March 29, 2008

Garden Shed and the Loss of Pepper Plants

This morning my husband and I put the handles and lock holder onto our new garden shed. It looks very attractive and is going to hold plenty of tools, pots and gardening supplies in a waterproof manner. I still haven't purchased a new padlock for the shed and additional keys for that padlock, but I am hoping to take care of that sometime this weekend. There is still plenty to do with the shed, mainly moving all my tools and supplies from the garage to their new location. I'm very much looking forward to having that additional space available in my garage.

On my way back to the house, I stopped to check on my little pepper seedlings. I was aghast to discover that all but a single cayenne plant had been eaten last night! I'm not sure what is going on. I've placed my pepper seedlings in this location before and they were untouched. What was left of the stems looked gnawed. I don't believe that this is my typical cutworm problem. That only seems to happen when the plants are in the soil of the bed. No, this looks like an animal had come over and eaten the leaves off of the stem and then gnawed the stem. I've moved the last little pepper plant to a place on top of our new BBQ box. I'm not sure if it is going to be safe there or not, but I will have to try. The plant is still too small to put into the bed, even with a cutworm barrier.

I will have one more chance to purchase rare pepper/chile plants this spring. Greenscene, our local plant fair is in a few weeks. A couple of organic plant groups sell plants there. I probably won't find anything super rare, but at least I hope to replace the Blushing Beauties which are my favorite bell peppers. It has been hit or miss with the plants and I haven't been able to harvest a blushing beauty for a long time. I'm hoping that this is the year I get a mature plant...and then can overwinter it into strength.

March 23, 2008

Garden Shed

The new addition to my garden this spring is a garden shed! It is six feet tall and almost 5 feet wide. It is a combination of shelves and a "broomcloset" to store tall garden tools out of the rain and weather. The shed is made of sturdy plastic and should keep my tools, pots and plant foods dry and more accessible to the garden. I am looking forward to getting all my gardening toys out of the garage at last.

We purchased the shed at OSH hardware about a week ago, however when we attempted to bring it home, we discovered that it was too large to fit in our SUV. We were forced to leave the shed at the hardware store while we figured out how we were going to get it home. After discussing the problem that evening, we concluded that the best way would be rent a U-haul trailer and pull it home. On Saturday, we got a 5x8 open trailer and went back to OSH with our pickup ticket for the shed. The workers there loaded the shed onto the trailer and it fit perfectly inside laying face down. We left the box it came in at the hardware store, and made sure that the back of the shed was on the floor of the trailer to prevent scratching up the visible surfaces. It was a bumpy drive home. The trailer is very light and even a small bump in the road made it bounce. I kept my speed under 40mph the entire way home because of this.

Once we got the shed home, we waited for my husband's friend to arrive and the two men hauled the garden shed into our backyard and positioned it next to the house. They used the gravel of my paths to make the shed level and it seems as if it was always meant to be there. I had measured the space that the shed was going to go into before we purchased it, so I knew that it would fit, but I had neglected to measure the size of the gate opening. We got lucky and the shed was able to squeeze in.

The shed still needs to have its door handles put on and a lock will need to be purchased for it before I can start to store things inside it. While I am not planning on storing anything of value in the shed, thieves have been known to enter backyards and take off with the strangest things in my neighborhood. Plus, since I will be storing fertilizer and other chemicals there, I feel it is safer to keep it locked from small fingers that might be visiting my home.

March 14, 2008

Garden Cleanup

I spent around 20 or 30 minutes this afternoon cleaning up the dead plants in my raised beds. All of the tomato plants had turned to crinkly husks that crumbled in my hand almost to powder. The chile plants were dried up sticks that pulled from the earth without resistance. The garden is uneven since I have cleared spaces where the dead plants were, but once this spring storm blows through on the weekend, I might attempt to move the chiles and peppers into more favorable locations in my garden and create room for new things. A few more weeds have popped up in the gravel pathway since I cleared it two weeks or so ago, but so far they are not in the way of my work and so I'll leave them be.

The easy cleanup this spring is part of the reason why I'm such a huge fan of square foot gardening or intensive farming. The raised beds mean that I don't have to bend down very far to work the soil or clear out last year's spent plants, the water usage and fertilizers are in small amounts so that saves me plenty of money and I am able to plant right next to my kitchen door so that fresh produce is always just a few steps away and I can keep an eye on the garden for pest control. I don't think that gardening gets any better than this. I once had someone scoff at my garden and called it a "child's garden" due to its small size, but you know, I don't need huge rows of dirt to take care of and the army of weeds that produces. Give me small and productive any day.

March 13, 2008

Monster Tomato and Pepper Sale

It is time for the annual Monster Tomato and Pepper Sale at the Fullerton Arboretum. This is the yearly sale where I normally pick up my chile pepper plants for the year. The Fullerton Arboretum is well known in my area for promoting gardening and they host wonderful seminars for both adults and children throughout the year. The pepper and tomato sale is their biggest fund raiser and I always look forward to it each year.

I went prepared. I have a little luggage cart with bungee cords and I made sure that I popped into the back of my SUV before I took off. The sale is held in the garden's potting shed and it is a bit of a distance to walk. When you are loaded down with little pots of plants, it can be a long haul back to the car. When I arrived at the Arboretum around 11am, I had to put my SUV in a queue since the entire parking lot was full. I was very surprised by the crowd, but then again, it was a bright sunny day and I could not be the only one wanting to be first in line to pick out the best plants before the weekend. The volunteer staff was organized and as soon as a parking space opened up, they guided the next driver in line to it. I found that the line went quickly. People got in, bought their plants and then went home in an orderly fashion.

When I arrived, I got myself a little cardboard box that the volunteers provide for free, strapped it into my luggage cart and then proceeded to go down the isles of chile and pepper plants. Overall, I was somewhat disappointed by the selection of peppers this year. Many of the more exotic chiles that I have found there in the past were not available this year. I picked up a single Tepin chile, one rocotillo and two long thin cayenne chile plants. Of the belles I purchased: 2 blushing beauty, 1 araine, 1 quatro de gallo. I did not purchase any heirloom tomatoes this year. I am still rather upset over dealing with the possum last year and decided to not bother until I can figure out a way to hang them and grow tomatoes upside down. This will keep the next harvest out of the grip of future poachers. With my little luggage cart, it was very easy to get my new little seedlings back to the SUV and thus back to my garden.

I've been looking over my garden this afternoon and I'm glad to say many of my plants survived the winter. Two cherry bomb chiles, one lemon drop, one pepperoncini, the fatali, red scotch bonnet, kung pao chile and the two italian horn pepper plants. While I'm sorry that close to half of the chiles didn't survive our cooler winter, in a way it is good since I will have room for new fresh plants.

March 08, 2008

Spring Cleanup

I've been neglecting my gardening blog for the last few months...and frankly, neglecting my little garden. Last October, we were very close to the wildfires that burned down a great deal of Southern California and dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster has been considerable. While we did suffer from extreme smoke for a week or two, otherwise our home is safe and for that I'm very grateful. Over 2000 homes burned to the ground all around us and the economy in our area suffered.

I left my garden on autopilot for the winter. I turned off the watering system and simply left all the plants to deal with the winter as best they could. We did get more cold temperatures this winter than usual and a considerable amount of rain. This is not as harsh as it sounds. It is what I normally do over the winter, although I try and at least clean up the beds and do what I can to help my chiles overwinter the cooler temperatures, which I simply didn't have the time to do this year.

I went out to check on my garden last week and found it covered in wandering jew vines that had snuck in through the fence from my neighbor's yard. Around half of my chile plants had died and all of the tomato plants were dried out husks. I worked on clearing the gravel paths first. Removing all the vines and the few weeds that had come up through the weed barrier and I removed a few of the dead chile plants along with the wire cages. The soil in the beds look dark and rich. I don't feel that I will need to add anything to it this year beyond a little fish emulsion. Once I get things completely cleaned up, I should be able to plant new salsa ingredients without any problem.

Meanwhile, my yards are waking up to the warmth of spring weather. The pink jasmine vines are loaded with white blooms and their scent fills my patio. The spanish lavender is starting to form heads and I suspect that I will be seeing their purple blooms within a week or two. The roses, which were pruned back to 18" of the ground in January, are now starting to spring up with new cane growth. I do not have any rose blooms as yet, but I don't expect to see any until late March or early April. I will give them a feeding soon to help them wake up from their winter dormancy.