On Ghost Peppers and Potatoes

*Hangs head in shame*

Overdue, because freezing overnight temperatures have pretty much brought gardening season to an end, and this sad garden journal has really been neglected.  I guess that means I’ve been too busy to sit down with my notes, but that’s not 100% the truth.  Anyway,  I have some thoughts and pictures to share about the gardening behind me this year.

First, Mr. Ghost Pepper.  I had to grow this one.  Had to!  Andy and I had watched a few episodes of Heat Seekers on the Food Network, and they were frequently encountering dishes with the ghost pepper in it.  They would eat these foods and end up in tears because they were so hot.  I was intrigued as to why anyone would want to eat these peppers.  And then, on an episode of Top Chef, a winning dish used one ghost pepper, and got huge raves from everyone tasting.  I instantly became curious about this pepper.  Surely it had some kind of flavors in it aside from the extreme heat.

I was gifted a small pack of seeds, and was very excited, but also afraid to see what all the fuss was about.  My plants grew well, and I found that these did well both in the ground and in a pot.  I could tell no difference, really between the two, as I had two plants in the garden and two in pots.  When I finally had red peppers, it was with serious trepidation that I harvested one to float in a batch of salsa.  Seriously.  I picked that pepper with rubber gloves on- and I used some tongs to handle it.  A knife cut a few slits and in it went to the salsa.  I was so worried about getting affected by the capsaicin in these things!

The first batch of salsa turned out great- really tasty, but suprisingly little heat.  Some, but I also used plenty of other hot peppers.   There was an underlying tropical flavor though that isn’t normally present in my salsa.  I was intrigued and wanted to take it a step further.  So I chopped up one ghost pepper very finely and made a batch of salsa with that.  That may be one of my best flavored salsas I’ve ever had.  There is still some heat, but it’s not the tear inducing heat that I was anticipating from this ghost pepper.  The flavor, though, is spectacular, there really is a reason people want to eat ghost peppers.  In fact, when you cut into one you can smell this amazing floral-tropical fragrance, and you really do want to bite into it.

I have not tasted a ghost straight up.  And I don’t intend to.  The plants themselves are very productive, and I ended the season with a pile of ghost peppers, and no plans for them.  In fact I easily ended up with about two gallons of hot peppers, and nothing to do with them.  It was a good year for peppers.  Overall, though, the ghost pepper is a keeper.  It should still be treated with care, after all the scoville units are through the roof, but it turns out there IS a way to tame the heat- and that’s what I was after.  I think I will always endeavor to have one ghost in the garden.

Potatoes, on the other hand, are a completely different story.  I was so excited to try potatoes this year, because I’ve heard that they are such an effortless vegetable.   I did everything I was supposed to, and my harvest was absolutely dismal.  I planted 12 plants, and ended up with this harvest:

No lie.  The tiniest handful of potatoes ever- and this was two varieties, Kennebec and Fingerlings.   I made a baked potato pizza with them- which turned out great, but all I could think was that this was a huge waste of growing space and good compost.  I don’t know what went wrong, and part of the problem could be the potatoes we started with.  I ordered them from a Wisconsin company- thinking that climate appropriate potatoes would be best.  But when they arrived, the potato pieces were covered with mold, along with a note saying that the mold was harmless.  Now, my plants did grow.  The plants themselves grew great- there were just no tubers in the dirt.  The two people I shared my potatoes with also had dismal crops, so I don’t know what to say about them.  According to what I’d read, the quantity of potatoes I’d planted should have amounted to a good fifty pounds of potatoes- which is about what we would go through in four months time.  To have one pizza to show for my efforts?

So I doubt I’ll be growing potatoes again.  At least while we are where we are with limited space.  As it is, right now I’m eyeballing the potato patch for an onion patch.  I’m determined to figure out how to grow those this next year.  This year for my salsa making, the only produce I needed to buy was onions and cilantro.  Now, growing cilantro is silly to me, when I can buy a ton of it for just sixty-nine cents.  And onions ARE inexpensive, but I’d love to be able to make my salsa with all homegrown vegetables.  I just haven’t had luck getting my onions to bulb up.

Though, I will confess, I have been reading up on SWEET potatoes, and am a little tempted in that direction too.

Garlic Harvest!

If this wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever grown, I don’t know what is!

Last fall I bought a large bag of organic garlic at a farmer’s market.  I brought it home with intentions that never matriculated, and in the end, decided it was time to try growing my own garlic.

Andy built me a long narrow bed, and I slid the cloves into the soil.  I covered them up with compost and began to wait.

And wait, and wait.

Come spring, shoots shot up, and I watched them eagerly, because that meant my garlic survived the winter just fine.

I watched them grow and grow, waited for the scapes to appear,  and when they finally did, the intense heat had arrived with them and the garlic plants quickly began browning.

I waited until about 2/3 of each stalk had browned- you want at least three green leaves yet for the longest storage abilities.

And last week I pulled up the garlic.  Just like that, I have about 24 beautiful bulbs of garlic.

Now they cure.  They literally sit and dry out. Once properly dried, the stalks will be braided, and I will have a few months worth of garlic anyway.   This process can take up to six weeks, but the garlic is totally able to be used right away.

In fact, I broke into one of those bulbs today for some fried rice for dinner.  Oh my, the garlic smelled heavenly.

I learned that I can space my garlic a little more snugly for next year, and I also learned that I am a huge fan of growing it.  It took no effort on my part, simply patience.   For next year I plan to add a second variety to the bed.  I can’t wait!

Lettuce Seed

It’s that time of summer where we’re suddenly out of lettuce.  Every plant that we’ve been harvesting off of has decided to flower and turn the leaves bitter.  The newer plantings of lettuce are not ready for eating yet.

I actually had to buy a small head of romaine today to make tacos.  Nuts.

Anyway, I’d been going back and forth on letting the lettuce go to seed or pulling it out and planting something else.  Well, it’s so blasted hot out that absolutely nothing is going to be sprouting and growing anyway, so for now, the lettuces are going to flower.

I was curious about the seeding process, and wondering what I was watching for. A quick Google search turned up a Youtube video that I thought I’d share here.

I’m rather excited about this.  Granted, lettuce seed is probably one of the ones I have an over-abundance of, but the variety I am growing right now is the perfect variety for us.  I’m hopeful the heat will make this a quick process and then I can get something else in the ground when it cools off a touch.  I want some more lettuce for fall, but I’m also thinking that I want to plant some turnips too.  We’ll see…

Garden Update: End of June

What a beautiful garden!  Every time it rains, the garden shoots up like gangbusters.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t been doing that much, and watering has had to suffice.  I’m really enjoying my garden this year, and I’m already planning how to deal with the abundance that will be rolling in soon!  Let’s take a tour!

This is my zucchini patch.  All three plants are doing great.  One is a bush zucchini, one is a traditional green, and one should be a yellow.  We’ll see what actually shows up!

Next door to the zucchini we have the tomatillos.  This bush is massive and so pretty with all the blossoms.  I’m still waiting for some of them to take, and I’ve certainly seen bees and other bugs about to do their thing… I think the second bush just needs to do some catching up.

The hot peppers, and sweet peppers for that matter, are really loving the heat.  We have blossoms, peppers and some growth.  Surprisingly, the Ghost peppers I have in pots are neck and neck with the ones in the garden proper.  I find that very interesting.   I think the peppers above are Bulgarian Carrot- which we’ve decided I need to try pickling for Andy.

The beans and cucumbers are doing amazing.  Many of the bean plants have the beginnings of blossoms- I’m hoping they can hold off until after our camping week coming up to start fruiting.   I have beans planted all over the place.  After getting only a few handfuls last year, I decided I wanted tons this year.  My freezer is just dying for several quarts of frozen green beans!

We’ve been sneaking a few carrots here and there.  The kids just love them so much!  I’d love for them to continue growing and get bigger, but it’s hard to resist a carrot fresh from the soil.  I do have more planted- these are from my March planting- but the germination on the second round is not as great as the first round.

So how about some tomato talk?  My tomatoes… wow, are they blessed this year!  They’re so large and deep dark green, and the blossoms are rolling in.  Many are bearing fruit already!  I have the thickest stems I’ve ever seen- I’ve been doing the Florida Weave for support, but honestly, these plants are four feet tall and don’t need the support yet.  Absolutely amazing.

Here’s one of the beds above.  This bed has the dwarves planted in it- which has been my only problem so far.  They’re shorter than the other plants (duh) and they grow slower, so using the Florida Weave has been problematic.  If I continue to grow dwarves in the future, I’m going to have to take that into consideration and plant the dwarves in rows together.

My Southern Night is in the bed above, and these are the size of the leaves on that plant.  I’ve never had tomato leaves this large!  It’s a potato leaved plant, and is also supposed to be a determinate- we’ll see how it does!

Here is some fruit on my Raspberry Lyanna! This was one of those varieties that I had to have once I read the description.  I have another one somewhere in the garden.

Here’s the second tomato bed.  This is the home of most of my cherries and determinates.   This bed is doing great, of course.

Here are some Earlinorth- true to form!  An early determinate, I have four of these in the garden, and am so eager for a taste!

The Sungolds are the first cherry to bear fruit as well.  I really wasn’t going to plant any of these.  Now I’m glad I did, because these guys may give us an early taste!

Here is bed number three.  There are also eggplants in this bed- no blossoms on the eggplants yet, but the tomatoes are looking wonderful.  I need to go out later today and fertilize this bed- a few too many blossoms have not taken for my taste.  Part of that could be a lack of pollinators, but I definitely see the bees working it, and I do my daily inspection and shaking, so we’ll add some fertilizer as a back-up.

Here is my problem spot that is causing me all kinds of angst.  At the very far right of this picture is my hot pepper patch.  At the top you can see some broccoli plants and kale plants.  And tomatoes.  Lots of them.  Every single one is a volunteer- there are at least a dozen, though I haven’t counted.  At the bottom of this picture is the second planting of carrots.  I just don’t know what to do here!  In this bed last year I had Sweet 100’s, Purple Russians, Black Krim and Pineapple tomatoes planted.  The Pineapple never bore fruit, but the others did… and for absolute certain, there were Sweet 100’s that were dropped.  Zander loves Sweet 100’s, and I didn’t plant any this year.   I want to leave some, but I just can’t bear to pull any out!  We’ll see.  At this point I’m thinking I’ll pull the smallest ones, and there is one in the middle of my kale that needs to go.  Sigh.  As it happens, I also have a cucumber growing in one of my tomato beds that I did not plant.  I was going to pull it out, but it lives on for another day.

And finally, here’s a picture of the potato patch, which appears to be doing well.  Some of the plants are flowering, and we’ve added dirt quite a few times.  The dirt is now up to the top of the cinder blocks, and I’m unsure if I need to keep hilling up or if there is enough dirt to keep the potatoes safe.  I have no idea, but so far, this growing potatoes gig is really easy.  If it produces, I think they’ve just become a staple in the garden.


My Apologies, But…

Comments have been turned off for a while here at Garden Notes.  My spamcatcher is not working for some reason, and I need some time to attend to it.

If you have a pressing need or concern, a quick search about my site will net you the e-mail address.

Hope to have this fixed soon!

June Garden Talk

It’s been a crazy spring here, and I must get better about updating here.  After all, this is my garden journal, and keeping notes in my head is NOT the ideal way to remember year after year.

Warning: This WILL be a picture-heavy and long post.  I hope you don’t mind.

We had our early spring warm up in March this year.  I promptly tucked seed into the ground.  I sowed radishes, lettuces, spinach, chard, peas, broccoli raab, and carrots.  Then it got chilly, we had freezing nights, frost, etc, but my seedlings soldiered on.  At the end of April I was feeling like sowing seed early hadn’t really been worth it.  Now I’m singing a different tune!  We enjoyed radishes in salads in early May!  We’ve been eating salads with homegrown lettuces and spinach for weeks now.  They’ve been delicious, varied, and free from the ground.  The shelling peas did poorly- I must need new seed.  The snap peas we will be harvesting this week, as the plants are suddenly loaded with burgeoning peas.  The Broccoli Raab I missed once again.  You really have to keep an eye on that one, because one day it’s ready to harvest, and the next it is in full flower.  I may try a fall harvest of that one, since it grows so fast.

Here is a picture of Garden Bed #1:

Look at those lettuces! We’ll be munching it a lot this week, as this past weekend’s heat seems to have rendered many of them pretty dang close to bolting.   The carrots are mixed in with the lettuces and look like they’re doing great based on the tops.  At the back you can see my bamboo poles sticking up.  Last week I pulled the last of the spinach and the two shelling pea plants as they were already finished.  In this space I sowed some pole beans and more romaine lettuce. No sprouts yet- any day now.

Bed #2:

At the back of the bed you can see the wall of snap peas.  The kids are SO excited about these ones.  The red you see in the middle is actually a trellis.  On either side of it I have planted slicing cucumbers along the trellis, and then bush beans to the right and the left.  The four feet of bed closest to us are the sweet pepper plants.  This bed is doing well, although I did lose one pepper plant to a squirrel digging.  After the peas have been harvested, that wall of plant will be removed, and I will attempt growing a watermelon and a cantaloupe on the pea trellis.  The kids wanted the plants from the garden center, and who was I to say no? Maybe this will be the year we have juicy melon from our own garden.

Bed #3 has been converted to a tomato and eggplant bed:

It’s doing really well.  I planted my tomatoes a few weeks early this year- I’d barely hardened them off even, but they’ve been thriving ever since.  I only had a few casualties after planting- and those were really sickly as it was.  This week Andy will be installing poles so that I can use the Florida Weave as support for this bed.  The eggplants are doing okay… I had a pretty awful aphid infestation and they went to town on the eggplants.  I actually sprayed a pesticide, which seems to have taken care of the problem, thankfully.  I’m usually against such things, but by golly, I want my vegetables.  Plus, by the time these are actually fruiting there shouldn’t be a trace of pesticide anywhere.

Here is a close-up of my Malakite Box tomato plant.  It’s massive.  I’ve never had a main stem as fat as the one on this plant- easily the diameter of a quarter. The blossoms on it are massive.  I am drooling just thinking about these tomatoes!  As of right now, I have never had tomato plants so healthy and vibrant looking.  I’ll get a better photo later- I was dodging the sprinkler.

Here is Bed #4:

This is the hot pepper bed, which you can see closest to us. At the back I have pole beans planted at the red trellises.  I also did one side of cucumbers- we’ll see how those do.  Between the trellises and peppers on the right is a brassica patch.  I sowed broccoli, two types of kale and brussels sprouts from seed.  The kales are looking great, we’ll see how the others do.  On the left I have a good six feet of additional carrot seed sown.  In between the bean trellises I sowed extra chard seeds and lettuce seeds- and those seem to be taking off too.  I wanted to maximize my growing space this year.

On to the Potato Patch!

This is brand new to me.  I have half of this space planted with Kennebec, and half with Fingerlings.  It’s a cinder-block bed, which I’m rather liking the look of.  Andy literally threw this together- and you’ll have to forgive the debris laying about, as gardening has been done on the fly this year.  I think I would like to see this patch raised up one more level of block, but then Andy will probably have to re-do it after the potatoes are done.  I also want to plant the actual holes of cinder-block with chives.  Both garlic and regular- I think that would be the perfect thing to utilize those small squares for.

On to some new additions to the garden this year!  Andy built me two new raised beds just for tomatoes.  This is the sunniest part of the yard, so we wanted to see how tomatoes would fare here.

This first bed is where I have planted cherry tomatoes and determinates.   I’ll get into more details about tomato varieties in another post, but if all goes well, I will literally have a rainbow of cherry tomatoes.  I have red, yellow, green, orange and white cherry tomatoes planted, as well as some yellow pears.  The determinates are doing great- one of my Earlinorth plants is already loaded with blossoms.  Here’s a picture of him:

This next bed is also just for tomatoes.

In this bed I have some dwarfs planted, and then a real variety of heirlooms.  In  both of these tomato beds, Andy has installed soaker hoses, and that seems to be working really well to water these plants.  It took a bit of configuring to make sure the hoses hit all the plants, but it looks good right now.  Both of these beds will also be altered this week for utilizing the Florida Weave.   All told I have over 70 tomato plants that are alive and healthy.

In front of the tomatoes is the Garlic Patch, also a first for me:

This bed is loaded with weeds, but I was afraid to pull them out, for fear that they would disturb the growing garlic.  I never saw any scapes, and the stalks have just started turning brown.  I guess I’m supposed to wait for them to turn brown about 2/3 of the way, and then I can check a bulb to see if it’s ready for harvest.  I anticipate that will be in July.

Continuing around the yard, here are my Ghost Peppers in pots:

I also have two of those in the garden proper.   I wanted one for sure in the pot so that if they’re not ready before fall freeze, I can bring a pot inside.

Here are the Tomatillos and a rogue raspberry plant:

The large tomatillo I started from seed, but I only had one take off.  Tomatillos need a partner to produce, so I bought a second plant from the garden center.  It’s so much smaller, but already pushing blossoms, so hopefully we’ll start seeing some pollination soon.  The rogue raspberry we’ll see about.  I think it’s a black raspberry, actually, but it appeared out of nowhere.

Here are my Zucchini plants:

I started them with the ice cream pails to keep the rabbits from eating them.  They’re just too big for my raised beds.  They’re doing well enough that I’m already nervous about having so many zucchini.  Also on Andy’s agenda this week is building me a cage so I can take the buckets off.  As you can see from the one on the right,  they are ready to have the buckets off- though the buckets did work great at keeping the rabbits away from the tender sprouts.  I’m unsure at what point my plants would be considered safe from harm, so Andy will cage them.

And lastly today, here is one photo of some of the herbs:

What you can see here left to right is some Green Onions from last year,  Lovage, Sage and Lemon Thyme.  The Lovage is absolutely massive.  These all came back from last year.  I also have regular Thyme and some basil, as well as parsley in the lettuce bed, as the rabbits are too fond of that one.  I need to pick up more basil plants yet and make a note to start more basil plants next year.

Note: Start more basil plants next year.

So the garden is looking well.  We sure could use some rain, but the sprinkler and soaker hoses do seem to be doing a good job keeping everything going.   I’ll get into more detail about a few things soon- especially the tomatoes.

Gardening 101: Choose A Spot

Wow! Has spring sprung up with full force!  With these beautiful sunny days, it’s the perfect time to find the ideal spot in your yard for a garden.  Keeping in mind that the sun will shift a bit over the growing season, by chronicling the sun’s trek across your yard, you can see where the sun shines the most, and where unexpected shade appears.

The ideal minimum amount of sunlight for a garden is six hours.  Some greens, like spinach, will grow with just four hours of sunlight, but they really do struggle with such a small amount of sun.  Any spot where you can pretty much guarantee six hours of sun will work- more is obviously even better.  But even then, some shade isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.  Lettuces, for example, like to bolt when it gets too hot.  A bit of shade will slow the bolting and extend the lettuce season for you.

So what I like to do when planning a garden is to choose landmarks in the yard and make a simple spreadsheet on a piece of paper.  Choose a day when you expect abundant sunshine, and when you can be around to check the yard every half hour.  Mark your paper in half hour increments down one side, and across the top label with your landmarks- the landmarks would be potential spots for a garden location.   Then every half hour, check on each landmark and note whether that spot is in full sun, some sun, full shade- as well as what is shading that spot.   Once your day is done, go through your chart and add up the time.  As I mentioned, you want six hours of sun at minimum, so any space that is less than that should probably be eliminated unless that’s your only option.  (And in that case, you’ll want to focus on shade gardening, something I’m not as familiar with.)

Keep in mind, as you’re choosing a spot this time of year, that the trees are naked of leaves yet.  It’s amazing how much shade a scrawny little tree will provide, so note that down as well.  We’ve found that having trees on the north side of the garden can provide more shade than you would think from overhead.  Sometimes this can be good, but sometimes a few branches may need to be pruned.

But now you should have an idea where you should place your garden.  Next, you’ll want to think about the type of garden you want to plant.  A garden planted directly in the ground is good, traditional, and does work.  A raised bed can be much easier to work with, but it does require some planning ahead and more materials than planting in the ground.  Critters should also be considered.  Where we live, our gardens must be fenced- yes, there is wildlife even here in the city.  I also need to cover newly planted soil with bird netting or the squirrels will dig and decimate.

One of the beauties of gardening is that you can go as small or as big as you like.  As you’re considering your spot, consider the size.  If you’re opting for a raised bed, you really don’t want them any wider than four feet in one direction, as you need to be able to reach into the middle of it.  After that, they can be as long as you like.  My gardens are ten feet long, four feet wide, and absolutely perfect for me.  An in-ground garden can be wider, but you will want to account for walking paths- allow a good foot-and-a-half inbetween rows- two feet would probably be better.

There are many books and websites out there dedicated to raised bed growing- the most popular probably being Square Foot Gardening.  I love square foot gardening, but for anyone who is considering building a raised bed, I have yet to see a step-by-step tutorial as thorough as the one over at Pioneer Woman’s website.

So choose a spot wisely, choose your gardening method, and also start considering what kind of vegetables you would like to grow.  Up next, I’ll talk a bit about soil and what you need to know.

Watch This Space: Gardening 101

As my thoughts are fully focused on the coming gardening season, I thought it was high time that I took the blog space to really detail how to make a vegetable gardening- right from the very beginning.  It’s February, and while we can’t work in the yard yet, we can plan, and that makes this the perfect time to take you step-by-step through the process of planting vegetables.

It’s not hard.  It’s really not, armed with a few basic tools, seeds, and dirt, anyone can plant a few seeds and reap a harvest.   I hope to take some of the mystery out of the process and inspire others to take up vegetable gardening. There are few hobbies out there with such wonderful rewards- there’s nothing like pulling a carrot out of the dirt and handing it to your child.  There’s nothing like pulling a tomato warm off the vine and sinking your teeth into it like an apple.  There’s nothing like sweeping aside a few leaves of a cucumber plant, only to discover a whole army of delicious cucumbers just waiting to be sliced.

Let’s garden together, shall we?

January Planting Update

My dwarf tomato is doing beautifully.  It’s really happy in my window, even though we’ve had more grey and gloomy days than sunny days.   I really like the pot it’s in too- bottom watering is great!

My ghost peppers have finally sprung forth.

I was so excited when I saw a sprout finally start poking out, only to have it quickly joined by seven others.  I swear, I planted seven seeds, and I have eight peppers.   I have plans to put two in my garden, one plant in a pot, one plant goes to my dad, one plant is to give to a friend… but beyond that… I have three plants that are going to need homes.  I feel like I need to be responsible with these peppers- I don’t want to give them to anyone with pets, or with small children who could be curious.  The heat of these ghost peppers can be painful… So we’ll see where these end up.

I also have some Thai Basil sprouting up.

I’m really anxious to start garden planning!  I have all the tomato seed I’m going to get.  I think.  I still have two seed orders to put in, as I have plans to grow a lot of beans and lettuce this year.  I have at least six different varieties of romaine that I want to try, as romaine is our favorite lettuce.  I can’t tell you how many kinds of beans I have- mostly pole beans, but some bush beans.

And eggplant.  I’ve remembered that I want a few eggplants this year, so I have a few new, small varieties to start.

I’m excited!  I didn’t even come close to maximizing the potential of my garden this past year.  I’ll be able to harvest from my rhubarb plant as soon as it produces, and I’m excited to see what the blackberries, raspberries and asparagus do.   I definitely have some dirt amending to do in the raised beds, so that will need some attention first thing.

It’s going to be a very good, very productive year.  I’ll be going through seeds in the next week or so here.  It will be something to do while we wait for warm weather.

1 2 3 4 5 15