Johnson City Press: Gearing up for backyard gardening
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Gearing up for backyard gardening

Nathan Baker • Apr 14, 2019 at 12:00 AM

The weather’s only just warming up, but most of us amateur gardeners have been working while the ground was still frosty, planning and planting the seeds that we hope will become this summer’s produce.

It’s mostly a labor of love, because, let’s face it, you can buy vegetables at any grocery store or farmers market that cost less than the seeds and equipment needed to grow your own. Letting someone else grow them for you takes less time and causes fewer headaches, too.

But near the end of the growing season, after half a year of planting, and feeding, and watering and weeding, there’s this golden time when I can step back and admire the literal fruits of my labor. That brief and proud moment makes the work worthwhile for me.

Then it’s time to try to pawn off all the tomatoes and beans you can’t eat on friends and coworkers, clean up the beds and get ready to start the whole thing again in a few months. I put a lot of hard work into my raised beds, but you really do reap what you sow.

I actually started my garlic, which I’ll harvest this year, last October, so I’m now growing year-round.

This season, for what feels to me like the true start of the season, I started my tomatoes and peppers Feb. 24. I moved my grow shelf from my cool, dark basement to my sunroom, and it has paid off.

Last year, most of my seedlings were stunted, and I got a late start to the growing season. This year, with the room temperature easier to control and more natural light, my plants have thrived. Who would have thought that young plants needed heat and light?

I’m also getting adventurous with peanuts this year, too. I put them in pots March 10, and have had some promising results.

The beans and the squash I’ll sow directly into my garden when it gets a little warmer.

I’ve pulled together a fun assortment of varieties this year, and I look forward to sharing my growing trials and tribulations in this column. Stay tuned.

Tomatoes

I’m putting a lot of stock in tomatoes this year. They’ll be taking up the entirety of one of my 4x8 raised beds.

I’m hoping to dabble a little in pickling and canning this season, and the tomatoes and tomato sauce will feature prominently in that adventure.

I’m trying a new variety this year called Jersey Devil. They’re long and tapered, like a hot pepper, and generally have lower water content and fewer seeds than beefsteaks. They should be good for sauces and salsa. The seed packet says they’re prolific producers (Don’t they all say that?) all the way up to the first frost. We’ll see if I’m swimming in them by October.

I’m also putting out three varieties of slicing tomatoes: Mr. Stripey, my favorite to eat; Zebra, my favorite to look at; and German Johnson, my partner’s favorite.

Peppers

I’ve got two kinds of chili pepper seedlings growing from different parts of the Scoville scale.

Hungarian Black peppers are about the size and shape of a jalapeno, but they’re dark, dark purple. They’re also less hot, only about 2,500 Scovilles.

If they produce, I’ll roast some and put them in salsa and maybe try pickling some.

The Hinkelhatz peppers are an heirloom variety from Pennsylvania Dutch country, putting out about 30,000 Scovilles. Apparently the folks in that area, the descendants of German immigrants, used them for making hot pepper vinegar to pour onto sauerkraut. I might try that out, but I’d like to pickle them more.

I tried growing both these varieties last year, but missteps in my seed-starting process left them stunted, and they didn’t really produce anything at all. This year seems different though, and I have much larger, more robust plants ready to go outside.

Garlic

When I planted garlic cloves in the fall, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’ve never grown garlic, but I use it in many of the dishes I cook.

I planted two varieties, Chinese pink and one that only said “garlic” on the bag.

I had sprouts peeking out of the ground by late October last year, and I worried I’d planted them too early. They overwintered fine, though, and now they’ve got tall, green shoots with thick necks.

When the weather warmed a few weeks ago, I worked a little blood meal into the dirt around them to give them some nitrogen to feed on. They’ve needed little maintenance otherwise.

Beans

I have never had trouble growing beans. They’re just so easy.

This year, I’m growing Rattlesnake beans again for green beans. I like them because of their interesting purple-flecked skin and their great taste.

I plan to plant double the stalks I did last year in hopes of having some extra for canning.

I’m also trying a new variety of bush beans called Borlotto Di Vigevano Nano. The Italian heirloom beans are grown for shelling. Their pods and dried beans are streaked with pink.

They caught my eye in my go-to seed catalogue, so I picked up a pack.

Peanuts

I’m excited to experiment with peanuts. I’ve never grown them, nor seen them grown, so you might call me a peanut novice.

I picked up a variety call Tennessee Red, and have been amazed by the results.

The plants grew like a bean, which makes sense because they’re legumes, and formed strange, compound leaves unlike anything I’ve grown before.

I have read a little about their growing process and can’t wait to see their pegs grow back down into the ground to make the “nut.”

I’m not even sure what I’ll do with them if I get some peanuts, but I’ll be planting quite a few. Look for some Press-branded peanut butter later in the year.

Squash

I’m going to give zucchini another try.

Last year, vine borers killed them off before I got any squash out of them, but I’ve researched some ways to combat them that I hope will work.

I’m not going to dedicate very much garden real estate to them, just in case.

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