Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hot Peppers

We made a lot of salsa last year, and we used a lot of hot peppers. We didn't grow hot peppers last year, so we had to buy them from the grocery store whenever we wanted to make salsa. We learned quickly that you can't depend on grocery store hot peppers. First, you never know what kind they will have, and second, you never know how fresh or ripe they will be. Peppers lose their fire as they age, whether they are still on the plant or have been picked. We had to settle for flimsy peppers that were far too mild most of the time. So this year, we decided to grow our own, because we LOVE salsa!!

hot pepper in the sun

I ordered the fire mix from Park's Seeds, and sowed the seeds indoors in early February. Peppers are slow growers (harvest is 70-90 days from setting out transplants), so you need to plan far in advance of the growing season. Peppers are also very sensitive to cold, so always wait until the temperature remains above 50 degrees at night before planting. I planted our hot peppers in a pot on the patio to ensure they didn't cross pollinate with the regular green peppers in the garden. If you plant them too close, your green peppers will be warmer than intended! Peppers prefer a full sun location where they can soak in the rays for 6-8 hours a day and a steady supply of water. (The peppers are in a cream colored pot on the right in the photo below.)

back porch planters

The fire mix is a combination of 6 types of peppers; Anaheim TMR, Ancho 101, Garden Salsa Hybrid, Habanero, Jalapeno M, and Super Cayenne II Hybrid. The problem is that all the seeds come in the same packet, and they are not color-coded, so you don't know which peppers are which. I sowed enough seeds for 7 plants, but I had no way of knowing whether they were all the same or different! Pepper seeds all look the same to me. We have been harvesting peppers for several months now, and honestly, the peppers look identical, and do not resemble the photos on the website at all, so I have no idea what kind of peppers we are eating! It's all good though, because we have had a constant supply of crisp hot peppers for our salsa making.

As a side note, some seed retailers, like Renee's Garden, are kind enough to color-code seeds when they package a combination in the same packet. I prefer when they are color-coded so I actually know what I am growing!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I planted this lemongrass in May. It was very small at that time, and I had no idea it would become this big! I think I paid $2.50 for it from the Herb Festival at the WNC Farmer's Market. It makes a handsome addition to this grouping of perennials and annuals, and as the blades are beginning to turn red with the changing season, it is growing more lovely by the day. (As you can see, Norman is taking a pee on the lavender. He has already killed one lavender plant, so I think he wants to even the numbers out by killing one more.)

norman peeing on lavender

Lemongrass is a perennial herb, and is tasty in Asian dishes such as soups and curries. The blades are rather sharp, so you must dice it up finely to release the citrus flavor without slicing your tongue in the process! It also makes a lovely addition to the perennial garden or for use as a focal point in a mixed border. Be sure to give it lots of room, because lemongrass grows large very quickly!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Sowing the Fall Crop

It's been hot here. Too hot for the Fall crop, so I'm late getting it sown. It was in the nineties this weekend. Spinach and peas do not like temperatures in the nineties, but the first frost is knocking on our door, so I had to get to work.

I sowed some green beans about three weeks ago that I thought were bush plants, but this weekend I realized they were actually vines, so I had to drag the trellis out of the shed and place it awkwardly in the middle of the bottom left quadrant. Oops! I'm not sure how I got those seeds confused. My brain has been on idle for the past month or so.

green beans on trellis

I had planned to use the trellis for the Fall crop of sugar snap peas, so I had to come up with a new plan. I decided to try some tee pees made from branches. Ian was sweet enough to construct them for me. We'll see how sugar snap peas like climbing up branches. They may do better than they did on the trellis. I always had to tie them to the trellis, but they may wind up the tee pees.

teepees for sugar snap peas

So, the bottom left quadrant looks kind of weird. LOL! Do you see those huge plants in the top left quadrant? They're eggplants. We are currently drowning in an overabundance of eggplant! 12 plants was too many.

bottom left garden quadrant

LAST YEAR I had to dig the grass out of the bottom right quadrant to plant four rows of spinach and lettuce. It took me at least an hour to get enough grass out of the way to make room for the Fall crop. Do you see the grass on the edges of the photo? I cropped it out due to embarrassment, I'm sure.

lettuce and spinach

THIS YEAR I just had to pull up the spent squash and green beans, and tug a couple rogue weeds from the bed. I sowed these two rows of spinach in a line of compost to give them an easier start. Clay is a difficult medium for fine seeds to germinate. The compost also gives them a nice boost of food when they first sprout. We're going out of town next week, so we'll see if our house sitter is able to keep the seedlings alive!

rows of spinach sown in compost

I thought I had some lettuce seeds left over from Spring, but I can't seem to locate them. Oh well. Two rows of spinach will probably be enough greens for us any way!

We did a lot of garden clean up this weekend, removing the exhausted squash plants, green beans and tomatoes, and pulling up the weeds that made their way into the empty spaces. We have been SO HAPPY with the garden beds that we constructed. There were very few weeds in the beds, and although the soil is a bit compacted, it is NOTHING like it was this time last year. The time we spent building the garden this Spring will be paid back to us greatly over the next coming years.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Fusarium Wilt

The tomatoes performed so beautifully last year, that I decided to ignore all advice about crop rotation and plant them in the same spot this year. That was a mistake. There are so many diseases affecting tomatoes, and as they grow in the same area year after year, bacteria builds up in the soil that makes the plants more and more vulnerable to various tomato blights.

In early July, I noticed signs of Fusarium Wilt.

tomato blight

I removed all the affected leaves and sprayed with Serenade, an organic fungicide for use in the home garden, and fought off the plague for a while. However, each week the problem became worse and worse, with even more leaves and shoots shriveling up and dying until some plants were completely naked. I continued to clean up the plants and spray each week, nursing the plants back to health so we could enjoy a decent harvest.

tomato blight

Although I was unable to wipe out the plague, the plants are producing normal fruit, but since there are few leaves to provide shade to protect the sensitive fruit from the harsh sun, the fruit is cracking too soon before harvest, and the bugs are getting most of the bounty.

tomatoes got the blight

I will definitely rotate ALL my crops next year. I've learned my lesson!!

Although the harvest has not been as plentiful as last year, we have still canned up a good amount of salsa and tomato sauce. The Costoluto plants were least affected by the blight (and thankfully so - they're SO yummy!), and the Park's Early Challenge were most affected. In fact, I think the Early Challenge buggers started the whole mess! They won't step root in my garden again, that's for sure!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Plot of the Pumpkin

I'm quite certain this pumpkin vine is plotting to take over the yard, and just because there is a fence between ours and the neighbors' yards doesn't mean the neighbors should be too comfortable in their security either - pumpkin vines can climb fences. Oh yes. The entire neighborhood is at risk with this vine. Our only hope is an early killing frost, the pumpkin's one enemy. Well, that and a pair of pruning shears!

huge pumpkin plant

I planted pumpkins last year, and one fruit formed, but it rotted before it matured. I was a little peeved with my pumpkin production, since they are supposed to be easy to grow, so I tried again this year. I planted eight vines this year, but this one plant is the only one doing anything interesting.

We have two baby pumpkins!

Baby 1.

baby pumpkin

Baby 2.

baby pumpkin

My, what a unique naming convention I have employed here! I'm keeping a close eye on them for any signs of rotting. I'm not sure what to do when I notice signs of rotting, but NOT noticing rotting will make me feel good. So really, I'm keeping an eye out for NO signs of rotting. I hope to harvest a couple of pumpkins by Halloween!

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Beware the Saddleback Caterpillar

saddleback caterpillar

This peculiar little caterpillar may look interesting, but I advise you to keep from touching him. I accidentally brushed against one this morning while turning off the spigot, and now my arm has broken out in a burning rash! Naughty little saddleback caterpillar! He thinks he can just feast on my baptisia and sting me for no good reason! Well, he's probably right, because I'm too intimidated by him to do anything about it!

Apparently, his spikes are laced with a nasty venom that, when touched, feels a lot like a bee sting. I can attest to that!

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