Sunday, July 15, 2012

The NanoFarm: Potatoes, Tomatoes, and A Plant You've Never Heard Of


When I was a kid, my mom would spend a few minutes every weekend puttering around our odd little garden while my dad specialized in mowing our tiny lawn. Shrubs too large for our cramped suburban lot burst at sharp angles, aimed for take off, their branches almost parallel to the ground. Roses thrived in the dry California air and succulents stood sentry from their rusted coffee cans on the patio. A large corner had been sectioned off to use as a raised vegetable garden. It gave my mom a chance to start seeds and further reduced the postage stamp sized lawn my dad mowed into submission.

My mom specialized in zucchini the size of baseball bats and bitter bok choy. I don't recall anything else ever being grown. My sailor father, having been born and raised in rural Montana, once asked loudly as he sat for a dinner of stir fried bok choy, "What the @#*&! is bok choy?" I don't remember if he ate it or not, I just remember how deeply funny it was. I remember laughing until I cried. When my dad asked what was so funny, I just laughed harder. 

I don't grow bok choy but if my dad were still alive, I would. Instead, I grow a tiny group of veggies in containers I call the NanoFarm. 


The NanoFarm contains a pot of purple carrots, sweet potatoes, a tomato plant, and ground cherries.


Some of the carrot foliage is a bit purple but it's supposed to be green. Only the carrots are purple. Do you know why the foliage is tinged purple?


Last year my carrot harvest was rather pathetic. I harvested enough to make a carrot cake, but that's it. Part of the problem was that I didn't thin them enough. These are a few tiny carrots I pulled today. This will give the rest of the carrots more room to grow. 


Last year my carrots grew carrot brains. This is a Parisian Ball carrot with a rather well developed brain. The knobby growth develops when the soil around the seedling settles and part of the root is exposed to sun. To solve this I sifted compost over the carrot seedlings after rain had begun to compact the soil. It raised the soil level just enough to avoid carrot brains.


Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars love carrot foliage.


This seed is leftover from last year! It started growing this spring as a volunteer. It's a big yellow carrot.


I started ground cherries from seed after reading about them on  Bumble Lush's wonderful blog. They were slow to start but worth the wait.


 A ground cherry is an heirloom fruit that tastes like the love child between a tomato and a pineapple.  They grow wider than tall so I only have one plant in this pot. I gave the rest of the seedlings away to friends. The sweet potatoes have taken over part of its pot.


The fruit is small, like a cherry and hangs under the large leaves. Something has been eating the leaves, but it doesn't seem to be affecting the plant so I'm not worried about it. You can see a ground cherry flower on the far right.


They grow within a little husk like a tomatillo and are ripe when they fall to the ground, hence the name ground cherry. They're sweet and fun to open up. 


If eaten green, the fruit will make you sick but this is true of most fruits. When the husk is completely dry, the fruit is ripe.


The fruit is yellow.


Despite being blown over in a storm and accidentally mauled by a teenager, my Heatmaster tomatoes are doing well and covered with green fruit. Heatmaster was bred to be disease resistant and thrives in hot, humid environments. I bought my seedling in March when it was absurdly hot. In April, which was cold and very rainy, I had to bring it in every night. One night I left it outside and I found it at the bottom of the patio steps the next morning. Wind, you say? Maybe. But I think it had thrown itself down the steps in a desperate attempt to escape our weird weather for good. I promptly planted it in a pot, covered it when I had to and told it to hang on.   
I have yet to eat a ripe tomato. I fried up all the green ones that fell in the storm and a squirrel ate half of my last almost red one, before letting it fall to the ground and roll into the bushes. He couldn't even be bothered to go after it and finish it off.


Karma


These are Bush Porto Rico sweet potatoes and were purchased as slips from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. This cultivar does well in containers and is more manageable in small spaces than other varieties. Baked sweet potatoes are my favorite fall snack. The vein margins are a bit pale. Time for liquid seaweed and fish fertilizer along with a small dose of Dr Earth's vegetable fertilizer. Vegetables grown in container need to be fertilized much more frequently than veggies grown in the ground because they lose nutrients when water drains from the bottom of the pot.


My veggies grow in cheap resin pots.


Smokey bronze fennel grows near the tomatoes. I've had so many swallowtail butterfly caterpillars in the fennel, it's constantly regrowing new leaves. 


Fennel attracts a lot of pollinators.


A tomato seed germinated in a crack between the patio pavers and is coming up between my containers.


I think these will be grape tomatoes.


From the NanoFarm you can see part of my container garden.


I have two big pots of pink, purple, white, and salmon zinnias just because I love them.


Zinnia and agastache 'Ava


The pollinators love them, too.

48 comments:

  1. I liked reading about the ground cherries. I've heard of them, but have never seen them. I love zinnias too. They are my favorite flower.

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    1. It's not summer to me without zinnias. :o)

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  2. Hi! You have so beautiful zinnias! A lot of plants and pots! I have once tried to grow carrots, but I didn't thin them enough and they became like needles... After that I haven't tried grow any carrots. I have a little planthouse(?), where I have tomatoes and cucumbers. I trie to grow some pumpkins also.

    Have a nice weekend!

    P.S Now I have started to write my blog in English too, so it's easier to follow..

    Satu

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    1. My carrots looked like needles last year, too. Thinning them makes a big difference because it gives them more room to grow.

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  3. Hi, your nano farm struck me because is so difficult to grow vegges in a container and you need to water them very often. you're very hard working!

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    1. Thanks! Watering my containers doesn't seem like work to me, unless it's really hot. I've had better luck with vegetables in containers than in the ground because my soil is heavy. I just have to careful which vegetables I choose because they don't have much room.

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  4. Lovely blooms. Your veggie garden looks great for being in containers.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks! I think the key is to put them in a big pot with moisture retentive soil and added fertilizer.

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  5. Your garden is superb... I laughed at the squirrels! cute! ;p... I didn't realize that Fennel was such an attraction. Maybe I need to get on the Fennel kick...

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    1. Fennel is incredible!! Mine only looks ragged because it's been chewed to the ground so many times by all the caterpillars. It will attract beneficial insects to your garden. Plus, it has cool foliage.

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  6. Wow, I've never heard of a ground cherry. How neat. It's so wonderful that you have some things just because you like them :-) You have one of my favorite plants a container...Jade Plant! Yay!

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    1. I just bought the jade plant this spring! It reminds me of my Nana. :o) The ground cherries have been a lot of fun to grow and eat. They're great in a spinach/dark leaf lettuce salad with grilled chicken, chopped peaches, plums, pistachios, and goat cheese. Yum!

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  7. The slugs get my zinnia seedlings every year, but I think I might try them in some pots next year and see if they fair better. And, I think you should give bok choy another chance. :) I love that stuff!

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    1. Maybe I'll grow bok choy next year just so I can laugh every time I see it. I've had much better luck with zinnias in pots than in the ground because they don't love my clay soil as much as potting soil.

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  8. You were right - never heard of ground cherries before. They look interesting. I don't know why the carrot leaves are discoloured. Everything is so healthy I wouldn't worry too much. It would be worse if you had wonderful looking leaves and nothing under them.

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    1. I've decided to ignore the purple leaves but I am curious about it. The carrots are doing great and should be much bigger than the tiny ones I harvested last year. I'm really curious how many sweet potatoes are in those pots. Harvesting them will be like going on a treasure hunt. :o)

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  9. Hooray for your ground cherries! Mine have just started to make fruit. I'm waiting for those little packages to fall to the ground. I think I should add fennel to my garden, too, to attract more pollinators. Your nanofarm and container garden are impressive! I love your zinnias too, and the great thing is that you can move them around wherever you want to enjoy those pretty colors. ;)

    And oh my goodness, thank you so much for the love and sympathy and solidarity about the jerk-faced squirrels! You are too kind! Wait til I tell you what they did to my blueberries....

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    1. I can only imagine what a beating your blueberries have taken. Lesser gardeners would have given up by now. Sometimes I encourage my dogs to chase the squirrels just to keep their egos in check. When I saw the squirrel pictures, I thought of you. :o)

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  10. hi cm, your container garden is incredibly impressive. I can see like Nadezda says it is quite a lot of work, but on the other hand it is easier to control conditions than in the open garden. Inspiring. I haven't come across those ground cherries yet - what a surprise treasure to find a yellow cherry inside that dull papery cover. And the squirrels pic gave me a good laugh. cheers, cm

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    1. The ground cherries have been a fun experience. I'm convinced growing veggies in containers is easier than in the ground. I have less weeds, they're higher so there's less bending over, and they love the loose soil in the big pots. All I do is keep them watered and fertilized. Give it a try! :o)

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  11. I grow veggies in pots too, so I can keep them up on the deck where the deer can't get them. I use "self-watering" pots so I don't have to water so often. Only I don't have a lot of luck with veggies. I don't think it's the pots, because when I buy the starter plants they're great, but I think my seed-starting skills must be severely lacking because all my seed-started veggie plants always seem sad all season. Are your zinnias from saved seed or are they a named variety? That's the color I get when I save seed (the originals are just standard reds, yellows, pinks, etc.) and I really like it!

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    1. The zinnias are from purchased seed. The pinkish ones are from Botanical Interests Art Deco Mix, the white ones are 'Polar Bear' and the salmon ones are 'Pumila Salmon', both from Select Seeds. They're all vigorous and haven't mildewed in our humidity. The Select Seeds varieties sprouted faster than the ones from Botanical Interests. I bought the Art Deco mix locally but ordered the others. The Pumila Salmon were direct sown but I started the others inside just for fun.

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  12. Your nano-farm is jam-packed with goodies. I have never tried ground cherries, but they sound so interesting and delicious. Do those husks dry for flower arrangements? They seem like puffy balloons. Enjoy your harvest!

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    1. After you take out the cherry, you could probably flip the husk back, but I'm not sure how sturdy they'd be. They do look like little balloons. :o) I have a recipe for a pie if I ever have a big bowl full but we always eat them too fast.

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  13. I am not familiar with ground cherry, but it does look very interesting. I do know about tomatillos and have used them occasionally. It looks like you are a successful nano-farmer!

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  14. Wow! You're conatiner vegetable garden is wonderful. My son and I have tried growing several vegetables in containers. The onions only produced leaves and no significant bulb. We were able to harvest some cherry tomatoes but not the amount we were initially hoping for because of fly infestation. Our chilies and bok choy were failures, unfortunately. -- Bom

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  15. Wow!! A blast from the past! Ground cherries. My grandparents used to grow them. I didn't like them as a kid but love them today. I'm so glad someone still grows them. What a nice memory! Sorry about your carrots. The swallowtail butterfly is pretty though?:)

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    1. It's fun to find out how many people have heard of ground cherries. The carrots I pulled aren't the final crop. Just a few sacrificial ones that will create more space for the others.

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  16. Love your zinnias! Your pot garden is fabulous! I have never had a ground cherry. I'm trying to imagine a tomato and a pineapple eaten together.

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    1. Thanks! The fruit is pretty tasty. More pineapple than tomato.

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  17. I adore your nano garden! I used to grow ground cherries - I think I might have a go at them again next year. Do the carrot leaves have a yellow mottling as well as the red-tinge on the outer leaves? If so, it could be Motley Dwarf Virus - it's usually found with carrot red leaf virus. Alternatively, it might be a magnesium deficiency. If it's the virus, you may have a reduced crop.

    I vote for you to grow Bok Choy - any leaf which makes you laugh has to be worth container space!

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    1. Thanks!! I had a feeling the reddish color was from a magnesium deficiency but wanted to ask other gardeners before I doused them with Epsom (magnesium sulfate). I've seen it on my milkweed before, too. I'm hoping it's not a virus!!

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  18. Your nanofarm looks great! We have the ground cherry plants growing wild here. I need to check out and see if it really is the same plant in your post. We are growing vegetables in pots right now to see what more we can get with them. Love your pot garden!

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    1. Wild ground cherries? That's awesome! I'm sure your chickens would love those!

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  19. I learn so much when I stroll through your garden with you....thanks for the tour. I need to grow some carrots. Haven't tried them yet, but next year's vegetable garden is in the planning already, so I'm incorporating them in the design. Thanks!

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    1. I've decided gardening is a bit like retail - I'm always thinking about the season ahead. I think I might grow peppers in my ground cherry pot. Carrots are really easy to grow.

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  20. Hi Tammy, Your blog has a great new look. You would be appalled to see my pathetic zinnias. There are insect-chewed runts that have never taken off. Yours look wonderful, and I am jealous, because I so love zinnias. I have tasted ground cherries, but did not know they could be so easily grown. You certainly manage an impressive array of plants in your nano-garden. This year I planted herbs in pots for the first time and must remember your tip to fertilize them.

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    1. Thanks! I have better luck with zinnias in pots than in the ground. I had a bug chew up a bunch of leaves earlier in the season, too. It must have moved onto something else. Starting ground cherry seeds was easy, but required patience since they were a bit slow. The seeds were super tiny so I used a piece of fettucine to plant them in their fiber pot holes. I started them inside, which was fun.

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  21. Your range amazes me – so many ornamentals and then time and talent left to grow food, something I do with pitifully little success. Those ground cherries do appeal, though; might have to give 'em a try. And, on the ornamental side (the cherries are ornamental too) you can never grow too many zinnias. I felt the same as you on preferring pots – until the drought drove me to plant them in the ground, so I could water less.

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    1. What an enormous compliment! Thanks! I have to say, though, that as soon as I put a vegetable in the ground, bad things happen. The containers are big water babies, for sure. If I didn't have five rain barrels, I'd have to have less containers. Zinnias are pure summer to me. Gotta have them!

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  22. I love your NanoFarm. Those carrots are really pretty, even covered with dirt they're such a pretty color. I've grown ground cherries several times. They are tasty and sweet. The first time I read about them, they were called "Pineapple Tomatillo." I suppose they taste a little bit like pineapple but I think they're even better. Now I wish I would have grown them again this year. Oh well.

    Your story of your growing up years was delightful.

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    1. I love how many people are familiar with ground cherries! I don't think the squirrels have figured them out yet, which is fine by me. My dad cussed so much and with so much creativity and enthusiasm, that even really ordinary statements were hysterical. I decided not to quote him directly, though. :o)

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  23. I like NanoFarm a lot. I almost bought that type of Fennel this year but it was too expensive. I may take the plunge next year.
    You have a lot packed into a small space and those tomatoes look superb!
    Yes, I taught Kindergarteners for 4 weeks this summer. I need to get a T-shirt with some type of I survived... logo.
    David/:0)

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    1. 4 weeks??? You are a survivor of the toughest sort!! Fennel should be really cheap. Look for a little pot in the herb section of whatever big box store is near you. I once saw a big fluffy pot of it at a garden center marked $15 or so. I think I laughed out loud.

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  24. You do some mighty amazing things with containers, TS! I've seen the Ground Cherries around, but never tasted them--now you've convinced me I must do so! By the way, thanks for the tips on the Epsom salt and the liquid Sea Kelp. I've used the Sea Kelp in the past, but never the Epsom salt. I just started using it and it seems to be helping. Plus, we just got a gentle, drenching rain tonight. Yippee!

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  25. Hooray for rain and being helpful!!! You'll notice even more improvement over the next couple of days. I have 55 containers. Is there a support group for that? :o)

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  26. I am loving your NanoFarm 55 containers though you must have a time watering (I find it enjoyable). Odd about the carrots, I am growing purple also was wondering about the greens.

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  27. Your nano farm is great. I have tomatoes in containers and they haven't been happy ---of course my watering of said containers is not great either.
    Don't know ground cherries, most interesting.

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