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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Tomatillos: The gift that keeps on giving

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I don't have as many tomatillos as in previous years, probably because I was better about yanking out the volunteers that have a tendency to grow wherever I've spread my homegrown compost. I have them growing in two different areas in my garden and probably have a grand total of about eight plants. I freeze most of them in gallon bags to use all winter in soup and Mexican-inspired dishes. Last night, a friend came over to can tomatoes, and we decided to do one batch of tomatillo/tomato/green chile sauce. 


I had picked every tomatillo I could find the night before, but decided to go see if I could find a few that I may have missed. That's how many I got the second night, which is about the same amount I picked the night before. Those little suckers have a tendency to hide... they also ripen quickly this time of year, which means that with as many plants as I have, I'll probably be albe to go out and pick this many tomatillos two or three times a week. 


Unusual melon isn’t a big producer

By Penny Stine
Monday, September 21, 2015

 I grew unusual melons this year just because I was curious. Unfortunately, melons like more sunshine than what they get in my yard. I had a lambkin melon plant in my front flower bed and it gave me a grand total of two melons, one of which was pretty tiny.
I read that you can tell when they’re ripe because they turn yellow and practically fall off the vine, which is what these two did when I checked on them.
We ate the smallest one on Sunday. It was white on the inside and tasted similar to a honeydew. Pretty good, but I probably won’t grow it next year. I’m on a quest to find a melon that will grow with the limited amounts of sunshine I get and will produce more than two melons.  


Harvesting and freezing

By Penny Stine
Monday, September 14, 2015

I haven’t been blogging lately because my garden is keeping me too busy to take photos. On Saturday morning, I made myself spend at least an hour pulling weeds. I filled my five-gallon bucket at least six times, pretty much filling my trash can, since I don’t want all those weed seeds in my compost bin. The only good thing about pulling weeds this time of year is that they tend not to sprout again until next season!

As a reward for pulling weeds, I picked a boatload of grapes, Portuguese kale and other goodies. Since I had way too much to eat in the next week or so, I froze everything.
I’ll use the frozen kale in soup, casseroles, egg dishes and in anything else that looks like a likely candidate for greens.

I don’t like the Portuguese kale as well as blue dwarf or Russian red for roasting, so I’ll freeze a lot of that. The plant’s are going into hyper-grow mode right now.



These grapes would make lovely juice or jelly, but since we don’t drink a lot of juice or eat much jelly,I opted instead to freeze them whole to use in breakfast smoothies. They’re a concord-style grape with seeds, but my blender does a good job of liquifying the grape, the skin and the seed.






They’re really good grapes, and this year, my grapevine has grown and produced like crazy. Yes, this is one grapevine. I didn't prune it at all this year, and while the master gardener in me says "bad gardener!" I've never had so many grapes on the vine, so I may not prune it next year, either. 




These little onions are the walking onions, which I’ve been picking and using since March or April. They’re starting to go into their regrowth stage, where they sprout new green tops and the bottoms turn mushy.

I also picked these little hot peppers I’m growing called Cayennetta. I got the seeds from Park Seed, and I’m really pleased with the peppers. They’re spicy, but not ridiculously hot, and they add a nice flavor without making food unpleasant. I decided to include a few peppers with the onions before I chopped them and froze them in little bags together, since when I’m adding onions to something I’m cooking, I often want a little spice, as well.



The plants are supposed to be good for containers, but in my garden, the ones in this bed are doing much better than the one I have in a container out back. I’m anticipating that I’ll have enough from these two plants to make a little red pepper ristra in late October or November, which will give me home-grown cayenne pepper to use all winter.


Know your cole

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Check this out: This may not look like much to you, but it’s the result of about three or four hours last Saturday on my hands and knees, pulling weeds, grass and plants that had already produced and died out of this section of my garden. It was so neat and tidy when I got done (not like my gardens elsewhere) that I had to take a photo.

I was also struck by how interesting this particular plant is - it’s a purple savoy cabbage that I’m growing for the first time. I have no idea exactly what it’s supposed to look like when it’s fully grown, but I’m assuming it will have some sort of more fully formed head.

Cabbage is a cole crop, aka a brassica, just like kale, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. This patch of kale has been in my garden for years. It’s a variety called blue dwarf, and I was certain it was going to seed earlier in the season and it would finally die. Instead, it’s hung in there all summer and given me small, curly leaves whenever I need them. We eat roasted kale about once a week and I throw it in other things as often as I can.



This is my beira tronchuda kale. I’ve got it planted in several other spots. It seems to be happy and doing well wherever I’ve put it. I’ll be curious to see if it overwinters like the blue dwarf kale. I really like this variety cooked, and I’m looking forward to making potato/sausage/kale soup, since it’s a Portuguese soup and this is the Portuguese kale that you’re supposed to use in it.  


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! 

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