Onions from seed: Attempt number six.

My fall garden is planned. It’s sketched. It’s charted. It’s timeline-ed. And this year, I’m also ready with Plan B through Plan E so that I don’t encounter the same issues as last year and spend most of my winter with an unnecessarily empty garden.

I ordered my garlic, some Chiogga beet seeds (because Cylindra was just too tiny for my tastes), and have had my seed trays going for awhile now – cat interruptions aside. I have have plenty of greens seeds, carrot seeds, and other plotted plants seeds leftover from previous trips to the drug dealers seed catalogs…

I tried to order my onion starts. Sold out.

I tried another farm. Sold out.

Another, and another. They all ship January through May and are asking me to check back this fall, to pre-order for next spring.

Well, crap. A decent section of space has been designated onion space. I know our climate will allow for onions planted in October. Apparently the climates of those who sell onion starts are a different story.

I recently learned the difference between Short Day Onions and Long Day Onions (who knew?) and that solved the Mystery of the Failed Onion Seeds of 2009. The Puzzling Case of the Attempts of 2010, 2011, and 2012? Still puzzling.

They germinate just fine, as seen here in January:

And they gain some height just fine, as seen here shortly thereafter:

And that’s about as far as I can get them. From that stage, they put out itty bitty little white legs, that may or may not be roots, and try their hardest to die while I try my hardest to keep them alive.

I have a three-pronged approach this year.

  1. Richer seed-starter mix. I learned this past spring that onions are hungry little guys, but want the food far from their root zone. This will be for the indoor attempt.
  2. The bird method. Meaning I’ll prep the soil where I want the onions in the fall, sprinkle the seed, and water if needed. Otherwise, I’m going to leave them be and see if I’m just getting in nature’s way.
  3. Order onion starts from a company that ships as early as December. If my indoor sowings and outdoor sowings both fail, we can still have onions.

Anyone out there grown onions from seeds before? Any tips to getting them from leggy little blades of green to actual plants?


An Anaheim Tower.

Speaking of plants that can withstand  the heat but are admitting their guilty pleasures (6″ inches of rain in 30 minutes) – the Anaheim has gone bonkers!

I picked all the Anaheims last Sunday, and this Sunday – these aren’t even all of them. DH already had the grill fired up for some hot sauce brown sugar chicken, so they found their way over the flames and into our bellies less than an hour from harvest.

The rest of the peppers aren’t to be outdone!

We have three little poblanos that were left to redden-up on the vine, a purple bell that decided to go a little green?, and an orange bell that’s looking more red to me. Oh, and a pile o’ jalapenos, fish peppers, and cayenne. As you can see, the tomatoes have slowed down. The Cherry Chadwicks are still going, the yellow pears are making an effort, and a previously unproductive red cherry variety (whose name I lost track of) has just started up. I lost a few multi-pound Black Princes, Zapotecs, and others to the birds and the bugs during my neglect, but that’s ok. They’re thirsty, or hungry, and my freezer has plenty of tomatoes in it already. (Unless the hungry bugs are squash bug nymphs. Then it is most definitely not ok and they find their way under the sole of my boot in no time.)

Ever planning ahead as I look behind, I can’t forget to show my appreciation for the prolific output of this plant by saving its genes again for next year.

For anyone who hasn’t saved pepper seeds before, it really is that easy. Scoop them out, lay them on a paper towel (label your paper towel!), and let them alone until everything’s dry and crunchy. Fold up the paper towel, wrap a rubber band around it, and store it with any other seeds you sow at the same time.

Sweet potatoes bought and grown.

In the foreground are the sweet potatoes, followed by the pepper patch, and finished up with the tomato jungle. Nevermind the leaning shovel and sunhat taking center stage.

Isn’t the foliage on the fish pepper lovely? I didn’t expect a varigated leaf from the description on the seed packet, but am absolutely adoring this plant (and it grows a lot of peppers!) DH says they taste like “a jalapeno bite without the jalapeno heat.”

The things I’ve read on sweet potatoes say how much they don’t need watering once established. They sure do seem to like the water we’ve had lately though. They’re trying to escape their bed, climb the corner post, and move into pepper territory.

Those are the sweet potatoes that sprouted in my pantry, that I cut into thirds, dusted with diatomaceous earth, and buried. I did buy some sweet potato sprouts this year as well. Let’s check in on their progress…

Unless the pantry potatoes are all show and no potato, I know what I’ll be doing again next year…

Calamine, calamine, calamine lotion…

Oh, no no no, not the lotion.

The mild mannered attempts at fire ant removal are a thing of the past. Today, while pulling grass from beneath the tomatoes, I felt a bite. Not at all new, as each visit to the beds awards me with anywhere from one to three bites usually, and usually on my ankles. This time, the bite was on my forearm. I looked down.

My entire leather glove was black and red. My arm, nearly to my elbow, looked like it had been dipped in a teeming ooze of fire ant. Angry, and mildly terrified, I quickly ripped my fire-ant-clad glove from my hand with my other gloved hand, and dropped it to the ground. I beat my poor arm like it wasn’t attached, dislodging as many fire ants as I could with each swat. It worked. So well, in fact, that the ants had rained down and grabbed hold of my thighs, my calves, and my shoes. I beat them off as well. When I was satisfied that I had no more on me, I gingerly picked up my fallen glove and beat it soundly against a board. Ditching both gloves to be abandoned by any possible hangers-on, I went for the hose and doused my arm in cool water.

Thankfully, while allergic, it’s not a life threatening allergy. I got to feel a little light headed and a fair bit of woozy for the rest of the afternoon, and this evening I’ve watched the swollen white welts turn to a swollen red arm, turn yet again into the usual little blisters the ant bites leave behind. Although this time they’re tinged with green, instead of the usual creamy yellow. I’ll try not to think about it.

Within the hour I was at Green and Growing picking up a bag of organic fire ant bait. If the weather holds, the onslaught will commence at sunset tomorrow.

In the meantime, I did not think to run for the camera when I saw my arm coated in crawling fire, but I did notice a previous nest had grown. Remember the failed ant trap? It’s time to show you its neighbors.

They were a bit peeved that I had just watered the earth they had claimed as their own. I gave them a wide berth.

Enough about the ants though, there are still some plants growing thanks to this lovely mild-for-us summer.


I’m not sure who ordered all of last summer’s rain at once, but…thank you?

I only had my phone camera, so the quality leaves much to be desired, but I simply had to capture this moment. This piece, I call: “Car? What car? There’s not a car in the next lane…”

The second installment in this piece is entitled: “Field? There’s a soccer field? Where?”

Alternate title: The Sidewalk River

And finally, the piece fretfully called: “Hang in there, bridge!”

This beast of a washed out gully is usually dry, and occasionally a trickle any small child could hop across, or adult could take in stride. By morning the water had all drained away, filling our aquifer, engorging the Colorado, making its way to the Gulf. No one here complains about the rain. Not after last year. Instead, children run barefoot from their homes once the danger of being swept into storm drains has passed. People gather on concrete bridges to watch the water rush underfoot. Everyone is grinning, ear to ear, cameras in hand. Why? Because this year, those thunderheads are unzipping their buckets of sky water. This year, the trees are going to survive. This year, the fires don’t have a chance. This year, the farmer’s do. Before last year, the record of days in a row over 100 degrees was 21 days, last year was 27 days in a row over 100 degrees. Total days over 100 degrees? That record was 69 days (set in 1925 and tied 2009, I believe.) Last year? 85. Three months worth of triple digit days. We also tied our hottest day ever at 112. The heat may not have been so bad had it not been for the complete lack of rain. It rained for four days in January, 2011. It didn’t rain again, not a single drop, until the first week of June. When it rained perhaps 20 drops. (The sidewalk had spots about 18″ apart, that dried within a minute.) It didn’t rain again until September, when it rained, so much so that I took pictures!

(yes, those dark spots are all of the rain we got.) Nothing again until November. The drought last year was the worst drought on record. Not by a little bit, or even a medium bit, but worse than the 2nd worst draught by more than double. Even with our rain this year (plentiful and glorious as it is!) we have yet to recover. They predict it will take years to recover. Nevermind the loss of trees, wildlife, and those who lost land, homes, and lives in the fires. The evacuations reached within 4 miles of our home, but luckily the winds shifted.

So we’ll take the rain. Every single nourishing drop. And this year, the complaints about the heat have ceased already. August will be a scorcher, but that’s ok. August is supposed to be a scorcher. Today is the first triple digit day in weeks and with the perspective of last year still fresh in our minds, we are each grateful for the last few weeks of 90s and thunderstorms.

Putting up harvests, eating our colors, and late fireworks.

I’m going tomato-picking again tomorrow! Last harvest was a few days ago. Any guesses how many pounds we’re up to?

These went to DH’s mother, the freezer, a giant batch of pico, and some grilled peppers.

I learned on a Victory Garden episode a few years back about dehydrating unusual things. One of those things was zucchini. The idea being you can dehydrate zucchini, carrots, and other things in season, store them in the pantry, and then when the winter doldrums set in and you’re needing to make soup – voila! You have some summer sunshine in your soup.

I have yet to make the soup, but am starting on the dehydration experiments. My first batch was actually dried last year, and is still in tact – dry and happy.

It’s a handy way to store some of that summer squash excess a few of you in cooler climates may be in the throws of. I cut these about 1/8″ thick, laid them on a cooling rack (like for cookies) and left them in a rarely-used cupboard, forgotten. Last week, we had a few too many squash in the fridge about to turn. I took out the mandoline, set it on the “paper thin” setting, and went to town. 24 hours in our turned-off gas stove later and…

I’m not sure how these will reconstitute in a soup. They’re nearly translucent, and I’m thinking they may simply mush when they hit the soup this winter. Only time will tell.

What about what we’re eating now? We’ve been playing more with the mandoline and making fries! We’ve made beet fries from some Chioggas, which also just came in the mail in the form of seeds to sow soon! I didn’t grow any of the tubers in the pan below, but perhaps someday.

Here we have some organic sweet potatos – orange and white, and some blue potatoes as well. Can you just picture that same pan with some Chioggas in it?

And, after all the worry over how the summer would be this year after last year’s insane heat and drought, we’re having a nice (and surprising!) July. The thunderstorms that passed over our heads week after week last year without letting loose a single drop (only to unleash on the midwest and cause horrendous floods) are unzipping their buckets of water almost every other day these days.

For being drought tolerant, this spongy-leafed sprawler sure puts on a show with regular watering.

These are blooming just outside our garage door. The very same door we propped a ladder against to climb on the roof and watch the fireworks two weeks ago for Independence Day. A little delayed reflection of the explosions in the sky.

An herbalicious mess.

When I planted each of these less than 18 months ago, they were from cute little 4″ pots, or even smaller transplants of my own. I over-pruned the sage in the back this spring (oops…) which created room for the rosemary to expand (and DH rarely cooks with rosemary.) The Italian Oregano made SO many seeds last year, I could plant an acre or more, and it’s starting up again. Nevermind those lovely purple trumpets on the Mexican Oregano, they can stay as they keep the bees, butterflies, and other flyers happy.

The volunteer Texas Hummingbird Sage and Thai Basil are popping up in some far-away places! Here they are fighting the good fight against some more Henbit.

And those green onions I had in a jar on the kitchen counter? They’ve earned a pot – right next to my new watering can that I like maybe a little more than a sane person should.

The tops of the onions made it onto a burger for DH the other day. I’m curious to see how many more times it will re-grow.

Speaking of re-growing? This guy had co-existed peacefully with five seed trays for the last month.

Notice I said “had.” This morning I was awoken by DH, who was obviously unhappy. When I inquired what was the matter, he said he had some bad news. I automatically started running various grandparents through my mind and then he explained that the truce was broken and four of my seed trays were demolished by the charming-looking feline pictured above.

I worked quickly, plucking the wee sprouts from the piles of tossed earth and replanting them in a resurrected tray. The cat has been locked in the other room all day. We’ll see how I feel about letting him out tomorrow.

Fingers crossed that the baby cauliflower, broccoli, lettuces, and greens recover. So much for keeping track of varieties this year…

If it works, why change it?

Sometimes I want to keep trying different things. “Optionizing” as DH calls it. I can optionize any decision into the dirt if left to my own devices without any constraints. When I first started planning my Heat Bed, I made use of a handy local annual publication Native and Adapted Landscape Plants. Each year a new version is put together thanks to Grow Green and I find it calling to me from the counters of the garden shops I tend to frequent in the first quarter of each year. And – it’s free!

I started the plans for the Heat Bed last fall. I pulled out my free guide and quickly filtered the options down to any plant that was listed as both “Sun” and “VL” for “Full Sun” and “Very Low Water Requirements.” From there, I narrowed the field to any plant whose maintenance was listed as either “No maintenance required” or “Cut back in January.” After all, this landscape will someday be a rental again and I wanted this bed to last.

With a narrowed list (of eight options) I took my measuring tape, graph paper, pencil, straight edge, and eraser into the front yard. Quickly abandoning the straight edge, I came up with Plan A.

My eight options took me around the Land of Internet Nurseries to check pricing, availability, and any possible conflicting information. I arrived at Landscape Mafia. A wish list was made, and thanks to my thoughtful parents – plants arrived just in time for Christmas! When I had found Landscape Mafia, I had no idea how very local they were. I had wondered how plants such as the Fragrant Mimosa would handle shipping. Then one day, arriving home from work, there they were! Apparently shipping had been avoided in favor of the more reliable (and faster) delivery method of one of the nice fellows from Landscape Mafia delivering the plants himself! That’s right. I had apparently just missed him, but he had pulled up in his small SUV and unloaded the pots onto the porch. You can believe that walking up to a porch decorated in new foliage lead to grins of delight and exclamations of joy!

And just like how this post has gotten a smidge side-tracked, so did my plans for filling the Head Bed. The tree in Plan A had to come down in January. I luckily and gratefully discovered the community gardens and suddenly had five times the space to plan for edibles before the heat came. Work geared up more than expected for the first quarter (and the second, and now the third…) and the Heat Bed was left for another day.

I finally installed the plants from Christmas, only to them slowly lost to random mishaps. I was down to four plants from seven (when Plan A had included 43.) So I went into old habits and concocted Plan B. Nurseries had plenty of shade options, but unless I wanted agave, succulents, or manfriedas, I was out of luck. Home Depot claimed “sun-loving” and I took the bait. Thankfully, it was cheap bait, because most of those are now gasping in the heat. I could keep them alive with daily watering, but that defeats my desired journey with the bed.

I’m going to leave the Heat Bed for now. Anything I plant now won’t have a strong chance of survival with the days only getting hotter, and drier, until October. Plan C will look more like Plan A. Sure, the 40′ Silver Maple is gone. But the Fragrant Mimosa gained a foot these last six weeks, the Mexican Bush Sage is still blooming it’s purple velvet plumes, and at least one of the little orange daisy bunches is hanging in there.

Plan C may have one of these:

And I’m still dreaming of a gathering of these:

I may’ve accidentally taken my spade through a main root line of my Moss Verbena, but am hoping it makes it through the summer to recover this winter and look more like this again:

Known and unknown – another bug mystery!

I saw a sleek and stylish caterpillar in the garden the other day munch on, of all things, a pepper plant! It was time to see what I was in for. Would it eat every plant for the next two weeks? Was it likely to have an entire herd of chic caterpillar friends? I was determined to find out.

Thankfully, the outfit was easily described and as easily lead to proper identification – a yellow-striped armyworm.

See him there at the base of the pepper plant? This little pepper was a late volunteer, and likely wouldn’t have gotten to set fruit this year anyway. Seeing as this caterpillar is new to me, and all by his lonesome, I left him to enjoy his spicy salad in peace. The stripes are a little more yellow in person. The fading light washed out the hue.

This next fellow has a style all his own. He thought to match his brown overcoat with black and white striped socks! I was unlucky in my scouring of the internet for his name. Any one out there have a guess? In the photo below, he’s crawling about on a Painted Daisy. Just this morning I saw another one (perhaps the same one? although I doubt it) crawling along the top of a blade of Johnson Grass.

Apologies for the photo quality, I didn’t have the camera properly set for such a zoom! This bug’s about pea-sized, maybe slightly larger.

And for anyone who was wondering how the Great Ant Trap Experiment of June 2012 was going?

Aside from being impressed that it was hot enough to caramelize the sugar, I think I  may have assembled it incorrectly. In the soap water in the bottom one could find two dead gnats, one dead hover fly, and some random debris. Nary an ant to be found. I’ll be in my wellies in the garden until further notice, and seeing as they’re not intended for garden use, what with their blue/grey plaid/argyle pattern on a cream background…when combined with gardening shorts, wide-brimmed white straw hats, and leather gloves, I sometimes end up looking quite the character myself! (Perhaps I should ask the round fellow above where he buys his socks.)

Sunflower in the shade.

We grew sunflowers once when I was little. The giant kind, with faces bigger than your head. I remember being astonished at the sheer number of seeds in one sunflower. I also remember being surprised at how differently the seeds tasted! This year, I sowed four kinds of sunflowers, even some of the giants.

Only one came up.

She’s a fighter.