The seasons are an interesting thing.  While I deeply enjoy spending time in and working on my garden, marveling at all the beautiful colors and forms and admiring all the changes that happen little by little, but by the end of the summer and early fall, I inevitably get tired of being so hot all the time.  Which is kind of unbelievable because I’m one of those people that is always cold in the winter, and I know by February the cold of winter begins to wear on me (It may be the shortest month of the year, but I feel it drags on the longest).  Once the bustle of the holidays and new year are over, I can go to my happy and quiet place.  I enjoy using this time of year to reflect on my garden, what I want to change, and what I want to add.  And yes, I always want to add something.  That is what plant hoarders do, they always add more. 

In the winter, it starts with a lot of trips to the library.  Lucky for me, my awesome little library is just down the street.  Yes, I am also a book hoarder.  I like to sample new books at the library, and if I like them, I purchase them for my own collection.  You never know what new obsession you will discover looking through books. 

For the last 10 years, I have been on a quest to find the best tasting tomatoes.  I love tomatoes in a salsa, tomato sauce, on a sandwich or bruschetta.  Caprese salad with basil, mozzarella and a balsamic vinegar reduction may be my favorite summer food.  It started with the aggravation of purchasing tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store.  Many tomatoes are bred to grow uniformly and be able to stand being shipped across the country.  No wonder so many people think that they hate tomatoes.  I’m not sure how I found out about heirloom tomatoes, but once I did, I was hooked.  Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated which allows them to be reproduced true to seed. You can save the seeds, share them with friends, and plant them in your garden again next year.  (Hybrids are a mix of two different varieties, and seeds will be sterile or not reproduce the same plant).  Unfortunately, I don’t save the seeds, I just never seem to find the time for this extra step in the fall. 

I have become pretty good at starting tomatoes from seed.  I start planning in February, and I try to get them in pots by mid-March.  My house doesn’t have enough natural light to successfully start seeds, so I bought 2 grow lights and one of those $20 plastic covered greenhouse shelves to help.  I have one seed warming mat, but I also use the top of a few of my radiators.  Of course, I want to buy more lights, but I really do not have the luxury of space with (almost) full sun in my backyard.  Below is a picture of two of my little beauties, but it is misleading because I didn’t have a picture of my 3-4 trays full of 30 seedlings each that I usually start.

I have been planting about 30 different tomatoes in a space where only 5 or 6 should live.  By the end of the season, it ends up being a dense tangled mess where I can barely reach the tomatoes.  I crowded out the cabbage and pepper that I attempted to grow in the same bed.  I knew it would happen, but I did it anyway.  I like to think that I have practiced some self-control, because I wanted to plant at least 60 different tomatoes.   

I have been using bird netting to keep deer and squirrels away from my precious tomatoes, but I need a new method.  The netting exacerbates the tangled mess I create by planting too many plants.  I am planning a removable permanent deer exclosure around the tomatoes. I’m not sure how yet, but that is one of the things that I will be working on this winter. 

My favorite site to order vegetable seeds from is seedsavers.org.  That organization really does some amazing things.  They have a temperature-controlled seed vault (Svalbard Global Seed Vault) to save the genes of all seeds for the future, so varieties do not disappear.  Maybe one of these days I will visit their farm in Iowa.  It makes me feel good to perpetuate the responsible maintenance of heirloom species.  And I especially love that most seeds have story of where they came from.   I enjoy spending time each winter looking at many different company sites to order a few new varieties to try every year. 

A project I started recently is a small tree orchard in my yard.  My yard is already full of plants and has a good amount of shade.  I am having a hard time finding places to place my plant desires.  I found a book about small trees; Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph that really ignited my interests by giving me the knowledge to make it happen.  I purchased the trees below (and more of course), this past spring.

The trees took their first heading cut last summer.  I am pretty good at keeping plants alive, but these cuts seem so drastic.  They look like sad pathetic 24” tall whips, but with care they should be dwarf sized high yielding trees.  I look at it as a little experiment, I hope it works, but if it doesn’t, I will inevitably learn something new and try again.  The monetary investment in small sized plants is minimal, so I try not to worry too much about the possibility of failing.  I am now planning to espalier 2 apple trees, grow several in containers, tuck 2-4 into existing gardens, and grow 2 grapevines on a sunny side of my house.  This winter I am going to shop for some peaches and sweet cherries, and I need to brainstorm somewhere to put them!  It is so exciting when a plan is executed.  I can almost taste the fresh peaches.

I have many projects planned, though it is hard to find enough time or money.  I would love to build a small lean-to glass house on a corner of my house.  It must be Victorian styled.  I want a farm, where I can have all the sun and space that I need to purchase all the plants I want, and maybe a donkey and a few chickens.  I have grown many vegetables, but I have never tried to grow garlic.  I need to find a space and find the time to order bulbs in the fall.  I also want to propagate woody plants and indoor plants, but really, who has the time.  And I want hanging plants in macrame all around my house.  Now I just need to learn to macrame. 

Sandi Cesarov

Sandi Cesarov

Gardener

Sandi Cesarov has been an avid gardener for over 20 years. She attended Miami University and earned a degree in botany. She still gets excited every time she learns a new plant.

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