Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where's Sara? (And How Are Those Tomatoes Doing?)

First, I would like to reassure the readers of this blog that I was not abducted by Garden Gnomes.  (What a relief!)  Instead I started the month of July with a flu-like virus that did a pretty good job keeping me from doing much of anything, including garden activities.  Luckily Tom was able to help out with the watering and everything survived; including me!  Of course, due to the amount of time that has past since my last post, I have WAY too much to talk about.  So I have decided to break down the garden into plant type and give them their own posts.

We begin with the tomatoes!  At right you can see tomato alley.  The garden is resembling a jungle more and more everyday, so I apologize for the lack of definition.  If you click on the photo, it should bring up a larger size that hopefully makes it a little easier to see.  Most of the plants are doing fabulous, with ample amounts of green tomatoes.  A few, however, have blossom end rot on the fruits and/or extreme cat-facing.  While the majority of my blossom end rot issues have been with the potted tomato plants on the porch, there are a few plants in the garden that have had issues as well.  One would assume that if there was a watering issue causing the blossom end rot, that all the plants would be affected.  That is not the case though.  Only a few of the plants from the heirloom mix have experienced the rot while their neighbors have perfectly healthy fruits.

Same thing with the cat-facing.  Only some of the plants were affected and even stranger, the cool nightly temperatures that are normally the cause of cat-facing, did not occur when these plants were flowering and fruiting.  What exactly caused this anomaly?  Well, the local extension office was confused, so we may never know.  Chances are that something went awry when the flowers were forming, probably a nutrient deficiency, and the result was extreme cat-facing. (Photo of mild cat-facing above and the more extreme form below).

As I mentioned the plants with the issues are from the heirloom seed mix I purchased.  I still have no idea what the plants actually are, and since there have been so many 'bad' tomatoes, there is a chance I may never know!  I am leaving the cat-faced fruits in place to ripen, so at least I will know what those plants are, but I have at least one plant that I have had to remove all the tomatoes from, because of the rot.  That will probably end up being the true mystery plant.  For the potted plants, I finally broke down and bought some fertilizer with calcium in it in hopes that any new fruits will not fall victim to the rot.  The fertilizer I chose was Mater Magic.  It is organic, feeds for three months, and can be used in pots as well as in the garden.  And apparently the cats seem to think it might be worth eating.  The container is now empty, but I still have it in my garden bag, and I have caught both cats with their heads deep in my bag intensely investigating the 'new smell'.  I wonder if it would help the cats grow "bigger" and "juicier" too!  Simon has the 'big' part down, but I doubt he is juicy.  I think I will play it safe and NOT feed the cats tomato fertilizer.  Though the idea does bring to mind a Willy Wonka inspired vision of a giant, round and red Simon being rolled away by singing oompa-loompas.....

Which brings us to the plants that are doing fabulous!  I am anxiously awaiting the first ripe Italian Heirloom tomato.  Although an heirloom, it is not from the mix and has not had any issues.  The fruits from the Italian plant get to be two pounds (~907 grams) each, so they somewhat resemble a Willy Wonka invention.  The photo at left shows four Italian Heirloom fruits with their supplemental support and my hand.  As you can see, they are already rather large, but not to the two pound size quite yet.  I know that the plant is supposed to be able to support the heavy fruits on it's own, but I did have a tomato fall off from this bunch, so I wanted to make sure none of the other ones fell; hence the additional support.  So far so good!

Another variety that is doing well is the Amish Paste.  I have four plants of this type in the garden and all of them are heavy with fruits.  As a paste tomato, I was under the impression that they would be somewhat Roma sized.  What is actually growing on my plants though, are rather large fruits!  The picture at right shows one cluster of Amish Paste tomatoes.  With my initial size estimate, I was assuming they'd be ripe by now, but apparently they have other plans.  I am hoping they don't all go the way of the super-giant Amish paste tomato that I have (below), because if they do, I'll have to use them green or leave them on the vines all winter long!  Covered of course, since this is Wisconsin.  I was also told (after I planted these) that Amish Paste are prone to blossom end rot.  Well, I am thinking that I was misinformed as these guys are perfect.  It just adds to the mystery of the varieties that did get affected.

Another plant that is doing really well is the Tigerella.  I have two of those and they have more fruits than they know what to do with.  They are also at the top of my list at the moment, because I saw signs of ripening yesterday on one of the plants.  Yay!  They make the top of the list for another reason too.  As my alternative to Mr. Stripey, they are out preforming my failed attempts on a major scale.  I am very happy with my choice, and I haven't even tasted them yet!  I am sure they will continue to please, and I can't wait to sink my teeth in.

(Tigerella plant in its cage above; Tigerella fruit at left.)

As was mentioned above, the plants on the porch have had it rough.  There are only three plants that have not fallen prey to the blossom end rot, and as all but one of the three is from the Heirloom mix, it is a wonder that the unaffected number is so high.  The non-heirloom plant is the Legend tomato (at right).  Tom calls it the albino tomato, because the un-ripe fruits are very light in color.  I am hoping that these guys start turning soon, but I guess I will just have to be patient.  It is very difficult waiting for vine ripe tomatoes!  But it is definitely worth the wait.  Nothing beats homegrown!

I will conclude this tomato update with a non-tomato.  Soon after my seedlings were transferred into their pots, a sunflower seed from the bird feeder made its way into one of the pots and took up residence.  Although the sunflower plant picked an occupied location to put down roots, I decided to leave it there.  It is now on the verge of blooming, and I can't wait for it to open.  Since it came from the birdseed mix, I am assuming it will make bird friendly seeds.  This will of course cause great excitement among the squirrels in the neighborhood, so I am not looking forward to that.  But until that point, I will enjoy the bloom and perhaps thwart the squirrels' efforts by covering the flower head when it starts to go to seed.  Now to decide what plant to update you on next...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberries and Storms

Just when we thought the yard couldn't get any emptier, we were hit by a storm this month that produced an EF1 tornado.  When we first moved into the duplex, we had to stare at an incredibly ugly tree that sat smack dab in the middle of the hill that is our backyard.  My dad was convinced it had been planted to act as a shade tree, but that theory quickly went out when the tree failed to even slightly shade the house or porch at any point during the day.  The next guess was that it was to keep the hill from eroding.  That theory seems more likely as the tree itself was a rapidly growing, invasive species not native to North America.  I'm sure the roots are doing their part to keep the hill in place, but the tree also managed to kill large portions of grass, invite grubs to take up residence below its long branches, and of course provide an eyesore of a view to all who gazed upon it.  Not to mention the thrill of trying to mow under the darn thing!  So one can imagine the joy that filled our home the night the tree was struck by lightning!  (Picture is of said tree after getting struck in 2009.)  The lightning strike was confirmation that someone out there, high in the sky, agreed that the tree had to go.  A tree 'expert' reviewed the situation and informed our landlord that the tree was a goner and needed to be removed.

By September of 2009, some trees in a neighbor's yard decided they too wanted to join in the fun.  Most likely caused by disease or over-crowding, a bunch of heavy trunks and branches fell into our yard and broke the fence in three different spots. (Some of the broken fence shown in photo above.) There was no storm that could be blamed this time, unless it was old damage that finally got the better of the trees.  This did not exactly clear space in our yard per say, but it did remove some visual aspects.

Fast forward to June 8th, 2011.  I was just minding my own business, sitting and watching the evening storm roll in.  I noticed that the wind was wiping things around and I kept hoping my plants were safe.  At some point, when I wasn't looking, the tall pine tree at the top of the hill fell down.  Just snapped right at the base and fell flat.  I didn't hear anything other than the sound of the storm, and I didn't see it at first, because it was dark. (Pine tree still standing at left.)  It was so odd and surreal and became even more so the next day when it came to light that there was in fact a tornado.  An EF1 tornado is the lowest grade they give, and from the time frame confirmed by the National Weather Service, the tornado sirens that DID go off were after the fact.  Rather scary, but I did not see anything that would have indicated a tornado.  Except of course the tree that went down!  Unlike the first tree that kicked the bucket, this tree loss was sad.  It was a rather nice looking pine tree and will be missed!

The good news in this story is that no one was hurt and my garden plants did not suffer the same fate as the tree.  Not to be outdone though, the strawberry plants have been experiencing their own issues.  We are days away from fresh, homegrown strawberries ripe for the picking.  This does not mean the berries will come quietly.  I first noticed holes appearing in some of the leaves of the plants after fruits had started forming.  This lead to an investigation that turned up two different insect pests!  One was easy to identify; the spittle bug.  Not a pest that one needs to do anything about, since they rarely cause significant damage, and they move on rather quickly.  The other pest was a bit trickier to identify and involved contacting an entomologist.  Turns out there are Strawberry Sawfly larvae feeding on my strawberry leaves.  How these little buggers got to Wisconsin is anyone's guess since they are normally found no further East than North Dakota!  Regardless I have been removing them by hand as I find them, and hope the ones I miss hurry up and turn into the primitive wasps they become as adults.

The hand removal technique has had a wrench thrown into it in recent days, because the strawberry fruits have started turning red.  This has caught the attention of other, larger creatures who could care less about the leaves.  I noticed some half eaten fruits and decided despite the insects, I had to cover the strawberries.  So now they are covered.  I checked today and there is no new fruit damage!  Success!  I hope this means we will actually get to enjoy some yummy, whole berries.  So far so good!

In addition to the above activities, I finally got all the tomatoes and peppers in the garden.  I also did something new this year; I mulched!  I have used black plastic 'mulch' in the past to prevent weeds, conserve moisture, and keep my plants' roots warm.  This year I put down the plastic mulch in some areas, and cocoa mulch in the areas I normally put grass clippings or nothing.  I am very pleased with the outcome.  It looks great!  And being cocoa mulch, it smells great too.  I also made a point to leave space for walking when I mapped out my garden this year, so that I can harvest easier.  Though I am not sure if it will work as planned since things have yet to reach their full size.  But at least I tried!

Now I leave you with a photo album, because there were too many pictures to post here.  Enjoy!

Blog Update June 14, 2011
 Click above to see album :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Weeds And Other Garden Plants

The month of May brought with it lots of rain, a few nights of frosts, and about a week and a half worth of random 80 and 80+ degree days!  This led to the inevitable growth of weeds in large numbers.  I have yet to completely rid the garden of the bulk of them (not that they won't come back), but I am working on it.  I did clear a rather good portion and then immediately covered it with black garden plastic, so at least I don't need to re-do that section.  Now to do the same or similar with the rest of the garden and I am good to go!

Since the temperature did not want to remain stable this month, I decided to delay planting my tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and watermelon in the garden.  But since they were all outside already, I had to do something to protect them when we got two nights of frost in a row.  That is where my lightweight row cover came in handy.  I simply made a giant tent for my seedlings, and therefore avoided mass death!  And mass death is something my peppers had already flirted with earlier in the month, so I wasn't in the mood to take chances.  For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you already know about the "pepper incident".  For the rest of you and for those who would like to revisit the horror (there is a happy ending though!), you can view it here:  Pepper Incident

Even with all the insanity, I did manage to get some actual non-weeding work done.  I finished digging those pesky old fence posts out of the garden and put down the plastic for the pumpkin and watermelon vines.  I got my lettuce bin half planted (seen at right) and swore at a squirrel just this evening who decided that the lettuce babies looked rather delicious.  This prompted the covering of the lettuce bin with more lightweight row cover.  (Take THAT squirrel!)

I finished off my direct-sow list with zucchini (first sprout seen at left) and cucumber.  When I planned my garden, I didn't realize that the cucumber seeds I got were a variety that prefer to be on a trellis.  So next on my list of things to do is build a cucumber trellis using bamboo sticks and twine.  Luckily I figured it out before I planted them, or that would have been interesting!

And speaking of trellises, two of my bean plants magically appeared out of nowhere (At right; May 24th).  There were signs of one plant peeking through earlier, but that was it.  I checked again two days later and BAM!  Two plants had come up in a completely different area!  And to confuse matters even more, the original plant I saw peeking it's head out of the ground, was still in the exact same position.  As though it had pressed the 'pause' button.  After seeing today that the 'paused' plant does not seem to want to press 'play', I went ahead and replanted.  It seems like I have had that happen every year with one or two bean seeds, even though I am trying a different variety this year.  I think they may be toying with me!

Even with the high winds today, I decided to put the pumpkins in their summer home.  They were getting way too big for their pots and I didn't want them to become root-bound.  I am sure they will enjoy their new home even with a bit of wind.  The watermelon seedlings will be joining their fellow super viners in the next few days!

And while I was getting the pumpkins acclimated, I noticed that the radishes looked ready.  Sure enough, they were ripe for the picking!  Now I don't like radishes, so I can't tell you if they are any good, but one of my radish-loving family members can fill me in and I will get back to you.  This is the first year I have grown French Breakfast radishes, so we will have to see how they compare to the round ones of years past!

I ended my day, and month, with the filling of the pots.  All 14 of them.  The two green ones in the back were already filled, so I am not counting them.  One never realizes how many pots one has until they fill those pots with dirt.  I think it is safe to say I have more than enough. :)

I hope to return relatively soon with a post or two about accessible gardening and a guide to growing and preserving catnip.  Until then, I wish you pleasant growing weather and happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Update, Pictures, and Wacky Weather

It is official!  My 'plant indoors' list is complete and I have already gotten part way through my 'plant outside' (direct sow) list.  The next few weeks should be pretty busy, depending on the weather of course.  It seems that no matter where you are in the world this spring (or fall) it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too unpredictable, too windy, or all of the above!  It is rather nerve wrecking and I think I speak for all of us when I say, "Cut it out!".  This week started with temperatures in the low 60's, followed by a leap into the low to mid 80's (today and yesterday).  We will end this week with days of rain and below average temperatures in the low 60's, upper 50's.  We should return to 'normal' by the middle of next week, but who knows how long that will last!  And yet I still feel lucky, because I know there are many gardeners and farmers who have lost everything to this crazy weather.  Every time I go to shake my fist at the sky I temper my frustration and send positive thoughts to those hit by tornadoes, flooding, and all other destructive weather so far this year.  It also makes me want to work extra hard to grow the best plants I can as a sort of symbolic share-cropping.  Here's hoping it works!

As my post title implies I have photos to share!  I shall use them as my update guide.

I put in some edging around my strawberries in a  hap-hazard fashion.  I mainly just want to keep them from spreading and I think it will do the job.  Or at least make it easier for me to cut the runners as they try to escape over the edge.  The ground wasn't exactly level, so that is the main reason the edging is a little 'off '.  I put it in on May 1st (date of the photo), and it is still in place.  Those bricks are no longer there, so it is basically on it's own.

My first outdoor plantings in the actual garden were beets, carrots, and radishes.  I used the radishes to mark the rows and they were already coming up on May 6th (photo at right).  I only planted one row of each with the plan of planting more in a week or two.  When I checked yesterday, there were beets pushing through the dirt and I suspect the carrots are close behind!  The soil was a bit dry yesterday, but I resisted watering, because of the coming weather.  Even with the high temps in the afternoon sun, the seedlings looked fabulous!

Other progress that was made in the garden yesterday, consisted of me getting the bean trellis set up and then planting the beans.  Hopefully this new position will not over shade the strawberries.  I think it will be fine, but we'll see!

Next I decided to work on removing the old fence posts that are currently where I plan to put tomato plants.  These posts were there when we moved in and since we expanded the garden this year, they are now in a bad spot.  We discovered that at least one of the corner posts is there to stay.  It is actually in an OK place, so that doesn't concern me, but the ones that are not in an OK place need to come out.  So I dug and dug and dug until I found the end of the first one.
Turns out the darn thing was about two and a half feet in the ground and so rusted that it bent rather easily (bottom stake in photo).  While working on the next one, I was about two feet down when it just wouldn't let me dig anymore.  I was hitting rocks and the soil was also a clumping clay at that point.  So I just broke it off and left the end in there.  And because there was so much clay, I added organic matter when I re-filled the hole.  After all that, I decided to wait on the others.  Two down, three to go! Ugh.

Before heading inside I took a look at my oregano.  As you can see, it looks rather... Dead. (Above)  Upon closer inspection, however, you can see that it is slowly coming back and will likely take over the entire container this year! (Pictures at left)

I have both Greek and Italian oregano in there, but I honestly couldn't tell you which is which anymore.  They even taste the same to me.  I have read that Italian oregano is supposed to be stronger and have a more pungent flavor, but as I said, they taste the same to me.  Even Tom can't tell the difference, so I wonder why they say that.  If anyone knows, please feel free to enlighten me. :)

Inside we go!  Here are just a few photos of my seedlings from May 6th and yesterday (May 10th).  First up is one of the Legend variety tomatoes from May 6th.  One of these will be in my parent's backyard. However, I do have extras.
Keeping with the 'parent's backyard' theme, we have the Sungold Cherry variety.  This photo was also taken May 6th, so this little guy is even bigger now!

Italian Heirloom tomato

Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Pepper catchin' some rays.

Habañero; short but HOT

Jalapeño peppers before I transplanted one of them.  They are enjoying their new found space.

Jack-o-lantern pumpkin on May 6th.  There are two in the pot now.

Mini overview of some tomatoes and peppers.  The tomatoes obviously like to show off their fast growing speeds. (May 10th)

One of two trays in my kitchen window.  All transplanted tomato and pepper extras.
And finally one of three trays sitting in the family room, sliding door window.  I drew an arrow pointing out how insanely big the Jack-o-lantern pumpkins have gotten in just four days.  The tray also includes Sweet Pie pumpkins, watermelon, and more extra tomatoes and peppers.  Did I mention I have a few extras?  Maybe a few isn't the correct terminology.  How about an abundance.  Whoops!  ;-)

Here's hoping the weather is tolerable wherever you may be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tomatoes and Sunflowers

As my 'start indoors' list gets shorter and shorter with each thing I plant, the weather outside gets crazier and crazier.  I would seriously like someone to come stand in my backyard wearing Spring appropriate clothing and attempt to convince me that Climate Change is not real.  I will watch from inside, as it is SNOWING out there, and see how long they last.  Snow has fallen in April here in the past, but it is not too common, and further North they are getting way more winter weather than is normal for this time of year.  Winter weather warnings complete with 6-12 inches of snow are NOT normal for spring!  I feel the worst for the Canadians as it appears Spring may skip them this year!  Here's hoping we all get to experience summer at least!

Though the weather can't seem to make up it's mind outside, inside the seedlings are oblivious to the temperature roller-coaster and constant change in form of precipitation.  Inside they live a relatively pampered life with constant warmth and plenty of light and water.  I know they will have to brave the elements at some point, but not until that white stuff stops falling!  And the tomato and sunflower seeds I planted a few days ago, have demonstrated their ignorance quite well.

I finally got the tomatoes and sunflowers started on April 14th.  I had hoped to get them started on the 10th, but first life got in the way, and then I discovered I only had about 2/3rds the amount of seed starting soil I actually needed.  I don't see this 'late' start being too big of an issue as most of the sunflowers and a good number of the tomatoes have already started peeking their heads out.  It started with a single sunflower three days ago and has progressed rapidly from there.  Out of the 33 cells, 18 already have sprouts.  The sunflowers are winning this race with ten of the 18, but I know the tomatoes will catch up!  Tom was rather surprised at the speed of the new plantings, but I guess the peppers sort of threw him off with their long germination times.  Still, that one sunflower may be on steroids! I'll have to have it tested. ;-)

This year's mix of tomatoes has a 'canning friendly' theme.  Since I ended up buying a good number of roma tomatoes from the farmer's market last year, I thought it might be a good idea to grow some of my own.  I went with Amish Paste, and discovered something rather amusing.  When I was planting the seeds, a large majority of the Amish Paste seeds were stuck, or "pasted" together.  I couldn't help but wonder if the term 'paste' was a little more literal than assumed.  They are one of the eight sprouts, so I don't think the stickiness is interfering with their germination.  I must say it is still rather humorous!

The second type of 'canning friendly' tomato I planted is an heirloom variety called Italian Heirloom.  It originates from Italy and produces fruits weighing over a pound each.  They apparently have a lot more flesh than seed, so there is little waste when used for canning.  Even the photo on the seed packet demonstrates this characteristic. (I bought my seeds at the Garden Expo, but you can get them too at  So basically, if the Amish Paste plants are a bust, there should still be plenty of canning worthy tomatoes to go around!  And although they are supposed to take 7-14 days to germinate, one cell of these already has a sprout too!

Now let's move on to the 'not-so-canning-friendly-but-super-fun' tomatoes.  The last couple of years I only planted tomatoes that I thought looked fun and yummy.  But after two years of canning experience, I thought I had better grow some varieties that worked better for that activity.  That doesn't mean completely getting rid of the fun ones though!

Fun choice number one is a relative of Mr. Stripey.  I have tried unsuccessfully two years in a row to grow Mr. Stripey.  I don't know why, but the fruits just didn't want to ripen, and took forever to get started in the first place!  The plant itself did fine, though the first year it fell prey to Late Blight despite being considered a somewhat 'resistant' variety.  My choice this time around is another heirloom,Tigerella.  Like Mr. Stripey, Tigerella is red with yellow stripes, has a rich delicious flavor (says the seed packet; I'll let you know), and has that wonderful habit of growing to a height of 8-10 feet.  One of the big differences between the two though, is that Tigerella produces medium sized fruits instead of large and does well even in cool summers.  That will be a plus if we get the amount of rain we got last year!  (*Cough, cough* Climate change!)

Next is the mystery pack!  I bought an heirloom mix packet with 30 seeds in it and planted two seeds in each of eight cells.  I don't have room for sixteen plants, but I wanted to make sure I got at least one plant per cell.  And maybe there will be even more pots full of random veges on my porch this year... (Don't tell Tom! ;-D )  Here is what may or may not come up: Aunt Ruby's German Green, Black Brandywine, German Johnson, Giant Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter, Pineapple, Watermelon, Beefsteak, White Wonder, and Yellow Brandywine.  I hope I end up with at least a few different colors of tomatoes, so that I can convince my mom that a tomato doesn't have to be red to be delicious.  Regardless of outcome, I think I'll do pretty well with any of the above!

And speaking of my mom, I have two different varieties started for her and my dad.  The first is a cherry type called Sungold that my mom picked out, I assume, because it says they are "so delicious you won't even believe you are eating tomatoes!".  And because she really like cherry tomatoes!  The second variety is one I picked out called Legend.  I have never tried it, but I picked it because of the following descriptors: Early to ripen; Excellent late blight tolerance; 4-5 inch glossy red fruits that are amazingly sweet; Determinate, so will do well in a container.  The Sungold was the first tomato to come up and the Legend variety broke through today.  My parents are well on their way to enjoying the literal fruits of my labor.

That leaves us with the sunflowers.  I really enjoy sunflowers, and was disappointed that I didn't get any started last year.  So this year I planned ahead and got some started so that they will be plants and not yummy seeds when I get them outside.  Nothing worse than planting sunflower seeds only to have them carried off by a scavenging rodent or bird!  And I should mention these are not edible-for-humans varieties, so they will not be inside the garden.  I went with two tall types and one short.  The short one was actually a free sample at my local garden store, so that is a plus.  Who doesn't like free seeds?  That variety is called Teddy Bear and actually resembles chrysanthemums more than the traditional sunflower.  No seed face surrounded by petals, but rather a pom-pom type look.  They are golden yellow, and only get to 24 inches in height.  I may put them in front of the taller ones, or in a completely different area.  I have yet to decide!

The taller varieties are Autumn Beauty and Orange Mahogany Bicolor F1.  Autumn Beauty grows from 5-7 feet tall with blooms in shades of lemon yellow, subtle bronze, rich wine, and bicolor combinations.  And if you let them go to seed, they apparently can be harvested as food for wild birds.  The Orange Mahogany hybrid produces 5-6 foot plants with orange and yellow bicolor blooms.  Unlike the Autumn variety which blooms in late summer/ early fall, the Orange Mahogany blooms all summer long and into the fall.  That means I will have plenty of beauty throughout the growing season!

Looking over my 'start indoors list', I am feeling pretty satisfied knowing that there are only three items left to go.  On May 1st, depending on the weather, I will start Watermelon, Pumpkin, and Pok Choy indoors.  That will complete my indoor list and we will hopefully be on our way to a great summer.  So weather, you had better get with the program!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Peppers- One Month On

Today is the one month anniversary of the 'Planting of the Peppers'.  Well all the peppers except Bhut Jolokia, Cayenne, and Hungarian Wax; The planting of which occurred just two days later on the 20th.  And although it can take from 10 days to 5 weeks for sprouts to appear, a good number of them showed their faces rather quickly.  In fact, by March 31st some of my seedlings managed to come up, then subsequently die due to damping off.  This sort of thing is rather upsetting in normal circumstances, but it is particularly maddening to me.  

The first year I started my garden, I also started plants from seed.  I was off on the timing, used regular potting soil as starter in peat pots, and did not 'correctly' harden off my plants before transplanting.  Everything I did was "wrong", and yet most of my plants lived and thrived!  There were no cases of damping off, and the only real issue was the late planting time.  

The next year, after doing research, I planted my seeds in a recommended seed starter mix and consulted my new "planting time" list.  I used peat pots again, but followed proper hardening off procedures.  When the plants were at the point where I was able to leave them outside 24/7, a large number of them mysteriously died.  I was sad and confused.  I took a few dead looking seedlings to the garden store, and was told the bad news.  I had lost my plants to damping off, and they weren't coming back.  The advice I was given to prevent the problem from occurring again was to use plastic instead of peat pots in hopes that that would stave off any lingering fungus and possibly reduce excess moisture.  

So this year I used seed starting mix in plastic containers.  I started everything at the correct time and have been careful not to over water.  And yet I STILL had seedlings damp off.  And they aren't even outside yet!  Very, very maddening!!!  From an action and consequences stand point, I have learned doing everything correctly is a bad idea, and doing everything 'wrong' is the way to go.  I think the damping off this time may have been due to a lack of air circulation, but that is no different from the last two years either.  There is some good news to report however!

On March 31st, I replanted the seeds that damped off.  This included two of the Peter Pepper cells, one Habanero, one Garden Salsa cell, and all the Yummy Blend.  I also planted the remainder of the Peter Pepper, Yummy Blend, and Bhut Jolokia seeds in round pots for an experiment.  I read in two different books that using chamomile tea water to water your seedlings was a way to help prevent damping off.  So I made chamomile tea, diluted it, and then let it cool to room temperature before using it to water the seeds in the round pots.  Then I waited.

And waited....
Notice the barren cells in the middle. (You can click the photo for larger view. )

I was pretty much ready to give up hope of ever seeing the replanted peppers emerge.  In fact I was so concerned about the Yummy Blend, which was planted for my parents, that I went to the store and got another sweet pepper variety and planted that just in case!  Everyday I woke up and went to bed staring at dirt.  Not seedlings emerging, but dirt. Then on April 16th, I looked at the round pots and my eyes got large.

The replanted and experimental Yummy Blend peppers had come up!  Only one of the three seen in the photo at right came up on April 16th, but that lone Yummy Blend seedling was soon joined by two friends.  And as you can see, they are doing pretty well.  I took the photo this evening after the sun went down, but you can see that I probably should have turned them one more time before sunset.  They are Leaning towards the light. 

The next pepper to "rock my world" was the Peter Pepper.  A single sprout came up two days ago, but I admit my excitement was not AS intense.  The main reason for that was because there were in fact Peter peppers from the original planting in one lonely cell of the pepper flat.  When the two barren Peter Pepper cells continued to remain that way, I moved two of the three seedlings into those cells.  Of course one of the contenders is pictured at left.  It has actually been like that, with the seed skin still attached, for several days.  It may or may not make it.  That would be why it is a good thing the back up(s) has sprouted!

And that leaves us with one round pot to go.  Now when I received the Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Pepper seeds, all I knew was that they can be very difficult to grow and that they need it to be HOT, even more so than their counter parts.  Upon picking up another book on chili peppers (the only plant specific books I own), I found out that the 5 week germination time applies to Capsicum chinense.  Which is the species of chili pepper Bhut Jolokia falls under. (Other familiar members include Habañero and Scotch Bonnet.)  So the fact that I hadn't seen any Bhut Jolokia was understandable.  However, with the whole damping off debacle I was getting nervous!  My Habañeros had come up with the rest of the peppers and only had that one incidence of damping off.  (One of the Habañero seedlings is shown above.) The replant of those in the regular pepper flat did not come up, but similar to the Peter Pepper situation, I was able to move 'extras' to the empty space.  With the Bhut Jolokia, I planted ALL the seeds I had and so far had nothing to show for it.  

So when I peaked into the mini greenhouse today, my expectations were low.  I removed the cover, and saw.... something!  Is that?  Is that a SPROUT!?!?  Still in disbelief, I had to get closer.  This involved removing the cellophane I had wrapped around the Bhut Jolokia round pot only, to give it even more heat.  Upon removing that it became clear.  Houston, we have a SPROUT!  :-)  Of course my label for the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper), made the event even better, because it was indeed as
though something 'dead' came to 'life' and said, "BOO!" to me.  It was the perfect start to the day and a great Earth Day present!

Here is a LARGE close up of the Bhut Jolokia seedling.  SEE!  It does exist! < -------

And so I leave you with some pictures of the rest of the peppers. 
Here you can see the entire pepper flat. (4/18)  The early risers and also the ones that didn't damp off, are much taller for obvious reasons. The cayenne and Hungarian wax are on the far left. (Click on photo for larger image)

Close up of the "tall" club.  This includes from left to right, top to bottom: Peter Pepper, Habañero, Mariachi, Garden Salsa (of which the replant came up), Serraño, Jalapeño, Super Chili, and Roster Spur.

Cayenne Pepper

Super Chili Hybrid

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Like It Hot

There are many people out there that enjoy the sweetness that a Big Bertha, Fat 'N' Sassy or Pimento can bring them, but there are also those who like it HOT!  And of course by 'some like it hot', I mean peppers, not the 1959 movie starring Marilyn Monroe, though perhaps she enjoyed hot peppers as well.  And if she did enjoy hot peppers, she would have been very good friends with me.  Or at least with my produce!  I received my Google Calendar notification earlier this week, that informed me it was time to plant the peppers, so I obliged.  And while there are a few of the 'sweet' variety in there, most of what I planted is in the medium to burning range.  Because, well, some like it hot!

At the beginning of this week I made a confession to Tom.  I informed him that I ordered more seeds.  He responded with, "Is there room in the garden?"  (What a silly question, I say!)
"Well, no... But that is what this pot that I also just bought, is for!"  I answered while motioning to the pot.
He just laughed.  Every year the porch gets more and more crowded with pots of  "overflow" seedlings, so I think he is getting used to it!  These particular seeds were an impulse buy (something I rarely do outside the gardening realm) for a friend.  And while some like it hot, there are also those who like it BURNING.  I am not one of those, but my friend Jesse, absolutely LOVES all things fire.  So when I happened across some Bhut Jolokia seeds, I jumped at the chance to get some.  Which I admit, is a bit insane!

Bhut Jolokia peppers are also known as Ghost Peppers or Naga Jolokia and have a SHU (Scoville Heat Units) rating of about 855,000.  They were once rated as the hottest chili in the world by Guinness World Records, but have since fallen to third place.  For a comparison, Jalapeños normally fall between 2,000 and 5,000 SHU; and Habañeros between 200,000 and 500,000 SHU.  So we are talking about a fire in your mouth, don't touch without gloves type pepper.  Just what Jesse loves.  However, I have heard these peppers can be difficult to grow, so I am crossing my fingers that they make it from seed through fruiting.  I will keep you informed as to how it goes!

At left you can see the pepper flat that I planted this week.  Included in the flat are (in no particular order): Habañero, Peter Pepper, Rooster Spur, Super Chili, Jalapeño, Serraño, Garden Salsa, Mariachi Hybrid, Yolo Wonder, Fat 'N' Sassy, Sweet Hungarian mix called Yummy Blend (for my parents!), and the sticks with a ghost and the word BOO on them, are where the Bhut Jolokia peppers will go.  You may notice that there are four empty spots with no sticks on the far left.  Those may end up being more peppers.... Once again, NO there is no room left in the garden.  However, I received free seeds with my Bhut Jolokia order, and I hate to let the cayenne pepper seeds go to waste!  Yes, I think I need to join an over-planters anonymous group.  Or maybe start one!

And speaking of planting, (or was it over-planting?), the next items on my list to get started indoors are celery, leeks, and red cabbage.  That is a task that should be completed by Monday at the latest.  You may remember that I have had green onions growing now for a few weeks, and you are probably wondering what is happening with them.  Well, I am not entirely sure.  At first they were doing REALLY well!  Standing up straight and enjoying life to it's fullest.  Then, they fell.  Just bent over and took a nap.  I thought maybe I over watered them, so I stopped all water and vented the tall lid that is on them.  I have been watching them, and they have started making second leaves and those leaves are once again reaching for the sky (or ceiling as the case may be).  So did I kill them?  Are the coming back to life?  We shall see.  I am hoping they rebound and do well, but I fear I may have messed this one up.  This is the first time I am growing onions, and I know they can be difficult, so that may be what I am coming up against.  Here's hoping they make it!