Category Archives: Review

GrowVeg.com Online Garden Planner Review

The Snarky Gardener loves to plan his garden planting and GrowVeg.com is what he depends on year after year.

GrowVeg.com Online Garden Planning Tool

When it comes to my garden, I’m a planner. I love to design it over the winter when the snow’s on the ground, obsessively moving plants around over and over again. GrowVeg.com lets me undertake this without issue. Each year is represented in its own plan with the previous year copied over onto the next one so to include perennials and mark the previously planted families (nightshades, legumes, spinach, etc).

The red represents legumes (beans and peas) that have been planted in the previous 2 years.
The red represents legumes (beans and peas) that have been planted in the previous 2 years.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Here's the planner interface. This represents my Fenced Backyard Garden as of July 2015.
Here’s the planner’s interface. This represents my Fenced Backyard Garden as of July 2015.

Shown above and below is the planner’s interface. The garden displayed is my 50′ by 30′ fenced backyard garden as of July 2015. Another nice touch is the ability to not only represent the various fruits and vegetables via graphic (notice the strawberries to the upper left?) but to also attach the variety to the plant. You can even add your own varieties if they are not listed (looking at you Snarky Orange Cherry tomatoes).

A closer look at my July 2015 garden
A closer look at my July 2015 garden
An example of my July 2015 plant list including starting, planting, and harvesting times.
An example of my July 2015 plant list including starting, planting, and harvesting times.

Monthly charting is easy and straight forward.

Another plus of using an online garden planning site such as GrowVeg.com is that you can see your garden’s progression through the season. Here’s an example of my garden from April to September 2015. See how the spinach disappears (because it bolted and when to seed) and others come in to take their place. Succession planting at its best. In June the Swiss chard, eggplants, and peppers are planted. and in July, beans (both green and dry) to fill out my garden. Note: the brown rectangles represent my raised hugelkultur beds.

Fenced Backyard Garden April 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden April 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden May 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden May 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden June 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden June 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden July and August 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden July and August 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden September 2015
Fenced Backyard Garden September 2015

Pros:
Plant Families with previous 3 years
Varieties
Perennials
$45 for 2 years
Publish to Web
Plant List includes location based planting and harvest times
Ability to add your own varieties
Detailed growing information on each plant.

There are some downsides to GrowVeg.com

I do really love the ability to publish my plans out to the web, but there are limitations to the size you can show. Of course this is because if you get too wide, the detail will be difficult to see, but it’s a restriction nonetheless.

You can also notice by the graphical nature of the software, it’s really easy to tell when I’m not working on work at work. I’ve had many a curious co-worker as me what I was planning on planting. It’s so obvious to those who don’t even garden. Guess I’ll just have to plan at lunch time or at home (which isn’t a bad idea anyways).

As shown earlier in this post, I do enjoy the month-by-month tracking of my garden. My only wish is that I could go week-by-week instead. I’m a detail oriented person, and knowing which week something was planted or removed would help immensely.

Cons:
Size limitations if you use Publish to Web
Co-workers know that I’m not working
Wish for more granularity (weeks instead of months)
More plants (missing yarrow for example)

A valuable tool to plan your garden.

So as you can see, GrowVeg.com has many features to let you design the perfect garden. Month-to-month and year-to-year representations of your plots are available at your fingertips.

Burpee’s Sure Thing Zucchini Review

The Snarky Gardener really loves Burpee’s Sure Thing Hybrid Zucchini but only in a platonic way.

The Snarky Gardener's 1st place award winning Zucchini at the 2014 Portage County Ohio fair
The Snarky Gardener’s 1st place award winning Zucchini at the 2014 Portage County Ohio fair

I don’t usually get all goo goo over a specific vegetable variety (unless it’s my own like the Snarky Orange Cherry Tomato). As an avid seed saver and swapper, I go with whatever seeds I have at hand. This year, I wanted to grow the rainbow type of Swiss chard, but only had a random red variety. Oh well, it all tastes the same once cooked. I can’t even tell you what kind of cucumbers I grew this year.  Had some seeds, stuck them in the ground, waited for them to grow, ate cucumbers.  But when it comes to zucchini, I’m very particular.

Squash, Summer, Sure Thing Zucchini Hybrid 1 Pkt. (25 seeds) Fruits early even in cool, cloudy conditions. Click here to purchase.
Squash, Summer, Sure Thing Zucchini Hybrid 1 Pkt. (25 seeds) Fruits early even in cool, cloudy conditions. Click here to purchase.

As I first came into my own as a gardener, I didn’t take failure well. (Actually, now that I think about it, I still don’t). For me, there’s nothing more depressing early in the season than watching tiny little zucchinis start out with the flower on the end, get a bit bigger, and then just shrivel up and die (so sad). The primary reason for this lost is female flowers need insects to pollinate them. No pollination equals no zucchini to eat. Early in the season, a lack of pollination can be problematic especially if it’s rainy, cloudy, windy or below 50 degrees as honey bees don’t go out of the hive on those days (slackers!). If you ever go out and watch your cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, and the like) on a nice sunny warm morning, it will feel like an airport of bee activity (buzz buzz buzz).

Q: Why do my zucchini fruits just shrivel up and die?

A: Zucchini flowers need to be pollinated. No pollination equals no zucchini to eat.

Here in Northeastern Ohio, with our lake-effect clouds and cruddy spring weather, it seems like this issue is even more pronounced (though that could just be the Seasonal Affective Disorder talking). Fortunately, I did a little, research and came across Burpee’s Sure Thing Hybrid ZucchiniBurpee's Sure Thing Hybrid Zucchini.  It’s a seedless variety specifically bred for this situation.  Seedless means it doesn’t need fertilized. Problem solved!

Normally, I have a no hybrid rule in my garden but I do make exceptions for times like these. I enjoy saving seeds and while you technically can save hybrids, the “experts” don’t recommended it because you don’t know what you are going to get when you plant them (could be a puppy – who really knows?). Of course with this seedless hybrid variety, you can’t save these (thanks Captain Obvious). A few years back I did serendipitously save and grow out some hybrid SunGold cherry tomatoes and ended up with my very own variety (the Snarky Orange Cherry tomato). Little known fact: you can name them whatever you want (I prefer Fred).

What I like about these Sure Things is I don’t get the “My Zucchini Won’t Pollinate Blues”. I can plant them right after the last frost and they will grow well from there. (Hold it, how do you know it’s actually going to be the LAST frost of the year? Don’t worry, if you get another frost, you can just plant again.) These are a bush variety, so they pretty much stay put instead of crawling all over the garden like pumpkins do.  The downside of any bush plant (zucchini, bean, pea, tomato) is that they have a limited growth timeline meaning they won’t necessarily fruit all season. That’s the trade off from the pole or indeterminate types though I will say the Sure Things from last season’s cool rainy weather did go from June into September. So how do you fight the lesser production? Simple – plant some once every month until 2 months before the average normal first frost (so for Ohio plant in May, June, July, and August). What to do with all that zucchini? That’s for a different time (hint: zucchini pickles).

A M Leonard Cape Cod Weeder Review

The Snarky Gardener has a new weeder and wants to tell you all about it.

A.M. Leonard's Cape Cod Weeder
A M Leonard’s Cape Cod Weeder. Click here to purchase.

A M Leonard's Cape Cod WeedeI recently acquired a new gardening tool, the A.M. Leonard Cape Cod WeederA.M. Leonard's Cape Cod Weeder.  First impression out of the box was it’s very sturdy and felt good in my hand.  Next impression was it resembled a cross between a putt-putt golf club and a pirate’s hook (what is it with me and pirates?).  Of course I had to play with it a little bit, putt-putting our abundance of crab apples around the yard.  Then I got down to business, figuring out how to properly wield it.

I specifically ordered this weeder with an extended handle (24″ instead of the standard 12″) so I could dig narrower furrows from a standing position.  Also, I was searching for something that could let me reach my 4 foot by 8 foot hugelkultur beds without resorting to climbing on top or put my foot on them.   As you can see below, the Cape Cod Weeder (on the right) did both well.

Standard hoe on left and Cape Cod Weeder on the right
Standard hoe on left and Cape Cod Weeder on the right.

My next task was to do some actual weeding (’cause that’s in the name and all).  Being October, there are two things we do here in Northeastern Ohio: plant garlic and cry because the Browns are already out of the playoffs (which helps with watering the garlic).  To prep the bed, weed removal was needed first.  I really like my weeds (I know, very weird) especially the Creeping Charlie that spreads everywhere (good ground cover and edible don’t you know).  It’s very viney and doesn’t come up with a standard hoe well but as you can see below, the hook just rips it out with aplomb (but not a plum).

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The garlic planting itself went well also, as the Cape Cod Weeder is a good tool to have at your side while you’re on the ground.  I was able to loosen up dirt and dig a nice deep yet narrow groove for my garlic cloves. With the longer handle, my reach was better and I didn’t have to move around as much, which my middle-aged body appreciated.  Like I said, a great experience overall.

Of course as I was getting to know my new tool, I came up with a few improvements:

  1. Orange on the handle (like A.M. Leonard’s Soil Knife) so it’s easier to find (I lose things easily under all my weeds).
  2. An even longer handle (maybe another foot) so I can weed and furrow whilst standing (I’m 6’3″ for goodness sake).

Strange thing that only happens to me:  I kept writing “Cape Code Weeder” as I wrote this post.  It’s the software developer coming out in me 🙂

By the way, I’m a member of Amazon’s Affiliate program, so buy your weeder by clicking on the links in this post and the Snarky Gardener will receive a tiny, tiny piece of the action.

A M Leonard Soil Knife Review

The Snarky Gardener loves his new soil knife so much that now he thinks he’s the Snarky Pirate. Please enjoy this “Talk Like A Pirate” day review of the A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife and Sheath Combo

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Ahoy mateys!  ‘Tis wintertide me ponied up some plundered booty to procure me a dirt cutlass for the lubber grub plot.

Hello fellow gardeners, this winter I bought a “A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife and Sheath Combo” for my food garden.

If ye scallywag be hornswaggling me, the bilge rat will walk the plank

If I was sold a low quality knife, I would have been very disappointed.

This morn me pulled out me knife from me duffle, slapped ye on me britches, and moved smartly to me patch

This morning I pulled out my soil knife, attached it to my pants via the silver clip, and went out to the garden.  It clips and unclips very quick and easy.

Shiver me timbers – ye blade slices through the toughest sea weed and barnicles.

I was shocked how well the serrated blade slices through turf grass, tough roots and thick clay without issue

Arrr – cut me arm.  Must be how Cap’n Hook really lost ye hand.

Be careful using this knife.  I cut my hand twice during the first week or two I owned it.

Thar she blows!  The orange dungbie be easy to spot .

The orange handle was easy to find amongst the garden foliage.

Avast matey!  Me twine not be cut even with a good heave ho

The twine cutting notch didn’t cut my leftover baling twine well (though the serrated blade worked just fine).

Use ye gold doubloons to acquire ‘tis beauty before Davy Jones’ Locker gets you.

Buy the “A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife and Sheath Combo” today before it’s too late.  If you click through these links, the Snarky Gardener will receive a small percentage of your purchase, thank you very much.

Hide in ye crow’s nest, fill ye black jack with rum and avoid swabbing the poopdeck.

Sit back, relax, and have a good weekend you landlubbers.

knife1
Ready for action, pirate or otherwise

Inspiration from “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food”

I just finished reading the book “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food” via Kindle and feel like quite the rebel.  My gardening research has made one thing abundantly clear – saving seed is the way to go.   Last season I saved the seeds of two plants, Ho Mi Z mustard (a close out at Johnny’s Selected Seeds which I still have a boat load left) and Tendergreen bush green beans (purchased at the Garden Spot in Ravenna).  The mustard saving was sort of by accident as it went to seed during the summer and I just randomly collected some (maybe to make condiment mustard?).  As for the green beans, I had saved bean seed (aka just beans) before and thought I’d be growing them again in 2013.

The writing style choice for the Seed Underground (stories about seed savers) made the driving force of the book transparent.  Though there was plenty of seed saving techniques and advice (tomatoes and sweet potatoes, to name a few), the author’s main goal was to inspire others to action.

Even though I may not know you, I have fallen in love with you, you who understand that a relationship to the land is powerful; who want that connection; who want authentic experiences; who want a life that has meaning, that makes sense, that is essential. And I am writing for you. You. This story is for you. This is not a textbook on seed saving. I am looking to inspire you with my own life.

Many of the chapters are about specific seed savers and their plants.  Each saved seed has a history with people, places and events attached.  My inner gardener has proclaimed that now is the time for the Snarky Gardener to start his own stories.  I’ve already fallen in love with several of my garden plant varieties (don’t tell my girlfriend) and know there’s room in my heart for many more.  Below is a list of my seed saving intentions for this upcoming year (for motivational reasons mostly).

Seeds/Tubers I will definitely save this year:
– Tomatoes
– Beans
– Peas
– Coriander (aka Cilantro)
– Mustard
– Sunchoke (aka Jerusalem Artichoke)
– Potatoes
– Seven Top turnips that I overwintered (if they go to seed)

Seeds/Cloves I might save this year:
– Peppers
– Eggplants
– Dill
– Parsley
– Chervil
– Lettuce / Mesclun
– Kale
– Garlic
– Pumpkins
– Other herbs (thyme, basil, oregano, mint, lemon balm)

Seeds I won’t save this year:
– Watermelon – it’s a small F1 that I’m using up this year
– Cucumber – female only variety
– Zucchini – female only variety
– Mache / Corn Salad – I have plenty plus I’m just going to let it go to seed in the garden so it grows like a winter weed
– Onions – I will just buy bulbs like I do every year
– Leeks
– Kohlrabi
– Broccoli
– Brussels Sprouts
– Purple Top Turnips – next year if I remember to overwinter a few
– Corn – when I find a flint type that will store

I’m still seeking favorite tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and peas. An order from Amishland Seeds (Amish Paste, Black Cherry, and Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes) should provide me with tomatoes.  I’m down to two types of beans: Amish Gnuddel (an Amish dry bean planted around my corn Three Sisters style), and Jacob’s Cattle beans (a dry bush bean I picked up at the farmer’s market this spring).  Eggplants will be one Japanese / Ichiban variety.   I have started Long Purple seed (from the FNLC seed swap) and will see how it fares in my garden.  It’s the same thing with peppers as I received a Mini Belle Pepper mix.  Peas have been whittled down to one climbing (6 foot snow pea vines going up my tomatoes cages) and a bush type to be used as a spring green manure.

jacobs

Another argument for seed saving is the fact that local food equals local seed.

There’s that word local again. Locavore, local economics, and now locally adapted seed. This also means that if you’re a seed saver, you’re a seed selector, and thus a plant breeder, more or less, growing seed adapted to your locality. And as the seed adapts to soil, I heard a gardener at the Rodale Institute once say, the soil adapts to seed.

Maybe this means my seeds will adapt to my pH levels, so I won’t have to fret about my soil acidity (worth a thought).  Saving my seed also means it will grow better next year for my micro-climate and organic gardening style.  I’m a lazy farmer, so the easier my plants grow, the better I like it.  And after years of growing my especially adapted plants, Northeastern Ohio varieties could be released to the public (Ohio Snarky Beans anyone?).  My ego could handle that 🙂

One note from Mari at “Food Not Lawns Cleveland”:

Be sure to tell folks on your blog that the books Food Not Lawns and The Seed Underground are always available at the events/gatherings – no tax, no shipping.