Saturday, June 20, 2009

my urban-suburban garden...

In Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, written in 1781, he lists tomatoes as produce common to Virginia kitchen gardens. Jefferson grew his tomatoes at Monticello in 1809 - the first summer of his retirement - and grew them until his death.

Although I have been to Jefferson's Garden many times, this aerial image is courtesy of Monticello.

Inspired by the garden journals of Jefferson, I wanted to document the growth of my garden and the quality of the fruits and vegetables over the summer in my small urban-suburban garden.

Although I live in the suburbs of Chicago, the primary garden that provides my salads and herbs are grown in containers on my ground level terrace and balcony gardens.
Because my home is across the road from a dense forest preserve that is also home to squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, possums, deer, coyotes, skunks, geese, ducks, heron, wolves and possibly werewolves…lol…
So, I have to grow my vegetables on the balcony terrace overlooking Cinnamon Creek and out of the way of the creatures looking for a free salad bar.

On the lower terrace, I am able to grow a variety of herbs, as the critters as not fond of the taste of them. Here edible and ornamental flowers also bloom their little hearts out.

On the vegetable terrace on the second level, I started Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow peas and Cascadia Snap peas. Cascadia variety snap peas are very sweet and tender peas, with an edible pod. I love these in a salad or as a refreshing snack with a fresh yogurt dip.

Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow peas are an heirloom, flat-podded snow pea. They have a tasty, stringless pod for stir-fry and salads.


Both these varieties of pea have a bush habits that grow short vines from 28-30”, perfect for my urban-suburban garden. I planted the peas from seed on April 15th and I have already enjoyed a small harvest of both types of peas.


On May 21, I started seeds of French lettuces and assorted greens with colorful names from a beautiful package that my sister bought for me. The lettuces have stunning French names as Blonde de Paris, Freckles, Merveille de Quarte Saisons, Rouge d’Hiver, and Sucrene.

The Swiss chard, chervil, endive, and spinaches have equally evocative names.

The curly chervil is called Corn Salad Verte de Cambri.

The endives sound oh so romantic with names like Grosse Pancaliere and Scarole Ronde Verte Coeur Plein.

My spinaches have elegant names: Geant d’Hiver and Monstrueux de Viroflay.

The Swiss Chards has lovely painterly names of Lucullus and Rainbow mix.
Very sexy names for delicious greens that will certainly inspire some wonderful summer meals that I can pick outside my door.

These lyrically named greens are already 6-8” and have already become stars in my salad bowl.

A local lapin visits my French lettuces growing on my terrasse.
Fortunately, he is just a sweet little statue and not the real thing that would munch away on my crop...


As most of you know, there are six major types of tomato: globe, plum, cherry, pear, grape and dollhouse-sized currant tomatoes. In past years, I primarily grew the plum, cherry and grape varieties on my terrace and purchased other varieties at my local farmers market.
This year, after reading the book by Amy Goldman, Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table, I decided to branch out to include a few Heirloom varieties that peaked my interest.

I was intrigued and inspired by the myriad of sizes and shapes and the rainbow of colors of these Heirlooms and hoped that some of them would do well in containers.
After doing a little research, I had my sister helped me choose a few out of the dozens that were available as seedlings at a local garden center.
We chose Cherokee Purple, Elberta Girl, Mortgage Lifter, and a hybrid called Health Kick not because of their interesting names and colors, but for their growing habits that would be suited to containers.

baby Cherokee Purple at birth

The Cherokee Purple tomato is considered by many to be the best tasting tomato. It has a unique dusty rose color and is said to be extremely sweet with a flavor that rivals the very tasty Brandywine tomato.

The beautiful, determined and determinate habits of Elberta Girl I spoke about in my previous post last month was the first to produce fruit.

The Health Kick is a hybrid determinate habit plum tomato have thick and meaty fruits. There are sweet and tangy tasting and they resembles a Roma but is juicier and better for fresh eating, but is also excellent for making sauce and paste.

A breakthrough in breeding, this tomato is actually healthier for you than others you can grow or buy as this variety is reported to have 50% more lycopene than any other tomato. According to growers, Heath Kick is a prolific producer. It is known to have bountiful crops of 4 ounce, sweet red fruits.

The Mortgage Lifter tomato was developed in the early 1930's in Logan, West Virginia by a radiator repairman, "Radiator Charlie" Byles. Without any experience in breeding, he made a successful cross of four of the largest tomatoes he could find - German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety.

Radiator Charlie sold the first seedlings of his new tomato in the 1940's for one dollar each to customers who drove up to 200 miles for his famous plants that bore tasty tomatoes averaging two and a half pounds. With these sales, Charlie managed to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in only six years, and so the tomato was aptly named Mortgage Lifter.
I read that the Mortgage Lifter is a large, meaty, mild-flavored tomato has few seeds and is the perfect tomato-sandwich tomato. It is indeterminate in habit and bears stunning red, two to four pound tomatoes all summer long.

I also planted many grape tomato plants at the same time, as they have been very prolific on my terrace in past years all the way to the first frost. Besides, these are fun to eat right off the vine as I water the “crops” in my urban-suburban garden.

How does your garden grow?

Who inspired your vegetable gardening?

What vegetables are you growing in your gardens?
Looking forward to your feedback about your gardens...

11 comments:

5 Star Foodie said...

Your garden is amazing! And I love that heirloom tomato!

Culinary Cory said...

Oh...I never thought about planting edible flowers. Such a great idea. I'm going to have to add that to my list of plantings.

feasting-on-pixels (terrie) said...

Merci beauoup chêre Natasha...
my garden is small, but still takes much work to keep it healthy.
The Heirlooms are doing well thanks to some warm nights that we have been having.

Salut Cory...merci for your comment. Edible flowers are my fave especially red, yellow and bright orange Nasturtiums.

They add such a lovley spice a salad and naturally an elegant touch to plating...

So glad to have inspired you a tiny bit as you always inspire me.
Hope your trip to Chicago was great fun.

Bisous to you both...!

umbrellalady said...

Glad to hear that you are inspired by the heirloom tomato varieties - they are amazing. I started growing them (pineapple - tough skin and good taste and black krim - ugly colour when sliced-black/burgundy but great taste in a toasted sandwich) last year and was quite pleased with what I had planted. This year I have planted several varieties - Black Krim, Princepe Borghese, Martino's Roma, Silver Fir, and Omar's Lebanese - should be interesting to see what develops. I also planted one heirloom eggplant, Listada de Gandia. I got a little carried away and planted about 40 plants - all of which look wonderful at this point. The fall will be interesting though. lol

Peter said...

I'm so pleased to see that you are back with your appetizing posts, to learn about your terrace gardens ... and to learn a lot about tomatoes! I think I have to rehearse for a while, such a lot to learn. Basically I have until now only noted that some tomatoes are bigger than other ones and that they often are less tasty than what I would wish. Even the open local markets here seem mostly to sell the imported "industrial" ones. I'm sure you know Paris well enough to give a good address!

Mise En Place said...

Wow! You have an amazing green thumb.

I remember my grandfather's veggie garden growing up. He had the most amazing corn. I've never had any that compares to it.

My mom always plants lettuce, onions and tomatoes.

A Brush with Color said...

Wow! How gorgeous! That looks like a fantasy, Terrie! Amazing. I always love your photos.

chez aurora said...

Salut my dear...and thank you so much for treating us to a tour of your garden. What a pleasure to view such a beautiful array of photos, flora and fauna! Your talent with, and knowledge of food, from garden to table shines through splendidly!

Also, merci for the info on heirloom tomatoes...especially since you have enjoyed many firsthand. Your love of them has inspired me to find out more!

I have many similar items in my own garden, and it is a container garden too! I have already harvested radishes, spinach, arugula, lettuce, broccoli rape, fava beans, broad beans along with delicious nasturtiums and many different herbs. The sugar snap peas are amazingly sweet and crunchy! The spinach is the same variety as yours ... and coincidently I picked up the seeds in Paris! I'm also growing zucchini, kabocha squash & cukes, which have already started to fruit. Not so much luck with the tomatoes. I'm growing 2 varieties, one heirloom & one cherry ... both from seed. The plants are huge by now, but I think I had planted them too close together and they have flowered, but no signs of tomatoes yet. The peppers... green, red & jalapeno haven't fruited yet either, nor have the eggplant. Maybe we need more hot weather than we've had. And of course there are many flowers ... and some geraniums from seed from Paris :)

Looking forward to following along with your beautiful garden's progress, along with your knowlegeable commentary & stunning photography work!

Bisous mon amie xo

jeanette, mistress of longears said...

More photos please! I'd love to see an overview of each area in your garden.

Marie said...

Found you via Flickr...love your vegetable garden, and envy you the space! My terrace is tiny, but packed.

My mom grew vegetables and fruit in the garden I grew up in, in South Africa - and I've never kicked the habit :-)

Sue said...

My, My, aren't we the busy one in your urban terrace garden. I must say you have a way to make the viewer want to jump in your photo and pick every morsel you have grown! Your description of each treasure keep me in a trance. The Kids Garden Project is the answer to the newbies for the future. Students who might have a spark in their garden experiences to become a professional chef or photographer for a food magazine just like you. Bravo!