Charlie’s Early January Newsletter
Colorful Cherry Tomatoes, Big Beautiful Baptisia, Raised Bed Video and Edible Ground Covers
I swear the sun feels a stronger. I know it’s only mid-January, but we are moving towards spring and even with freezing cold weather in our garden, the sun foreshadows signs of things to come.
My seed order is complete, but I always have a few extras I add on after looking at more catalogs. In this newsletter I talk about cherry tomatoes and some colorful varieties that actually may be improvement over some old standards.
One of my favorite spring perennials actually grows into a shrub each year. Baptisia or false indigo is a legume that grows to 3- to 4-feet tall and wide blooming in spring with colorful lupine-like flowers. Learn more about this easy to grow, big perennial here.
It’s also time to do a little indoor construction project in many areas. Building a raised bed is one pre-gardening chores you can do this time of year. Watch my video and listen to my podcast on the benefits of raised bed gardening here.
With my Foodscaping Webinar on February 1st only a few weeks away, I’ve extended the Early Bird Discount until Sunday. I thought I’d pique your interest, if you’re on the fence about attending, with a podcast about edible ground covers. A good way to get away from mulching everything is to use edible ground covers to cover the soil, prevent weed growth and give you something delicious to eat.
Enjoy the lengthening day where ever you are. Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
Where to Find Charlie: (podcasts, TV and in-person)
No matter what new varieties of tomatoes I try every year, Wendy and I always plant one ‘Sungold’ cherry tomato plant. We, like many, love ‘Sungold’ for the orange colored fruits and sweet flavor and one is plenty for us. But I should be more adventurous in my cherry tomato varieties. There are many old and new varieties worth trying and some may solve some of my tomato disease problems.
‘Esterina’ has a ‘Sungold’-like appearance and sweet flavor, but has better disease resistance. ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ is a red heirloom with small, tasty fruits that are produced in abundance, even for a cherry tomato, with early blight disease resistance. ‘Black Cherry’ is an unusual purple/black Russian variety with an more earthy flavor. ‘Glacier’ is a good red cherry variety that produces fruits on small plant, perfect for containers and small raised beds. And the Bumblebee series adds some cool colored cherry varieties to the mix. ‘Pink’, ‘Purple’ and ‘Sunrise’ Bumblebee cherry tomatoes are as beautiful to look at as they are delicious to eat.
Our biggest problem with cherry tomatoes to growing too many. Most of these varieties are prolific, even if they succumb to blight and foliar diseases. The key to stopping the foliar diseases is variety selection, wider plant spacing, mulching and sprays. Watch this video about tomato disease control for more.
You shouldn’t be starting your cherry tomato seedlings until about 6 weeks before your last frost date. In my garden, it’s early April when I finally get them started. It’s always better to have a young plant, actively growing, than an older, leggy plant that you’re trying to hold back because it’s too early to plant outdoors. You can always extend the season with row covers, Wall O Waters and cloches, perhaps gaining a month on your regular plantings.
Go here for more on growing tomatoes.
When planning our perennial flower border, I knew we had to have a baptisia or false indigo. This native perennial is a beauty in 3 seasons of the year while it’s growing. It’s herbaceous so dies back to the ground each winter. In spring, shoots of pea-like leaves emerge and quickly grow into a 3 to 4 foot tall and wide shrub. On top of the shoots are colorful lupine-like flowers that bees and butterflies adore. After flowering, the black seed pods form which are great in cut flower arrangements or left on the plant to rattle in the wind.
We grow the classic ‘Blue Baptisia’, but there are many other colorful selections available now to try. ‘Solar Flare’ has yellow flowers that fade to an orange color. ‘Lunar Eclipse’ has white, light blue and purple colored flowers on the same plant for a striking color contrast.
Baptisia is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9 and grows best in full sun on well-drained soil. However, we have clay soil where I planted our baptisia and it has adapted and is growing fine. The benefit of growing baptisia in a clay soil area is it has a tap root that can help break up the soil, making it easier for other plants to grow. Baptisia are long-lived plants as well. Part of the reason for their low maintenance is they are legumes. They can fix their own atmospheric nitrogen and need little extra fertilizer.
Plant baptisias as anchor plants in your perennial garden with complimentary plantings of peonies, iris and salvias that contrast well with the baptisia blooms. Plant later blooming perennials, such as echinaceas and rudbeckia, in front of baptisia to take advantage of the dark green foliage background baptisia creates all summer. Of course, baptisia is a wildflower so will grow well in meadows and open spaces providing a necessary magnet for bees and butterflies, but not attracting deer, since they seem to avoid this plant.
Go here for more on growing baptisia.
If you’re getting a little squirrely being indoors with no gardens to tend, now is a good time to do a few garden projects. One can be making raised beds. Raised beds can be free standing, using just soil, or outlined using wood, stone, bricks, or metal. If you’re interested in the basics of building a raised bed in the garden, check out this video.
For those wanting something more structured, start with the size. A raised bed should never been wider than 3 to 4 feet and as long as you like. That way you can reach into the center of the bed without stepping on and compacting the soil. Make the bed 8- to 12-inches deep, unless you’re gardening on asphalt or gravel, then you might want to go deeper. One trend is building tall raised beds so you don’t have to bend down as much. These are convenient, but are heavy to move, even if you create a false bottom 1/3rd of the way down the bed.
Once you know your bed size, choose rot resistant native woods such as cedar and redwood. Avoid pressure treated woods. You can also build with plastic woods and metal for a more modern look. Have strong bracing on the 4 corners and thick boards so the bed doesn’t warp. We used 2 inch diameter boards for this reason. Also, if you may move the beds, consider using metal raised bed corners that are easy to remove and move.
In warmer areas you can build them soon and even plant, depending on your location. Fill the beds with a mix of 60% topsoil and 40% compost. If building beds on potentially contaminated soil, place landscape fabric on the bottom of the bed as a barrier to the native soils. Enjoy the bed and each spring amend the soil again with compost to keep the plantings productive.
Go here for more on making a raised bed.
I’ve been talking about my Foodscaping Webinar coming up on February 1st and encourage you to sign up if you’re interested in learning more about growing edibles in the landscape.
One of the topics I’ll cover is edible ground covers. Using ground covers instead of mulch is a fast emerging trend in landscaping, as we try to mimic natural ecosystems as much as possible. My added twist is making those ground covers edible. Strawberries, nasturtiums, mint and thyme are just some of the ground covers you can grow, depending on your situation.
We grow alpine strawberries in the front of our perennial flowers, and mint and running strawberries under our fruit trees. Even if the mint escapes into the lawn, then I have the pleasure of a minty fragrance every time I mow.
Check out my Foodscaping Webinar on February 1st. You don’t have to be present. Simply sign up and get the recording for later viewing.
Go here for more on edible ground covers.