vegetable gardening

BHG Guest Blogger

Homegrown Tomato Juice

The following is a guest blog post from You Grow Girl: Gayla Trail, a Canadian gardener, blogger, author, and photographer. 

Both spring and summer have been unseasonably cool in my neck of the woods, and unfortunately the tomatoes have suffered.  I lost a few straight out of the gate and fear that some of the late season indeterminate varieties will not ripen in time for the fall frost. Fortunately, I tend to over-plant so there will be tomatoes regardless.  A few indeterminate plants are filling up with fruit and many of the fruit in my patch of dwarf and determinate varieties are starting to show their colour.

One way I like to use up the bounty is in making homemade tomato juice. I know it sounds like a chore when you can just buy tomato juice in a can, but wait until you try it. The difference between the store-bought product and this one made with seasonal ingredients is incomparable, and I mean that without an ounce of sentimentality or exaggeration. It’s a scientific fact!

The following recipe is the one I use at home, reprinted from my book, “Drinking the Summer Garden: Homegrown Thirst Quenchers, Concoctions, Sips, and Nibbles.”



Homegrown Tomato Juice


  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1⁄2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley (stems and leaves), roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • Pickled green tomatoes, for garnish (found on page 17 of Drinking the Summer Garden)


  • Place the tomatoes, onion, celery, bell pepper, parsley, oregano, and salt in a large pot and simmer on medium-low heat until the vegetables are cooked through and soft, about 20 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent sticking.
  • Press through a food mill or old-fashioned chinois and discard solids.
  • Stir in the honey and lemon juice and season with black pepper and/or more sea salt to taste.
  • Serve in a frosty glass on ice, garnished with skewered cherry tomatoes, pickled onion, or sliced cucumber.
  • Store the juice in the fridge for a couple of days.

Variations: There are countless ways to turn this healthy drink into a fun afternoon mocktail. Before serving, wet the rim of each glass with a slice of lemon and dip into celery or lovage salt (instructions for how to make these are included in my book, Drinking the Summer Garden.”  Shake or stir in a dash of Worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar to taste. Season with dried or finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, marjoram, or thyme. Spice it up with a hot pickled pepper. Drink it through a hollow lovage stem made into an edible straw.

GAYLA TRAIL is the creator of, where she has been sharing her experiences gardening in difficult urban spaces for 13 years. Gayla is the author/photographer of four books on urban gardening: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (translated into three additional languages), Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces and Drinking the Summer Garden: Homegrown Thirst Quenchers, Concoctions, Sips, and Nibbles.” She lives, cooks, and gardens in Toronto with her partner Davin and their sweet pup Molly.

Katie Ketelsen

From Our Garden Friends: Blog Posts We’re Loving

There is so much garden goodness floating around the internet, I felt compelled to share! Here’s my weekly round-up of blog posts I found inspiring and highly pin-able.

The Handmade Home

I love the sassy, tell-it-like-it-is way about Ashley at The Handmade Home: “At first I was all, “Awe, a caterpillar!” And then I was all, “Ew, that’s bad. And he’s creeping me out because he’s fat and gross” and I refused to smush him because it a. felt mean and b. I’m still traumatized from a childhood caterpillar guts experience.” But frankly, I love the frankness whether she’s tooling in the garden or re-inventing her home. Read her latest garden update — including how she involves the kidlets — right here.


My Sweet Savannah

I love salvaged or vintage finds in the garden. This potting bench has me on my knees! You have to see it in its entirety on My Sweet Savannah. I’m so envious!


Southern Hospitality 

Confession: I’m not the best houseplant caregiver. But I’d sure give it a go, if only to have the stately fig tree grace the corner of my dining room much like Southern Hospitality has done in her bedroom. The large, textured leaves are quite stylish. See more display ideas on her latest blog post here.

Who is your favorite blogger? Let me know — I’m always looking to be inspired.

PS: Did you catch my favorite garden posts from last week? Here’s your chance.

BHG Guest Blogger

Get Your Garden Off the Ground (And Into the Air)

The following is a guest blog post from Chris McLaughlin.


If you’re interested in gardening on any level, it’s nearly impossible not to notice that vegetables are once again enjoying the gardening spotlight.  Like everything else, the gardening trend has taken a twist. Large expanses of cultivated land have been swapped out for raised beds, containers, and one of the easiest and rewarding veggie gardening practices — vertical gardening. Take advantage of the prime real estate located above the soil! It just might be the perfect produce practice.

Naturally, the first reason that gardening vertically makes sense is that many of us are limited (sometimes drastically so) as far as gardening space and we’d like to make the most of our small-space gardens. In fact, when I lived in the suburbs, I started gardening vertically because most of my life was spent living in the suburbs and I had very few places around my home for a vegetable garden.

In my book Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books, December 2012) I get into the nitty gritty on why those of us that have started growing vegetables and fruits vertically instead of horizontally have never looked back. In a nutshell, vertical gardening will have you:










Using Less Garden Space
Typically the first reason that gardeners consider growing up instead of out is due to lack of space. This may seem like a no-brainer when speaking in terms of urban, apartment, and condominium living. But you would be amazed at how little land suburbanites have to work with, too. Vertical gardening opens doors for almost anybody.


Spending Less Money
You’ll save money from the get-go on purchasing soil if you’re building raised garden beds. This is because your beds won’t have to be very large because the plants and fruit will be hanging around happily above the soil.  You’ll need only enough soil to accommodate plant roots.

Smaller beds (smaller growing surface) means you’ll be watering less. Combine this with a watering system that delivers water directly to the root zone such as a drip system, plus rich, loamy soil (for moisture retention) and you’ll have a smaller water bill, too.


Doing Less Work in Less Time
I don’t have to have met you to know that you lead a very full life. We’re all moving right along at a fast pace just to stay afloat; so planting a garden may feel like a big endeavor. But I’m here to tell you that there’s less time commitment involved with vertical gardening.

First of all, there’s very little soil for you to deal with — especially if you’re using containers. Less soil, means less time watering and weeding. In fact, pulling the one or two weeds that pop up takes minutes or even no time if you’re planting in just enough soil for the vertical plants. Plus you’ll harvest vegetables and fruit in a flash when it’s at eye level and can be easily seen and picked.

Gardeners in wheel chairs or those with other physical challenges find that growing up makes their hobby that much easier — or perhaps even possible where it may not have been before.


Dealing with Less Weeds, Pests, & Disease
This perk is a biggie — you’ll have very few weeds and you’ll have those yanked out in seconds. It’s simple; less soil surface = less weeds, plus your soil will most likely have come bagged as opposed to outside soil that can potentially be riddles with weed seed.

Plants grown vertically have the advantage of excellent air circulation. More air circulation around plant foliage means less trouble with pests and disease than thus, creates a  stronger plant and more unblemished fruit. Much less food wasted due to rotting, as well. Plants grown up instead of out limits their physical contact to neighboring plants (that might carry disease).


Harvesting More Crops than You Thought
Gardening vertically can actually increase your vegetable production and offer you a bigger bounty. All that air circulation and sunlight helps maintain healthy foliage and healthy plants (with little or no pests and disease) offer bigger yields — even if it is in a smaller space.

By the way, vertical gardening isn’t just about vining plants. Hanging baskets, stackable containers, and wall pockets are all ways to grow non-climbing crops such as lettuce, strawberries, and radishes up.


Beautifying Your Yard
If you haven’t noticed that vegetable plants can be downright beautiful, take another look; veggies can be botanical eye candy, too! Tomatoes not only come in bold red, but also yellow, orange, purple, white, green, white, and striped; Eggplant offers white, lavender, purple, and striped varieties; cabbages come in blues, grays, and greens; lettuce are red, green, purple, and all shades between.

Another ting that many gardeners notice is the leaves of vining plants such as zucchini or squash grown along the soil in the traditional way become yellow, sparse, and scraggly. Grown vertically the bottom of these plants are full with leaves. In fact, your vining and fruiting vegetables can actually be a surprising focal point in your garden landscape.

Along with the various colors the shape, size, and texture of plants and fruit will add to the view. Upright crops such as espaliered fruit trees and grapevines offer many months of structural beauty in the garden, as well.

Even today, on five acres and I can honestly tell you that I grow more vegetables vertically than I ever did when I had much less land. The space above the traditional garden bed is underused as a growing resource, yet it offers some surprising benefits! You just have to stop looking out and start looking up.


Chris McLaughlin has been gardening for over 35 years and became a California Master Gardener in 2000. She’s the author of four gardening books including Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha, December 2012). Her work can also be found in Urban Farm Magazine, Hobby Farm Home Magazine, The Heirloom Gardener and is a staff columnist at Vegetable 

Today, Chris is working on her current book project for a spring 2014 release, getting ready to launch the Mother Lode Seed Library in Placerville, California, attempting to keep up with her own site, A Suburban, as well as practicing home ag in Northern California’s Gold Country.

Justin W. Hancock

Supporting D. Landreth Seed

Landreth SeedsIt’s been in the news for a while now, but D. Landreth Seed Company, out of Pennsylvania needs help. The nation’s oldest seed company has a goal of selling 1 million catalogs by the end of this month to end the threat of being forced out of business.

Besides offering an impressive number of flower and vegetable seeds (including some very cool heirlooms), the company also offers spring-blooming bulbs such as crocus and daffodils.

Learn more about Landreth’s situation — or click here to learn more about Landreth!

Everyday Gardeners

Measuring Summer’s Success

The following is a guest blog post from Helen Yoest–owner of Gardening With Confidence where she is a garden designer, garden writer, and field editor for Better Homes and Gardens, Country Gardens, Traditional Home, and many other magazines.

A tomato, ripened on the vine, still warm from the sun, then sinking my teeth deep into the meat of the mighty ‘mater, pegs my pleasure meter. I can think of nothing better to measure summer’s success. But, did I grow tomatoes in my garden? Nope; not then, but I do now.

It wasn’t my idea to have a vegetable garden; it was my kids’. I was perfectly happy with beautiful flowers and foliage to keep me amused. But then, late one summer, my 8-year-old son, Aster, wondered why we didn’t grow tomatoes. I didn’t have a good reason, but I answered, “I thought you liked going to the Farmer’s Market each week?” His reply was “I do, but I wonder what it would be like to grow my own.” So we did.

We made short work of figuring out where to put our vegetable garden. Co-planting in our packed, wildlife habitat was an option; however, I was more keen on commandeering some turf. We found a small, 20- by 20-foot piece of yard, that seemed like the perfect location — in full sun and right in front of our driveway.

Covered with composted leaf mulch

Despite my son’s need for instant gratification, I was able to curb his enthusiasm to wait until the next growing season for planting. In the meantime, we covered the new garden space with 4 inches of composted leaf mulch, allowing the earthworms do the hard work for us, while we planned our future garden.

We also thought we needed to name our garden, so it was dubbed the Le Petite Potager. At the time, I wasn’t sure if the name related to the size of the garden or the size of my kids; either way the name seemed to fit. (Full disclosure, only 2 of my 3 kids thought this garden was a good idea. The teenage was the holdout.)

We weren’t serious vegetables gardeners, not like those admirable ones in search for the most coveted heirloom varieties, we just wanted a few home-grown tomatoes, big and red; cucumbers, long and straight, and yellow bell peppers. We also added hot peppers in hopes to interest my husband in our new gardening foray.  Our thinking was if he was interested, he might share in the care.

The next summer, we were swimming in success.


Lily’s cucumber crop was measured in feet beyond her body length, with arms stretched forward.

JulyGBBD 037

Aster’s tomato crop was measured in the number of tomato sandwiches he could eat in one sitting; Lara Rose’s (the teenager) success was measured in how little time her nose was parted from her book.

My success was measured in perfecting the most delicious fried green tomatoes, with the least amount of effort. We each also relished in the taste only a vine ripened, red, homegrown tomatoes could provide.

Lily and BeanOh and yes, my kids successfully lured their father into the garden, who declared himself the one in charge of adding kitchen compost to Le Petite Potager and taking credit for the number of earthworms present, which he boosts as the reason for the garden’s overall success. Ah, Cest le Vie, it’s a good thing the kid’s and I have other measures of the garden’s success.