Tag Archives: garden

Tomato Season

I had a new approach to growing tomatoes this year, namely: try everything. I planted a dozen plant starts from the nursery in our two wicking beds in January. I also started several in pots, and one pot from seeds I’d saved. And I had two pots of tomatoes that didn’t produce a single fruit last year, but made it through the summer and were ready for another try.

They are all doing well. We are swimming in tomatoes that truly ruin us for the rest of the year, they are so delicious. I’ve put away 12 quarts of tomato sauce (that I’ve been sharing with friends and neighbors) and have been reluctantly handing out small plastic bags of these golden beauties. (Reluctantly because while a small plastic bag of tomatoes may not look like much, it is the equivalent of years of work coming to fruition.)

Two significant things changed from years prior:

  1. I am here. All the time, I am here. I water, prune, and baby these plants every day.
  2. We visited an alpaca farm last summer in Prescott Valley; one of the weirdest and most exciting souvenirs I’ve ever brought home from a trip: a giant bag of alpaca fertilizer. The rancher told us it was gold for a garden because the pH won’t burn plants. Reader, I think that $5 was perhaps the best money I’ve spent in the last year. Any time we are in the area, we’ll be buying more. (Aren’t you sorry you didn’t marry me? Related: my husband is a trouper. He didn’t blink and eye when I told him we’d be spending the next two hours in the car with a 20 pound bag of animal feces.)

This week we’re enjoying tomatoes in tacos, meatball subs, quesadillas, and I’ll make homemade pizza this weekend. I may not have the farm I always dreamed of, but we are definitely making the most of this urban garden life.

Also, I think I’ve grown out of my need for chickens. I spent 15 years wanting chickens and now that I have a dog that needs a 5 mile walk daily and constant attention, I cannot fathom having one more animal to care for, clean after, and feed. I would still like to find a local duck/chicken egg producer to buy from regularly. I can find them at the farmers’ market, but we don’t go every week and we eat a lot of eggs.

What are you growing?

Locally Grown + Inhaled

Rising dough

Homemade pizza

Homemade pizza

I followed the instructions from this NYT article on making better homemade pizza. The results? I liked the toppings, but the crust still isn’t right. It is a tricky thing to master — pizza crust. Also, I wanted a healthier pizza and in truth? I missed all that gooey cheese. I am going to keep playing with different flours this summer to try to get it just right.


I also turned a handful of peaches from a friend’s tree into a fun dessert — a modification of this great Pioneer Woman recipe.

Matt and the giant peach

Peach and blueberry cobbler

I’ve noticed when eating farmer’s market or garden produce, I eat less. The flavors are such much more intense — you need less. Someone should write a silly new trendy diet book on this and get more people gardening and eating locally.



The tomatoes go wild

One of the most fulfilling aspects of gardening is the progress. Remember these 23 baby tomato plants that went in the earth in January? And then here we were in March where I was shouting, “Oh! A tomato hedge! I have a tomato HEDGE!” Little did I know.

The tomatoes go wild

Then I convinced Matt to build a teepee for the tomatoes, thinking this would help keep things in order. How naive! I really should have read a book for four about tomatoes before spending so much time playing in the garden. I didn’t know about trimming back the bushes to keep the tomatoes off the ground. Or anything about suckers. Instead, after our attempt at wrangling chaos with the teepee, we’ve let things go a bit wild.

The tomatoes go wild

The tomatoes go wild

A month ago, we had our first tomato. She was a big one. An early bloomer. A leader in her field. But little did we know that her delicious flavor would pale in comparison soon enough. The swarms to follow have been earthy, sweet, lush and the scent of freshly picked tomatoes cannot be beat. Just being near the tomato plants this time of year makes me want to dance in circles. I feel like a cross between Julie Andrews and a wild hippie when doing so.

The tomatoes go wild

Wild, I tell you. Today, the hedge has grown up to the front door and I’ve got tomatoes — homegrown, organic, lovely sweet delicious OH MY GOSH THIS IS WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE tomatoes — coming out of my ears. Now, remind me again why I didn’t start gardening 10 years ago? The best part of this tiny little garden is that I know without a doubt that if I can reap this bounty of a harvest from “borrowed’ HOA land in a condo complex in Phoenix, Arizona — you can grow a farm’s worth by comparison. (I’m making two assumptions there: 1. you have more than 3×4 feet of land to your name. And 2. You don’t live in an oven. With caliche soil.)

I have absolutely loved getting stuck into this gardening project. In fact, growing this hedge has inspired me to think about getting some new trees planted in our garden. One of our neighbors apparently knows a reliable tree surgeon that can provide a wide range of tree surgeon services so I am going to ask for some advice. As much as I love gardening, some things are best left to the experts, and I want to make sure that I am making the right decisions for our little garden!

That is not all I have planned though! As you can see from the photos above, the paving slabs in my garden are well overdue an upgrade. Ideally, I would like to get some flagstones fitted as I know that they are hard-wearing and built to last. A friend of mine has told me to browse these flagstones from Westminster Stone so I think I might have to see which colors I like best. I am so excited to see how my garden turns out when all my little renovation projects are complete.

The tomatoes go wild

Anyway, this mighty progress is translating to canned tomatoes this weekend. I’m also having friends over for homemade pizza too. My thanks, again, to Finny for inspiring me to take on new hobbies that seem so Herculean, but end up so deliciously fun. (See: knitting, sewing, canning, swearing.)



First tomato

First tomato

First tomato

The first tomato of the season, thoroughly enjoyed with a bit of salt. The flavor of a homegrown tomato is a balanced mix of earthy sweetness and ethereal hubris.

Remember when I planted 23 tomato plants and everyone thought I was a bit zealous? Right. Well, they are now quickly developing from tiny green innocents to lush, juicy red delights. We are going to have more tomatoes than we know what to do with.

Frankly, I cannot think of a better problem to have.



Remember how I mentioned I wanted tomato teepees, thanks to Organic Gardening?

Tomato Teepees

Voila. Yet another project the African successfully took on. These plants have responded to a little TLC with fury. They have grown so much since this photo, taken just a few days ago.


And there is a bit of landscaping prep happening for the upcoming garden party. I love marigolds — the way they smell and that they keep bugs away. I also admire their bright, unapologetic brashness. (And on a practical note, if I keep these watered, they’ll thrive in the Arizona heat.)

Also, by chance anyone from Organic Gardening happens to catch wind of this post — your magazine is fabulous. I truly enjoy it and cut out pages and pages of idea from the latest and then gave the skeleton to a friend to enjoy. However, poly-bagging your magazine? YOU ARE CALLED ORGANIC GARDENING! Really, a ridiculous disappointment.


Bright and Green and Pollen Everywhere


I’m sneezing today, more than likely because I bragged to a friend yesterday, “I don’t get allergies. I grew up here.” Muh huh. The puffy face, runny nose and itchiness says one thing loud and clear: Spring has sprung. Spring training games are underway. Lots of pasty white folk from Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan are wandering around in shorts and saguaro-embroidered visors. There are thousands of tiny saffron-hued globes of mesquite pollen fluttering to the ground from aching limbs above.





My garden is in the groove too. Everything is coming up green and shiny.

First tomatoes

Tomato hedge to be teepeed

And wowza, the tomato hedge is running rampant. I read an article in one of my gardening magazines this month about creating bamboo teepees for your plants to climb. This just sounds like more fun that buying another stack of tomato cages. I bought enough for three teepees yesterday, plus a gazillion marigolds to keep the bugs away. I expect to be covered in mud, pollen and allergy fueled tears soon enough.



Tendrils of hope

Gorgeous little blooms

Hello there!

There is something so spectacularly beautiful about the tenderness growing in the garden. The wateremelon, squash and pumpkin have all sent out these fragile, curling twiny arms — searching for something to cling to.  The blooms are cantalope orange and stay open only in the early morning, recoiling as soon as the sun gets too high.

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At the community garden, the okra is blooming and I cannot pick it fast enough.

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I handed out another five bags full yesterday, along with a collection of recipes. I intended to keep a few for baking today (throwing them in with zucchini for sweet breads) and completely forgot.

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The watermelons at the community garden are thriving with irrigated water.

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And thankfully the solarization is working. These plastic sheets act like microwaves, zapping everything trapped underneath and skillfully killing Bermuda grass without a drop of chemical. We’ll use these as future plots refugee families interested in playing.

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Really, what Monday is complete without seeing a field of okra?

{Might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written.}

If you live in Phoenix and want to help out this fantastic community project — we’ve got a workday planned this Friday and could use your help.  Leave a comment and I’ll contact you with details!


They Turn into A Carriage at Midnight


The pumpkins are growing at amazing speed, in part because I keep forgetting to turn the water off and they’ve received gobs of liquid love during the last month.


Even those little African seeds have taken off; I swear there are days I come home from work to find a new leaf has grown. Amazing! I can’t wait to see what happens to these in the next two months.



I know this may not look like much, but to me it means the world. I am finding myself in a strange area of transition. Like many, my job security is questionable. Add that to a spreading case of wanderlust and I am once again considering serious change.  Not just the little change, like canceling my gym membership after 15 years at the same place, or dramatically altering my spending habits thanks to a good kick in the pants from my financial advisor.

The life I’d been dreaming of and planning for doesn’t seem to make sense now. Instead, there are suddenly new opportunities to consider and I’m not sure what to do. I know leaving my tight web of friends in Phoenix for the lure of cooler weather won’t make me happier long-term. And yet, I crave a new start. I want to be near my family. I want four seasons. I want to live in a place where I feel like one of the gang and not a fish out of cultural waters.

silver leaves?

matty watering away

matt's babies grow

zucchini leaves

And so, I go out into the garden and daydream, mulling over the choices ahead. These little plants serve as a great daily reminder to thank God for what I do have, right here, right now, within my grasp.


Green is Good

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

may 8 .2 011

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

A visit to Baker's Nursery in Phoenix

I wandered Baker’s Nursery yesterday with Greg, checking out the squash, herbs, peppers and flowers begging to be taken home and planted before the incredible heat gets even hotter. It was an aesthetic overload — so many bright colors, odd shapes, varying textures to try to capture.

I’ve just joined the board of the Phoenix Permaculture Guild; over lunch yesterday, I told him how I once was chastised in junior high for having created an environmental club — SOAP (Save our Amazing Planet.) We laughed at the stories of holding countless carwashes to raise money to buy portions of the rainforest, which was very en vogue. Using soap for SOAP, we did raise awareness in Mesa; our little club was intrumental in getting curbside recycling implemented city-wide.

I was asked a few weeks ago to speak at my junior high about refugees. I hadn’t been back in more than 15 years and it was an Alice in Wonderland experience with the school seeming very lilliputian. After the presentation, I asked a couple students if SOAP was still around.  I was so happy to hear they were still recycling, getting the kitchen to reduce waste, limiting water use, etc. It was a full-circle moment — so fundamentally satisfying and healing.

Some people know what they want to do with their lives from childhood. I have no idea what I want to do tomorrow. But it does make me happy to think this little club was worth the torment. Hopefully I’ll have something to offer the guild leaders. Perhaps they need a carwash?


A Choice

During a morning walk through the garden, watering the plants and thinking of the day ahead, I found myself wrapped in the words of Rumi.

Bougainvillea takes over

We will be pumpkins when we grow up!

Flowering basil

Good morning, sun.

To be fried!

Stay bewildered in God,

and only that.

Those of you who are scattered,

simplify your worrying lives. There is one
righteousness: Water the fruit trees,
and don’t water the thorns. Be generous
to what nurtures the spirit and God’s luminous
reason-light. Don’t honor what causes
dysentery and knotted-up tumors.

Don’t feed both sides of yourself equally.
The spirit and the body carry different loads
and require different attentions.

Too often

we put saddlebags on Jesus and let the donkey
run loose in the pasture.

Don’t make the body do
what the spirit does best, and don’t put a big load

on the spirit that the body could carry easily.

Pear tomatoes

Good morning, gorgeous

Time to pick you, me thinks

“Wherever you are, whatever you do, be in love.”
Or as my mom would say, “bloom where you are planted.” Today, I choose happiness.

I find it fascinating Rumi was Muslim, but spent much of his poetry discussion Christianity. He was actually from Italy, but once he landed in Turkey was given the name “Rumi” which means “from Rome.”

I am so enjoying the poems you’ve sent. One of my girlfriends is a librarian and she has a mad passion for poetry. She was explaining how she celebrates “poems in your pocket” day at her school. She hands poems out to students in the hopes of spurring their interest. When I found a Pablo Neruda sonnet in my planner as a meeting was drawing to a close yesterday, I read it aloud a colleague. He looked at me as though I’d lost my mind, but I doubt he’ll soon forget it.