Seeing Red

Roma tomatoes and Chinese Pistache leaves

Roma tomatoes and Chinese Pistache leaves

I’m seeing red.

I like it! The cherry and heirloom tomatoes died back a month ago, but our Roma tomatoes continue to grow unabated.

In November.

This is Silicon Valley after all, originally known for its rich, agricultural roots.  But I’m still amazed at the prolific production of this plant.  I did a bit of reading and learned that the plant will continue to produce, as long as daytime temps remain about 60F  (15C).  That explains it.  We’ve had a mild autumn so far.

While the Roma happily churns out fruit in the back garden, the Chinese Pistache flashes red outside my kitchen window.

Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)

Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)

The Pistache’s slow, beautiful descent into dormancy is under way.  The colors are magnificent. I’m grateful to live in this beautiful valley with such optimal growing conditions.

roma tomatoes

Seeing red

Further Reading:

Tomatoes: Last Call


Tomato Goodness

It’s hard to say goodbye to summer tomatoes.  Unless you buy heirlooms or ‘cherries’, the tomatoes in the store are flavorless.  I used to think I was having a streak of bad luck, until I read that farmers have spent nearly 70 years perfecting the look of the tomato, at the expense of flavor.  They’ve removed the sweet, wonderful taste.

We grow our own every summer and enjoy the harvest for a few months.  This year we had plenty of orange cherry tomatoes, a few red heirlooms, one or two orange ones and a ton of Roma’s.

It’s mid-October now, and the plants are looking tired.  Today I finally pruned away the dying branches on most of them.  I’m still seeing one or two small tomatoes a day, so it’s hard to let them go.

Spent tomato plants

Spent tomato plants

The Roma plant is still going strong, pumping out at least a dozen or so a day.  Even the garden pests can’t keep up, so we’ve had plenty for salads and salsa.

If you’re a salsa fan, here is my husband’s quick and easy recipe:

  • 6 – 12 tomatoes (we’re using the Roma)
  • 1/2 sweet or yellow onion
  • a few ounces of Jalapeno peppers (or to taste)

Combine and blend.  Serve with corn tortilla chips or as a garnish.

Halloween Countdown:

cat inflatable

Halloween at our house

Wouldn’t You Like to Eat This Pepper, Too?

Peculiar pepper poetry in four verses

I planted peppers side by side,
in lovely soil they do reside.
From Bonnie Plants they first did grow
Now I have them in a row.

Small at first, they slowly grew,
As often happens, summer flew.
Before I knew it, the plants were leaning,
This happy gardener, smiling, preening.

Crisp green peppers now were mine.
I sliced them open, they’d be divine.
They tasted…awful, how can this be?
Did my garden peppers turn on me?

I puzzled through with careful thought.
They looked so good, but clearly not.
I found their tag in my garden plot.
It was orange peppers I had bought!


Bonnie Plants: Peppers


Planting the Strip: Three Cheers for More Dirt!

Mighty Mouse offers up his own opinion

Mighty Mouse offers up his own opinion

In early January, I polled my readers on the pros and cons of re-planting the sidewalk strip. I wanted something other than lawn. The vote was split down the middle.

We’ve lived in this house for 17 years, adding trees, flowers, shrubs and vegetables, but that boring strip of grass never changed. I thought of planting summer vegetables in the strip or  veggies and a few flowers.

It’s not that people disliked the idea. The no votes worried about doggie deposits or thieves in the night. Others feared vandalism (they’d seen it before) or easy access for neighborhood cats.

The yes votes suggested flowers instead of vegetables (less tempting to passersby) and one reader suggested a raised bed. Head slap!  What a great idea.

My husband was happy with the status quo. I was ready for a change (and more garden). Once he knew what it meant to me, he agreed to the idea *and* built the planting bed.  It’s 16 x 4 x 1 feet or (5 x 1 x .3 meters)

grassy sidewalk strip

The sidewalk strip, planted with sod

Planting bed 4 x 16

Planting bed, newly delivered potting soil

What fun I’m having with all that extra space! I can’t wait till things start filling in. Plants include:

  • Status (transplanted from the back yard)
  • Nasturtium (started from seed in my kitchen window)
  • Cosmo (another transplant); and
  • Nursery finds including Candy Tuft ‘Masterpiece,’ Chocolate Mint, Heliotrope Blue, Lemon Thyme, Snapdragons and Verbena.
planting bed

Newly planted, irrigation installed

Yellow snapdragons

Yellow Snapdragons

Candytuft 'Masterpiece'

Candytuft ‘Masterpiece’


Feline Neighbor

Another reader comment suggested removing some of the lawn on the property side of our lot.  I did that as well, planting sunflowers, Alyssum and Forget-me-nots.  I covered all of it with a pop-up tent to keep the squirrels and snails at bay.  Nothing grew!  Finally I removed the cover and planted bedding plants instead.

Low and behold, the seeds are now sprouting and everything is filling in nicely. Apparently they weren’t staying moist enough to germinate.  Lesson learned.

Planting the corner

Planting the corner

So far, so good on the planting strip.  My neighbors are giving it a thumbs up and other than the character in the photo, above, no untoward behavior other than cat-napping between the plants.

Planting the Strip: The Results are In!

Earlier this month I wrote about the pros and cons of planting the sidewalk strip.  I included a poll and asked readers to vote as well as comment on the idea.

As of today, the vote is split down the middle:

  • 42.31% said yes
  • 42.31 said no
  • 15.38 were on the fence.

The comments were incredibly helpful. Thank you for taking the time to read, comment or vote. There were many things I hadn’t thought of. Here are a few:

Boomdeeada wrote: I voted to plant the easement but everyone here has great comments. I’d be tempted to put in a perennial of some kind more than vegetables…a bed that begins with tulips, then lilies then iris’s….I also liked the beds of Rudbeckia, alyssum and purple petunia at the Alberta Governor Generals house this summer…that would smell really nice.

I like the idea of planting flowers instead of veg.  Another reader also suggested growing a hedge first, then planting within its boundaries.

Sensiblegardening wrote: I had to vote “no” but not because I think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a great idea. However, after living for 20 years on a rural road, at the dead-end turn around, I’ve seen too much of how disrespectful a lot of the public is of our natural spaces, let alone our own private property that butts up against it. Sorry, but that’s just the ugly truth of it at this point in time. Hopefully more people will become a little more enlightened as time goes on.

Several others also cited this.  My husband voted no, too.  😦

Suzanne Elliot suggested a nearby alternative: Thoughts on planting the strip – Dogs and passers-by – Dogs will leave deposits – and not the bank kind – passers by will pick your flowers. In looking at your photo of your lovely front garden I notice that you have a lot of LAWN – how about converting your lawn to something else? You could plant veggies mixed with flowers closer in to your house in your current lawn area (full sun) – and thereby thwart all but the most brazen flower pickers and fruit/veggie thieves…

Planting the Strip

The Plan at Hand:

Front garden:

Leave the sidewalk strip/easement alone for now. (Subject to change without notice, void where prohibited).

Combine Suzanne and Boomdee’s idea and plant a perennial garden next to the stone walkway on the property in a curving triangle to balance the curving wall on the other side.  If that goes well, I’ll plant more perennials on the other side of the driveway. Honestly, you can never have too many flowers, don’t you think?  The bees are counting on them.

Back garden:

Transplant the blueberry bush (still very small) and the raspberry vines to another location in the yard.  This will free up 25% of the planting boxes.

Finish clearing overgrown and tired looking shrubs around fruit tree. Plant additional flowers from seed.
Meanwhile, please join me in another rain dance.

The San Jose area has received only 0.9 inches of rain so far this month, a third of the normal 2.72 inches.

In a normal year, San Jose would have received about 7.73 inches of rain by now. Instead, only 2.45 inches have fallen since July, not even a third of normal. (San Jose Mercury News)

Garden Guffaw: Plotting Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Heirloom Tomato Seeds

I walked the garden with my husband this morning as we made summer plans. We’re enjoying a warm, sunny day with highs climbing into the seventies. I wish you could be here along with me, especially those of you snowed in.

In order to maximize the planting boxes, we’ve agreed on a place to relocate the raspberry vines. I’m always angling for more planting space out back, so I’m pretty excited.

This year I’m planting all of my tomatoes in the City Pickers.  They worked great last year. The ability to move them around as other garden plants grow larger is a boon.  It feels great putting a plan in place.

My sister sent me the following funny story a few years ago, about planting tomatoes. It always makes me smile. I don’t know the origins, so I’ll extend thanks to the universe and the anonymous writer of this tongue in cheek tale. Enjoy!

Plotting Tomatoes:

An older gentleman living alone in New Jersey looked forward to planting his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work. The ground was simply too hard. His only son Vincent would usually help him but he was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son describing his predicament.

Dear Vincent,

It looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig it for me, like in the old days. I’m feeling a little sad. I hope you are well.

Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Papa,

Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where the bodies are buried.

Love, Vinnie

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Papa,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love you, Vinnie

I hope you’re smiling, too.

Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~Author Unknown

The Lone Radish

Look, Ma!  I grew a radish!

No thanks to the kitties of the house, my first attempt at a winter crop failed miserably.  I didn’t cover the box in time, so they all assumed it was a nice, big, fresh litter box.  They were mistaken.

By the time I realized what was going on, I had to start over. Feline waste and vegetables are not a good mix. Rabbits, cows or any other herbivorous animal, yes. Carnivores, no.

So, back to the garden center for me. Since time marched on, I went with cell packs instead of seeds the second time and limited the crop to cauliflower and broccoli. Once planted, I surrounded the boxes with heavy-duty wire to discourage cats and squirrels alike.  It worked!

Imagine my surprise this week when a vibrant red radish appeared at the soil line. One seed survived (two if you count its tiny neighbor). We have a crisp and peppery addition to our next salad.


Survival of the Fittest


Planting the Strip: Pros and Cons

Like most gardeners with small, suburban lots, I’m always on the look out for ways to maximize my annual planting. This year I have my eye on the sidewalk strip, the space between our city sidewalk and the street.

There are several pluses (and a few minuses) to planting there. I’m going to toss out both, and you can let me know what you think.


  1. Full sun!  (Need I say more.) We have limited full sun in the backyard. I have a pair of raised beds tucked up against the back of the house and last year added a two moveable City Pickers.  Beyond that, the yard is either landscaped or shaded by large trees, or both. The sidewalk strip is prime, vegetable and flower real estate.
  2. A long, narrow strip. It’s perfect for vegetable gardening due to the already narrow space.  It would be easy to manage the box or boxes planted there.
  3. Water. The existing sprinkler system would be easy to tap into. My handy husband could run drip irrigation directly into the boxes.
  4. The view. I can see the strip from my kitchen window, and from the front deck.  A flower and vegetable bed is infinitely more interesting than grass.
  5. Additional yields.  More dirt, equals more fruits and vegetables.  I can taste those sweet tomatoes now.


  1. Cost.  I no longer have the back to dig out heavy sod, nor the means of easily getting rid of it.  I would need to hire someone to dig out the existing lawn.  Additional costs include the raised bed (built or purchased), soil and seeds or plants.
  2. Public access. We have great neighbors who’ve openly expressed enjoyment when we’ve grown pumpkins and tomatoes in the front yard. Not everyone that walks by, however, will  respect the garden’s sanctity.
  3. Street parking.  The space in front of our house accommodates two cars. Maintaining my good-neighbor creed means maintaining continued access to those spots.
  4. Late-season doldrums.  Not everyone appreciates the messiness of a vegetable garden going to seed.
Sidewalk Strip

Sidewalk Strip (to the right of the Chinese Pistache

Lots to think about in the next few months.  I hope you’ll weigh in on the poll below.

A Broccoli We Will Grow

Birdhouse Gourd

Birdhouse Gourd

We enjoyed cauliflower and broccoli at the table tonight, though neither of them came from my garden. I hope that changes soon. All the plants are looking healthy and perky from the recent rain. Last week I saw a green worm and what looked like eggs, but apparently a bird came along and had them for lunch. There isn’t a single trace of whatever it was, though chewed leaves are in abundance.

After a life of eating mostly from the grocery store, I get pretty excited at the prospect of real vegetables growing out back. I wasn’t raised eating either of these vegetables, but have grown to love them both. I prefer my broccoli steamed or in soup and my cauliflower raw.

The pair of birdhouse gourds are still hanging on, but it won’t be long now. I’ve seen some amazing examples of painted gourds on the web. Time to start pinning ideas.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

Broccoli and Cauliflower, November 9th

Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower, December 17th (six weeks later)

It looks like at least one of the radishes survived the kitty onslaught, or it could be an herb that I don’t yet recognize.  I love the mystery of it all.  And yes, those are pumpkin plants in the lower box, a self-seeded crop growing away in mid-December.  Go figure?

Blooming Thursday: State of Confusion

In our glorious state of California, known for sunshine and moderate weather, there is usually something in bloom.  That said, even the Golden State has a natural order of things.  Perhaps it’s time to hang up an “out-of-order” sign.  My garden is in a state of confusion.


First up, the tomato plant.  The seeds I planted in the spring grew, produced and then died off.  Nice, orderly, predictable.  The wind, or perhaps a bird dropped a seed in our narrow side yard, and believe it or not I have a seven-foot tall tomato plant.  With flowers.  Tiny, tomato flowers.  The limited sun explains the height of the plant, but flowers in November?

Sideyard, off-season tomato

Off-season tomato


Pumpkins should be done for the season.  Errant seeds should sleep under the soil for the winter, or gathered and stored till next spring. As I covered the patio furniture in preparation for our first rain I had a pumpkin bloom keeping me company.  It’s beautiful and hopeful but decidedly out of season.

off season pumpkin flower

Off-season pumpkin bloom


I reluctantly removed several Cosmo starts from the vegetable box, to make room for cauliflower and broccoli. After days in the mid-eighties, the warm soil must have triggered the cosmos to grow. I don’t blame them for the state of confusion.  We’ve all been shaking our heads and saying “where is fall?”  I didn’t have the heart to remove all the out-of-season re-starts, so I have an impressive pumpkin plant, true leaves and all, rubbing shoulders with the winter vegetables (take two).

Broccoli and Pumpkins

Shoulder to Shoulder: Broccoli and Pumpkin

I don’t want to seem ungracious, but I feel like we’ve missed out on sweater-weather entirely.  Seven weeks in and we’re only now seeing the more traditional weather patterns. Today’s light rain was a welcome relief.  I donned my coat and hat and worked outdoors for nearly five hours. The air was cool and fresh as it rained off and on.  Even the cats didn’t mind.

Here’s hoping fall is here to stay this time.  Shorter days, cooler nights and a gentle rain will go a long way to end my garden’s state of confusion.

What’s blooming on your Thursday?