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
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:

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 d├ęcor, 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!


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  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
 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.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What a difference a year makes!

I decided to start a blog about our garden, a journal to keep track of our progress, and keep me from keeping notes in three different notebooks, and my calendar (which doesn't have nearly the space I need anyway).  I love to take pictures of everything growing and changing, but there wasn't really any way to link all those notes, thoughts, and investigations together with my photos to get the whole picture. 
So here we are. 
I realize that I'm starting mid-stream here...  it's already June.  Fortunately for me, the growing season here in (lovely, wonderful, warm, non-humid, beautiful, fantastic, fun, perfect - pick the adjective you like best) Southern California is about nine months long.  Probably longer, actually, if I figure out how to put together a greenhouse before Thanksgiving.  It's on my to-do list.  It really is. 
We do have challenges here.  In the Summer, it's hot.  It's really hot.  H-O-T.  Not hot like Phoenix, or Palm Springs, but hot.  Last year, my little garden was unprepared for the onslaught of heat it received.  I learned all about sun damage, my bell peppers burned and then some of them rotted while they were trying to ripen.  Tomatoes cracked and burned.  This year, we're adjusting the plan to include some protection from the elements.  The other thing we have a lot of trouble with is pests.  Pests, pests, pets...  did I say pets?  Oh yes, I did.  We've already had a trampling incident.  Let's face it though:  When you have a 108 lb. dog, it's going to happen.  So we put a little fence up, and what did he do?  He got stuck inside the garden, trampled the peppers and cried like a baby because he couldn't figure out how to get out.  I only wish I had my camera that day. 
You can't really appreciate this year's garden, and how far it's come, until you see where we were this time LAST year.  I bring you: 
2012's garden
It's pretty sad in comparison.
(but like I said, we're keeping track, here)
This is how it started. 
"Oh look, I can grow little plants in little pots."

We had a little water feature surrounded by geraniums, and a 2'x8' kitchen garden that overgrew it's bounds and was like a freaking jungle by end of July.

<-------  That's the garden, snicker, snicker----

Last year we had 6 tomato plants, 4 pepper plants, a basil, an oregano, and a rosemary.  I grew all but one of the tomato plants from seed, and the other was given to me by my grandma.  She's a much better gardener than I am.  Sometime during the summer, my mom gave me 4 blackberry and 3 raspberry plants, but it was too late in the season for them, so I just did my best to keep them alive until this year. 

So that's where we came from last year.  This year is a bit of a different story.  I think we're going a little crazy this year, but crazy is good right?! 

This year, we have HIS pepper garden (which has endured a trampling), and MY everything else garden.  Here's a little peek into this year's garden. 

2013 garden

 We did the pepper garden first, April 9th.  We took a trip to our favorite nursery, Louie's Nursery in Riverside: We love it there.  It's super fun to walk around, take pictures, shop and browse.  That's where we ended up spending Mother's Day this year. 

Anyhooo...  We have several different peppers.  The goal was to end up with all HOT peppers, which we love to stuff and grill on our handy-dandy pepper rack, but being the novices that we are, we ended up with a variety, and not all of them are exactly what we wanted. 

Here's the count: 2 Fresno; 1 Anaheim, 1 Jalapeno, 2 Portugal, and 2 Marconi Giant (which aren't hot at all, but they are HUGE, so that's kind of fun)

The next thing we did is stake and string up those berry plants I mentioned earlier.  There's a tomato plant in the foreground, but just pretend you don't see that for now. 

Here's the berry count (at this point): 4 thornless blackberries and 3 raspberries (which have thorns enough to seriously maim you if you're not careful).

Next post, I'm going to play catch up...  a quick timeline from planting to now, so we can keep up from here on out. 

Thanks for visiting...  green thumb out.