Rise crackle flop.

The fire’s been burning for days now. There’s something primordial about a fire. There are few things that can cause a group of people to just sit in silence and stare. A fire is one of those (a newborn baby is often another.) Yesterday, I really was able to scratch the itch of generations by having bread rising on the hearth while planning the spring garden. In short order, there were fresh hoagies to polish off the last of the Christmas prime rib complete with sauteed peppers and shredded cheese.
Not these Christmas-lights-looking peppers, but close.

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I was mistaken about the last of the tomatoes. I picked a few more yesterday, although they were not immediately gobbled up. So in an odd turn of events (like sowing next year’s exactly when I’d planned to) and weather (the lightest of freezes only days ago) the tomatoes of 2015 have gone full circle and this house shan’t be without a tomato plant even in the depths of winter…provided the seeds sprout.

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I do hope to keep track of the labels from sowing to potting up to planting out this year. It’s my goal every year, and so far I haven’t done it quite as I’d like and tend to only hazard guesses as to which varieties of what end up where.

Speaking of plans, my first attempt at paperwhites (thanks to Stacey for the idea!) didn’t quite make it for Christmas blossoms.

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But this cold cloudy weather has the bulbs planning their own New Year’s Celebration.

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The lemon basil is officially a weed, and officially the most stalwart garden companion I’ve ever had. Summer drought and triple digits? Sounds good. Frost and short days? Ok, sure. Floods and wind and hail? Why not…

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The lettuce is trying…we’ll see how it goes.

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The citrus is happy, but nap time is ending and that’s all for now. Happy New Year!

I might be a little behind…and a little ahead.

February 26th, 2012. The tomato plants that spent the year giving us over 100 pounds of tomatoes…

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February 23rd, 2014. The tomato plants I’ve started for this year…
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Tomatoes could conceivably go into the ground in a week, and those babies are likely to be a tasty snack for a snail before they reach any size large enough to fend off attackers.

So DH and I are headed to The Natural Gardener today for a few things:
*Tomato plants
*Pepper plants, because they’re just as far behind
*Drip irrigation! (Maybe, if I can decide how many whatchamathings, dohickeys, and such to arrange)
*Soil food, as both of my compost piles are still cooking.

But in a few ways, I’m ahead of the game this year. I sowed the first round of beans yesterday. Some Tiger Eye and Yin Yang (soup beans) and some Soleil (green). Hopefully being two weeks early on 2012 sowings won’t be too much of a risk, but the extended forecast has some rain, a lot of sun in the 60s and 70s, and nothing lower than 40s at night.

Looking back at posts and photos from 2012, I find myself missing the extra 400 square feet I had that year. My three new beds this year will help scratch that itch some, and DH is talking about building a potato tower as well. I’m glad I ventured into a community garden plot, and depending on the timeline of when we move next and the space we move into, I may join one (a different one) again in the future. For now though, I’ll enjoy the isolation, the quiet, and the energy only from the sun and soil – enjoying my time away from the noise of others’ thoughts.

And then behind again, as I thought I’d posted this last Sunday.

We picked up everything except the peppers, which weren’t in stock yet (but are at the Farmer’s Market tomorrow!) The irrigation has been installed, and the weather forecast checked again so the tomatoes went in last Sunday.

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Nursey tomatoes are usually varieties I know little about, or am not sure actually work well where I am. Beefsteaks explode in the heat before they ripen, for example, and Brandywines need cooler temperature to set fruit than we have by the time they bloom.
These are both new-to-me varieites of Valley Girl on the left and Homestead #24 on the right.

And then the forecasters did what they do and changed their minds. 30 degrees Tuesday night. DH had also moved Bill the Lime Tree outside on the word of the forecasters, so Bill and the tomatoes shared a tarp Tuesday night and were no worse for the wear. In fact, the six inches of rain overnight the following evening really perked those tomatoes up!

We picked up some other tomatoes as well, that I’ll plant this weekend when it’s back to 80 degrees.

And in the meantime, the winter greens are trucking along come dry or high temperatures.
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August harvests

In my little speck of earth, there aren’t many harvests in August. Some of my gardening neighbors down at the Gardens have given up, cleared out, and are waiting for fall.

Others have given up, and are waiting to clear up until later – leaving any possible harvest to the birds and bugs.

But I’m a little too stubborn for that.

Peppers are still going. The bell peppers are thirsty ladies, and have slowed down, but the hotter, smaller, and drier the pepper, the happier they seem to be.

This cayenne, for example, had out done itself – literally. It made so many peppers it fell over.

That one plant  just gave us a heaping double handful.

I actually planted two this year. I’ve learned that a household really only needs one cayenne plant.

One of the prettiest peppers I’ve ever grown has made a comeback. Don’t these just make you think of the Christmas lights from the 50s?

And how about this? I grew a melon! I still feel like it should be bigger, but I’ll taste it all the same. It’s also possible I’m mis-remembering the qualities of the variety and really does only get this big. I have only had melons set fruit this year (third year trying) so perhaps next year I’ll have learned just that extra bit that helps them grow larger.

Some surprises from the backyard garden as well!

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.

Pepper lessons, basil confusion, and a landscape raspberry.

I spent a four-day weekend on a business trip and arrived home just in time to do some more work before ordering some take-out and hitting the gardens. The light was fading fast, and the insects were emerging with even greater speed. The fire ants had once again relocated, and I had once again been too stubborn to don real shoes and received two more bites for my troubles. I had remembered to leave the bug spray in the car though, and escaped with nary a mosquito bite. DH managed only one fire ant bite, no mosquito bites, but took the cake with a mean mystery bite on his back.

We were once again rewarded with pound after pound of fresh heirloom tomatoes! DH struck up an easy conversation with a neighboring gardener, and we managed to send her home with a few of his heaping double handfuls of the smaller varieties. She’s raking in buckets of apple-sized tomatoes herself (we politely declined any.)

What about non-tomato news?

Things I’ve learned about peppers this year:

  • Two cayenne plants is more than enough to make an attempt at a ristra for the first time
  • Two jalapeno plants is not enough for DH’s appetite.
  • One fish pepper plant will make more fish peppers than you know what to do with (assuming you know what to do with a fish pepper, which…I don’t yet.)
  • Two Anaheim pepper plants is perfect.
  • Two poblano plants is half as much as necessary for prepping portions to make chili with in the winter.
  • One Chinese Five Pepper is one too many (apparently something likes to devour every last bit of leaf on the poor thing as soon as the peppers are close to ripe! That, and I’m not sure if they’re ripe when they’re purple (their first color), white (their second color), or if I’m supposed to wait until they’re dried and shriveled and orange…)
  • We both miss the magic of the Czechoslovakian Black Pepper.
  • Purple and orange bell peppers are magical when combined in a dish. One of each is not nearly enough!

Things I still don’t know enough about to help thrive? Basil tops the list. I can get it to germinate. I can get it about two inches tall. I can keep it alive if I buy it…until it gets mealy bugs, gets woody, keeps over, or bolts immediately.

In the “bolts immediately” category is this lovely African Blue Basil. Not a week after planting it in the backyard bed (under a shade cloth!) it flowers. It’s lovely to look at, and perhaps I should reconsider basil as a landscape plant for the bees instead of a seasoning for us.

Speaking of landscape-plants-that-I-would-like-to-some-day-eat-from, my raspberry is happier this year (it’s third year) than last!

Caring for the wee ones.

When sprouting indoors from seed, quite often the light comes from one direction. My tomato sprouts shall demonstrate:

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I rotated them last night when they were facing the other way. They’ll get rotated 90 degrees tomorrow.

Nearly all of the tomato sprouts are up now. They usually appear one to three at a time until the ones that are going to germinate at all have done so. The ground cherries have yet to make an appearance.

The peppers, absent last night entirely, have almost all risen in unison today. Here are two emerging from their seed casings.

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The leaves will open more, discarding the seed’s exterior to the soil.

Onions don’t have two seed leaves like many veggies do, and end up hanging onto their seeds for quite awhile.

Onion sprouts start like little wriggly, white, worms.

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There’s one in the middle there, blending in nonchalantly, and another along the top edge.

The root end takes a few days to take hold, and as it’s working on that, the sprout elongates.

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With the root end more firmly gripping the earth, the sprout musters its wee strength and starts to stretch for the sun.

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At this stage, they are kind of comical. Bending this way, twisting around, seed ends getting stuck on other sprouts nearby…they amuse me a fair bit with their antics.

The air is dry here lately. A few weeks without rain, little humidity, and clear nights has the static up and the soil gasping quickly between waterings. I’m watering now by gently pouring small amounts near the sprouts. I don’t want to drown them, or soak the soil, but misting with my spray bottle won’t last 12 hours in these conditions.

I am getting antsy to put the seeds in the garden next weekend. Today was intended as a soil amendment day, but both Plan A and Plan B for adding compost and manure were a bust. Hopefully it comes together tomorrow so I can have it piled and ready as a weekday evening project this week.

Thing I learned today? 

– Beets aren’t something to start inside, but should be direct sown like other root veggies. So sayeth the package.

Any activity in your growth this week? Any prep work to be done or planting you’re (im)patiently waiting to do?

Growing from seeds – Tomatoes and Peppers

I try to grow my garden from seeds as much as possible. My first garden (and second, and third…) watched sprouts appear through the glass, but never held the plants in their soil. Why? For one reason or another, it took multiple rounds of trial and error to succeed in getting seeds to sprout, those sprouts to thrive, and those seedlings to harden off properly and make it to harvest outdoors.

Last year, I solved the Great Pepper Secret.
1) Sow seeds indoors weeks before final frost: check.
2) Use seed starter mix*, or your own mix of lighter soil particles: check.
3) Keep seed bed evenly moist**: check.
4) Place in sunny window***: check.

I waited. I misted. I kept it humid. I waited some more. I checked the expected time for germination on the first seed packet, and the second. “First sprouts to appear in 7-10 days.” “Days to germinate: 10-14 days.” I was two weeks in and then some. Nothing. I checked my books. I read forums online. Finally, I reread the seed packets.

And there it was. The missing piece. “Soil temperature for germination: 75-85 degrees F.”

Well, didn’t I feel a fool. It was January. My house was lucky to hit 70 with the heat on. I needed to warm up the seeds without killing the heating bill. Online digging lead me to “seed tray mats.” Funny. Those look like big heating pads. I had a heating pad. Free and less-stuff-friendly!

I remove the fabric sleeve to avoid any stains it may acquire, set it.on.medium, and voila!

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Due to the added warmth, I mist it at least once a day, and check it twice a day to make sure it’s not too dry.

Last spring was a proud season for me. Each plant in my garden bed was grown from seeds in my entryway. (My lovely Other Half quietly and patiently awaits the day in March when the entryway is Obstacle-Free.)

This year I have some new seeds to try for the first time,
– Melons
– Winter squash
– Ground cherries
– Beets

or for the n-th time (so far without successfully reaching harvest.)
– Onions

Any experience with the above? Any tips to share?

*My first seed attempts involved regular soil. Results were less than exciting.
** My next mistake was to water as often as a houseplants, which is to say, not nearly often enough and with much too much water.
*** Indirect morning sun is not sufficient. Lesson learned 2009.