Friday, July 26, 2013

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

In the book "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew,
 (  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

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 (, 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:

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:

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
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:

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.