and catching up on what I’m doing!

Working on The Gardener Wife Newsletter

*NOTE: You can find my blog themes in several locations throughout this website:

  • the drop-down list under “Blog” in the upper right corner of every page
  • the list under “Blog Post Themes” at the bottom left of every page
  • the big colorful buttons on my homepage.

For example, if you’re looking for recipe ideas and aren’t interested in gardening tips at the moment, you can click on EAT in any of these locations—and you’ll see a list of my garden-to-table eating posts. If you want to scroll through all of my blog posts, then you could click on “Blog” in the upper right corner of every page.

Finding Tomato Tastings

Going to a tomato tasting is a fun way to enjoy others’ gardens as well as your own. When I couldn’t find any after first reading about tomato tastings years ago, I held my own. I invited others to bring tomatoes, printed voters’ ballots and winners’ certificates, and made a party out of it. This year I combined it with my first ever open garden day.

Tomato tastings are easier to find now. Try an internet search to see if there are any in your area. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs and announcements when you are at farmers markets and county fairs. Check your local newspaper. While reading the Chicago Tribune’s food section a few weeks ago, I found a tomato tasting at Green City Market that was held just a few days before my own.

If you’re not a tomato fan, you could look for other tastings. On the day that I was at the Green City Market, one of the vendors was doing a plum tasting. I’ve done a tasting with different barbecue sauces I had canned. Tastings are fun, and they can help you decide what to grow, buy, or make in the future.

See my next post for how to hold your own tomato tasting.

Open Garden Day + Tomato Tasting Contest

Photo by Laurie Fanelli for The Homer Horizon

My big event last Saturday, the Open Garden Day + Tomato Tasting Contest, was fantastic! I had a blast preparing for it and then meeting and greeting visitors throughout the day. THANK YOU to each of you who came!

I’m grateful for the publicity I got, too. Right before the event, the Ferry-Morse Seed Company shared my post showing a large Garden Leader Monster tomato grown from one of their seeds. My local paper, The Homer Horizon, featured me on their cover and ran a story about the event. WELCOME to each of you who recently subscribed to my newsletter as a result of that event!

Speaking of results, here are the results of The Gardener Wife Tomato Tasting Contest 2018 (photos by Patt Bailey):

BEST TASTING TOMATO OVER-ALL
#6 Sun Gold from Iron Creek Farm of LaPorte, IN

Best Tasting Cherry Tomato
#6 Sun Gold from Iron Creek Farm of LaPorte, IN

Best Tasting Full-Size Tomato
#13 Hungarian Heart

Best Tasting Non-Red Tomato
#5 Dark Cherry

Apparently not everyone who voted for Sun Gold put it in the Non-Red category. Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes (#7) received the next highest number of votes. It’s too bad that this tasting did not include the top winner from previous tastings I’ve had, Super Sweet 100s. Sadly, I did not have enough ripe ones ready on the day of the tasting.

Simple Seasonings

Now that folks are harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers in my area, I’m going to tell you my favorite seasonings for eating them fresh.
Cucumbers — Halve them lengthwise and sprinkle them with salt-free lemon pepper. This is exactly what I did on one of our Shakespeare picnics (shown above).
Tomatoes — Cut them in wedges and sprinkle a little fleur de sel. Not just any sea salt—it has to be fleur de sel. Trust me. Fleur de sel is collected from the salt floating on the surface of the seawater, and it has a sparkling pure taste. It’s the secret ingredient that takes my salsa, bruschetta, and caprese salad to the next level. I get it at Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma. A little 4-ounce container lasts a long time.
Cherry tomatoes — Just wash them and set them out in a bowl. We eat them like candy. My favorites are Super Sweet 100s and Sweet Millions. Mmmm—sweet summer candy!

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Watering Tips

When we don’t get enough rain to keep the garden producing goodies for my table, I have to water it. Here are some general watering tips for gardens.

  • Water from below. Never spray water onto the foliage or flowers. Remember that the roots need the water, not the leaves. Here in the humid Midwest many plants are susceptible to fungal diseases that are spread by overhead watering, so I shy away even from foliar fertilizers. I use soaker hoses in my raised beds. I attach the hose to the soaker hose and turn it on just a quarter turn, not full blast, so the water comes out at lower pressure and slowly soaks the root zone. Then I set a timer to remind myself when it’s time to move the hose to the next bed. Whenever I use the regular hose for watering, I attach a long water wand to it so that I can direct the water down toward the roots without bending over.
  • Water deeply and less often. Frequent light waterings will encourage your plants to develop shallow roots, and they will fade quickly in a dry spell. When we get no rain, I aim to water the kitchen garden twice a week. Remember, however, that newly planted seeds and plants will need to be watered more frequently until their roots have grown and they are established.
  • Know the water needs of your plants. This is as important as knowing their sun and shade preferences. Put plants that need more water, such as hydrangeas and astilbes, in the wetter areas of your yard. Keep plants like cactus, sedums, and begonias in the drier, quickly draining areas. Most vegetables require well drainingsoil and one inch of rain per week.
  • Keep accurate track of the weather. Your plants may need to be watered more often during a heat wave. What appears to be a heavy rainfall might be turn out to be only 1/4 inch of rain. I recommend using a good rain gauge. If you don’t have one, you can tell that the ground received one inch of rain if you dig down and see that it’s wet 6-8 inches deep. Watering just the top inch of soil is not watering the garden enough.
  • If you have rain barrels, you should be careful about using their water on edible plants because of possible contamination from roofs and gutters. You should water the soil only; do not get the plants wet. Stop using the rainwater a couple weeks before harvesting. I recently found this extension service article that discusses the question in much more detail.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you should at least scroll down to the “Best Practices and Recommendations” section at the end. It talks about using a bleach solution to lower the risk of contamination of edible plants. 

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Elegant Picnics

ENJOY — garden style living
Illinois Shakespeare Festival 2018

Summer is my favorite season—and nothing says summer like a picnic! Also, nothing tastes as good at a picnic as fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit from your garden or from wherever else you can get it. This is true whether you’re packing a simple lunch to take with your kids to the park or pulling out all the stops like I do whenever we go to a Shakespeare festival. 

My husband and I are huge Shakespeare fans, and we discovered the fun of outdoor Shakespeare performances over 20 years ago. I have been adding to our elegant picnic paraphernalia ever since. You may not be into Shakespeare, but perhaps there are concerts in the park or other events in your area that warrant a special picnic set up. Perhaps you’d like to have an extra-lovely picnic for two to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.

I started by getting a picnic basket and soon found tin plates printed with antique porcelain china designs (shown on the right in above picture). I like them so much that I keep them out all the time on a tiered stand in my dining room. Ceramic dishes are too heavy, in my opinion, so I recommend melamine plates (such as the one on the left in above picture) if you cannot find tin ones. Instead of plastic glasses, however, I’ve bought pretty painted glasses from thrift stores. We like to bring folding chairs and a tray table or camp table with us rather than a blanket, and I put a pretty tea towel or small tablecloth on the table. A little vase with a fresh flower finishes the setting. For easy transport, get a vase that can fit in your vehicle’s cup holder and that has a narrow neck to prevent spills.

I put crackers and food items that don’t need to be refrigerated in the picnic basket, and I put the beverages and other food in a shoulder-strap cooler. Nowadays, it’s possible to get a picnic basket that’s insulated. The food I pack for these picnics varies according to how much time I have and what’s in my garden, pantry, and freezer. There’s nothing wrong with buying some or all of the meal. It’s really up to you. If you’re an organic gardener and any of your edible flowers are blooming, then you must use them to decorate the food. You must!

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Swiss Chard Tortilla Española

EAT — garden-to-table eating
Swiss Chard Tortilla Española

promised on Instagram that I’d share this recipe in my newsletter, so I’m adding it here, too. Don’t forget: you could also make this with beet greens because Swiss chard and beet greens are practically the same thing.

This dish is what I remember my mom making whenever she got aselga (she couldn’t remember the English for Swiss chard) from my aunt. I always wondered why she called this frittata-like dish a tortilla, and thanks to the internet I’ve since discovered it is a variation of Spain’s tortilla made with potatoes, eggs, and olive oil. Apparently, the cuisine my mom learned when she lived in Argentina was closer to that of Spain than of Mexico, where tortilla means a different thing. Anyway, here is how I make it, more or less. Just like my mom, I’m not terribly exact about following recipes or measurements. I find that makes it much easier to use what I grow in my garden.

Swiss Chard Tortilla Española (Tortilla de Aselga)

  • 6-7 Eggs
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional—I used garlic scapes when I made it last)
  • Salt and pepper or a salt-free blend, to taste
  • Olive oil for frying
  1. In a mixing bowl beat eggs, and then mix in seasonings.
  2. Wash and chop the chard. Saute the onion and chard stems in oil.
  3. Cook in a nonstick pan on medium heat and keep adding the chard leaves as it cooks down. Cover the pan to help it cook down faster, and add a few drops of water if needed. When it is all cooked down, uncover the pan to cook off any extra moisture at bottom of pan.
  4. Pour egg mixture over all the chard—do not stir and mix up. Cover pan again and cook until egg is set and starting to pull away from edges.
  5. Loosen the edges and bottom. Cover the pan with serving platter and flip tortilla over onto it. Then carefully slide it back into the pan to cook the other side.

To serve, cut into wedges.
Serves 8

Flipping the tortilla over and sliding it back into the pan is the tricky part. Here’s an amateur video I made of that maneuver. Using a good non-stick pan helps. If you don’t want to try flipping it, you could just keep the pan covered until the egg is fully cooked or pop it in the oven and then flip it once onto a platter or serve it straight out of the pan.

Swiss chard is my favorite green. It’s easier to grow than spinach, and it’s tastier, in my opinion, than kale. This is my favorite Swiss chard recipe because it’s super delicious and it brings back fond memories of my mother. 

¡Buen provecho!

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Dealing with Tomato Diseases

GROW — practical gardening tips

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Tomatoes, alas, are not the easiest vegetable to grow. Here in the midwest and most of the U.S.A. our growing season is not long enough, so we have to buy seedlings and transplant them into our gardens. In addition, weather conditions and pests cause other problems. Just look at the “common issues” that the Bonnie Plants website lists with many of its tomato plants, even with its “super disease resistant” varieties.

Common issues: Plants may stop setting fruit when temperatures dip below 55˚ F or climb above 90˚ F. Blossom end rot can be a problem, as can misshapen fruit.

bonnieplants.com

I remember fondly my early years of gardening when I was a stranger to all these common issues. If you are still in that situation, count your blessings and garden on! But don’t be naive about it—do everything you can to prevent fungal and bacterial diseases from starting in your garden. Once they come, they overwinter in the soil and keep coming back.

Here is a rundown of what I do to prevent soil-borne diseases on my tomato plants and to keep them from spreading once they make their inevitable appearance.

  1. Water from below—never spray water onto the foliage. This, by the way, is a good rule to follow for all plants. You always want to water their roots, not the leaves. Many other plants are also susceptible to fungal diseases that are spread by overhead watering. I use soaker hoses in my raised beds. Whenever I use the regular hose for watering, I attach a long water wand to it so that I could direct the water down toward the roots without bending over.
  2. Mulch to prevent rain from splashing soil up onto the plants. Years ago I used sheets of red plastic in my beds. Then I got Tomato Craters, the round red plastic things around the bottoms of my tomato plants which everyone always asks me about. These hold up better from year to year and give me more flexibility in placement of the plants. There are similar products available now which might work even better, called Tomato Automators and Tomato Halos.
  3. Rotate crops. I have six raised beds for rotating my vegetable plants, and I usually fill two of them with tomatoes and other nightshades like peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos. That gives me the minimum 3 years of rotation. 5-7 years would be better, but I’m not ready to cut down to just one bed of tomatoes yet. As it is, I still can’t fit all that I want into two beds, so I plant in containers, too.
  4. Space plants farther apart to improve air circulation. This is the “Do as I say, not as I do” part of my advice. I do space my tomatoes further apart than I used to, but I never got to the minimum ideal of at least 4 ft. apart in all directions. Again, I’m just not ready to grow fewer tomatoes! I keep hoping I could improve the air circulation around the plants with better pruning.
  5. Prune plants well. Removing suckers improves air circulation. Removing the lower branches prevents fungal spores from splashing up from the soil onto the leaves. Unfortunately, I tend to put this off until I see a fungal disease already beginning to affect the lowest leaves. Maybe next year I will finally do this earlier!
  6. Remove diseased leaves as soon as possible. I tend to get diseases that work their way from the bottom of the plant up. As I noted above, removing the lower leaves prevents rain from splashing the fungal spores up onto the higher leaves. In order to prevent my clippers from spreading the disease from plant to plant, I spray them with Lysol before moving on to the next plant. I used to use rubbing alcohol because a bleach solution is corrosive to tools and requires a ten-minute soak to be effective. Then I found a study which showed that Lysol is more effective than alcohol.
  7. Spray the plants with an organic fungicide with copper in it, such as Bonide, or with Bacillus subtilis in it. I prefer the latter and have had the best success with a Bayer product called Serenade, which is apparently no longer available. Next time I will try Monterey Complete Disease Control or Grower’s Ally Fungicide. Again, I tend to put this off until I see the disease beginning each year, so I’m writing this post as a reminder to myself as well as instructions for you. It would be better to start soon after I set the plants out since I know my garden is susceptible.
  8. Clean up! Clean up! Clean up! Remove the plants and as much of their debris as possible at the end of the season. Turn over the soil and try to bury anything left. We always add composted manure to the raised beds and mix it in with a shovel. Clean and disinfect the cages and other staking tools. I’ve always been careful to wash the Tomato Craters, and I’ve tried leaving the cages outdoors in sunlight and rain to sanitize them. This year I will try spraying or wiping them down with Lysol, too.

Those are my recommendations for dealing with fungus and bacterial diseases in tomatoes. If you find yourself dealing with fungus and bacterial soil borne diseases every year, there is one more option that you may want to try. When planting tomatoes next year, you could apply a root protection drench, such as Bioworks Rootshield or Gardens Alive Root Guardian. I had great success with the latter the first time I tried it, and Gardens Alive put my glowing review in their catalog and on their website. Unfortunately, the next year they sold me some that was too close to its expiration date and it was ineffective. It has a very short shelf life and is rather expensive. I then switched to the Bioworks product, but last year’s rainy spring made it a bad year for my tomatoes even though I’d done my best to get fresh product and apply it properly. This year I planted a couple weeks earlier than normal and could not get either brand delivered in time, and I gave up on them. This season has again been very rainy and humid, so it’s just as well that I didn’t try this option. Stay tuned for future developments in my ongoing fight against tomato diseases.

Best Tasting Tomatoes

ENJOY — garden style living
Custom Painted Shoe by Kate’s Kicks

I love gardening—from my head TO-MA-TOES!

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable to grow in a home garden–and for good reason. This is where your tongue gets the most bang for your gardening effort. The dramatic difference in taste between homegrown and store-bought tomatoes is often what drew us food gardeners into this hobby in the first place, isn’t it?

If you haven’t gotten into growing your own tomatoes yet, don’t despair. There is a super easy way to begin: get a tomato plant that does well in a container.  There are several varieties that do well even in a 10-inch pot or hanging basket–Tiny Tim (which I’m growing this year), Tumbling Tom, and Sweet ‘n’ Neat to name just a few. If you have room for a larger container, then your options increase.

Buy the seedling and plant it in your own container with an organic potting soil or get a patio tomato plant that is already in a sufficiently sized planter. Put it in your sunniest spot and keep it watered. Don’t forget: the smaller the pot, the more often you will have to water it. Even so, one little plant is better than none!

If that idea doesn’t work for you, then look for a local farm, farmers market, orCSA. Make sure that their early tomatoes are coming from their own farm, not from a hothouse or a farm further away. Buying LOCAL is important if you want that homegrown tomato taste. Conventionally grown supermarket tomatoes are bred to look pretty, travel far, and store long—not to taste good!

Once you get your tomatoes, store them at room temperature and out of the sunlight until you’re ready to wash and eat them. Whatever you do, don’t put fresh ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator! It will ruin their taste and texture. Use the fridge for storing cut tomatoes and tomatoes that are past their prime and getting soft. Whether they’re homegrown, market fresh, or store-bought, your tomatoes will taste better if you keep them out of the fridge and eat them when they’re fully ripe but not overripe.

The Great Scape Pesto

Garden-to-Table Eating from my newsletter archives

June is when it’s time for me to cut off the garlic scapes—those curly things forming at the top of my garlic plants. These taste like garlic and can be used like garlic in any recipe. They’re also a nice addition to stir-fry dishes. But my favorite thing to make with them is garlic scape pesto. I freeze this pesto to use it year round.

Before making anything with the scapes, I wash them and remove the seed pod ends. As with any pesto, the measurements in this recipe do not have to be exact—you could use different nuts and add other herbs, salt and pepper, or even a little fresh lemon juice and zest if you want. This is approximately what I use:

Garlic Scape Pesto
  • 2 cups garlic scape, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds or walnuts
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions: First, put the nuts in a food processor and pulse them until they are coarsely chopped. Add the garlic scape pieces and process about a minute or less until the nuts and scapes are blended together. Scrape down the sides of the processor and then cover. Turn it on again and drizzle the olive oil in while it is running. Add the Parmesan and process until blended, about 30 seconds. This comes out rather thick, but one could always add more olive oil if needed. 

For the batch in this video, I actually used 3 cups garlic scapes, 1 cup almonds, 3/4 cup olive oil, and 1 cup Parmesan. It’s all good! I pack it in small containers and freeze it for later use. It’s delicious on pasta or just eaten straight as a dip with bagel chips or crackers. I often coat my garden green beans with it.

If you’re not growing garlic, you could find garlic scapes when they’re in season at your local farmers market.