Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A clean slate! A new beginning for fall...

The heat here is so hard on the garden.  I found that the ideal growing season here really ends in July. Sure, the garden limps along, but come August, the heat weakens the plants and really opens them up for disease and pests. 

So today is the day I cleaned house.  Over the next few mornings, I'm going to clean and prep my garden for fall.  The temperature doesn't dip below freezing here until at least December, which means I have a growing season that is at least 10 months long.  If I build a greenhouse, I can grow all year. 

The first thing I had to do was the hardest.  Not physically, but mentally and emotionally hard.  I had to rip it all out.  The tomatoes were dead.  It broke my heart to let them go, but they weren't giving me anything anymore, and had only small patches of green left.  Several of my bush beans were all sticks with a few leaves on top, and the pole beans were done.  I managed to push the pole beans all summer.  They produced so much!  The pole beans, however, had become infested with ants, and that made taking them down a bit of a challenge.  Cut, swat, cut, swat, cut, do a little dance to get them off my feet...  you see what I mean.  Then this little orange lizard jumped out, but it looked like a snake, and it moved like a snake!  I just about turned and ran until I realized it was actually running on tiny little feet, so I shooed it.  That got my heart pumping a little...ha ha. 

So after about 40 minutes of cutting and bagging, I ended up with a former garden, that now looks like this:
Pretty pathetic, right?

Yeah, I know. 

I still have a lot of work to do, but I can't stay out past about 9:30 a.m. or it is just too hot.  Today it was 95 by the time I came in.  So I'll do a little every morning, and hopefully after my trip to Oklahoma next week, I'll build some planters and see what we can do about starting a fall garden. 

It was a little depressing at the end of the summer... everything was dying and my beautiful tomato forest just withered and died.   Although I'm sad, I'm trying to look at it like this:  I pulled 50 POUNDS of produce from this little urban side yard.  50 POUNDS!!!  That's huge.  Had my zucchini, squash and cucumbers been successful, which they were NOT AT ALL, I easily could have doubled that number.  I need to do some research to figure out how to succeed with those items next year. 

I do have a few items still growing.  I did manage to stagger plant some bush beans, and the small bell peppers are still producing, so I left them alone.  I moved everything to the front of the space, so that I can water quickly and efficiently through this heat.  This will also make it easier for The Guy to take care of these stragglers while I'm away next week.

Here's a look at what's left: 

 The strawberries are sending out runners, so I'm going to spend some time rooting them into bowls.  They can move over to the potting bench for the "winter".  By next summer these should be big producers.  This summer they were just ho-hum.

These are the bush bean plants that I have left.  There are about half dozen left that are still producing.  They are the ones I planted mid-season.  I have some even younger ones on the potting bench.  I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do with these bushes this fall.  I may just keep them where they are.  They seem to like it there. 

The pepper plants are not loving the heat, either, but the yummy snacking peppers are still producing a lot!  They are coming in much slower than they were last month, but besides the nearly ripe peppers, there are lots of little baby buds there. 

I'm just going to let them do their thing for as long as they can. 

 Last, but certainly not least - - I have two tomato plants left.  I know, I know... with all my whining about losing my tomatoes, this surprises you.  Earlier in the summer, I had two plants that weren't thriving.  Same soil, same fertilizer, same amounts of water, and they just limped along, not growing or producing anything.  So I re-potted them and moved them to the other side yard, next to the potting bench.  They did pretty well, and when the spider mite infestation took hold, they were spared.  The yellow heirloom tomato is doing really well.  It gave me some beautiful tennis ball sized yellow tomatoes this weekend that were delish drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  The beefsteak is not doing as well, but it's still giving me tomatoes here and there, and it's not infested with anything, so I'm just letting it limp along, and hopefully when the weather cools it will come back to life.  I guess we'll see. 

So that's what's left for now...  We have lots of time for new beginnings...  now I'm going to go shower because EEK!  I'm still finding ants on me and it's been an hour since I left the garden.  Gross.

Green thumb out.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Just when I'm about to give up altogether....

Lately, every time I go out to water the garden, I'm disappointed.  The spider mites have taken over my beautiful tomato plants.  They are skeletons of what they used to be.  The last two zukes have succumbed to blossom rot, and the crookneck squash never produced a single fruit.  Everything is burned from the intense heat of the California summer, and when I'm not fighting bugs, I'm fighting powdery mildew.  It has been a very frustrating month. 

Some days, I have been about ready to pull it all up, sanitize everything, and start planning my fall garden.  Other days, I have been ready to pull it all up and just give up on gardening. 

Until today. 

Photo credit to the 4-year old Pipsqueak.  I had to teach her to use my camera. 
There was no way anyone else was posing with this baby!

This is the one and only spaghetti squash that my plant produced.  I know it's a little green on this side, but when I read up on it, I saw that you pick it when the vine turns brown... and today, the vine gave it up.   So I'm going to eat it, and I'm going to thank it for giving me hope in my garden again. 

On the bright side:

I picked a 4 1/2 oz lemon cucumber, the first tomato since the spider mite infestation, and 12 1/2 oz of green beans today.  All is not lost. 

I also found two green bean plants that have found there way out of the pots and into the soil.  Must have been a stray bean that got away from me.  So I cleaned up the area around them and I'm wishing them luck. 

Wanna see the other little surprise I found near the potting bench today? 

Holy Halloween, Batman!

It's a baby pumpkin!  There are actually two.  This one is the size of a golf ball, the other one is about the size of a pea.  When I bought this little plant, all I hoped for was one pumpkin to carve for Halloween.  I'm not sure if we'll get it, but this is a good start.  I'm just hoping it's not too early.  That spaghetti squash took at least two months to grow, so I'm hoping that the timing is right for this little guy... and that the bugs and/or the heat don't get Jack...  my little Jack-O-Lantern in training. 

As if that wasn't enough JOY for the day, I had one more little ray of hope for the future of my garden....
One of my bowls of strawberry plants has been shooting out runners.  I decided to give rooting them a try, rather than letting them do their own thing in the ground.  That could prove to be difficult, since I have such limited space on the side yard. 

I saw an expert gardener that planted strawberries in rain gutters, and I thought that was a great idea.  I'm hoping to get some hung on the wall next season.  If I can propagate my own, that would be so much better. 

So, I was about to give up on it all, and now I've decided that all is not lost, and much of my struggle might just be the life of a Southern California gardener.  Heat and pests are the reality, and if I can just keep working at it, I might just succeed.

That's one of the reasons I wanted to keep this blog... so that next summer, when I'm feeling low, I can go back and remember these little glimpses of success! 

I'm still learning, and that's ok.  I've pulled more than 50 pounds of produce from my garden this year, that's 50 pounds of produce that I didn't have to buy. 

Take care, all... 
Green thumb (and  yes, I'm still considering it green, for now) out.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The black plague of gardening

It's such a shame...  I don't know how it happened, but my tomatoes are struggling for life.  Remember those gorgeous TREES I had?  They are nearly gone.  It's all because I have so much to learn. 
Spider mites.  I'm calling them the black plague of gardening.  I didn't realize what they were, and before I knew it, my tomatoes were infested.  The foliage was so thick that they ran rampant between plants (that's a mistake that won't happen again!)
I started by cutting off the infected foliage, but unfortunately it pretty much decimated them.
Then I sprayed, using Ortho bug killer.  I waited too long to do this, and by the time I sprayed, it was almost too late.  I hate using chemicals on my plants, but I didn't know what to do.  This is the kind that once you use it, you can't harvest anything for a week. 
Nothing happened.  It didn't kill the spider mites, and it didn't even kill the caterpillars.  Frustration. 

So I talked to my mom, who had just talked to a guy at the garden center about  her plants.  He recommended Captain Jack's Dead bug Brew  http://1000bulbs.com/product/89551/SUN-704730.html?utm_source=SmartFeedGoogleBase&utm_medium=Shopping&utm_term=SUN-704730&utm_content=Insect+and+Disease+Control&utm_campaign=SmartFeedGoogleBaseShopping&gclid=CIHz47-i_bgCFQnhQgodpj4AuA,  Ut's organic, which is good.  You spray, and you can pick the next day.  I soaked my plants in it yesterday, and I am sure hoping that they start to come back.
I have them separated so they don't touch, and they are cut WAAAAY back, so they are going to have to work for it.  Tomatoes are divas, and they don't really like the hot weather.  Well, it's August in Ontario, CA... and it's nothing but hot.  The low is 65 in the dead of night. 
Wish them luck, they are going to need it.
The good news is - - the lemon cuke is going to make it, and it's producing cukes now.  yay!
Sad green thumb out.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Planning for fall: When does Fall Start in Southern California anyway?

In the book "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew,
 (http://www.amazon.com/Square-Foot-Gardening-Garden-Space/dp/1579548563/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1374863110&sr=8-3&keywords=square+foot+gardening)  I found a fantastic table that details growing from seed, transplanting and planting seeds, growing time and weeks of harvest, when to pull and replant with something else, all detailed by weeks before and after the first and last frost. 

It got me thinking:  When does fall really start in Southern California?  We don't have defined seasons like other places in the country, or even here in California.  Northern California has much more defined seasons.  Here in the desert, it's just hot, then less hot, then hot again.  I don't mind it.  I lived in Southeastern Pennsylvania for seven years, and I got my fill of seasons.  Just think of how long the gardening season is here!!! 

I did some research and came up with this:  We don't really have much frost.  Last Fall/Winter, the first date that dropped below freezing was January 12th, at 28 degrees.  It never stayed below freezing for more than a night.  This says to me, that with a couple of floating row covers, I could grow fall and winter veggies until the spring!!!  There isn't a sleeping season at all here. 

But in terms of planning, I wonder at what point to plant stuff - - there isn't a "first frost" marker to go with. 
Historical temperature averages: (as detailed for Ontario, CA by Accuweather.com)

October:  HI: 77-80  LO: 50-60
November: HI: 68-74  LO: 45-50
December: HI: 68-78 LO: 45-55

Hmm...  I'm going to have to think on it a little, and work out my own chart.  More to come.

Green thumb out.

Preserving seeds for next year

I've been doing a lot of thinking about next year's garden.  Next year is going to be tricky, because our lease expires in September, and although I do not expect to move, it is always a possibility.  So I need to make sure that everything that I really love, like my tomato plants, have the possibility of being mobile before the season is over.

The other thing I have been thinking a lot about is WHAT is going to be included in next year's garden.  I don't have a full plan, but I do have a small list of definite do's and definite don'ts. 
  • I am not enjoying gardening with cucumbers.  The mildew takes over, and I have spent more of my time spraying the homemade non-mildew spray and trimming leaves, and watching the baby cucumbers dying on the vine.  I am not amused.    They are a definite DON'T!!! 
  • I am not enjoying the squashes either.  The crookneck squash plant died on me, and the spaghetti squash has one beautiful spaghetti squash that I am waiting to ripen, but the rest of the plant is riddled with mildew.  It's so frustrating!  It could be the corner that I put it in, or it could be the lack of sun, or the climate here, I'm not sure.  They are a definite DON'T!
I also have a MAYBE... I'm going to watch the Zukes for the rest of the season and then decide.  No one but me eats them, but the one that I did eat was soooo good.  If it starts producing and I can keep the mildew away, then I'll move it to the DO list.  If the blossom rot or the mildew gets it, then I'm going to move it to the DON'T list.

My definite DO'S are the Mortgage Lifter and Yellow Heirloom Tomatoes.  I'm going to plant a lot more of them - like 3 or 4 each - and give them a lot more room next year.  Tomatoes are good producers, and they require very little maintenance.  Caterpillars are my biggest problem, and so far, I've been handling them without chemicals.  They can't escape me...  (insert evil laugh here).

My mom and grandma are also eager to try the Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.  They are so large and beautiful and tasty. 

That being said, I started looking in to how to preserve some seeds from these plants.  Ultimately, it's because I'm so cheap.  The ML plants was $1.99 each at my favorite nursery, Louie's Nursery in Riverside (http://www.louiesnursery.com/), and the Yellow Heirloom was $3.99 at Home Depot (which is highway robbery!), and although they have more than paid for themselves in crop, I would like to keep that initial investment paying me back.  Really, why should anyone buy seeds or plants year after year, when they have literally thousands of seeds outside in the garden.  It just requires a little technique and a little planning ahead.

I haven't ever done tomato seeds before.  They require a fermentation process, as detailed here: http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/seedsave/2002084456024410.html.

So my little jars of tomato glop are sitting in the window, covered with plastic wrap, and hopefully moving on to the next stage by Monday. 
Anyone want a tomato seedling in the spring?  Mom, I'll have a few set aside for you.

Green thumb out.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Green beans galore.... Fridge dilly beans

Despite the problems I have been having with the squash and cucumbers (powdery mildew, and blossom rot), the green beans have been a faithful producer.  We have had steamed green beans, green beans cooked in chicken broth, and sautéed green beans, and I just couldn't bring myself to cook any more for a bit.  Unfortunately, they have been piling up in the fridge, and I had about a pound and a half of beans that I had to do SOMETHING with!!!  

I have seen a lot of recipes for Dilly Beans - a spicy, pickled bean that is canned and then put up for storage, but I haven't ventured into canning, although it is on my bucket list of future gardening plans.  Today I got an idea to search for a dilly bean recipe that could be put in the refrigerator, and I found one at: http://cookcancsa.com/2011/05/27/dilly-beans/.

I have been saving pickle jars for a while.  I have a new obsession with zesty pickles that I have found at Dollar Tree - - oh my they are so good, and for $1, you can't beat them.  I had 6 jars saved in my laundry room, so I figured that it was time to get started. 

 First things first, I had to sort and clean the beans, nipping the ends off with my kitchen shears.  I had dill from my herb garden to use, and Portugal Hot peppers from The Guy's garden to use in place of the hot pepper flakes.  I hope I don't come to regret using them, but I can't seem to find a happy use for these particular peppers.  In salsa they just vanish like they aren't even there, they are too skinny to stuff, and when I slice them and put them on pizza they are so hot I can't stand it.  I may end up pickling them for use later in the year when we don't have fresh peppers, but I'll need to get a water bath canner first.  (Might need to speed up that bucket list...) 

The next thing I had to do was boil the jars and the lids for a bit.  (This is all in the recipe I linked to, of course, but since I took pics, I thought I'd share too.)  The jars came out, filled with hot water, and they sat on the towel while the brine cooked. 

After that, I dumped the water out, added the garlic, dill and peppers, filled the jar with the beans, and added the hot brine. 

They are so pretty once they are filled, and these taller jars allowed me to leave some of the beans long.  I did sort them by size and whether they were straight or curved, kind of OCD, I know, but it allowed me to stuff the jars a little easier.  I also made one that didn't have a hot pepper in them, just so The Pipsqueak and The Garden Diva could try them too.

 Aren't they pretty?  I think so.  I can't wait to eat them, but I have to.  The recipe said to wait at least 24 hours, but the longer you wait the better they are.  We're going to Las Vegas this weekend, so I'm going to let them sit at least until we get back. 

Please note:  Without a water bath canner, you cannot shelve these, even if the lids pop down.  You have to keep them in the refrigerator.  They will keep for a few weeks, but I've been advised that they never last that long! 

Green thumb out!

Monday, July 1, 2013

June produce totals

Every time I pull something from the garden, I bring it inside, weigh it, and record the weights in my journal.  I do this for this moment.  This is the moment when I take my efforts and put them into numbers and dollars that tell me just how much my hard work is paying off. 

Here we go: 

We harvested 21 pounds of tomatoes during the month of June.  The majority of the tomatoes are the moderately sized "Early Girl" variety, but we had quite a few of the "Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter" variety as well.  Our largest Mortgage Lifter was 14 1/2 ounces, and it's the one to beat this summer. 

Green beans:
We have a combination of pole beans and bush beans, and they have been producing quite well.  Next year I hope to have many more plants going, so the numbers will be up.  In June, we pulled 2.5 lbs of green beans.  I love to cook them in chicken broth, just until they are crisp-tender.  It gives them a wonderful flavor without overpowering the yummy natural flavor of the bean.  I also skillet sauté them with some garlic and onions, or there's the old staple of a short steaming, served with salt & pepper.

Speaking of Pepper....
The Guy is so impatient... he just WILLS those peppers to turn red...  We have had 1.28 lbs of hot peppers, and we have stuffed and BBQed every single one. 

The Giant Marconi Red bush hasn't given us much yet, but it will... it's full and they are all starting to change to that lovely burgundy red. The first one we pulled was 8 1/2 ounces, and it's the one to beat.  They have a yummy mild flavor.  If the Guy liked sausage, which he doesn't, I'd say that they would be a great pepper to use with sausage, peppers and onions, but since we don't eat it around here, the Garden Diva and I just dip them into ranch dressing and call it a day.

photo courtesy of foodsubs.com
The last thing we pulled from the garden in June was cukes.  I had two lovely lemon cukes.  They are delicious.  They have a very light, sweet flavor, and are very crispy and delicious.  The two lemon cukes totaled 8 oz.  I had one burpless green cuke that was 11 1/2 ounces.  It had a nice, thin skin which would have been perfectly fine to eat, but I peeled it anyway.  I am really looking forward to more of both kinds of cukes. 

So let's break it down in terms of $$:
these are standard prices here in CA, not sale prices:

21 lbs of tomatoes on the vine      x 3.49 lb =      $73.29
2.5 lbs of bulk green beans           x 1.99 lb =      $  4.97
1.28 lbs of peppers (variety) avg price x 99lb =  $  1.26
3 qty cukes                                    x   .99 ea =     $  2.97

Weight:         27.78 lbs
Est. $ Value:  $ 82.49

The Zucchini Saga... really? Not again!

I was going to happily report that I have conquered the powdery mildew on my zukes.  I have been spraying them with the baking soda/dishsoap/oil/ water concoction for a little more than a week now, and they are doing great.  No more hacking away at beautiful leaves for this girl!!!! 

BUT - - the zuke saga has decided to continue in a different fashion.  Now we have blossom end rot.  Nice.  Thanks for that.  The first little zuke died on the vine and I thought, "That's weird" - - but when the second one did it too, I knew.  They never got more than about 3" long and the thickness of my index finger, and then the end with the blossom just started to wither and brown. 

Photo courtesy: pender.ces.ncsu.edu

I wanted to scream!!!  The photo above is not zukes, I know...  but you can see the one at the bottom clearly has blossom end rot.  This is what happened to my baby zukes. 

So back to the internet I go, looking for solutions.  Here's what I found out. 

Causes of blossom end rot:

#1:  Calcium deficiency.  Add organic matter to the soil. 

#2:  Too much water and alternately

#3:  Too little water. 


This is what I know.  My zukes are in pots that are too small.  So as a result, I have to water them too often to keep them wet... as a result they get too much water and probably too little water.  So, I'm going to go off to home depot and get a bigger pot, which I am going to add some organic matter and vermiculite to the soil, and probably some lime to add the calcium it needs.  Then I'm going to carefully remove the bottom of the pot that the zuke is currently in, to free up the roots, and sink it into the new pot so that it can reap the benefits of a larger home.  THEN - - I'm going to cover the top of the two pots together with some mulch and I'm going to make a note for myself next year that ZUKES NEED BIGGER POTS!!! 

Wish me luck.
Green thumb out. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Powdery Mildew Tragedy...

Sad, sad, sad. 
On Sunday I noticed white powdery mildew on my zucchini leaves.  This is bad, I thought, really bad.  And it was.  I did a little research, and it seems that there's no way to reverse the mildew. 

photo from portkellsnursery.com
This photo is not from my garden, I started hacking away without taking pictures.  I wish I had.  My infestation of mildew was not this bad, but any mildew is bad mildew, and I'm sooooo bummed.

All of the leaves showing signs of mildew have to be removed.  You can see from the photo that it works it's way down the stems as well.  You can't reverse it, but you can halt it in it's tracks.  I found a recipe for a non-chemical treatment.  It was one gallon of water, and a tablespoon each of dish detergent, vegetable oil, and baking soda.  The plants get a daily light spray of this mixture while they are infected, and weekly when they are not.  I will have to report back as to how they are doing. 

Plants with large leaves are succeptable to powdery mildew.  In my garden that means squash (zucchini, crookneck, and spaghetti) and also cucumbers (lemon and burpless).  Of course, they are planted right next to each other (of course they are!) so it just spread down the row like crazy.  The top of these plants are much less infected than the bottoms, where the leaves are denser.  It's tragic.  I hope to be able to get a handle on this fungal infection before I lose my whole plant to it.  Wish me luck.

There is some discussion about the milk based spray vs. the baking soda and soap based spray.  The guy and I didn't think that spraying milk, which would spoil, on the plant seemed like a good idea.  I found a day by day comparison (in someone else's garden, thankfully), and once reading it, my mind was made up.  Here's the blog: http://voices.yahoo.com/get-rid-white-fuzzy-spots-zucchini-plant-leaves-8762103.html

That's it for now... updates later.  
Green thumb out.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Who's out there?

Looking at my blog dashboard and seeing that I had 47 page views yesterday just makes me so happy!!  I have had visitors from Japan, Spain, Netherlands, Guam (Hi, Amy!), and the U.S.  Wow!  Wow!  WOW!

As I mentioned in my first post, I created this blog as a kind of journal for myself, so that I could merge my written notes with my photos, and have a place to go back and reference year to year.  I have a great memory for details, but there's no way I'll remember when the first tomato happened in 2013 if I don't write it down.

So thanks for looking!  But I'm curious...  who's out there?  Check in! 

I'd like to know where you are and what you garden.  My friend Jason and I have been comparing notes on Facebook, and it's been really fun.  He is in the same state as I am, but in a completely different growing zone.  He gets rain, and I don't.  As a result, his garden is so different.  What about you?  Do you get lots of rain?

So what's it like for you?  Are you an urban gardener like I am?  Are you trying to squeeze a garden into a side yard or do you have an acre to spread out on?  I live in an area that gets an average of 4" of rainfall a year.  YES, I SAID THAT CORRECTLY!!!  FOUR INCHES A YEAR.    It's a gardening challenge that's for sure. 

So check in, people.  I would love to hear from you.

Green thumb out.

Berry Blossoms: to be or not to be?

I have been struggling with my blackberry and raspberry bushes, and I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it's just my lack of knowledge of the subject. 

Last year, late in the season, my mom gave me four thornless blackberry and three raspberry bushes that had been sitting on her back porch in the bare-root pots they came in.  They were sad looking.  So I re-potted them, watered and fed them, and took care of them until the frost came, and then I let them sleep.  They were young last year, only in their second year, so I knew that they wouldn't produce anything, and they didn't. 

I expected a bumper crop this year.  They are large, and healthy and growing like crazy.  They have gorgeous blossoms and they are blooming and blooming.  The problem is, the blossoms bloom, and then they turn brown and dry out.  They've been doing this for months.   
I have been looking for information in books and on the internet (because that's how I solved the squash blossom mystery, after all), but I haven't been able to find anything.  Some people suggested that maybe I don't have enough bees and they aren't getting cross pollinated.  So I went out there with a soft paint brush yesterday and moved the pollen from blossom to blossom for about half an hour. 
Hey, I'm not above some manual labor here, if it results in berries!!!!  I just want berries!!!!  See how they start out green and then they just wither and dry out?  It's not lack of water, I promise you that.  It's not lack of fertilizer, because I fertilize them every 6 weeks with a time-release fruit and veggie mix.

In my travels along the plants I finally noticed the beginnings of some blackberries.  Has my problem been that I haven't been patient enough?  They started producing flowers two months ago!!!  My grandmother, who lives about an hour away but in a much more temperate climate than here, has had quarts and quarts of berries.  So many that she can't even pick or eat them fast enough.
So now I'm going to watch, and wait, and hope that whatever is growing is actually the start of something!!!  I'll update later. 
Has anyone experienced this?  Is it normal?  Should I consult a garden expert?  Anyone know one? 
I know you are out there, people!  I don't know who you are, but I see the visits on the blog dashboard!!! 
Green thumb out.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Making do with what you've got: my potting bench

In a perfect world, I'd have a potting bench with style and class, a potting bench that would make people exclaim, "Oh, how sweet/cute/creative/adorable, and functional too!"  I've seen some that have screen panels for sifting dirt, some that have cute décor, and lots of functional work space, too. 

That was not to be for me.  I had this cute little baker's rack that could have doubled as a potting bench with a little tweaking, but unfortunately, it didn't make it into the POD for the big move from Pennsylvania to sunny So. Cal in 2011. 

I acquired a fairly stable but badly weathered picnic table and benches from my Mom and Dad this spring.  I had grand plans for it, but they didn't pan out, and the amount of space on my patio is limited due to the umbrella/table/chairs combo on one side and the family-sized swing and water table on the other.  So, I put it out for the yard sale.  No takers.  I even reduced it from $40 to $20, and still no takers. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was potting some herbs and veggies I'd bought to add to the herb pot, and realized that the picnic table could be useful after all. 

When life gives you a picnic table you can't use,
turn it into a potting bench that you can!

So that's just what I did.  Here's the result:

Even though it's getting pretty hot out here (with average temps in the high 80s), I tried starting some spring veggies from seed.  If they don't work, I'm not really out much...  I only put a couple of seeds in each pot, and there's no reason I can't use the rest of the package for my fall plantings. 

Of course, I have more beans going (there are always beans going), some herbs (basil and chives), some lettuce, radishes and carrots.  Carrots don't like to germinate when it's warm, so I'm not sure what they'll do, but the radishes and the lettuce are coming up after only a few days. 

I have everything labeled with sharpie on plastic knives.  It works well for remembering what I put where.  I also keep a journal that helps me remember when I put everything in, and how many days it usually takes to germinate, so I know if something is a dud or if it's just not ready yet.  I tend to be a bit impatient at times.  (gasp! I know, right? The Guy is totally shocked that I just admitted that, I'm sure...ha ha)
Have a great day!
Green Thumb out.

Squash blossoms are from Mars AND Venus

The squash row in my garden

In the back of the garden, against the neighbor's wall, I have spaghetti squash, crookneck squash, and black beauty zucchini.  I am a complete novice when it comes to squash.  I've grown pumpkins and gourds before, but never squash. 

A while back, I was concerned about my squash blossoms.  The plants were healthy and growing like crazy, and they'd produce these gorgeous orange blossoms, but then the blossoms would just wither and die.  They'd fall right off, and I wasn't seeing any little squashes anywhere.  I felt terrible for the little guys...  What was I doing wrong? 

 As it turns out, I wasn't doing anything wrong at all.  A few minutes on Google had me learning a lot about squash.  There's always the people to who jump to conclusions  - - diseases, pests, not enough fertilizer...  and there are the people who actually know what they are talking about...  I like to listen to them.
Turns out, squashes have male and female blossoms.  The male blossoms fertilize the females (this is sounding a bit like 5th grade health class, isn't it?), and the females produce the fruit. 
I felt much better knowing this.  I wondered how many others were worried about their plants unnecessarily.  I started looking closely over the next week or so, and was pleased to see some little zucchini beginning to form on the female blossoms.  There's a difference in the look of the blossoms too.  Males have a thinner stem, and females have a thicker stem, even before they've bloomed.  Have a look:

  Once you know what to look for, there really is quite a difference.  I love going out into the garden in the cool mornings and seeing all of the blooms.  They are so lovely.  The color is bright and they just cheer me. 
I'm looking forward to all of the possibilities!!!   I have a whole recipe file just bursting with zucchini recipes:  stuffed zucchini parmesan; zucchini-beef casserole; green chile zucchini rice; zucchini bread; even zucchini whoopee pies!!  If you want any of these recipes, leave your email address in the comments and which recipe you want, and I'll send it to you!  If you have a great zucchini or squash recipe, put it in the comments, or email it to me at dawn@everettb.com!


Our first Mortgage Lifter Tomato... this is the one to beat!!!

We pulled our first Mortgage Lifter today, and it weighed in at a hefty 14 1/2 ounces!  The Pipsqueak could barely hold it in two of her little hands. 

This is the one to beat! 

I remembered that there was a story to the Mortgage Lifter Tomato, and I wanted to look it up and post it here so I wouldn't forget.  I found the most detail on tomatogeek.com.  Yes, there is a website for tomato geeks...  lol.  Glad to know I'm in good company. 

Here's the Tomato tale:

The birth of the Mortgage Lifter Heirloom Tomato (from TomatoGeek.com)
 With absolutely no experience breeding or growing tomatoes, Marshall Cletis Byles, aka "Radiator Charlie" decided to develop a large and meaty tomato that could feed families. He looked for tomatoes available in his area that met his criteria and started with 4: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an unknown Italian variety, and an unknown English variety.  Byles then grew plants from each variety and planted 3 Beefsteak, 3 of the Italian variety and 3 of the English variety in a circle. In the center of the circle, he planted the German Johnson Tomato.

    With a baby syringe, he cross-pollinated the German Johnson with pollen from the other 9 plants in the circle. He saved the seeds, which he planted the following year. Byles then selected the best seedlings, and planted them in the middle of a circle, surrounded by the other seedlings. For 6 years, he repeated this process and cross-pollinated the strongest plants in the center with pollen from the plants in the circle.

    When he was satisfied that he had grown a stable tomato that met his criteria, he sold the seedlings for $1.00 each, which was a hefty sum back in the 1940s.

    The tomato was of course named after him: Radiator Charlie’s Tomato. The tomato was so popular that people drove hundreds of miles to purchase the seedlings. With the proceeds of the sales, Charlie paid off his $6,000 mortgage in 6 years. Byles’ legacy is now called Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato.

That's it for now... 
Green Thumb Out.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Re-vamped herb pot. Maybe it's not a total loss, but I'm not holding my breath!

The herb pot.  It was my garden nemesis!  Everything I planted was doing so well, the garden was exploding, I had tomatoes before anyone I knew, and the next thing I knew, my herb pot decided it was time to bring me back to reality.  Dead.  The two cilantro plants, and, the boxwood basil - - DEAD. 

I made two critical mistakes, which resulted in the murder of three perfectly good herb plants and the waste of about six dollars.  (Now I need to grow about 2 more pounds of tomatoes just to make up for it!  Somehow I don't think that's going to be a problem.) 

My first critical mistake: I had put it against the house for ease of watering, since that's where the hose is, and it was in a huge, and darn heavy pot.  The first problem was location.  Not enough sun. Herbs need a lot of sun. 

So when it started dying, I moved it.  I dragged it across the concrete to the other side of the patio, where it would get full sun.  It was still pretty close to the kitchen, for ease of snipping at dinner time, but I thought it would perk back up.  That was my 2nd mistake.  It was getting hit by the sprinkler.  The sprinkler waters twice a day, and the dirt never got the chance to dry out in between waterings.  Herbs need to dry out a bit - -not all the way, but continuous saturation will kill the more tender ones, like oh, hmmm...  let me think... BASIL AND CILANTRO!!!


So I started out with this really cute little herb pot...
  You can see that my herb pot started out fine.  Up against the house, yes, but cute.  I had some nasturtiums that had grown from seed, that I put in the tipped pot.  I knew that I would have to deal with the fact that some of the herbs would get REALLY big and probably overrun the pot, but that's ok...  I was prepared. 

As it turned out, I didn't need to worry, because within a month, my herb pot looked like the photo below.  As I said before, just disregard that little bean plant you see growing in the middle pot in the "dead" photo... it was just temporary housing for that guy. 

It took me a little while to figure out what my mistakes were, it didn't come naturally.  I'm still a novice gardener after all. 

So over the weekend, I spent some time picking out some new herbs and planning a new spot.  I bought another rosemary, a couple of chives, two basil, two oregano and a lemongrass.  Now, I'm not crazy enough to think that all of those are going to fit in that pot, but it's all stuff I wanted, so I figured I would tough it out and find a place for it.  

I read that squash bugs do NOT like chives, so I needed to buy those anyway.  For now they are not in my main garden, but I will move them once I start seeing any hint of those yuckies.  I potted them separately. The lemongrass went into her own pot too, since she's an annual and will get pretty big on her own.  The basil, and the oregano went into the pot to replace the stuff that dies, and I moved the nasturtiums to a higher place since the Trampler likes to stick his big white nose into the pot and eat them.  He's weird, what can I say?  So after a little shopping, a little planning, and a little work - - and of course, a little getting dirty, this is my herb pot 2013 - - take II.

 We'll see how it goes.  It's in a sunny location, and has a friend next to it...  because friends make everything better.  :)  Here's the two of them together.  The 2nd pot has a salvia that my mom and I rescued from her house after her termite tenting, the 2nd rosemary that I bought this weekend, some nasturtiums that I re-potted because they were crowded, and one little sprig of ivy geranium that my mom and I also saved.  The salvia and the geranium were in the pot with Mom's gorgeous friendship plant, but they had a conflict of interest (friendship plant needing shade, salvia and geranium needing sun) so the salvia wasn't faring too well and needed to move or kick the bucket.  I don't take to well to my little leafy friends kicking the bucket, so I found them a new, sunny home. 

Hopefully everyone will be happy and healthy in their new homes.  I'll post an update as soon as I can tell a difference. 

Have a great Monday!
Green thumb out. 

2013 Timeline: June and all caught up

June is gorgeous here.  Up until today, we have had HIGHS in the Low to Mid 80's and LOWS in the 60-66 range.  We have had 0 precipitation here, which is pretty normal, but means that we water EVERY DAY. 

The garden is just exploding!  Everything is growing so fast!  I love walking out to the garden in the cool mornings and seeing the blossoms, checking out the produce, and seeing everything that has changed in a day.  It's amazing. 
The tomatoes are taller than the block wall, and the squashes and greenbeans and cucumbers are going crazy!  I love it every day.  Since the garden has been in for eight weeks now, I gave everyone some fertilizer over the weekend.  Hopefully this will give the berries the kick start they need to actually give me something!!!! 

The Guy's peppers are going a little nuts.  It's funny  how one side of the pepper garden has grown to almost twice the size of the other side.  They get the same sun, the same water and the same food.  I wonder what the variable is?  As of now I haven't been able to figure it out. See that giant red pepper in the front?  We've been waiting for that guy for a long, long time.  About two months.  Finally, we picked it on Saturday, and I have to share the photo with you.  Ready for this?
I took this picture with my phone, so it's not as clear as the others, but check it out!  It's too big for my food scale!  That made me laugh....  but seriously, it's a half pound pepper!  It's a Giant Marconi Red.  Doesn't look too red in the picture here, but you can see above that it really was.  It's the one at the very bottom corner that's bright red.  Crazy, huh?

This was our Saturday morning harvest:

15 oz tomatoes
8 oz Marconi Red Pepper (sweet)
3 oz Portugal Red Peppers (hot)
2 oz Fresno Red Peppers (really hot)
2 oz green beans, combination of pole & bush

Here's a look at a few other things on my side of the garden - - the two home depot buckets are my contribution to the peppers - yummy small bell peppers and banana peppers, companion planted with marigolds to keep the buggies out, a look at the tomato forest, and my two bowls of strawberry plants. 

That's it for now.
Green thumb out.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013 Timeline - Let's play catch up, shall we?

So we know where we started, let's catch up a bit.  It's only mid-June, so this won't take too long. 

First Update: May 2013

We had some really hot days in May, and that's pretty good for my garden.  The positioning of the garden has turned out to be really beneficial this year.  It's in the narrow space between the house and the neighbor's concrete wall.  It's about 6x20, and it gets shade in the late afternoon, when it's so hot here.  It gets soft morning sun, and noonday sun. 

Here's the May rundown: 
5 tomato plants: yellow, early girl, beefsteak, mortgage lifter and one other that I can't find the tag for, so I don't remember. 
Pole beans: 5 pots, trellised with string and wooden poles.
Berries: 4 thornless blackberry and 3 raspberry
Bush beans:  about 8 plants in various containers. 
Strawberries: 6 plants in two round containers
I also had an herb pot (shown below when first planted), but I lost most of it early on.  I don't know why I ever bother growing cilantro.  It barely waited until I got it into the pot to die.  We have a fantastic farmers market here in town, and I can get 4 (sometimes 5) for a dollar, so why bother trying to grow it when it's so temperamental?  In that herb pot were 2 cilantro, a boxwood basil, a rosemary and a pineapple sage.  The boxwood basil also died.  I think it was the case of too much water and not enough sunlight.  I had it outside the back door and it gets too much shade there.  It started out looking like this...  I loved the little tipped pot in the middle.  I knew it would get overrun but I figured it was cute for now.  The nasturtiums were started from seed and I thought they would put a lovely pop of color in an otherwise green pot.  Well, it didn't go the way I'd planned at all.

 Within a couple of weeks, it looked like this.  Dead.  The rosemary and the pineapple sage endured with no problems.  The nasturtiums had to move to a higher point, because The Trampler decided that they were yummy.  There's a bean plant in the middle, I know.  It was temporary housing, and it's not like anything else was growing in there.

I knew this was going to need an overhaul, but I didn't get to it right away.  May got really busy, with Mother's Day, my parents moving, my son's graduation from high school, and the general chaos that is my life. 

The Guy's peppers were coming along nicely too.    We got several in May, and we enjoyed stuffing them and grilling them on the BBQ.  The Pipsqueak (pictured above) is all about gardening.  She loves to help her daddy out whenever he's weeding, cleaning or picking.  Maybe she's really all about Daddy, I'm not sure, but it sure seems like she likes it.  My other daughter, the Garden Diva, loves it.  I'll have to get some pictures of her in here later.

May was busy for my half of the garden, too, although I didn't get the harvests that he did.  Patience, grasshopper...  So, I had to be content with tinkering, weeding and hunting for caterpillars  (which is always a fun chore).  The Early Girl tomatoes gave me a few here and there, which is why they are called Early Girl, I suppose.  I had my first tomato by Mother's Day, and I gave it to my grandma, along with a handful of beans.  I thought it was kind of cool to present her my first harvest, since she is the inspiration for four generations of gardening in my family. 

I got bored with tinkering, so of course, I added to the garden.  New tenants!  The peas that I had planted along the back trellis weren't doing very well.  It was just too hot and sunny for them. Yanked 'em.   I planted some spaghetti squash, a crookneck squash and a half dozen Black Beauty zucchini squash into these pots, and they made themselves quite at home there.  Mom said that the pots were too small, and I've come to realize that she was very, very right...  but they are doing ok so I'm not going to disturb them.

These little blossoms are from the blackberry bushes.  They are so pretty.  I am eager to see what kind of harvest we are going to have.  These bushes are only two years old, so they are relatively young, and although they are healthy, well fed, and well watered, my understanding is that I can't expect too much from them this year.  They have a lot of maturing to do. 

I'm still hopeful.

This is what it's all about in the pepper garden. 
This was May 19th - -our first real pepper harvest.
We cut the tops off, take a piece of cheese wrapped
in pepperoni and stuff 'em.  Once they are stuffed they go in the rack and on the grill.  The Guy is the grill master.  These little red ones, the Fresno Chiles, are H-O-T!!!  He eats them like they are candy.  I usally eat one or two and that's it for me.  The green one is actually a Marconi Red, and it wasn't really ripe - hence the green color - but it got a sunburn spot and it was eat it or throw it away.  So we ate it too.  It was yummy. 

That's May in a nutshell - - Green thumb out.