Summer Bounty

It’s been very busy around here. I barely can keep up with the watering and the weeding and the eating of the produce. I have roasted peppers and I have made chiles rellenos. I have roasted tomatos and I have made tomato soup. I have eaten many veggie sandwiches and I will eat many more before the season is over. Oh yeah, and I don’t have to wonder what went into growing my veggies; I know: dirt, water, and sun.

I began selecting what tomatoes will grow in the garden next year:


  • Siberian
  • Juliet
  • Jubilee
  • Yellow Pear
  • Sungold
  • Black Krim
  • Black Russian
  • Great White
  • Amateur’s Dream
  • Otradny
  • Tiny Tim

This may actually be the final list. A surprise for me this year were the Juliet tomatoes. Wow! They are tasty and the plant is prolific but what I REALLY like about them is that by the time all my other cherry tomatoes are getting mushy on the dinning room table, these guys are as firm and delicious as when I picked them. Another surprise was the Great White. I REALLY liked the flavor of this tomato. The plant however is a little picky on setting fruit, at least under the conditions of my garden. The Otradny were really good and while many tomatoes in my garden cracked with the crazy rain patterns, these little guys stayed nice and round. The Sungold cherries lived up to the hype and boy! are they sweet! The Black Krim and Black Russian are very good black tomatoes. I would have liked to compare them to Cherokee Purple but none of my Cherokee Purple plants have set any viable fruit. Last but not least is the Tiny Tim. I grew it as a novelty but it won my heart with it’s hardiness. It is truly a compact tomato and I will try to grow it year round inside the house. I will experiment with it to see if it will provide me with fresh cherry tomatoes during the Winter.

I have harvested and eaten many cucumbers including Lemon Cucumbers which I liked well enough to grow them again next year.  I have harvested and eaten many Minnesota Midget cantaloupes as well.


This year I was not able to grow a single bean. I don’t know if it is the heat but all the bean blooms fell. The peach tree fell apart under the weight of the fruit. I never got around to pruning the tree or thinning the fruit and the poor tree paid for it. My radishes have been spotty. I’ve grown a few but most just grow nice tops and no bulb.

Here are some pictures of some of my bounty:

Jubilee tomatoes -with Anaheim for added color

Hungarian Yellow Wax, California Wonder, and Mini Bell.

Cucumber and Yellow Pear tomatoes


The cage experiment was a success to a point. It was a great way to grow some early tomatoes. The cement under it made it nice and warm for the tomatoes to develop early. Now however, the cage is a death trap. I still have a few tomatoes in it and all are heat stressed. At any rate, my dog Lexie has calmed down considerably and I think I won’t need to protect my plants with the cage next year.

Over and out.


Here we are


Summer is officially here and the tomatoes responded accordingly. Many of the tomatoes that set in the Spring began to ripen on the vine this week. I have harvested and eaten many tomatoes, both cherry type and regular type. I ate my first Black Russian tomato this evening. It wasn’t very pretty so I did not take a picture but it sure tasted alright!. Incidentally, I have observed that the tomatoes that set in Mid Spring are all ugly. Many are cat-faced (funny shaped) and many had some kind of blemish. Hey, I eat them anyway. Some are pretty no matter what, like these Otradny tomatoes (determinate type). The plant is rather small and compact and the flavor is not bad so I may grow them again in spite of my promise not to grow determinate tomatoes anymore.

Otradny Tomato

One of the tomatoes I am awaiting with curiosity is the Great White. Although this tomato is supposed to be large, my Great White tomato plant is smallish. It is growing in a mix of coir and top soil. By the way, all my tomatoes growing in coir are small. I have heard many theories about this but the Internet has not settled on an answer yet. Coir drains well and keeps moisture for what seems like an eternity so it’s not that. I read that adding Epson salt helps. Ultimately, it may have something to do with the source of the coir. We’ll see.

Great White


I emptied one of my potato bags and found that the potatoes therein had boiled with the heat. The soil was wet and very hot. Expecting the same with my other bags, I emptied them all and was glad to find 10+ lbs. of potatoes. If I had left them in, they may have grown larger. I will enjoy them nonetheless. Next year, I am going back to growing them in the ground.

Potato goodness


One of my Anaheim plants has began to produce peppers. Last year, my Anaheim plants were prolific. I expect the same this year. One of my Jalapeño M plants has peppers as well as one of my Mini-Bell plants. If things work like they have in the past, the rest of the plants will catch up in late Summer and really go crazy in early Fall.

Anaheim. I see a roasting in your future.


I ate the first cucumber of the season last night. It was delicious!. There are more on the way. Also, the Lemon Cucumber container has began setting fruit. I can’t wait to taste the Lemon Cukes.

I see you...

Lemon cucumber. It's supposed to taste like citrus.


I did not plant Watermelon this year. I did not have the room. I planted Minnesota Midget cantaloupe however, because it’s supposed to be a compact vine (someone forgot to tell the plants!). You can eat these guys rind and all. They are very sweet if you let them ripen all the way in the vine.

Minnesota Midget: The size is small, the flavor is BIG


The volunteer Giant sunflowers have bloomed. They add a nice yellow accent to the greenery. The birds will enjoy them. The holes on the leaves are from hail.



Space your tomato plants generously so that you may work on them comfortably. I never experienced this problem until I had 40+ plants.

Over and out.

State of the garden.

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since my last post.

It is June 19th and my vegetable and fruit operation has grown out of my control. I can barely keep up with weeding. Watering is easier this year than it was last year and the fence has kept my dogs out of the plants. No major diseases have struck but the plants are not picture perfect.

It's a real mess

Still, the fruits of my labor have begun to appear. I pulled all the carrots out two weeks ago and I am still eating them. I began to pull the garlic out. Not knowing if I could eat the tiny bulbs, I threw them in the composter. My peas are all gone and the rest of the spring veggies all went to seed (literally!).  Here are some of the upcoming stars in the garden:


The cucumber plants are growing exponentially (I don’t know what that means!)

Coming soon to a salad near you!


Oh Pepper, how do I love thee!


I have harvested many tomatoes already. I even shared with my neighbor. She made a salad for her husband and he exclaimed that the tomatoes were delicious. He did not know they came from my garden. Yes, I am proud. Unfortunately, the tomatoes are consumed almost as soon as they come in the house and I have no pictures except for this one.

Galina and Large Cherry tomatoes

The blossom rot end (BER) problem was confined to my container tomatoes and it’s gone now –for the most part.

One firm conclusion I have arrived at this year is that I will no longer grow Determinate tomatoes. Unless someone convinces me that a Determinate tomato is SO delicious that I must grow it, I think this is my last year for growing them. I came to this because my Prairie Fire tomato plant is done. It has about 8 tomatoes left growing on it after I pruned the ones that were afflicted by BER. The tomatoes are beginning to turn color and the plant has began to die and it’s not even the end of June.

I checked on my fallen Blackberry bush. I am just in awe at the resilience of this plant. The blackberries continue to ripen and I even beat the birds to a few. They were so sweet!

Birds denied

Other things competing for my attention are:


They are my life and they keep me busy. Here they are before we went exploring around the Arkansas River the other day. You can’t see their canteens, of which they were very proud!

The boys


Oh yeah! It’s that time again. The World Cup  is on! This year, all the perennial favorites have met VERY stiff resistance from the rest of the world. The US is as strong a team as any and recently got robbed of a win but I still have hopes of advancing to the next stage. My other team is Mexico and my biggest fantasy is that the US and Mexico will compete for the Cup in the finals. Hey, a man can dream!

The North Korean team is awesome and could really be the Cinderella story of this cup. Politics have no place in Futbol (sure we call it Soccer but the rest of the world calls it Futbol) and the North Korean team won my respect by giving Brazil a run for their money.

Of course, if God loves me, he will let an African country reach the finals. If you don’t follow futbol, you may not understand the passion the game ignites in people and you may not understand the INCREDIBLE lift a spot in the finals could give a whole continent. I keep thinking of the millions of little boys and girls in Africa whose dreams will reach a new level if an African team reaches the finals.

Over and Out.

Summer is Here

To me, Summer has officially started when I harvest my first ripe tomato from the garden. Tah-Dah! I present to you Galina. This was my first ripe tomato last year as well. Galina is sweet with a bite of acid at the end. It is a cherry type tomato that varies from bright yellow to orange in color.  The seed packet said it is an indeterminate plant but for me, this plant grows more like a bush than a vine.  I harvested this beauty yesterday so the official date of Summer at Benjamin Hill Farms is June 5th.


I’ve had a bad time with Blossom End Rot (BER). I believe this is due to the many rainy days we experienced a few weeks ago. Apparently, too much water will keep the roots from taking calcium, which then causes BER. I have pulled many tomatoes afflicted by BER and I am happy to report that the new tomatoes forming are ok.


My novelty tomato; Tiny Tim, reached maturity at 8 inches tall. It has been setting fruit like crazy. I count 11 cherry tomatoes on the plant.

Tiny Tim doing its share


My Silvery Fir Tree tomato plant is producing lots of tomatoes. I pulled a few that were affected by BER and still have lots and lots left on the plant. How I wish this was an Indeterminate plant. I do love the flat nature of the fruit!

Silvery Fir Tree tomato


A couple of weeks ago, a strong gale blew through my garden and flattened the blackberry canes. It broke them actually. I left them where they fell because they were still somewhat attached. The fruit continues to form on them and to ripen.



Incredibly, there are three pepper plants surviving on the Upsy Turvy pepper planter. The planter itself seems to be doing poorly in the sun but three plants in it survived and are developing.

Not quite a success but not a complete failure

Overall, things are ok in the garden. My tomato plants don’t look perfect. There is evidence of water-stress, blossom-end rot and caterpillar damage but then I did not expect them to look perfect. I don’t spray anything on them so they fend for themselves. I am betting that if I feed them and water them, they will be strong and do fine.

My onions did not grow. They were salad onions so I did not expect bulbs but I expected them to grow bigger than they did. I pulled them and ate them this morning for breakfast.

My garlic is not growing either. It got to a point and stopped. It’s not doing anything actually. Just sitting there.

My Peas are done. I will pull them this evening when the temperatures drop a little. I already have a few tomato plants where the peas grew.

I wanted to pull my cabbage and my broccoli plants out but I decided to let them sit a while longer. I went out last evening and found no cabbage loopers on the cabbage. Where did they go? I checked the broccoli and saw none there either. Did it get too hot for them?

The cucumber plants are growing well. The lemon cucumbers have blooms now. I can’t wait to taste these round cucumbers.

My Minnesota Midget canteloupes are growing and some are begginning to hold on to the fence. I planted them on a big tub this year. I hope they fruit.


I found fruit flies around the peaches today. Sigh! I hope there are enough peaches on the tree that I get to eat some this year. I don’t want to spray the trees so I don’t know what to do. All the peaches I bagged fell. Incidentally, fruit trees drop fruit to self-thin. It’s called June Drop. Mine started dropping fruit in May so I hope it is still the same thing.

Over and Out.

State of the Garden

Here are some of  the things happening in my garden today:

**NOTE** Picture intensive.


I don’t get tired of looking at the Amateur’s Dream plant. Incidentally, this is the only one I have. I thought I had another but I have not found it yet. These beauties just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Yumminess ensues

The Maskotka tomato plants are producing as well. I see pictures of this plant growing abundantly over the edges of containers but mine look spindly. Some people nip the first blooms in tomato plants to direct the plant’s energy to producing deeper roots and more foliage but I don’t. I figure the plant knows what it is doing. I hope they fill in later in the season though.

Spindly but fruiting

Despite having the earliest fruiting date of all my tomatoes, Stupice was not the first plant to produce fruit. It came in fourth place after the Amateur’s Dream, the Galina, and the Maskotka.

From Hungary with love

Here’s the plant I am watching with drooling anticipation. My Black Russian finally has fruit! I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this baby.

Come to papa!


I dug out a carrot to check on their development. Also, I began to harvest peas. Both were garden-fresh delicious!


Behold my carrot and potato jungle!

First time my potato plants got this big

Tomatillos!!! This is my first tomatillo ever. Inside this Chinese Lantern grows a tomato-like fruit with delicious tartness for my salsa and my sandwiches.

Giant green tomatillo

Bush beans make a debut this season in the garden

Beans, beans, good for the heart even though they make you fart


Nectarines, peaches, blackberries, strawberries…

Nectarines await

Peach, sunny side up

Blackberries...if the birds let me have some

Strawberries. Sweet!


The Geum bloomed! I REALLY like this flower. It is the first perennial I planted myself so it has a special place in my heart. Now, where are all those butterflies?

Geum is here!

The Butterfly bush just keeps on blooming!

This sure is a pretty flower

The Sage continues to bloom as well

Too fly for a wild plant!


I managed to kill most of my gourd plants but the Small Apple Gourd is alive and producing

Apple gourd.

The Avocado tree in a pot lives in spite of my gruesome neglect

Avocado leaf...guacamole in the making!

Finally, my garden-help needs to learn to put his shoes on correctly

Left foot, right foot

Over and out.

die Sonne Scheint: More neurotic Kansas weather

I took a German class back in the Middle Ages in college. In a whole semester this is all I learned and I finally get to use it! Yes the sun is out after eternal cloud cover and rain. My rain gauge registered 1.5 inches in one day. I stopped looking at the rain gauge; it just did not matter. Along with the interminable rain, we had day temperatures in the 60’s (Fahrenheit) and night temperatures in the low 50’s.

The sun was out when I left for work this morning and the disembodied voice in my car radio told me to expect highs in the 80’s for today. Tomorrow, we get 90’s! I guess expecting gentle temperatures in Spring –like 72 or so, was too much to ask.

Nonetheless, my veggies just move along. Tomatoes are growing everywhere. The carrots should be ready for harvest next week. I ate some peas straight off the vine and learned a valuable lesson: plant LOTS of peas if you want enough to share. The cabbage and broccoli are not developed enough to deal with the upcoming heat. We’ll see.

Over and out.

It’s a deep subject

I have a well and for the past three years I have not used it. This well was dug by the original owner of this house. The well was dug solely for watering the lawn. I know this because the sprinkler system was connected to the well and the well was capped. Three years ago the pump of the sprinkler system went out and I could not get a single sprinkler company to fix it. I suppose there is no money on replacing pumps. I suppose if I called them to install a new sprinkler system they would come. I suppose I could just replace my lawn with something else. Last year I began searching for an inexpensive hand pump system to pump water from this well. It is just sitting there going to waste.

Free water for the taking


My 50 gallon rain barrel is full. I need more rain barrels! Joe’s Car Wash here in town sells 55 gallon plastic drums for $20 dollars. They were out for the moment but I left my name and number and they will call me when they have some available.

50 gallons ready to go!


I bagged some fruit on the trees to see what happens. The idea is to protect the fruit from bugs and birds. This has been done for a long time in Asia and for a while in the U.S. I used cheap zip-lock bags acquired at the dollar store. Cut holes at the bottom corners and zip around the stem of the fruit. Staple on both sides of the stem. This is easier if you zip the bag half-way and put one staple on before you insert the fruit in the bag. I am excited to see the results in late Summer.

It's in the bag


The Amateur’s Dream tomatoes are growing nicely. My cabbage and broccoli are doing well. The peas are beginning to plump and just about every tomato plant in the garden has blooms. The potato plants are lush. I found a caterpillar in one of the tomato plants and some aphids in one of the apple trees. Other than that, the bugs are elsewhere.

Looking good!

This little guy was having lunch.

Hey! I am eating here!

Over and out.

First Tomato of 2010!

As I expected, the first tomato plant to set fruit was the Amateur’s Dream plant in the cage in a sub-irrigated container. The tomatoes look a couple of days old so I am going to say they set probably on May 4th or before.

Amateur's Dream Wins First Tomato of the Season Award!

Now, conventional wisdom says that a tomato will not set fruit unless night temperatures rise above 50°F but I contend that with the advent of Russian tomatoes, this should be amended to say that some tomatoes need temperatures above 50°F and some do not.

Many tomato plants in my area are just now making it outside because night temperatures are finally rising.  The setting of fruit is ruled by a complex set of variables of which night time temperatures is but one. I would say that sunlight exposure is more important than night time temperatures. Maybe I am wrong. Hey, sometimes a gamble pays off.

One thing you may notice in the picture is that one of the tomatoes is pleated or cat faced. Cat face can occur, I read, when fruit sets in cold temperatures.


Thinning carrots, or lettuce or any other plant seems like such a waste to me. These carrots were planted on a strip to minimize thinning. It did not minimize thinning for me! I ate these carrots by the way; they were delicious.

Carrots Interrupted


On several of my tomato plants, the leader on the main stem has curled severely. I have never seen this before. I hope it is because of the cold nights we experienced recently and not because of some disease. I took pictures of this oddity but I could not get a good representative photo to show you. This is the best I could do without stripping the leaves off the vine.

Curled like a pig's tail

Over and out.

Wind-blown Sunday

It rained yesterday. Around 4:30 pm or so we even got tiny hail briefly. Today it was sunny most of the day but very windy. Still, it was a good day to work outside.

First I set up my 35 gallon rain barrel. I bought this rain barrel some years ago before I knew better. It was terribly expensive but it has held up well. My dog ate the hose on it several times and even began chewing on the spout. I bought a second rain barrel last year but it broke due to my negligence. By the way, Lexie ate the hose on that one too. A couple of months ago I bought a 50 gallon rain barrel at Sam’s. It was reasonably priced at about $80 American dollars. We have a rain barrel maker here in the city. I keep thinking I am going to buy a rain barrel from him but it hasn’t happened yet. I still have a spot for a third barrel so maybe later this season I will buy one from him.

Expensive 35 gallon barrel at the ready

After getting the barrel set up, I prepared a new area for plants in my yard. I planted 10 tomato plants and put a home-made sub-irrigated container for some peppers. I planted Ancho Magnifico, Jalapeno M, Sunbright, and Mini Bell. I planted 6 plants total in the container. I normally would not have planted more than 4 in a container this size but the instruction booklet that came with my upside down pepper planter claims that if you crowd pepper plants, they produce more peppers. I don’t believe that but I will try it here. By the way, all the plants in the Upsy Turvey pepper planter were killed by the high winds.

Growing room


My Amateur’s Dream tomato plant in the cage has blooms already. It’s not even May and this plant is ready to go.  We are expecting a few nights in the low 40’s Fahrenheit (approx. 5 C) so even if the flowers are pollinated the plant may not set fruit. Again, this plant is proving to be my earliest performer.

Amateur's Dream ready to go!

BLACK BERRY…no not the phone; the plant.

While mowing, I found that the Black Berry plant has began spreading. In the blurry photo below, you are looking at a shoot from the plant about 4 feet away. I accidentally mowed another shoot that was growing about 6 feet away. My 4 year old son stepped on yet another shoot growing about 3 feet away. My neighbor’s yard is only about 10 feet away from this plant. I can see I will have to manage this!

World Conquest and Domination!


I’ve read in a couple of other blogs about their Piles. The Pile is basically a place where all manner of dead vegetation goes. I dug a hole and promptly filled it with dead plant matter. I have a composter but I am managing that differently and more carefully than the pile. We’ll see what comes of this.

The Pile. Where dead plants go to....mmmm...die?


My potatoes in bags and such are growing fast. I unfolded the bags completely and filled dirt again. I will pour dirt into them one more time in a few days and then I will wait for the harvest. My early potatoes may be ready to go by the end of May. My Kennebec potatoes will take longer.

Potatoes in the bag


I began attempting to grow Brandywine tomatoes after reading the book The 64 Dollar Tomato by William Alexander. I successfully grew them last season. Although they are a bit too sweet for me I liked them well enough to grow them again. You can find black, red, and pink varieties of Brandywine tomatoes. I am growing red ones here. The plant is Indeterminate and will grow to over 6 feet tall.  It is a potato-leaf tomato and its flowers are the type that will allow for cross breeding so if you want to save seeds from this plant you may want to isolate it to make sure you get the same tomato next season. The tomatoes are large and the plant produces well.

Brandywine before it reaches for the sky

More and more…

It seems like the more I get done the more there is to do. The potatoes are ready for more soil but I did not get it done.  It’s on the list. The carrots need thinning but I did not get to it. Tomorrow for sure. I’m trying to get at least one variety of each tomato and pepper out and planted. I am almost done. Next I will start planting  indiscriminately until all my plants are outside. Why don’t I have it done already you ask?

Crying over spilled soil... me not her.

You are looking at the reason why so much has not been done yet. Everything takes twice as long when I am worrying about what Lexie is doing while my back is turned. Ripping this bag of soil is her version of fun.

I have switched from peat to coir. I need to settle on a routine for making my potting soil. This is the first year I try coir. It comes in bricks. You add water and presto! Next we need to add compost and vermiculite.

Dry coir bricks

Add water and they plump

All ready for use in about 10 minutes!

If you don’t know, coir is processed coconut fiber. People are switching to coir from peat because peat is not really a renewable resource. Once you harvest peat, it takes a long time to form again. The only thing I don’t like about coir is the price. I can get peat cheaper than I can coir. I am hoping with more people using coir, its price will drop. I paid about $2.50 dlls. per packet of two bricks.

I am trying a novelty tomato this year. Tiny Tim is supposed to grow only to 7-10 inches in a pot and give approximately a dozen cherry size tomatoes. I hear the flavor is average. I’ve seen pictures of this tomato variety growing in coffee cups. I sowed about 10 seeds but only one germinated. I think I sowed the seeds too deep. The plant is Determinant so once I get my 12 tomatoes, the plant is done.

Tiny Tim; for conversation only

I continue to rave about the Amateur’s Dream tomato. Again this year, it is the strongest, fastest-growing tomato plant in the lot! It shook the damage from the most recent hail storm like it was nothing. I remember the tomatoes tasted ok from last season. I intend to do a better taste test this year. The plants produces well. It is an Indeterminate type and it’s of Russian provenance.

Amateur's Dream; outgrowing them all

On the opposite end of the strength spectrum lie the Box Car Willie tomato and the Abe Lincoln tomato. Both of these plants seem to die at the slightest provocation. First, temperatures below 40F -but not freezing, killed both these plants. Then, the hail storm killed them both. It’s a good thing I had backup plants inside. I am on the third planting and the Abe Lincoln plant is looking a little sad (sorry, no pictures. I did not have time).

I planted more peppers today. Tomorrow I will sow my cucumbers if it is the only thing I do in the garden!