Thirty Days in the Garden: Planting Tomatoes

I haven’t had much success growing tomatoes these past few years, but I refuse to give up. Fresh garden tomatoes off the vine are a treat.

A basket of assorted tomatoes from 2017

My dad grew tomatoes in our garden in Canada. I grew up eating tomato sandwiches for lunch. In California, people add tomatoes to things like salads and sandwiches, but we enjoyed eating tomatoes as the main event.

When I write or type the word tomato, I can hear my mother pronouncing it tuh-mah-toh. Most Americans use the hard a or tuh-mey-toh. Are you saying it in your head now, too?

A year into the pandemic, my husband Mike, is showing an interest in gardening. Who knew? We headed to the nursery together and diplomatically chose two plants each. I frequently buy the brand Bonnie Plants, a company that has been around for over 100 years.

We decided on two cherry tomato plants and two Early Girl. For some reason, the term Early Girl gets on my nerves, but it didn’t stop me from buying the plant. It sounds vaguely patriarchal somehow.

2019: The plants looked healthy, but production was almost non-existent

I have a raised bed in the back garden which has grown a variety of things over the years. I planted geraniums at the end of the summer a few years ago so that Tessa wouldn’t use the raised bed as her personal “litter” box. We eventually transplanted one geranium to a pot, a second one in the front garden, and I think I may have taken the third plant downtown.

2016: Assembling the raised bed, called a VegTrug

With the bed cleared, and the tomatoes planted, I covered the plants with a mesh netting intended to keep out bugs. It won’t be in place for long, as the plants will need to be staked, but I had hoped it would serve as a deterrent while the plants get established.

2021: VegTrug mesh cover

A few days later my son found Tessa sleeping under the mesh canopy. That cat!

The other two plants are in an Earthbox in the front garden in one of the few sunny spots. Earthboxes are all-in-one growing systems, intended for growing vegetables in small spaces. They’re great for moving around. The box has casters, a watering tube, a perforated watering tray, and even comes with a bio-degradable cover. You stuff potting mix into the bottom corners and soak to create a wick of sorts. Then you add potting mix, some lime, and some fertilizer, mix it all together and plant. You can plant seeds or small plants in the box. I’ve used mine for several years.

Now we sit back and wait to see if our plants will produce those delicious red tomatoes of my youth.

Temporarily Sidelined From the Garden

Campanula Serbian bellflower Campanula (Serbian bellflower) and hydrangea hugging the fountain

It feels good to be back in the garden. I did something to my back a few weeks ago and for a few days the pain was unbearable. It subsided and then my neck went out. Good grief, I am so over it! It’s spring for gosh sakes. This is no time to be sidelined from the garden.

I pulled a few weeds sitting in a folding chair, making it official: I’m an “old woman gardener.”

Last weekend, in between back pain and neck pain, we got things done. Mike hung the shade sails on both patios which we leave up for six months of the year. Shade sails make the San Jose sun bearable, while at the same time creating “rooms” in the garden. Once our shade sails are up we spend more time outdoors.

I repurposed a decorative shower curtain once again to cover the swing cushions. After sewing two or three replacement covers over the years, only to see them in ruin, I no longer dedicate any sewing time to a swing cover that is generally faded by the sun and gnawed on by squirrels at season’s end. It’s a decent compromise.

I hung a few mirrors from a local shop called Not Too Shabby along the back fence. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It creates a focal point while covering up the boring fence. The mirrors are in the shade of the fruit tree and reflect different plants in the garden, depending on where you sit.

mirrors arranged on fence Patio and garden with mirrors on the back fence. (Pictured: Mouse and Lindy)
four mirrors on garden fence Your’s truly holding the camera for a closeup view of the garden mirrors

I planted tomatoes in my EarthBoxes® this year. Last summer’s crop was a bust, so I’ve moved the boxes into a more open space. Wind is more important for pollination than bees, so I’m hoping the new location on the gravel path pays off in delicious summer tomatoes.

pair of Earthboxes planted with tomatoes Pair of Earthboxes with tomatoes and red mulch

Astoundingly, this is the first time in ages that I don’t have any self-seeded pumpkins. That said, as the garden fills in, there is less and less room for the seedlings to take hold.  I’m going to plant pumpkin seeds in the front garden this year, so as the sweet peas die back in June, the pumpkins can fill in the space. It just doesn’t feel like a garden without pumpkins.

We had above-average rain this year, so everything looks healthy and refreshed.

My favorite, self-seeding flowers are back this year including Nigella (love-in-a-mist),

sweet peas,


and our state flower, the California poppy.  I liberally scattered poppy seeds at the end of last summer and it paid off.

Front garden Front garden natives mix with annual self-seeded cornflower, California golden poppies, & sweet peas

For any of you royal watchers, here’s a bit of California poppy trivia:

To commemorate Meghan Markle’s Californian origins, Clare Waight Keller included the golden poppy in the coat of arms.
Source: Wikipedia

Perhaps the most important plant in the garden each spring is the Nepeta. Nepeta, also known as cat nip or cat mint is briefly intoxicating to cats. Lindy likes to eat it, Tessa dives in head first and all three cats take turns using the plant as a lounge.

cat sleeping near cat nip Lindy snoozing between the Nepeta and the violets
native garde Back garden and patio. Lindy standing near the Nepeta
cat with nose in nepeta plant Tessa dips her nose in the Nepeta
two faced Tessa Tessa enjoying the garden

Spring. There’s a little something for everyone.

What’s on Deck?

With the ‘rainy’ season behind us (ahem), I’ve pulled out the seat covers and the mat for our front deck. The deck feels like an extra room for about six months of the year. We generally put up an awning as well, but we waited for the winds to die down.  Now it’s so hot, that we’re more comfortable indoors.

deck furniture

Ready for summer

That took about 30 seconds

That took about 30 seconds

I’m trying something different on the deck this season: pumpkins.  Pumpkins growing in EarthBoxes® to be precise.  We’ve grown pumpkins in the back garden for many years with great success.  Last year, however, this happened:

Unwelcome Squash Bugs

Unwelcome Squash Bugs

Squash bugs.  Voracious, pumpkin-eating, squash bugs. I salvaged what I could by harvesting early, but not without casualties. I crossed my fingers that they would die off over the winter and all would be well. Ha! Thanks to our unseasonably warm *and* dry winter, they’ve seasoned over.  I spotted one in the garden last month.

I just couldn’t face another infestation, so I’m trying a covert operation instead.  I’ve surreptitiously  planted the seeds in the EarthBoxes®, far from the vegetable beds along the deck.  My hope is that mum’s the word.  One of my readers suggested planting a decoy out back, and I may well do that too.  I have plenty of extra seeds.

earthbox pumpkins

EarthBox® pumpkins

This year’s selection includes three seed types: an assortment of saved seeds from last year (the mystery box) along with  Botanical Interests Jack-o’-lanterns  and Luminas.  Mystery seeds are always fun to grown.  Three months from now, we’ll be pleasantly surprise.  My son requested carving pumpkins this year and the Luminas are one of my favorites.

The EarthBoxes® escaped the squirrels notice, but not my paintbrush.  Pauline and Boomdee convinced me that bling adds zing, so I put my Martha Stewart stencils to use. I don’t have the free hand skills to paint flowers and leaves, but I can definitely paint a stencil!  It’s good fun, too.

Seed packets, stencils and the finished boxes

Seed packets, stencils and the finished boxes

Do you have season-changing rituals?

EarthBox: Growing our Salad


Earth Box

Inspired by Pauline at The Contented Crafter, I planted an EarthBox™ this weekend with assorted salad greens.  The heirloom tomatoes self-seeded this year and are well on their way. I’m looking forward to a summer full of fresh garden salads.

The EarthBox™ planting system is a great way to grow vegetables in small spaces.  It’s a fully contained gardening system.  The box comes with

  • an aeration screen
  • fill tube
  •  Dolomite
  • Fertilizer
  •  Mulch cover

You pack the lower corners of the box with potting mix, then add additional mix to the two-inch mark.  On top of the mix you add a layer of Dolomite (premeasured and provided in the kit).  After mixing in the Dolomite, you create a small trench down the center of the box and add the premeasured fertilizer.  Finally, you add the remaining soil, the cover, and you’re ready to plant.

Our backyard garden has very little full sun. This box allows me to extend my growing space by wheeling it to the edge of the patio in the path of the sun. It’s a great system for first time gardeners, since all the guess-work is done for you. It conserves water, another plus since you add water through a fill tube. This encourages the water to flow to the bottom where the roots will follow. No surface drying and no leakage.

I used a similar product called a City Picker for last year’s tomatoes. The plants did well, but it was difficult to stake them in such a shallow pot. They’re growing in the raised beds this summer instead.

I added a band of copper tape barrier to the box and the lower rungs of the trellis. The tape creates a small electrical charge that snails won’t cross. It’s a cruelty-free, organic way to ensure snail-free salad.


Copper tape discourages snails

copper tape on trellis

Copper tape on trellis

Last, but not least, I planted a handful of sweat peas from seed along the back of the box. (Thank you, Boomdee). If all goes according to plan, I’ll have a box brimming with purple flowers and fresh salad greens for months to come.

EarthBox looking down

EarthBox™ (looking down)

Organic Mixed Lettuce

Organic Mixed Lettuce

Additional Resources: How to plant an EarthBox™.