Monday, February 13, 2012

The Family Solanaceae: Garden Plan 2012 and Dark Days Meal (#11)

I sat down one night last week and started sketching out my garden plans for the spring.

But first, I needed to sketch out what I grew in my garden last year. In order to promote fertile soil and reduce crop disease and pests, it's a good idea to rotate your garden vegetables so that you're not growing nitrogen-hungry tomatoes in the same soil each year. 

I found it helpful to draw 2011 on the left-hand page and 2012 on the right-hand page of my garden notebook. The beds are scaled in my mind, but not on the page... this is more of a schematic than a rigorous planting regimen. This is also a work in progress - note that I am using pencil, not ink here.

Click to open a larger picture in a new window.

I counted over 40 seed packets in my little storage box saved from previous seasons, and having ordered 20 new packets this year, I realized that sharing my planting plans might "get into the weeds" pretty fast. I figured it would make sense to report out on my garden planning on a botanical family basis. So, to start off, let's meet the Solanaceae family...

The Solanaceae is a New World family (i.e. native to the Americas, not Eurasia) of tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, deadly nightshades, belladonna, mandrake (not the shrieking variety of Harry Potter fame), petunias, groundcherries, and many other plants. (For a full listing, visit the USDA Plants database.)

I have a few types of hot and sweet-hot peppers (cayenne, cherry bell, and orange pimiento) that I'm hoping to start as seedlings next month. I have not had much success getting sweet bell peppers to fully ripen, so I think I'll stick to the farmer's market for acquiring a stockpile of those.

For tomatoes, I have ordered Cherokee Purple, a big, meaty heirloom that looks positively wild and unkempt but tastes fresh, sweet and juicy. I also have seeds from previous years of several varieties of cherry and paste tomatoes. I have found that smaller tomatoes ripen faster and more uniformly in our garden microclimate. My neighbor, who lives two houses over, grows outstanding Brandywine tomatoes, but I have the hardest time getting my full-size tomatoes to ripen.

Despite my success growing potatoes last year, I'm going to pass on growing them in 2012. They take up a lot of space, and there are excellent and inexpensive sources of potatoes at several local farms. I'm also going to skip growing eggplants - I don't love them enough to allocate them space in the garden this year, plus I can buy them for a good price at both the farm stand and farmer's market in the summer.

Leftover soup for lunch!
Speaking of getting good prices at the farm stand, when the tomatoes start coming in July and August, they don't tend to stop until the frost hits. August/September is a great time of year to ask your farmer about special bulk prices on canning tomatoes. You will thank your farmer at the time of your purchase, and then again in February when you crack open a jar of tomatoes (or pull a container out of the freezer) to make tomato soup.

For my Dark Days meal this week, I tried a new recipe for Cream of Tomato Soup. Despite its origins with a very reputable source (America's Test Kitchen), I found it to be overly complicated for a simple soup and the results were just so-so. Fortunately, there are more tomatoes in the pantry, so I will have the opportunity to try again.

1 comment:

  1. I dunno, I find America's Test Kitchen overcomplicates lots of recipes. They're up there with Martha Stewart, in my opinion.

    Your chosen tomatoes sound WONDERFUL. I'm getting excited for summer tomatoes!