April 26, 2006

Planting While the Sun Shines

Normally, I don't put transplants into my raised bed until they have gained enough size to combat cutworms and other pests, but due to the pending rain tomorrow and my busy work schedule next week, I decided to risk it and planted the six chile plants that I purchased at Green Scene last weekend. Each one got a cutworm barrier around it and a good watering. I am pleased that the entire length of my bed is planted this year and I am confident that all the plants will get enough sun to produce well despite being in the narrow strip between two houses. Well...except for one spot where I had lost the garden salsa plant. If I have time, I'll try and get that replacement pepper plant this week and pop it into the bed too. Hopefully my little specialty peppers will survive and produce. I'm looking forward to my first homegrown scotch bonnet!

I also planted the two tomato plants I had purchased a few weeks ago. I decided to not add to the soil level in the other bed. There is a good six to eight inches there of wonderful composted soil. I'm sure that between the better sun exposure and good earth that they will produce a bumper crop.

I planted a few more things after I got the chile garden done, flowers and vines. I do love to grow flowers and surround my patio with color. It is one of the pleasures of having a yard in Southern California.

April 23, 2006

Loss of a Garden Salsa Plant

I went out to check on the new chile plants that I have not planted in the raised bed, when I discovered that there had been an attack in the garden. Four of my chile plants have been chewed by an animal of some kind and one of the peppers was smashed as if something had landed on it and thus broken the stem. I decided to remove the broken garden salsa plant since it only had a single leaf left. Most of the plant lay like a dead soldier beside the stem. The break looked fresh, it couldn't have happened more than an hour or two ago. The others are damaged, but I hope that they will recover. Did a neighbor kid throw a ball over the fence into my garden? Did a cat land there and then claw at the plants around it? Is it a rabbit or mole? There are no tracks in the bed and no ball...this looks too big to be the work of cutworms. It is a mystery as to what caused this.

I don't have time today, but I will buy a replacement pepper for the space. I'll get a third pepperoncini since my husband likes them and I only planted two plants this year. I'm curious about the garden salsa chile, but one plant is enough to test it. I have plenty of fresnos and hungarian wax peppers to make salsa with after all.

I've also removed a few of the cutworm barriers from my chile plants. They are getting enough size so that they can stand up to a cutworm attack. The little cups just came up out of the ground and over the plant without a problem. I should be able to reuse the plastic cups for many years to come. That pleases me. They are not expensive devices, but I would like to keep the costs down as much as possible in my chile growing hobby.

April 22, 2006

Green Scene

I returned to the Fullerton Arboretum for their annual Green Scene Garden Show. It costs $6 to get in, but if you are looking for unusual plants for your garden, it is the place to go and worth the price. Most of the booths were of garden clubs looking for new members that were raising money by selling herbs, heirloom tomatos and chile pepper plants. There was a booth with a ceramic artist selling pots, cups and bowls, two booths selling african baskets and hats, a booth of cement garden art and a greyhound rescue. It was a much smaller show than last year with less diversity among the vendors. Attendance was lower due to the rain clouds that threatened overhead. Still, there were plenty of little red wagons being drawn by happy women who were buying plants in glee.

I was able to find the final six chile plants that I wanted for my garden and at a lower price than the nurseries are charging for their regular chile plants. Thankfully, the garden club had cardboard boxes available to take your plants away with since I had forgotten to bring a market bag and it was a long walk back to the car. I bought two cherry bomb hybrids, a kung pao, a red scotch bonnet, a chocolate habanero (i'm hoping it is a congo black) and a bulgarian carrot. I'm glad I went early to the event, because the more rare chiles were already getting low at the booth. Most of the chiles that I purchased today will be new to my garden. This is going to be a fun growing season for me.

April 19, 2006

Dreaming of Salsa

I am experiencing a bit of a snail problem in my pepper garden, but thus far they seem to be more attracted to my two tomato plants than the peppers. I am hoping that I will not have to take action against them since I like to keep my gardens as organic as possible. I still have not planted the two tomatoes, but I am starting to water my second raised bed in order to soften up the soil where I wish to plant them. This bed already has double cinderblock walls, but it could use more soil and a bit of compost before I plant it. Usually, my husband takes this raised bed over for his own gardening, but he has promised me 2 sqft of it so that I can plant two tomatoes for my salsa making efforts this summer.

Our local gardening club sponsors a salsa making contest in July. To enter, your salsa must be made from peppers and tomatoes that you have grown yourself in your garden. I may be entering the salsa contest this year, if I can find the time in my work schedule.

April 15, 2006

First Pepper Blooms

The rains have been heavy and constant for the past two days. This has to be one of the wettest springs we've had here in Southern California for a very long time. I think that the young pepper plants are thriving in it. The water is keeping the insects at bay and the plants are all shooting up new stems and leaves. I'm growing hopeful that my fish pepper and fatali, both of which were chewed to almost the point of no return, will recover! I'm growing tempted to place them in the bed with cutworm barriers, but I'm going to stay my hand at least one more week and give the two plants a bit more time to catch their breath.

The sun has come out this afternoon, although not for long I am sure. Upon inspecting my pepper patch, I was pleased to note that three of the plants have put out their first blooms. A fresno, a hungarian yellow wax and a thick cayenne. There are those that remove the blooms from the plants until June or July to stimulate root growth, but I think that I will leave them be. Let the plants soak in the spring rains and grow as they will in their new home.

April 12, 2006

Cutworm Barriers

The rain has departed, at least for now! Outside it is bright and sunny and song birds are chirping away with glee. I will have to remember to put new birdseed into my feeder for them. The pepper plants are starting to get over their transplant shock. The few that had tipped over a bit are now growing upright. They seem happy in the new raised bed.

I managed to place cutworm barriers around my more delicate pepper plants and so far, the barriers are working! This is a method of organic protection that my friend Bobbi Ann Chukran told me about last year. She likes to grow Texan piquins in her garden and this is how she protects them. This is the first time that I've tried this method and so far, it seems to be working well. I can't tell you how many of my little pepper seedlings have been murdered by cutworms! This year I am hoping to change that.

BTW, Bobbi has just published her first murder mystery novel. "Lone Star State of Death" is a history mystery with a well-researched Texas setting and fine cast of characters, including Sam(antha) Slater, a sleuth with gumption and a sense of humor. You can download the first 2 chapters of her novel for free via her website.

To make your own cutworm barriers, you first take a plastic drinking cup. Mine is a 16oz size one. You cut out the bottom, leaving a few inches of the cup. After you plant your seedling, you put the cup around the pepper plant and press it into the soil about an inch. Voila! The plastic is slippery and doesn't allow the cutworms to get to the stem of your plant! It not only saves your plants, but it is a completely organic method.

April 10, 2006

Planting Chiles Before the Rain Arrives

The current rain storm is moving into the area. Although the sky was very overcast, I decided to try and get my garden planted this morning while it was still dry outside. I purchased more chile plants at Armstrong Nursery. Four fresnos, two hungarian yellow wax, two garden salsa and one celebrity tomato plant. Next, I bought four more bags of garden soil at the Home Depot. While there, I noticed that they had pepperoncini plants on sale, so I picked up a pair of them too. I have never grown garden salsa or pepperoncini peppers before. I'm glad to have a couple of new varieties of peppers in my garden this year.

Once I got home, I put the soil into my raised bed and was rewarded with a soil level that comes almost to the top of my double cinderblock raised bed sides. I feel that I finally have enough depth in my garden to give my plants real root support. Once the soil was spread, I planted most of my pepper plants. The only two I didn't plant were the fish pepper and the fatali, simply because they are still very small and more susceptible to cutworms. They will have more protection in their plastic pots while they gain some size.

Just as I was finishing planting the last the of peppers, the rain started. So I quickly called my dog to pop her into the house and then got all the trash picked up and tools stored. The only thing that I didn't do was put in guards around the chile plants so that they would have some cutworm protection in the night. I'm worried about the plants, especially the ones that I purchased at the Potting Shed since I can't replace them if they are killed by cutworms. However, with all the rain outside, I might have to just cross my fingers that the plants are large enough to survive the insects since it will be a soggy proposition to install cutworms guards today.

April 05, 2006

Atypical Storm for April

The atypical storm continues outside. We've had drenching rains, thunder, lightning and even HAIL. All this in April??? I'm very glad that I worked so hard last Sunday since I would not have been able to do any gardening at all this week due to the weather. According to the weather services, the storm will continue on into next week. Well, at least it will entertain the dog. She has been fascinated by all the noise on the roof!

One concern I do have. My pepper plants are starting to be chewed by bugs again. This is not going to do. I am considering going out in the rain tomorrow and buying some marigolds and leaving them near the peppers. Perhaps this will keep the bugs at bay until my peppers get enough growth on them to fend off the insects and the cutworms.

April 03, 2006

More Soil for the Raised Bed

The bright sunshine that I awoke too soon disappeared as the rain clouds slowly rolled in. It is supposed to start raining again early this evening. Although I am supposed to be working on new stock for my art booth, I decided to take a little time to go back to the Depot and pick up six more bags of garden soil. I poured them into my bed and then did a quick clean up. All my tools, the hand truck that I use to transport the bags and the trash is out of the yard before it gets wet out there again. The soil level is still not quite where I want it to be, but the cost of new soil is getting to be high and I still have a second bed to prep for tomatoes and peas. I have close to 8" of soil in the raised bed and I think that might be enough for the peppers this year.

I did a quick check of my new pepper plants. They were getting a bit bug chewed where I was storing them before so I moved them to the pepper bed to wait in their pots. They don't seem to be more bug chewed this morning so I will leave them there to get used to the location before I plant them into the bed. One disappointment I had this morning was that I discovered that instead of picking up a red and a yellow corno de toro, I have two red ones! So right now, I have no sweet yellow peppers. I should have read the labels more carefully at the arboretum sale. I will have to swing by the Potting Shed in Fullerton and see if they have any of the yellow toros left, otherwise I'll have to find another sweet yellow to substitute. I still need a few more moderate heat chiles as well, so I will be searching the nurseries as usual this spring. More fun! :)

April 02, 2006

Rebuilding the Garden Space

There is something satisfying about being outside and working with your hands on your own land. I've been impatient to begin my raised bed project and get my chile plants in the earth, but with all the rain we've been experiencing...and more rain predicted next week, I was starting to wonder if I'd ever get the task done. I started early on my garden project and didn't wrap up until the sunlight had shifted into that golden hue we call magic hour. The weather was sunny and warm with just the hint of a breeze. Songbirds flittered in the trees and one of those little brown lizards kept scampering across my patio. I don't think that he knew where to find a safe place to hide for the day. It was the perfect day to do some gardening.

My first task was to use a shovel to clear away the gravel from the far end of the yard where the new garden space was to be. I decided to move 3 feet worth of garden space instead of the mere two that I originally had planned. Once the gravel was clear, I moved the cinders from the closer end of the bed to the cleared space at the other end. Then I used the shovel to move the rich soil that was left behind into the new raised bed area.

It was strange seeing the galvanized mesh that I had put down years ago to prevent moles from coming up in my garden. When I had first planned my garden, my neighbor from across the street had told me many stories of moles dying in her swimming pool and eating all her vegetables, to the point where I wasn't going to risk dealing with the little critters. I have never seen a mole in my garden and I had started to wonder if I had been silly to worry about the little rodents, yet when I looked closely at the soil under the mesh, sure enough, there were large tunnels leading up to where my garden would have been! I'll be darn....there be moles here! My mesh idea had worked!

Once the single row of cinderblocks were placed in the new location, I went ahead and put on the second layer of bricks. I am not very strong and had to move one brick at a time, but the task was simple and it went quickly. Fortunately, I thought to wear leather gloves to protected my hands. Those cinderblocks are very dry and scratchy. When I had put all 26 cinderblocks on, I discovered that I had miscounted the number of bricks needed and was six bricks short. So I made a quick run to the local hardware store for 6 more bricks and two bags of pea gravel to cover over the exposed end of the bed. The rest of the level went on quickly and I was able to get the gravel down to create the new path area.

I decided to return to the hardware store and I picked up a few bags of garden soil, peat moss and steer manure to start filling my raised bed. I managed to fill the bed just passed the first cinderblock level, so I know that I'll need more soil. Unfortunately, I'm out of time for the day and with more rain coming, I wonder if I will get those chiles planted this week after all?

After that, I did a bit of cleanup. Old pots that had been lying around for the past year found their way to the trash. The plastic bags that the gravel and soil came in were thrown away. I moved my little greenhouse into the newly cleared space where it now will serve as a tool and pot holder. My watering can seems to fit in there too. What is good about using the greenhouse is that the plastic cover will keep my tools and pots more protected from the weather and from all the pine needles that fall in that area. My side yard is looking neat again, the new bed has all the major work completed on it and I finally have that little shelving unit in a useful place.