Category Archives: Garden Adventures

I am bad at tomatoes

We are in the midst of a drought. Sort of. It’s been raining with some regularity for the past week or so, and that’s been great for my garden, but not so wonderful for my tomatoes.

You see, I operate my garden with benign neglect. I pay attention to it when I HAVE TO, but other than that, it’s more or less left to its own devices. This would explain why I have no fewer than six zucchini on my kitchen counter at the moment, each of them weighing in at over 4 pounds.

I suppose I would get better results if I paid more attention to my garden, but I make up for it by planting approximately 34 zillion plants. Statistics are in my favor, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, tomatoes are fairly delicate and thrive under regular, controlled watering, not this drought/flood situation I’ve got going on. In the beginning, I did try to get out there at least every other day and wave the hose around, but you guys, it’s been SO HOT. So I haven’t been watering the plants as much as maybe I should have.

And lately, it’s been raining. The tomatoes are so happy about it that many of them have split their skins in appreciation. My garden’s name is now Mr. Creosote’s Garden, because shit be exploding all over the joint.

The good thing is that even with the splits, most of the tomatoes are salvageable. I have to get some heavy-duty stakes out there because the plants are so enormous and heavy that some of them have fallen over and tried to crush the others. I think the jalapeno plants are done for, smushed as they are under the weight of my giant tomatoes.

Gardening! How does it work?

This is the fourth year of our not-quite-raised garden beds. Once the tomatoes have given us everything they can, we are going to pull it all up and start anew in the spring with actual, purpose-built garden boxes that I might just pay more attention to. Maybe.

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Most living things in my life seem to thrive on benign neglect. This is a good thing, because I’m not good at doing that whole hands-on, nurturing thing.

The rosebush is one example. I don’t know anything about growing roses, and I honestly didn’t think it would live anyway, so I planted it last year and basically let it do its thing aside from me watering it occasionally (when I remembered or realized “oh shit, I haven’t watered the garden in like… I don’t remember.”), and snipping the dead heads off of it. To my surprise, it not only lived, but thrived.

The back garden is another matter. Last year, I was mad at it so I let it do whatever it wanted. Our tomatoes got rot, the basil didn’t live, and the only thing that made it was the jalapeno pepper plant. Oh, and the yellow squash that Freddie planted before he realized that he doesn’t really LIKE yellow squash. The compost got LOTS of those last year. We also used them as boomerangs.

This year, I had big plans to maybe pay more attention to the back garden. I had Freddie rent a tiller, even, and he tilled up all the lovely dirt and we got it ready to plant. However, something he did made the weeds out there VERY happy, because I went out there to plan my plants and it had exploded with a carpet of sprouted something-or-others.

Incensed, I was! Still, I hacked up what was there, put down a much-needed layer of topsoil and got to work. About two weeks after I got everything in, the weeds started going “WOOOOOOO YAAAAAAAAAY” and I did my best to put a stop to that by putting down a layer of newspaper and covering that with topsoil. It was surprisingly effective.

Anything that I planted from seeds didn’t make it – the weeds ate my carrots, onions, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. I HATE YOU, WEEDS! I’d planted a lot of tomatoes (5th time is the charm!) and, since the jalapenos were so prolific last year, I planted six of those this year.


I admit, we did go a tiny bit crazy with the tomatoes, but it wasn’t anything like 2009’s garden, where we planted 36 plants. This year we only have about 12. We do love our tomatoes here. Freddie also wanted to plant zucchini (WHY???) and eggplant (experiment!!) just to see what would happen there. Since the Squash Rule is “plant 3 and dig up 2 of them”, we planted 1 zucchini and 1 eggplant in the garden box and 1 zucchini and 2 eggplant just outside the box.

The dog ate two of the eggplants and one of my jalapeno plants because the dog is an asshole.

I was out there this morning, coaxing tomato plants to stay in their cages, pulling gobs and gobs of weeds (I don’t even know what some of these plants ARE – I think they’re hybrids of whatever is in the garden at the end of the season), and watering. I picked 2 small zucchini (here we go!), checked on the tomatoes and peppers, and watered the lot. Tomatoes are doing just fine – no sign of blossom-end rot (which has plagued us in years past), no sign of hornworms THANK GOD BECAUSE IF WE GET THOSE I AM SETTING THE WHOLE THING ON FIRE, and there is a lively ladybug and lacewing presence, which is why we don’t have hornworms, I think. The peppers are doing all right, flowering and whatnot, and the eggplant that survived the dog actually sprouted a wee eggplant!

If I spent even a tenth more time out there, the garden would probably be amazing. Right now, it’s all I can do to keep the thing watered and sort of weeded. Hope you people like salsa.

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Tips from a professional gardener

I treat the garden like I treat everything else (including thishere blog) – benign neglect.

Works for me. I mean, you should see the rosebush I planted last year. People say roses are super-hard to grow and there is a lot of literature on how to do it, what to spray on them, how to water them, etc. So I planted mine without any real high hopes that it was going to survive my half-assed gardening, much less the driest winter New Jersey has seen in years.

Imagine my surprise when spring rolled around and the rosebush FREAKING EXPLODED with roses. It went insane, it really did. Benign neglect for the win!

Unfortunately, now we have to dig up the azaleas because the rosebush was placed in front of them and it’s not a good look for anyone. Freddie is constantly going on about how it was a mistake to put the roses where they are and I am constantly replying with “I DIDN’T THINK IT WOULD LIVE.”

On the other side of the garden, we have this bush thing that we put in last year. I forget entirely what it’s called, but the leaves are green and white and in the spring the new growth is a pale pink. It’s v. pretty. Again – we planted it, kept up with our half-assed watering (in a drought!) and didn’t really think it would live, MUCH LESS THRIVE. This thing is out of control, basically. I love it.

This weekend will likely see the digging and mulching of the front garden. I want to put in more plants, but I’m not sure the budget will allow that at the moment. I might stick some seeds in and see what happens, though.

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Things I’ve been doing

1. Listening to Thriller. I revisited it as a tribute to Michael Jackson and I am amazed at how well it holds up. Amazed. It’s excellent music for cleaning the house, too.

2. Not writing blog posts (duh). I have come to the realization that although my life isn’t boring to live, once I start writing stuff down… whoa. BORING. It’s boring as hell to write about, so I can only imagine it is at least twice as boring to read about. However…

3. Gardening! Well, not so much gardening as much as ‘sticking seeds in the ground to see what happens.’ The lettuce was pulled out weeks ago because it bolted a lot faster than I expected it too. Oh well. The scallions are just hanging on, so we’re about at the end of that. I planted peppers, which are… slackers. I’m not sure how well they’re going to do. But the tomatoes… oh the tomatoes. We’re going to have a lot. 38 plants and they’re all THRIVING. I also have cucumbers. I’ve never grown them, so I am not familiar with how they grow but… I have a few that are as big around as my daughter’s entire body but they’re only about 4 inches long. Weird.

4. Beer. Our first batch of homebrew came out AMAZING. So the second batch was brewed last Thursday and we’re hoping our beginner’s luck holds out for that. We have decided that we need a boiler for outside though, because the house was stinky for four entire days. This will also help when the tomatoes arrive, because the thought of canning tomatoes in my sweat lodge of a kitchen makes me want to cry.

5. Potty-training. Jillian is getting the hang of peeing, and the pooping is coming along as well. I can’t get her to dress/undress herself yet – she is content to let me do it. Hmm. Still, not having to change diapers except for naptime/bedtime is a wonderful thing.

6. Knitting. I’m working on Preppy Sock #2, which is almost done. I turned the heel the other day and now it’s just a matter of getting to the end. I started this pair way back in March, so it’s about time. Then I can move on to something else, like…. more socks. Actually, I’m going to knit a new sweater for Jillian who refuses to stop growing and has outgrown the one I made for her two years ago.

7. Party planning. Jillian’s 3rd birthday is at the end of this month. I am gobsmacked that she’s already three! In one sense, it feels like she just got here, but in another, it’s getting difficult to remember what life was like without her. She’s talking (constantly) and growing (constantly) and learning stuff and just being delightful.

8. Working out. Because $40/hour for a personal trainer is a bit expensive, we have acquired a lot of the tools I was using at the gym and can work out at home. We have BodyBars, medicine balls, resistance bands, and sometime in the next week or so, we’ll have dumbbells. I also have a treadmill and a stability ball, so there is no excuse at all, ever, for me to not be working out. I worked out in the backyard with Freddie on Saturday and I’m pleased to note that 2 days later, he is still hurting a bit. Story of my life – I know what I need to do… I just need to do it. I’m trying to build up my running stamina and I’m planning to start working with a swim coach…. and Freddie wants to buy me a bike because he thinks I’m going to be ready for a triathlon next year. Errrrrr….. I’m not so sure about that. There is one at Cedar Point that I would LOVE to go to, but I was thinking more along the lines of Freddie doing it. Turns out he thinks I should do it. I suppose it would be fitting. There are few places on Earth that I love the way I love Cedar Point.

9. Maybe getting a dog. We have been talking about getting a dog for awhile now, and we finally found a few that we like on Petfinder. The application process is interesting – it’s no wonder people just go out and buy dogs because it seems like there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get one through a rescue. It should be the other way around, i think. Still, we’ll see. The dog we’re interested in is a Border Collie/Whippet mix, which translates into HIGH ENERGY OMG! But I have a three-year-old, so they will match up well.

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Garden 1, Nail Polish 0

I’m not a girly girl. Not remotely. I own some makeup, but I couldn’t tell you where it is. My hair… we’re having a rough patch at the moment and I’m thinking of breaking up with it. Counseling might be in order before I decide to do something drastic and chop it all off.

I do like to paint my nails, though. Even in this respect, I’m barely girly – I have 2 shades of red, 2 shades of blue, a sparkly black, a deep burgundy color that looks like dried blood, a weird silvery-lavender, some kind of weird magenta with purple overtones that make my hands look like Tranny Hands, emerald green, and two shades of freakout pink that Jillian picked out. This is what my dad gets for objecting to purple nail polish when I was ten.

The nail polish I favor is the Sally Hansen X-treme Wear kind, since I do a lot of hard work with my hands and I like my nails to stay painted for longer than it takes for them to dry. However, nail polish is no match for gardening, it would seem. Which means the polish I put on my claws Friday afternoon is pretty much destroyed.

The garden looks good, though.

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Older than Jesus

Well, I turned 34 on Sunday. That was nice. I made the most amazingly-colored cake for myself and spent the day just hanging out. It was very relaxing.

However, I am now older than Jesus, if you subscribe to that mythology. Interesting thought. I was going to make a list of famous people I have managed to outlive (because I’m weird like that) but… who has time? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m too busy chasing Jillian, doing voodoo chants in the garden, and playing Tetris.

I know I’ve been neglecting you, dearest blog, and I do apologize. So much is going on, but not all of it is blog-worthy. I think I’m interesting, but I’m not sure you folks really want to hear about how the laundry refuses to fold itself and how I did the taxes this morning. Right? We’d probably all laugh a lot more about the Wii Fit calling me ‘obese’ and how I need to get my knee x-rayed before I can start running again but first I’m going to the hand surgeon to talk about my tendonitis.

That should be interesting. I’ve had tendonitis in both of my wrists for pretty much as long as I can remember. I did address it with a previous doctor but her advice was “rest your wrists for six months and it should go away.”



How is that even possible in this day and age? IT’S NOT. And even if I wasn’t on the computer 23 hours a day, I still knit and play Tetris. And SOMEDAY I’d like to get back to music, which means fingers flying over the keys of the saxophone (and the flute, and the clarinet [which, where IS my clarinet, anyway?], and the guitar and someday maybe I’ll even get a piano!), and I cannot even fathom what that will be like because I no longer have any kind of embouchure whatsoever which is sad and depressing but can be remedied if I have any skills left at all which I doubt.


Wouldn’t it be hilarious to start taking saxophone lessons again? HAHAHA, I can’t even fathom what that would be like. And it’s not really necessary, anyway – I just need to start practicing again.

So, for my birthday, I asked Freddie to buy me sessions with a personal trainer. My motivation is such that I think I need someone to kick my ass for me or else I won’t do the necessary to get in shape. And boy oh boy, do I need to get back in shape. Once the results of my knee x-rays are obtained, I’ll have a better idea of what I’m capable of/allowed to do and will progress from there.

Speaking of Jesus, I am performing my own miracles in the backyard. Freddie built me two garden boxes that we filled with a huge load of topsoil (they each hold about 1600 pounds of topsoil) and then I put seeds in! If we’re lucky (and dude, we are so NOT, since it’s 40 degrees and rainy today), we’ll get lettuce! And spinach! And scallions! And… cucumbers, maybe. I don’t follow directions and I don’t really plan ahead so we’ll see if anything at all manages to grow out there. A month from now will be the start of Tomatopalooza 2009, and I’m hoping for success with that.

My garden makes me God. It’s a nice feeling.

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Yesterday, we went to the local hardware stores to acquire things with which to build boxes for my garden. What should have been a quick trip to one store (we had a list!) turned into an epic journey that involved a second store, lots of eye-rolling and huffy sighing on my part, some math, and some inspiration. So, instead of four boxes that will fit cutely between the fence posts, we decided to build two boxes that are 6′ x 12′.

The problem stems from the fact that our backyard does not have dirt in it. We’ve got CLAY. Lots and lots of reddish clay and about 43 different kinds of weeds. The Lawn Doctor guy told me that out of the 23 or so varieties of weeds that live in this part of New Jersey, our backyard is home to at least 20 of them.

Thus we need to build raised garden beds, which we will fill with topsoil, compost, and my 72 tomato plants. The ‘throw it in the ground and see what happens’ approach we took last year was fairly successful, so I figured if we add a little planning and a smidgen of science to the garden this year, we’ll be able to do even more. We shall see.

Annnnnnnyway, we acquired our materials and built the boxes with only a little bit of cursing and no lost limbs. I’m considering the project a success for that reason alone! The only major work left to get Garden 2009 off the ground (or… on it, I guess) is to hack up the remaining sod from the area where the beds will be. Then we’ll get some topsoil delivered, dump it in, and put the seeds and seedlings in. The hacking, though, must come first and aaaaaaaaaagh.

Hard work, this hacking is. I use my garden hoe, since that seems to be the most effective method, but man oh man is it slow. Freddie used the spade which was way faster! He and Jillian were out there this morning hacking away when I got home from Mama Escape Time. We are 75% of the way there – with any luck, this week will see the end of the hacking and we can get topsoil in by the weekend and then IT IS ONNNNNNNNNNN.

I can’t wait to see what kind of resistance Mother Nature puts up this year.

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Not my strong suit.

Which makes me occasionally question this whole garden thing.


Also not my strong suit.

Which means I have planted 72 tomato seedlings.



That’s 12 each of 6 varieties of tomato.

I have no idea where I’m going to put them since last year’s garden was way over-crowded with just 16 plants, 3 of which were mercilessly ripped from the ground halfway through the season (meaning: before they reached 12 feet tall).


I am going to come up with some plans for raised beds, which will halve the amount of ground-hacking I need to do and will also solve the ‘this ain’t dirt, it’s clay’ issue that I have out back. Also the erosion issue that arose after last year’s no-plan garden.

Hope you all like homemade salsa because that’s what everyone is getting for Xmas this year.

August is going to be a fun one, no?

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Jersey Tomatoes in February

I am getting better about eating things during the seasons in which they grow.

However, this generally means no fresh tomatoes in February. But I’m getting smarter – I’m looking at where things at the grocery store are coming from and I’m trying to buy fruits and veggies from New Jersey or as close as possible whenever I can. The grocery store does not make this easy, mind you, since they are fairly lax about labelling the veggies with their planet of origin.

Anyway, I was in the store today picking up last-minute stuff for the salad that goes with tonight’s dinner (cucmbers, oops; bagged salad, double oops; but I said I was trying) and there were the tomatoes, looking kind of okay.

Now, the myth of the Jersey tomato is a popular one. One that I didn’t believe at first because I’m from OHIO, for heaven’s sake. We have farms everywhere out there! Surely the tomatoes are better? Fewer people, less pollution?

Apparently not. The Jersey tomato is an amazing thing. I have heard of people who have saved seeds from their gardens in New Jersey, thinking that they could just grow them anywhere with the same result. Not so. There is something about New Jersey that makes tomatoes happy. In my own .18 acre of New Jersey, there is something that makes tomatoes VERY happy.

Last year, in my kamikaze garden, I put in 16 tomato plants. 14 of the plants actually survived the summer, and about 9 of them produced. And boy, did they produce. We got to the point where we were just chucking tomatoes directly into the compost because we couldn’t eat them anymore. This year we will have no such problems because we are gonna CAN them suckers.

My tomatoes? OMG. Oh. Em. Gee. So amazingly good. Between the clay-tastic soil, the fallout from the diesel exhaust from the trainyard a couple blocks away, and whatever the hell Johnson & Johnson is polluting the place with (they have a research & development facility about a quarter-mile from The Butterfly Ranch), my tomatoes were… indescribable. Just… whoa.

The trouble is, they don’t last. We got a few good ones at the end of July, then spent all of August and September eating tomatoes in and on every meal, including breakfast. Sure, we got sick of them, but come January, the body just cries out for some fresh tomato goodness. Here’s where the difficulty arises. Tomatoes like the sun. I have heard of the sun, but haven’t seen it lately. So I’m pretty sure there aren’t a whole lot of tomatoes ripening in the backyards of my state. Still, there they were today, on the shelf, looking all red and tomato-y. I couldn’t help it, and I bought some.

Because I knew it was a splurge, I didn’t buy those sickly pinkish styrofoam balls from Chile. Ohhh no. I don’t want to eat a tomato that is nearly as old as Jillian is because I know it will be a mealy, tasteless disappointment. I plumped for the Campari tomatoes, since they almost never disappoint. Looking at the package, I saw that they are grown hydroponically. I don’t know anything about that except that it’s a good way to grow pot. *Note to self, research just what the hell hydroponic means, just in case it involves ground-up kittens or something.

Even better? These are hydroponically grown in NEW JERSEY. Yep, that’s right. About 50 miles away, in fact. So, while they aren’t the poop-your-pants goodness of my mid-summer tomato bounty, in February? They’ll do.

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