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.

Onions, Peppers and Tomatoes! (Oh, my!)

It’s seed sowing season here in Central Texas. We’re approximately 10 weeks away from the average final frost date. Approximate, because it depends a fair bit upon one’s location relating to “town bubbles” as well as possible elevation and other microclimate factors. Not to mention the conservative approach versus the riskier approach – which is an entirely personal decision.

I like to start my seedlings indoors when possible, as early as possible. If I start them earlier, and am unlucky with my germination, I may have time to try again. At the least, the local nurseries won’t be sold out forcing me to buy from a big box store if I want plants of that type.

This year, right after planning my garden plot on some graph paper, I re-reminded myself on the date to plant or sow relative to the the Average Final Frost Date here. Risky, or conservative (depending upon to whom you talk) I call the FFD in my neighborhood March 15th. If the 10 day weather forcast is looking lovely on March 8th, I’ll put seeds out early. If it’s sketchy, I’ll hold off.

With my memory refreshed, I started my timeline. March 15th, minus ten weeks, is approximately January 5th. So I’m a week early. The plants will merely be a week bigger.

This is a seed tray made from a clearance item at Home Depot. Apparently people store ornament balls in these. I use them as easily measured seed sowing “plots.” It even has a lid for humidity! (Thanks to my mother for finding it and suggesting its use.)

Some folks are talented and resourceful enough to make their own seed starting mix. I have yet to dive into that project. Instead, I keep an eye out for off-season sales. The bag shown had four friends just like it, at the grocery store of all places.

This tray has five seeds per circle laidout as a square with a dot in the middle. Forty Australian Brown Onions and forty Violet de Galmi. I don’t have a historically successful time with onions, so I thought to plant in excess and succeed at least a little that way. Sown on the 28th, I hope to see sprouts next week.

Today’s sowing was peppers, tomatoes, and their relatives.

This is an actual seed tray, same mix. You can just see the indentation of my finger making spots for each seed. I lay the seed packets out in order of sown row. Then after I’m done, I sketch the seed tray with dots representing each seed, and label accordingly. This is how I will tell which seeds germinated well, which seed sources may gain more of my business, and also simply so I don’t end up with a tomato wishing to grow 8 feet tall in a pot where I thought I put a 2 foot variety.

Have you started any seed trays? Do you plan to? Or is it too soon in your area?