Why ‘The Crazy Garden Lady?’

Among my earliest memories is a recollection of my maternal grandfather walking through his vegetable garden while I followed happily along beside him.  I remember that he was talking to me, though the words he was saying are beyond recall.  It’s likely that he was explaining to me, in as much detail as he thought my little mind could grasp, the answers to my questions about the mysteries of the garden: why the cucumber vines were growing this way and not that way, why they were planted here and not there, how the bees could turn flowers into the fruit and vegetables we would eat.

I remember my grandfather pausing amid his tomato vines, which he kept tied up to wooden stakes.  I had to tip my head back and look up to see their topmost leaves; they were that far above my head.   Finding the right plant, my grandfather picked two red, ripe and, to my eyes, huge tomatoes, lovingly handing one of them to me.  We left the garden then and headed inside to his kitchen.  Sitting side by side at the table, we proceeded to indulge in what we both, and what I still do, consider the best conceivable way to eat a tomato: straight out of hand, whole, biting into it like an apple.  My grandfather paused every few bites to sprinkle his with a bit of sugar; he always used sugar on his fresh tomatoes.  I noticed, but didn’t care, that the juice from mine was running down my arm, all the way to my elbow, which made my grandfather laugh.

My mother and paternal grandmother were also gardeners, and I grew up thinking that vegetable gardening was just a thing that you did; it seemed as normal of a household activity as doing the laundry or sweeping the floor.  I always assumed I would grow vegetables too once I moved out on my own.  That was not to be the case for quite a few years, which I spent living in apartments, where gardening just wasn’t possible.  Only once, for one short summer, was I fortunate enough to rent a place where I could have a small garden; all the other apartments didn’t allow for growing anything, other than a few herbs on the windowsill, and once or twice a tomato in a pot on the porch.  There were several reasons why apartment living was advantageous to me, but I deeply missed having an outdoor space of my own.  I wanted to walk barefoot through the morning dew, to poke under the previous autumn’s leaves covered with the last, thin patches of icy snow, looking for the first crocus awakening in spring, and, especially, to enjoy the incomparable taste of a fresh, sun-warmed tomato.

So, when it was finally time to buy a house, more than anything I looked forward to having a garden, and I was determined to find a place that had enough yard for good sized patch of vegetables.  I initially wanted it to have a bit of land, but through an unusual series of events, I found a fantastic bargain, for a home in a nice suburban setting.  The deal was too good to pass up, and it had a yard that seemed large enough for what I was then envisioning as my future garden.

I moved into my new home in early autumn and spent much of my free time that winter buying and devouring books on organic gardening, visiting a multitude of gardening websites, and requesting seed catalogs from companies across the country, and a few outside of it as well.   I imagined my garden looking like the ones I saw in the garden books and website photos.  It would be carefully laid out, I would lovingly maintain it, keeping it weed free and beautiful to behold.  With delight, I started raising tomato, cucumber and zucchini plants indoors, so they would be ready for transplanting when the time arrived.  As soon as it became feasible to do so, I gleefully dug up a patch of lawn, then planted lettuce, onions and peas.  I threw myself into gardening with exuberance, and was richly rewarded with an abundance of delicious, healthy vegetables.  I was hooked, and have been gardening every year since then.

I am not, by any means, an expert in gardening.  I have no formal training in the matter, and no education in any agricultural science.  But I have continued to try to learn everything I can on the subject, with the same zeal as I did that first winter.  My interests have expanded since that time.  I have gone from just wanting to raise organic vegetables to desiring a more sustainable lifestyle overall, and from simply gardening to taking some early steps into suburban homesteading.  Every year, I have dug up a little more lawn in order to make more space for gardens.  I have one large (compared to the size of the yard) in-ground garden for vegetables, and a few smaller in-ground patches for herbs and berries.  The soil is very rocky here, making digging a new garden a laborious task, so I have added what my neighbor across the street calls “boxes” – small raised beds arranged in a rectangular pattern – that now take up much of the front lawn.  Altogether, it doesn’t add up to a lot of space, but I have ideas for adding more, and I try to use what there is as efficiently as possible.

Now I must explain that, while I am not an expert in gardening, I am even less of an expert in organizational and time management skills, at least in my personal habits.  I have the best of intentions, but other commitments must often take priority over gardening.   When I have the time, there are always distractions calling me away from the gardening tasks I mean to complete, and somehow, the garden tool I need never seems to be where I think I last left it.  Rarely, if ever, does my yard resemble the beautiful garden photos that I see in books or online.  Without fail, every autumn, when I am feeling overwhelmed with the number of vegetables that need to be preserved and/or given away, I have vowed that I will not plant so much next spring.  Every spring, I have vowed that I will figure out how to keep up with lawn mowing, trimming and weeding of the garden, and therefore it will be all right to plant as much – or more – than I did the previous year.  And every summer, I have realized that I am not keeping those vows, as I have looked around at the lawn that has perpetually needed mowing, the weeds that have relentlessly invaded the flower beds, and the garden that has become a complete riot of wildly growing vegetables.

As I mentioned, my house is located in a suburban area, on a road where most residents recognize each other by sight, but know only their immediate neighbors by name.  It’s the kind of place with lovingly maintained homes surrounded by neatly manicured lawns.  Only a few gardens are visible from the road, and those are full of lovely flowers in artistically laid out patterns, carefully mulched and consistently free of weeds.  They are gardens that do look like the pictures in books, all the time.

Fortunately, the neighborhood is also the kind of place where almost everyone is politely friendly and follows a mind-your-own-affairs philosophy, so no one complains about what I do with my yard.  Yet, there is no denying that it is unquestionably the oddity of the neighborhood.  The lady who lives directly  across the street tells me that she likes to look at my place because, whenever she falls behind on her yardwork, seeing the condition of my yard makes her feel better about the state of her own.  Neighbors, out for an evening stroll, will pause in front of my house, gaze at my garden, and talk quietly between themselves before walking on, sometimes smiling, and sometimes shaking their heads.   If I happen to be in the front yard when they pass by, I will often find myself answering the question “what is that?” as they point to some lesser-widely-known vegetable (or weed) that happens to be growing.  Currently, it’s one of last year’s parsnips, now four feet tall and about to blossom, that seems to be attracting the most attention.

Like many of the other residents in the area, I like to go for walks in the neighborhood, too.  One time, I was passing by a home toward the end of the road, where the lady was out in front, digging a dandelion out of her lawn.  We greeted each other and chatted briefly; I had seen her in her yard a few times, and she recognized me as someone that had passed by before, but didn’t know which house was mine.  When I told her, she responded with “oh … yes, I know which house you mean.” After a few more pleasantries – the generic sort people exchange in such a situation – I continued on my way, and as I did, her husband came out of the house to join her.  “Who was that?” I heard him ask her.  There was the briefest of delays before she responded, “that … garden lady.”  To be fair, she did not say the word ‘crazy,’ but I swear I could almost ‘hear’ her think it.




What’s Growing, Part 2: Jalapenos and Cucurbits

In my previous post, I wrote about the seven varieties of tomatoes currently growing in my garden.  Like many other gardeners, I give tomatoes top priority when deciding what to plant each year.  There are several reasons for that decision, and flavor is certainly among them.  There is simply no comparison between a ripe, juicy fresh-from the vine tomato and its store-bought counterpart.  If I was forced to choose only one fruit or vegetable to grow, I would choose tomatoes, without giving the matter a second thought.

Fortunately, however, I do not have to make any such choice, so there are several other veggies that end up in my garden year after year.  Among them are:

Jalapeno Peppers –  In late winter, I started 10 plants using seeds from a packet bought the previous year at a locally owned farm supply store.  They were strong, healthy plants and were growing quickly.   Then it happened.  Despite the many and varied precautions that I have learned to take over the past nine years, despite housing my baby veggie plants on tall wire shelving units, despite shielding them under plastic domes, it happened.  Kepler, a.k.a. Plant Killer, the Feline Destroyer of All Green Things, managed to get his furry little paws on them.  By the time I intervened, five of the plants were beyond hope, and the rest were tattered and bruised.  It took time, but the five survivors did recover and are now in the garden.  I bought a pack of six more plants from a local nursery, to replace the ones that were destroyed.  The label on the pack just said that they were jalapeno; it didn’t specify a variety.

Kepler aka Plant Killer
Kepler, looking innocent…

Cucumbers – There are currently four plants of a dual-use variety called Early Morden, which is good for both pickling and for slicing, growing in a raised bed.  The plants were started from seeds purchased through an organic seed company.  The vines are short and bushy, making them great for growing where space is limited.   Two more seedlings will join the four bigger plants in a week or so.

Zucchini – For the past several years I have grown a summer squash called Tromboncino.  I have found the seeds for this unique squash in only one company’s catalog.  I have raised it every year for several reasons.  The flesh of the long, trumpet-shaped fruit is firmer and richer tasting than a typical zucchini.  The plants are consistently prolific, each yielding many pounds of food, in part because the squashes can grow quite large without losing their flavor or becoming tough.   Also, the vines are almost completely resistant to squash borers, which is a big advantage if, like me, you are squeamish about digging those grubby little things out of your squash vines and stabbing them to death.  But there is a drawback to this otherwise wonderful summer squash; the vines are huge and sprawling, usually growing a good 10-12 feet long, and sometimes more.  So, in the interest of saving space, I am trying a more common, compact variety of zucchini called Grey Griller.  I bought the seeds through a catalog, which described the fruit of this variety as having a firmer texture than most others.  There are four plants growing rapidly in the garden.  Time will tell whether the advantage of their smaller size outweighs the Tromboncino.

Butternut squash – Another variety that is new to the garden this year, JWS is a hybrid variety.  Again, I chose to try it out because, as described in the seed catalog, it offers the benefit of compact pace saving vines.  There are six plants, all growing well.  I love the flavor of a good butternut squash, so I am looking forward to finding out how these will taste.

Blue Hubbard squash – This is definitely not a space saver, and over the years I have had more failure than success with this huge variety, so I have only one plant.  I like the dry nutty flavor of roasted and mashed hubbard, but mostly I grow them just because it’s fun and interesting to raise such a giant squash.

Do you grow squash?



small butternut squash used 6-14-18

What’s Growing, Part One: Tomatoes

I started this blog last year, with excitement and enthusiasm, for a new gardening-related endeavor.

My hope, at that time, was to connect with others who share my passion for organic vegetable gardening, in order to both learn from them, and share with them, information about the gardening techniques and tools that have – and have not – worked for me.

Over the past year, I have had many ideas regarding potential topics, including an explanation of why I chose ‘the crazy garden lady’ as the name of the blog.  Although I fully intended to post new material on a regular basis, for multiple reasons, that hasn’t yet happened.  Suffice it to say that the past year has been, well, eventful.

So now, it is early June and, with this year’s garden off to a decent start, I’m returning to this blog with renewed intentions of posting something on at least a semi-regular basis. As I wrote in my first brief post, it feels really strange to be writing this, hoping that someone will read it, but having no idea of whether or not anyone really will.

While I still intend to explain ‘the crazy garden lady’ title, for now I will start – or perhaps I should say restart – with a list of the vegetables I will be growing this season, beginning with:


Green Zebra – These are my absolute favorite for fresh eating. The flavor of this green gem of a tomato is bright and tart with just a touch of sweetness, exactly what, to my mind, the taste of a tomato should be. The vines are fairly large and are of the indeterminate type, with mid-sized fruit. I started the plants from seeds purchased last year through a seed catalog company.

Box Car Willie – Last year, I found a seed packet of this mid-sized, red heirloom variety that I must have misplaced and forgotten. The packet was dated for 2010 and had about a dozen seeds inside. I tossed them in with some potting soil, curious to see how many of the seven-year old seeds would germinate. Eight of them did, and they grew into healthy productive plants. I saved some of their seeds, which I used to start this year’s plants.

Opalka – This is the first year I’ve tried raising this red heirloom paste tomato. Only six out of ten seeds germinated. Those six seedlings were pitifully weak little things and, despite being raised side-by-side with the other varieties, four of them failed to thrive; they died for reasons I still can’t identify. The two plants that survived are about half the size of the Green Zebras and Box Car Willies. I’m hoping their growth rate will improve now that they have been transplanted into the garden.

Health Kick – The name of this variety originates from the fact that it was specifically bred to contain more of the health-boosting anti-oxidant, lycopene, than other tomatoes. The hybrid determinate plants produce medium-sized, red, plum-shaped fruit. I purchased six plants from a local nursery to replace the defunct Opalkas.

Sungold – A hybrid, these are large, sprawling and prolific vines yielding small, orange, cherry-type fruit. The initially tart flavor is immediately followed by a burst of sweetness. These bite sized little tomatoes can be tossed whole into a salad and they make a wonderful summer afternoon snack.

Goliath – As the name implies, this red, beefsteak variety is noted for its exceptionally large fruit. I have not grown any of these before, so I am looking forward to seeing how big the tomatoes will actually be. I have only one of these plants, which was started and given to by my mother, who is growing several of them in her own garden.

Pretty in Pink – This one also came to me courtesy of mom. It’s a hybrid indeterminate that is said to have medium-sized fruit. I haven’t previously grown this variety either, and I’m curious about the flavor, which is generally described as mild in various seed catalogs.

Altogether, there are 20 plants. I was able to fit 18 vines in the main garden before running out of the space allocated to tomatoes  this year. That left two plants still needing a home, so they went into a small raised bed separate from the rest. As for supporting the vines, I plant them next to individual stakes and tie them up as they grow. I know gardeners who use fences or trellises to support their tomatoes, which are techniques I might try in a future year. I’ve always resorted to the staking method, primarily because it’s the way my mother and my grandparents always did things, so it feels like a tradition.

Do you grow tomatoes? What are your favorite varieties?


Welcome! I’m Jan, a home gardener in “upstate” New York, zone 5b.  Gardening is my hobby, my passion, my most favorite thing to do.  I would rather be in my garden than just about anywhere else – in short, I am crazy about gardening!  I’ve started this blog as a means to explore, learn about, and share information on organic, sustainable and life-enhancing gardening practices.

I need to confess at the outset that, although I am pretty skilled at navigating a local garden center/nursery or two, I cannot say the same about navigating a blog.  It’s taken me much more time than I want to admit just to figure out how to create this first simple post.  Finally, I think,  I’m starting to have a vague idea of what I’m doing.

Of course, I have no idea whether anyone is going to actually read anything that I write here.  I may very well end up just “talking” to myself. (It wouldn’t be the first time…) but, if you are here and you are reading this,  I hope that you will come back again.  I hope that you will have patience with my extensive lack of technical knowledge.  And, I hope that we can have an ongoing, neighborly conversation about growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in ways that support our health, our communities and our environment.