Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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Make room for these next year

By Penny Stine
Thursday, August 27, 2015

If you like to try unusual garden goodies, make room for these next year. This is a pineapple tomato, aka a ground cherry. They're a nightshade plant that's actually native to the Americas. 





This is the amount of fruit that I'm picking every other day from about three or four plants. Not a lot, but since that's what I pick in two days, it adds up. Rather, it would add up if I didn't eat them. Because they're so small, it's really easy to eat a few here and there, and next thing you know, they're all gone. 




I've got them planted in a front flower bed, where I also have a few sweet pepper plants, some melons and a couple of flowers. Yes, there's grass and a few weeds growing there, too.

I had them in the same spot last year and had read that they were notorious for self-seeding and returning year after year. I also took some of the fruits in to Bookcliff Gardens last year so they could taste them and perhaps start growing them for sale in the spring. When I didn't have any seedlings emerge by late May, I went to Bookcliff, where I bought two of the last three ground cherry/pineapple tomatillo plants they had.

After I brought them home, I discovered that a few had finally emerged in this bed. I dug a few up to give away and also transplanted a couple to another area (where all but one died).



So yes, they do return if you leave enough fruit on the ground to reseed, which isn't hard to do, given the way they grow and ripen. For the best flavor, I've learned to let them fully ripen on the plant. They'll fall to the ground when they're ready to eat.  

It can be difficult to find all of the fallen ground cherries, which is why they reseed themselves. Plus, the plants continue producing until it freezes, and when the frost finally comes, there are dozens of not-quite ripe enough to eat fruit that ends up falling to the ground. Each little fruit has dozens of seeds in it. 

They're really tasty to me and to plenty of other people with whom I have shared fruit. I don't think they taste like pineapples, but that's what plenty of people taste when they eat one, which is why they're called pineapple tomatillos (or ground cherries or cape gooseberries or even goldenberries).

I made a coffee cake with them last year that was really good, and they weren't bad in a pie, either. My husband, however, is not fond of them raw. That's OK. More for me! 


Another tomato review

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, August 19, 2015



One of the new tomatoes I’m growing this year is called Black Pineapple. It’s an heirloom, multi-color variety. One of the colors is green, and when I planted it, I wondered how I’d know when a tomato that stays partly green is ripe.

I picked two a week ago when I thought they were getting close, but they were still pretty firm, so I let them sit on the counter. I gauged ripeness simply by the feel, and decided this one was perfectly ripe, so we ate it last night.

As you can see, it’s still green on the inside, too. It’s not exactly a pretty tomato, or at least not as pretty as others I’ve grown. (Or tasted from someone else’s garden - my husband’s yoga instructor gave him a Black from Tula tomato that she grew a couple of weeks ago and it was beautiful, with a dark purple color. It was also delicious!)
It may not be pretty, but the Black Pineapple is one of the sweetest varieties I’ve ever grown. It is seriously delicious, and I’m excited about it because the plants seem to be putting on a lot of decent amount of tomatoes.  


The solution for squash bug problems

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I think I’ve solved the dilemma of the squash bug problem here in the Grand Valley… if you don’t want squash bugs, the trick is to only grow squashes every other year. Which totally stinks, if you’re a big fan of summer squash.
Last year, I tried to grow squash, but because of problems with my soil, not a single one grew. The squash bugs must have hit the road and found some other place to overwinter.


This year, I ordered two new squash seeds, the Astia zucchini, which was supposed to give me squash in 42 days and lemon squash, which are supposed to be squash bug-resistant.




I also planted whatever squash seed I had in my stash of seeds, as well as a few spaghetti squash seeds that Julie, the Daily Sentinel’s online coordinator, gave me. The spaghetti squash are doing well, and are taking over the world. I haven’t picked any yet, but this one that crawled across one of my tomato cages looks like it will be ready soon.


The Astia has also been great. While it wasn’t quite ready to pick in 42 days, it was fairly early and has consistently given me squash.

As you can see by the top photo, there’s a little watermelon-type of squash that’s also growing next to the zucchini. I’m fairly certain it’s a poquito hybrid squash from Park Seed, which I planted last year (and hovered over until I resigned myself to its non-growth). I must have had at least one seed in my left over stash and dropped it there.






I’m also growing this cute little yellow squash, which I have no idea what it is or where it came from. Too bad, since it’s pretty tasty. As far as I can remember (which isn’t saying much), I’ve never purchased a yellow squash seed like this.




Because I don't know what it is, I'll call it my baby bowling pin squash, since it resembles little tiny, yellow bowling pins. 




This is the lemon squash plant. From the description and reviews, I thought it would be more of a rambler. It’s also supposed to be extremely prolific.

So far, I’m disappointed. It’s been flowering for several weeks, and it has just one little squash on it.

I also planted about 15 seeds, and had poor germination the first time I planted and then had something chomp on the entire plants when I re-planted. The tiny plants were there one day, with several true leaves, and gone the next. They may be squash-bug resistant, but they weren’t resistant to whatever ate them. I’m thinking it was the rolly-pollies, aka pill bugs or sow bugs.
In fact, I was so certain that it was rollie-pollies that were eating all of my fall-harvest seedlings that I went to Bookcliff to get some sort of insecticide dust that would deter them. Mona from Bookcliff had never heard of sow bugs eating non-diseased new seedlings, but I’m still convinced. And I bought a powder that includes sow bugs as one of the target pests it eliminates. I replanted some of the fall harvest plants (but figured it was too late for the heat-loving ones), but haven’t seen any sprouts yet, so I don’t know if the powder will prevent the seedlings from getting gobbled.  

In the meantime, I should have plenty of summer squash to eat. 


The wait is over for tomatoes

By Penny Stine
Friday, August 7, 2015




Although I picked a few tomatoes here and there in July, most of my tomatoes remained green, so I’m just now starting to get a few more. I’ve had my eye on this big reddish one for at least a month. It’s called Big Beef Hybrid, and I got the seed from Park Seed. It grew large fairly quickly and then stayed green for quite a while.


I picked it at noon, along with a few green beans and a zucchini.Once I picked it, I could tell it wasn’t quite as ripe as it looked while it was still on the vine, but I wanted to pick it simply to prevent anyone or anything else from picking it.

(Did I mention that the birds ate all of my peaches before I could pick them???)

I’ll let it ripen on the counter and have BLTs in a couple of days.




This plant is the Banana Legs Roma tomato. I bought it for the novelty of growing a yellow Roma. I think I got the seeds from John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden.



I picked these two a couple of days ago. I was going to wait and taste them after my husband got home, but then curiosity got the best of me, especially when I realized that one of them was perfectly ripe. So I ate it. I had the salt shaker standing by, but frankly, it didn’t need it. It tasted pretty good to me, but since I haven’t had boatloads of tomatoes yet, maybe its simply the deliciousness of the first few tomatoes.

Time will tell if I still think they’re wonderful when I have other tomatoes to taste and compare with. The Banana Legs variety is a determinate, and I have two plants. I think both of them have set all the tomatoes they’re going to, with about two dozen per plant.




This is a plant that has yet to set any tomatoes at all. It’s either a Roma that my mom gave me seeds for or a Virginia Sweet, which I love. I’m happy either way, especially since this plant in particular was only about an inch and a half tall when I planted it and I wasn’t sure it was going to live.  


Pretty in pots

By Penny Stine
Thursday, August 6, 2015

Because I have a tendency to be cheap, sometimes my flower pots don’t look as pretty as other people’s pots do. I tend to use seeds and smaller plants rather than buying decent-sized plants at the beginning of summer. If I get volunteer plants that come up in a planter, I usually let them, which is why this planter has amaranth in it.

I also experimented with growing veggies in pots this year, which is why this pot also has Swiss chard in it. I kind of like the way this particular planter looks right now, which is more of an accident rather than design.

The basil in my garden isn’t doing well, so I bought a couple of basil plants and decided to put them in two pots that had housed lettuce that went to seed. Not only had the lettuce gone to seed, it got huge and bitter before it did, completely overcrowding these little petunia plants I stuck in the pot in late May. Once the lettuce started getting bitter, I quit picking it, and also quit watering it (because I forgot about the poor, overcrowded petunia plants).

When I pulled out the dead lettuce, I discovered the petunia plants. They looked pretty dead, too, but I decided to leave them and stuck the basil in the pot. The soil was dry as dust, but I had improved my soil and added an expensive brand that Mona at Bookcliff Gardens recommended because plants potted in this soil didn’t need to be watered as much.

I was going to take a photo of the dead petunias before I planted the basil, but since they looked dead, I didn’t.

Oh me of little faith. Those petunias weren’t dead after all. I’ve been watering the pots and the basil continues to look happy and the petunias are coming back.
I looked through my notes, and the soil is called Ocean Forest, and it’s packaged by FoxFarm.  

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