Miracle Tomato Plant Survives Denver Blizzard

miracle tomato3Like many gardeners in a cold climate, I always have to start my tomato seeds indoors early each spring. I typically start in March if I want to have tomato plants ready for transplanting into the vegetable garden in May.

In more than 30 years of gardening, this year is the first time I’ve seen a tomato seed volunteer to sprout on its own in my garden. It must’ve been the warm temperatures starting around the end of February that signaled this little tomato seed to start growing.

To say I was surprised to see it so early in the season is an understatement. Tomatoes are tropical plants and they prefer to grow in hot weather. In fact, I have to wait until nighttime temperatures consistently hit the 55-degree mark before setting tomato transplants outside.

However this miracle tomato started growing in almost freezing temperatures without any kind of plant protection!

When the blizzard hit Denver last week, I was sure that was the end to this little tomato that could. But as the temperatures warmed through the weekend, the snow melted and the feisty miracle tomato was still there.

It’s only the first of April, but I imagine I’ll be able to start harvesting fresh tomatoes — whatever variety they may be — at about the same time I’m planting my basement-grown tomato transplants in the garden.

If you’ve ever seen a tomato growing through the snow, or found another miracle in your vegetable garden, would you please let me know?



San Francisco Flower and Garden Show is Next Stop

Featured speaker badge webIf you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area on March 16, I hope you’ll stop by the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

That’s the next stop on my Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening book tour.

I’ll be presenting “How to Grow Prizewinning Produce” at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday afternoon and signing books right after the talk.

If the Northwest Flower and Garden Show was any indication, large crowds of gardeners will turn out to see what’s new in garden design, garden art, plants, gardening materials, and supplies. The show covers more than five acres, so wear comfy walking shoes!

There are also over 100 speakers, from 11 states, presenting free seminars on five stages during the show’s run from March 16-20. This event is conveniently located at the San Mateo Event Center, just south of the San Francisco airport. I’m delighted to be included in the lineup at one of the top garden shows in the country.

“How to Grow Prizewinning Produce” is geared to any vegetable gardener who wants to grow picture-perfect produce — whether for competing or just eating. I hope to see you there!





Special Offer for Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardeners

Blue Ribbon Vegetable GardeningIt’s as much fun as a funnel cake to enter a vegetable contest and be part of the excitement at an American fair!

If you’re ready to bring a competitive edge to your vegetable gardening — or just impress your family and friends with picture-perfect produce — here’s a special offer just for you:

Save $20 on my Craftsy class called Vegetable Gardening: Innovative Small Space Solutions.

The class includes everything a gardener needs to get started growing great vegetable gardens.

Use this special link to get your discount today!



Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening Speaking Schedule

Speaker Email - Badge 2016 It’s February and that means the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle is just around the corner!

I’m excited to kick off this gardening season with two programs at the show followed by signings of my brand new book, Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening:

Thursday, February 18, 5:30 p.m. in the Hood Room

Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening

Have you ever marveled at mammoth pumpkins, giant cabbages and enormous onions at your state fair? This seminar teaches the tricks for growing the biggest, tastiest and best-looking vegetables for miles around. Whether you want to win ribbons, impress your friends or simply improve your vegetable growing efforts, this session is for you!

Friday, February 19, 3:15 p.m. DIY Demonstration Stage

A Dirty Dozen for Gardening on the Cheap

In this fast-paced gardening demonstration you’ll learn a dozen different ways to garden on the cheap — indoors and out. In quick succession you’ll discover how to grow garlic greens, deal organically with insect pests, make a portable potting bench, grow the most nutritionally dense food in a jar, mix up your own potting soil, grow a carrot centerpiece, test last season’s vegetable seeds, stock up on free fertilizers and more. You’ll leave this session armed with a year’s worth of money-saving gardening tips!

If you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll stop by.

Upcoming stops on the Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening speaking tour include:

March 7, The Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs, Denver, Colo.

March 17, The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, San Francisco, Calif.

March 19, The Western Landscape Symposium, Pueblo, Colo.

April 9, The Natrona County Master Gardener’s Spring Conference, Casper, Wyo.

April 23, Tomato-Palooza at Tagawa Gardens, Parker, Colo.

April 24, Echter’s Nursery and Green House Annual Open House, Arvada, Colo.

May 13, Broadmoor Garden Club, Colorado Springs, Colo.

May 14, The Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Colo.

…and more to come this summer!

If you need more information on any of these dates — or you’d like to schedule a Blue Ribbon Presentation, please get in touch.



Glowing Review for Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening

Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening Yes, I’m giddy about vegetables!

The first review is in for my newest gardening book called Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening: The Secrets to Growing the Biggest and Best Prizewinning Produce.

Publisher’s Weekly wrote the review and I couldn’t be happier.

“Torpey writes giddily about vegetable gardening, going so far as to use the animated film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit as a point of reference, and she will even entertain nongardeners with this delightful book. Dedicated gardeners will be impressed as she seriously coaches the sport of competitive vegetable growing.”

The book, published by Storey Publishing, isn’t out quite yet. The release date is set for December, but folks are already pre-ordering the book. I’ve seen the finished pages, but can’t wait to get my hands on an actual copy.

I’m glad Publisher’s Weekly mentioned how gardeners and nongardeners will like the book, because that was one of my goals when writing it.

Because it’s the only book to include the history of vegetable exhibitions with the how-to-grow information, I worked like crazy to make it as entertaining as it is informative. I’m hoping this is the first of many good reviews!




Hot Pepper is Weird Veggie Winner for 2015

A jalapeno pepper with attitude was the big winner in the 2015 Weird Veggie Contest sponsored by Bonnie Plants.

A great big THANKS goes to all the gardeners who grew vegetable gardens and submitted their weird entries! While many great entries failed to garner enough votes to win the contest, they still deserve special recognition and some will be inducted into the Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit Hall of Fame.

WesternGardeners.com also sends a huge “Thank You” to Bonnie Plants for sponsoring this year’s contest and supplying prizes for the top finishers in this annual vegetable celebration!



Corpse Flower Viewing is Botanical Craziness

Corpse FlowerI’ve done a lot of kooky things in my day, but waiting in a long line of other early-rising plant nerds to get a glimpse (and whiff) of a flower could top the list.

The alert went out last night on the 10 o’clock news: The Corpse Flower at the Denver Botanic Gardens has started to bloom!

DBG members would get the first crack at seeing the monster plant starting at 6:00 a.m. When I arrived at 6:30, the parking garage was full and there was already a line that snaked its way around Marnie’s Pavilion. It was a little like standing in line for Space Mountain at Disney World.

It certainly paid to get there early. I waited just over an hour and was lucky enough to grab one of 1000 commemorative Corpse Flower barf bags — a clever play on the fact the plant emits a distinct fragrance to attract pollinators when it’s in full bloom.

Apparently some folks were disappointed the flower didn’t smell like rotting meat. I took a deep breath near the vent and immediately thought, “summer trash collection day in my neighborhood.”

This is the first time for the Corpse Flower to bloom, even though it’s been at the Gardens since 2007. The Amorphophallus Titanum originates in Indonesia where it grows on hillsides in the equatorial rain forests of Sumatra, anywhere from 400-1000 feet above sea level.

The plant is a member of the Arum family along with more familiar relatives like the Peace Lily and Calla Lily. But it’s safe to say, neither of those plants has gotten this kind of attention.

In its native habitat, the Corpse Flower starts as a seed and takes between 3-10 years to grow into a mature plant. During its reproductive stage it develops a tall spadix (the spike in the middle of the plant) that can grow 12 inches in a week.

After about two weeks, the flower (called a spathe) opens for just 1-2 days. During this time, the spadix warms to 98 degrees to attract as many pollinators as possible, until the flower starts to fade.

With luck, the fruits will mature in 6-12 months and produce 1 or 2 seeds. And the vegetative cycle begins again with the first bloom occurring when the plant is 8-20 years old.

So it’s no wonder the Corpse Flower has become a media darling and an Internet sensation.

I sure hope it’s enjoying its 48 hours of fame.



Vegetable gardeners have more control when planting in container gardens

2015 vegetable container garden The 2015 vegetable growing season had a cool, rainy and slow start, but plants are finally responding to the warm dry days.

After the first 95-degree day, I noticed every squash plant had blossomed overnight. Each plant had several large squash blossoms, with plenty of buzzing bees, because they were so happy to get the kind of overnight heat they like.

Vegetable gardeners who have trouble growing in conventional in-ground vegetable beds, may want to give container gardening a try.

From my experience, vegetable gardeners have more control when gardening in containers — in spite of the weather.

This year’s container vegetable garden is about two weeks behind last year’s garden. In 2014 cherry tomatoes were ripe enough to eat in mid-July; this year, it was August First.

There were just two ripe-red tomatoes, but they were worth the wait.

In June I planted more hot chile pepper plants than ever before, in anticipation of a special project. The project fell through, but the peppers are now coming on strong.

In addition to my favorite jalapeno plants, I planted Tabasco, Dragon Cayenne, Cayennetta, Anaheim, Habanero, Fish, Flaming Flare, and a new sweet pepper called Pretty ‘n Sweet.

The patio garden also includes quite a few tomato plants, about two of each: Moneymaker, Litt’l Bites, Fantastico, Superbush, Amana orange, and Ketchup ‘n Fries.

There are also several basil plants, mint for Mojitos, baby climbing butternut squash, two kinds of eggplant, two kinds of cucumbers and assorted ornamental grasses and annual flowers. An edible ornamental hanging basket of cherry tomatoes and nasturtium completes the garden.

Each year I experiment with the container garden by growing new or new-to-me plants and planting in different containers. Two elements I don’t change are where the planters sit on the patio and how I care for them through the summer. Water when they need it and regular fertilizing are the keys.

This year there have been more insect pests than I’ve ever seen, but morning rounds to rid planters of slugs and earwigs have made those easy to control.

Of course, the one variable I can’t control is the weather. Gardening here has more to do with adapting to a season when there are cooler, wetter temperatures or going with the flow when there’s no precipitation and temperatures hover in the 90s nearly every day.

The key word for gardening here is adaptable. In spite of our best efforts to control the gardening environment, gardeners have to find a way to be more flexible, just like the plants we try to grow.




Writing a vegetable gardening book is like growing a biennial plant

Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening bookIt’s taken two years to see what my Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening book will look like. It’ll be another five months before I can hold it in my hands.

But pre-ordering has already begun.

Just like a biennial plant, this gardening book has taken its time to put down roots and start to grow. Biennial plants typically take two years from seed to flower.

It’s like planting hollyhocks one year, seeing the rosette of green leaves the next season, and then having to wait another year to see the colors of the flowers in bloom.

The idea for Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening sprouted with me about four years ago. After doing the research, I found the most current books about growing perfect produce for exhibiting in vegetable contests were written about 100 years ago.

As the idea took shape, I decided I needed to grow and show some of my own garden-grown produce. That meant planting in spring and waiting to see what would be ready in late summer to take to the fair.

That season, three little cherry tomatoes, a few peppers and a handful of basil looked like the best options.

And I was right. I came home with three blue ribbons.

That fall I started researching the history of vegetable exhibitions. Then I started writing the book proposal.

In early 2013 Storey Publishing accepted the proposal and invited me to visit in July of that year to discuss the book.

As soon as I returned home from North Adams, Mass., I started writing. And I wrote all winter and into spring.

The first draft was ready in April 2014. The publisher’s photo team went to the Iowa State Fair to take pictures for the book that summer.

Meanwhile, John and I went to the Alaska State Fair to take pictures, too.

Over the last year, the book has been in production. It’s due to bloom — I mean get released — this December.



Win Big with Ugly Fruits and Vegetables

weird tomatoWhat’s the oddest fruit or vegetable you’ve found in your garden?

I’ve found many crazy-looking edibles in my garden, but the tomato I named “Casper the Friendly Cyclops” is the most memorable.

This misshapen, but smiling, tomato could be a winner in the WesternGardeners.com annual Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit photo contest.

Every year gardeners send in images of the kookiest produce they pull from their gardens.

The vegetables are certainly entertaining and it’s always fun to guess what went wrong to cause those weird-looking shapes. Some environmental problem is the most common reason behind these oddballs.

In the case of Casper, the weather was exceptionally cold when the tomato plant was starting to set fruit. That’s what caused all those odd shapes on the blossom end of the tomato.

When carrots grow in rocky soil, their roots can form into strange configurations.

Lack of growing space in the garden can cause summer squash to fuse together or make cucumbers curl into a ball instead of growing straight.

While weird veggies can win prizes — including my blue-ribbon-winning butt tomato — the majority of less-than-perfect produce grown commercially in the U.S. is usually thrown away.

However right now on Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg there’s one guy trying to end food waste by celebrating ugly produce. He’s captured the imaginations of over 14,000 followers who appreciate his campaign.

If you follow along you’ll see him post photos of strawberries that look like flowers or butterflies, ears of corn that look like they’re waving, carrots throwing the peace sign and eggplants with faces. Each image comes with a clever caption.

I did a little digging, and the man behind the site is Jordan Figueiredo who lives and works in California.

He’s passionate about changing the culture of food waste around the world. He estimates that people waste between 20-40% of commercially-grown produce just because it doesn’t meet the high standards of perfection in looks, although all of the produce is still edibly nutritious.

That’s a lot of food that could be put to use feeding hungry folks.

A big part of his campaign is to get grocery stores to sell imperfect fruits and vegetables at a discount. Some progressive countries, like Australia, France, Canada, Germany and others, have started pilot programs to test that very approach to preventing food waste.

The tagline for @UglyFruitAndVeg says it all: “Because all produce should be loved and eaten, not wasted.”

Count me in. After all, I’ve been promoting crazy-looking produce for years, as well as campaigning to make sure more fresh fruits and vegetables reach the people who need it the most.

I hope you’ll join the growing movement!


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