I have a great deal to tell you about the gardening I have been doing over the past weeks. But before I can do that the marginally anal retentive side of me demands that I address my appearance on The National last night. The segment was arranged at the last minute and we had not yet done our seasonal clean-up so there was winter junk strewn about. I had hoped the camera guy could do some “creative” in-camera editing but knew that probably wasn’t the case since he was using a very wide lens. When he walked over to the far end of the deck to take shots of the whole thing I knew my dirty secret was blown and that viewers across Canada would see that sometimes my little rooftop oasis looks like crap! And I imagined that they watched the segment and thought to themselves why go to the trouble when it looks so awful.
In an effort to ever-so-slightly redeem myself in the eyes of the world I present to you photographic evidence that a rooftop container garden IS a beautiful thing.
You can see lots more pictures taken of the rooftop garden over the years on my Flickr account.
I spent Saturday doing hardcore gardening work including prepping the fire-escape windowboxes for planting. On Sunday afternoon I purchased a few plants for the boxes and decided to get them planted up rather than wait for additional plants. Check out what I found buried by our friendly neighbourhood squirrel:
A sign of the times. Last year peanuts, this year an entire slice of pizza!
I know it was a new addition because not only was it still intact but I had just dug that spot yesterday. There was also evidence of squirrel digging on the other side of the box.
The location of the squirrel pizza.
Since I have begun talking about seeds and showing photos of my little seedlings, people have been writing in to ask me what I’m growing. I have been purposefully avoiding saying too much about my choices this year because a large number of the varieties I am growing are new-to-me. I have a tendency to avoid promoting anything until I am certain I like it.
Because so many of you are looking for some direction in making your seed choices, I thought I’d put together a list of varieties I do love. I set out to give a general overview of vegetables and discovered that a post about tomatoes alone was much too long. So I’m beginning with the plant we are all most eager to get growing and will follow up in the future with other edibles. Note that all varieties are open-pollinated heirloom varieties unless indicated.
Tomatoes for Containers
Most of these tomatoes are determinates (aka the bushing tomatoes). Keep in mind that some determinates can grow to be a few feet tall, requiring containers that are at least a foot and a half deep.
Sunrise III growing in a broken watering can.
- Black Seaman – A fantastic, early, black heirloom that does well in mid-sized containers, producing good-sized tomatoes. Read my full review here.
- ‘Silver Fir Tree’ – Another mid-sized determinate with fist-sized, red fruit. Most tomato plants themselves are a bit boring but this variety is particularly stunning with ferny, delicate foliage that sometimes takes on a slight silver tone. This was my first favourite determinate until ‘Black Seaman’ came along and knocked it back to second. Keep in mind that I am a huge fan of black tomatoes — no red variety can ever compare!
- ‘Golden Delight’ – Another mid-sized determinate with good-sized fruit. I was not in love with this variety and wouldn’t grow it again but I am also biased since I am not a fan of low-acid, yellow tomatoes. I grew mine in a large metal bucket surrounded by ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil.
- ‘Sunrise III’ – Probably the only hybrid I will ever promote, we fell in love with this variety’s cute egg shape and delicious, juicy flavor. This is a true determinate that is prolific, with a low bush habit that cascades a little over the edges of a 12″ pot. I have taken to growing mine in a broken watering can.
- ‘Black Plum’ – With rich plum-shaped fruit that carry an almost roasted flavour straight off the vine, this is my absolute favourite plum variety hands-down. No contest. Regardless of space, I ALWAYS make room for at least one ‘Black Plum’ plant. While this is an indeterminate (vining tomato), I have included it here because I have always had such great success with it in very large garbage bins. Some indeterminate varieties put out a much smaller batch of fruit when grown in even the largest bins, but ‘Black Plum’ has always stepped up to the plate with a good harvest.
- ‘Green Sausage’ – If you love ‘Green Zebra’, you’ll love ‘Green Sausage.’ This variety produces a ton of really pretty, stripey, elongated fruits that are good for sauces and chutneys. I have grown them as an experiment but will never grow them again since I am one of the few who do not like green tomatoes, period.
- ‘Principe Borghese’ – I would consider this a large determinate variety. I grew this in the same garbage bins I use for indeterminate plants and would not suggest something smaller. It was very prolific producing lots of small, red fruit that are supposed to be good for sun drying. We opted for oven drying and were not disappointed.
These are the vining type. They can be grown in containers just be sure to use the biggest container you can find — I use garbage bins — growing one tomato plant per container only! Growing a few basil plants around the edges will use up that extra surface space.
- Black Pear – Last year’s new favourite. Mine were not terribly prolific in containers. I would suggest growing in-ground if you can. See what it looks like inside.
- ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’ – I can’t tell the difference between these two black varieties and have taken to thinking of them as interchangeable. I am still sitting on the fence as to whether I prefer them to new-comer ‘Black Pear.’
- ‘Purple Prince’ – I don’t want this to become the black tomato show, but I wanted to throw in one more variety that could not be left off the list. Also known as ‘Black Prince’, this variety has been successful in large bins and produces very round, dense fruit that are delicious on sandwiches. The squirrels love it so it must be good!
- ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’ – Proof positive that large tomatoes don’t always grow on large plants and vice-versa. This large, trailing plant produces the cutest, tiniest, translucent tomatoes that are low-acid yet deliciously sweet and juicy — perfect for popping in your mouth while walking around the garden. And because I love a good story, it is very hard to resist a variety that was discovered growing in a sidewalk crack. A true urban heirloom. If it can grow there, it can grow anywhere!
- ‘Black Cherry’ – I really liked this cherry variety but found it did not produce well in even the largest containers. I will likely grow this in-ground at my community plot in the future. The future being this year of course. I was interested to note that what were tiny, round, cherry-sized fruit were much larger on Amy’s plants. She either has super soil, or got the wrong variety. They looked a lot alike with the same translucent skin, it’s just that hers were much larger!
More Tomato Reviews:
I could go on and on for days since there are so many amazing heirlooms around, with access to a growing number of varieties getting easier every year. Deciding on what to start from seed was particularly difficult for me this year.
At a Toronto area You Grow Girl meet up last week we discussed our gardening successes and disappointments of the last year. Beth, a rooftop container gardener mentioned that she was most disappointed by her container-grown ‘Chinese Five Colour’ (or color for the Americans) Hot Pepper plant, stating that the plant was boring and the peppers bland, and tasteless. I was surprised since my experience with this variety has placed it onto my list of current favourites and a plant that I will definitely grow again if not promote to other gardeners, especially container gardeners. This is one of those discussions that reminds me how varied our gardening experiences can be, even with the same varieties and seemingly similar growing conditions. I sometimes forget in my enthusiasm when reviewing a plant that my outcome isn’t universal. I am reminded that what works for me might not work for someone else, and vice-versa.
And knowing this I still feel an irrational obligation to defend the plant like I’m defending my taste for souvenir picture trays or cheesy poutine. “You don’t know!”
And so, I give you:
In Defense of ‘Chinese Five Colour’ Hot Peppers
- I grew this plant as an experimental comparison to last year’s favourite, “New Mex Twilight’ hot pepper. The plants are very similar in that they are both produce gorgeous green foliage with purple stems and veins, with small hot peppers that start out light purple and evolve into a rainbow ending in bright red when fully mature. In comparison, the plants were very similar but the ‘Chinese Five Colour’ produces larger fruit. The larger fruit stood out sharply in contrast to the leaves. It was really stunning!
- I will say it again: gorgeous green foliage with purple stems and veins that produced an abundance of rainbow-coloured fruit.
- My peppers are indeed HOT!
- One plant produced enough fruit to braid an attractive string of drying peppers. Everyone I know will be in hot peppers for eternity.
- Grew easily into a large plant in a medium-sized container.
- Colette of Urban Harvest (whom I purchased the plant from) informed me that this variety is rare while ‘New Mex Twilight’ is not. I am a sucker for a good back story and admit to being completely duped by the term “rare.”
With Kitty aka “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” who comes running whenever the camera is out.
My first response is a loud string of expletives followed by a very long and drawn, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
‘Black Cherry’ tomato with chunk extraction. Oh the humanity.
A mysterious mammalian creature has been visiting the rooftop deck and taking nibbles out of random produce. We think it may be an opposum this time since one has been spotted climbing the fire escape. I barely broke a sweat over the cucumber left on the vine intact but with tooth imprints, and the assorted tomatoes didn’t freak me out because there are lots more to go around. The cherry sweet peppers were annoying but there is still time for more so I’ve accepted the loss gracefully. But dammit, I have been nurturing that single, perfect ‘Thai Long Green’ eggplant all summer. It was so perfect, and green. WHY!! I don’t even like eggplant. It makes my mouth itch. What bothers me is being robbed of that moment when I can cradle the fruits of my labor lovingly in my arms and capture that moment forever on film… or a digital file. There will be no beautiful ‘Thai Long Green’ eggplant to hold up against the clouds like a tiny UFO. Not this month anyway. There are two more microscopic fruits on the plant that may make it to full-size before the cold sets in.
I can’t tell you how many times this year I have advised fellow gardeners to accept a certain percentage of loss to our fellow mammalian creatures. We share space with them and have to expect that our tasty homegrown goods are going to be attractive. On the best of days I think of it as doing my part to keep city life alive. While finding my beautiful ‘Thai Long Green’ eggplant half discarded on the fire escape makes my blood boil, spotting a ‘possom scurrying across a city street at night is an exciting surprise. I just wish they’d take the whole thing! It would make me feel a whole lot better about the loss. A half-eaten tomato reeks of a “Yeah, I don’t really care for this one” attitude.
My neighbor suggested we send the half-eaten fruit into some kind of CSI-type lab for bite mark analysis.
In the end I know that the best thing to do is just move the plant. My experience has shown that this one is opportunistic and only goes for veggies hanging out in the open. In all cases the fruit was exposed to a railing or like in the case of the eggplant, the entire pot was sitting out on it’s own. When I move the plant into a cluster of other plants the plundering stops. There will be no revenge or attempts to deter the creature with sprays or sprinkled magic powders.
But I will move that eggplant pot with a lot of authority and a very firm hand!