Monthly Archives: April 2016

Two Weeks Into 2016

The weather the last few days has been cool and wet. Cool but not cold. We’ve had a few nights where the lows hit the mid forties. According to the map we are done with that and I have plans to kick the peppers outside this weekend.

The cool and clouds have not slowed down the tomatoes. I was staring at them, in somewhat shocked horror yesterday. Today, it is no better. My plants are enormous and thriving. We are far beyond where we were this time last year. The plants are a month older and it shows.

009

038

I decided to start installing supports. The one that is up is my weaker Sun Gold. It had tipped over the other night and I grabbed a cage when I got home from work and re supported it. It was a plant that was damaged when it was young and while I have buried it deep, it seems that it struggled with its own stem. Mixed with soft soil and heavy foliage, it decided to lay down.

039

It looks like we lost ta blossom as well. That may have been to the cold and wet. I’m not sure. The rest of the plant is healthy and it has stood up. I realized I put the support on backwards and flipped it around. The plant is standing on its own for now but I expect it to sag back down under its own weight soon enough.

The cages serve two purposes. To contain the plant and to support the plant (and fruit). Tomatoes are vines. They will happily lay down and grow out and about on the ground. This leads to a lot of rot of the fruit. It is also messy and I have to admit I like things looking neat.

I was a victim of the ignorance that is buying tomato cages. The little 3 foot high ones are to small. I have some but they are supporting my peas.

024

A lot of the larger cages are beyond what I can do on my deck. If I had a house, I suspect I’d build PVC cages and use fencing wore. As is, I have a deck and have chosen Ultomato Tomato Plant Cage due to their flexibility. I’d been buying them at Home Depot for 7.97. I cleared them out and they have not restocked. But, when writing this I saw them on sale at Amazon for the same price. I paid a dollar more in the end. I’m okay with that. Some of my plants really are in need of cages.

013

This Black Krim for instance decided that it wanted to grow off to one side. Then, it wanted to grow a fork in its main growth stem. I hauled it in, and supported it up high. It is leaning firmly on its bracket now.

035

This is my second green cherry. Its growth stem was damaged on its second day outside. I think a bird landed on it. It has recovered and decided that it would like to be a bush. The cage is to stop it from visiting all of its neighbors all of the time. I also had to do a bit of pruning too.

All of the plants need pruning at their dirt level. Those leaves are not going to be productive members of society. The upper foliage will block the light. The dirt has the potential to get them sick. Pruning them now will let the plant no longer worry about them.

Flowers are also turning into tomatoes.

021

018

034

This cool weather may cause the loss of some flowers. They like it above 70 and we’re hovering in the mid sixties. It will also slow the development. This week is looking to be a bit warmer. Cloudy and some rain with some sun. It isn’t bad weather for the plants at this age. It may decrease the number of early tomatoes but I am fine with that as well. Everyone is growing more trusses higher up and those will do just fine.

One of these things is not like the others…

014

The three plants in the center here are supposed to be a yellow stuffing tomato.

Stuffing tomatoes are hollow like bell peppers. I do not are for bell peppers so the stuffing tomato seems like a perfect counterpart. I can fill them with tuna or pasta salads and have a nice snack wrapped around the tomato but without the tomato growing soggy in the mix.

I admit, I was growing suspicious at the size of this plant compared to its brethren. Did I mix up seeds or pots? The chances are always there that I did. Did I over water and one washed from one cup to another? I’m never using starting mix pure again. It was a pain.

There were other indicators. The leaf structure is a bit different between the two on the left and the huge one on the right. The color is a bit different and the shape of the leaves as well.

And then there is this.011

 

A beautiful, small round fruit. Tomato fruits show their shape very early in development. Over on one of the Black Krims the oblong shape of the fruit and long stitched bottom are obvious even when the tomato is the size of a pin.

025

I have two different types of cherry tomato that I planted that this could be. Examining the leaves, I hope that this is another Sun Gold. We will have to wait until it ripens to tell for sure.

I did move it back and moved the Heat Master into its old position. As it seems to be a cherry type, I want them where I can easily pick and prune the huge, unruly masses. Moves like this have to be made now before the plants get too big.

Sunburn and Plants

A very common problem is sunburn on plants. From long, hot days to the first time a young plant has had contact with true sunlight, sunburn can be scary to a new gardener.

017

I tossed this basil plant out into the harsh sun straight from the nursery we got it at. The nursery has a massive greenhouse that it keeps the plants in. That made this the first time the basil had experienced sunlight and we got sunburn.

019

The cucumbers also had a rough time. All of these white areas are sunburnt sections of the leaves. I properly hardened them off for weeks, but their first day out was hot and bright and they still burnt. Later leaves, having developed outside don’t show this problem.

009

Here is my heat master tomato. It came from Home Depot as a very young seedling. I snapped it up because there was less chance of it having been inhibited to grow. Young will catch up but even though it was at Home Depot and their outside area, it had not been hardened off. The long, bottom leaves on the right show their sunburn. They are quite crisped. The new growth can also be seen and it is lush and unburnt. The plant has adapted.

To the right are beets. They show no signs of sunburn because they have grown outside. Now, time outside does not insure sunburn. I will still see it in July and August as the days are long, hot and dry. The fruit can also become sun scalded. This is one reason why they need foliage to protect them.

If the leaf is green and useful, I keep it. If it grows brown or yellow, I’ll prune it. I have decided that my pruning policy is to only take off what is dying or what is needed to keep the plant health when it comes to things like circulation.

Cucumber Time

I learned a lot last year about cucumbers.

Cucumbers are big. So many plants seem so small when we start only to turn into monsters. Cucumbers are one of those plants. I put them in my raised bed last year and they became a terror and shaded out everyone else.

So, what did I learn?

Trellis cucumber alone! Last year, later in the season I planted some pickling cucumbers. I gave them each a six foot tall bamboo stake to climb. They were much easier to care for then my ‘regular’ cucumbers (no idea what they are but this is my last year growing them. I’ll grow ‘English’ cucumbers next year. My husband calls them ‘regular’ cucumbers. I haven’t figured out what any of them actually are.

This year I decided to use the trellis I got last year for them to grow onto as their main vertical trellis. Use your height to your advantage!

225

I strapped them together and used bamboo as cross supports. I am quite pleased with it and the cucumbers are starting to blossom and vine. The reason I did an A frame was so that the cucumbers will fall into the center of the frame and hang, protected from the sun but easier to pick. That is the theory anyway. I saw some amazing squash gardens that use arches to grow the squash and let the fruit hang down. This is my home made project.

011

That is when I noticed that I had a female cucumber! Pleased, I noticed the flower was closed and it may open tomorrow. I made a note to pollinate it. I am thankful for that glance. I saw that I had an open female cucumber. On an overcast, rainy day. Ack! That may be my first food product of the year!

012

I rushed inside to get my trusty paintbrush. The rain has only been a drizzle today so the some of the male flowers were nice and dry. With glee, I pollinated this female. We should see by the end of the weekend if my efforts take. It is a pretty instant thing when the pollen hits. It sticks and the transfer of genetic material begins.

This is a cross pollination of two types of cucumbers. The fruit will not be hybrid but the seeds would. If I kept the seeds they would be a mixture of slicing cucumber and pickling cucumber. I will be eating it however. That makes me a mix of slicing and pickling cucumber!

First Tomato and Drip Irrigation

My first tomato is a sun gold.

010

I have a lot of tomatoes flowering right now. A lot. I am not sure if it is the way that I raised them? They have been going outside for sunlight for most of this month before they were planted. I’m not sure if its because I started them a month earlier then last year? Or if the fertilizer spikes with the high phosphorus are kicking in. Whatever the reason, I have blooms on two thirds of the plants and many of the blooms are collapsing. I hope to produce fruit.

016

In general plant health is very good. I’m wondering with this yellow stuffing pepper if I mixed up seeds. It is the largest plant out there. Taller then its two siblings (one can be seen to the left, the two pots to the right are Michael Pollens) it even towers over the cherry tomatoes.

014

 

I am delighted with the drip system. I will highly recommend it to anyone. In the end I went with drip depot’s 30 container system. I read a lot of reviews about the different systems. I read them because they educated me and I will soon be contributing my own review of the system.

What I learned was that you need a PSI converter. Almost everyone that complained about their system did not have one. You also need a back flow stopper. The system is closed and water can flow back into your home pipes. This can be bad. The timer is a choice. One that I recommend but a choice. Timers cost between 20-40 dollars depending on how many plugs it has. Some cheaper kits come with timers. But those kits tend to be missing something. I picked drip depot because it came with everything I needed BUT the timer.

Installation was easy. It took some time. The various pieces all screw together in a long chain of stiff plastic. Make sure you have the space to install it. I anchored it to my balcony railing but people may have awkward hoses.

I also got thread sealing tape to help with leaks. These pieces are all plastic so you will have plastic to metal connections. Use a lot of tape to stop leaks.

From there, this comes with 50 feet of tube. Know how long your container or planting area is. You need tube to connect it but also to connect the drip to the plant. Plan accordingly and order an extra set of tube if you are going to be close. I had eight inches to spare when I was done.

Connecting it is easy. Cut the tube at each spot. Insert one end of the T joint. Measure how far it is to the plant and cut that piece. Connect the left over tube to the chain. Plug the drip to one end of your cut to the plant piece. Shove the other half onto the stalk of the T connection. And continue.

The hosing is a bit stuff and it only comes with thirty stabilizing clamps. I think I will order a few more for the curves. It takes a bit and maybe a touch of hand strength. If you have a very weak grip, let the tubing sit in the sun before you work with it. It makes it soft and pliable. I have what I consider to be average hand strength but after reading reviews of woman who had to get a handyman in to set it up because it was to hard for them, your mileage may vary. Know your body.

232

I set each head right at the plants stem. That way the water drips straight down. The drip is very steady but slow enough that the dirt absorbs the water and the entire pot becomes damp. I have them set to run for 10 minutes. Later, as the plants are larger and consume more water I will increase this time. After that, once it gets hot, I can set it to give them water once, twice, or even three times a day to keep them hydrated. That is why I purchased a timer. My work days are to long and last year I’d come home to wilting plants every day. It is also good for a neater, less water wasting method to water the plants. We tripled our water usage last year with the garden and I know a lot of that was waste water as we tried to keep them hydrated in the summer.

Keeping a Garden Journal and Pepper Updates

I started to keep a planting journal for the garden. It is a pretty green journal that I keep in one of the kitchen drawers. I can jot down observations but mostly it is to track weight. My mother helps me to pick and this year I’d like us to weigh our harvest.

But, it seemed neat to add the status of the various plants and what I had done in the garden. That led me to consider adding that here as well as Journal Entries. Unlike the normal blog posts where I try to write about a particular subject in the garden, they’d just be short entries as to the status of things.

Maybe it would be interesting. I know that I am often looking for growing information from people instead of articles teaching me how to do something or what things are. Often when I share on forums it is not from a position of technical knowledge. I show people what I did and what I got with my methods. I share where I have gone right and wrong as it seems to me.

As for today:

This is now the third day that I have had the peppers out. Yesterday was overcast and today is also overcast. They are responding nicely to the sun but I fear that I have mixed up pepper seeds at some point.

236

If we ignore my toes, we have from left to right, the two pasilla peppers at the top of the bin, the Ghost Chili below them, and the Jalapeno outside. I’m worried that the lone pasilla pepper is in fact a Jalapeno. This is due to how different it has started to look from the other two. The ghost chili on the other hand are all smaller, tighter leaved plants.

We will see when they come up.

 

 

Plant Out 2016

It is 1957 on Saturday, April 16th 2016 and I have planted my Garden for good or for bad.

Now, know that today is the ‘last frost date’ for the area and the weather is steaming full ahead for spring. We will still have cool nights but it doesn’t like like anything else freezing or frosting is on the line. I took the risk because my plants wanted to go out and I was tired of lugging them up and down the steps.

002

In the morning I would get up, tend to Inty and drag the plants outside. It was six trips up and down the stairs to get everyone out. I had them in plastic containers to make it easier to carry them but it was tiresome and they got dinged, nicked, and broken. Also, sometimes my mother’s cat darted into the room and chowed down on plants as I was lugging them in or out.

015

“What did this to my plant?” I feel like posting on one of the plant forums. However, I know my particular infestation. Fat orange and white kitty is my diagnoses.

Beyond the mauling, the day was busy. I had personal errands to run before noon. After noon we emptied a lot of random bulky things from the garage and took them to the dump. A tiny part of the garage is cleaner. Stuff like batteries and a replaced toilet just can’t go in the regular trash.

The dump took over an hour. Most of it was waiting to get in and out. Once that was done we had lunch and came back home where I tackled planting my plants.

025

It was somewhere around 70(21c) today. Absolutely lovely and a clear sky. I came home to my plants wilted all to hell in their little cups. Also, the basil and cucumbers were showing some serious sunburn. Even with the weeks of acclimation, they are still young and not used to the intensity of the sky.

Onward to planting anyway.

027

I started int he corner and worked my way across the deck. Each pot got soil, a few scoops of manure, and calcium enriched fertilizer. I then gave each plant a Jobe’s Tomato Spike.  I found these accidentally on Amazon last week and ordered several packs. They are high in phosphate which is good for flowers. If you ever look at fertilizer they have three numbers. The first stands for nitrogen, the second phosphorous, and the third potassium.

When interpreting that into what it does for the plant, loosely and non-technically it is leaves, flowers, fruit. Excess nitrogen leads to big leafy plants. They also can get nitrogen burn and fertilizer burn. Once your plants are producing you want to feed lots of the second and third bits. These spikes are big on the phosphorus which leads to more flowers which leads to more tomatoes.

Hopefully.

029

The roots look good. When I put these into the black containers I held the dirt inside of a blue shop paper towel. That towel has rotted away. and the roots are filling the entire area. This leaves a nice big root ball for the plant to expand upon.

Notice that the roots are white and not spiraling in big circles. I used to think a lot of root indicated health but it instead indicates a plant that is out growing its growth medium. A plant can live root bound but it needs a lot of attention.

030

When freeing the plants, don’t pull by their stalks. I had no idea people did that.  Support between your fingers and flip it over and tap the bottom to loosen it.

032

Almost there. I had to go and get some more soil. I also discussed gardening with my neighbors. They’ve put down a little garden box and it is in the worst part of their yard for light. I told them that I was worried about sounding like a pretentious git but where they had placed it really didn’t get any light.

They thanked me. They’d wanted my opinion having seen the jungle I grew last year. I was proud of myself speaking up. Like most hobbies, having fallen in love with this one I now want to share it.

036

035

037

There we are! They are planted but not yet caged. I don’t have enough cages yet. I’ll probably spend some time tomorrow putting the ones I do have into the containers. I also need to build the trellis for the cucumbers. This neat, sweet scene isn’t going to last.

I am short two containers. We went to the local nursery the other day and I lost my mind and over purchased by two plants. I have no idea where I am going to fit them in.

I did receive my drip irrigation system in the mail! I am moving up in the gardening world. The goal is to have all of the tomatoes on the drip irrigation. I’ll have to hand water half of the deck but it won’t be as bad as last year.

This has many advantages. We got a timer. I can set it to water the plants in the early morning and again in the evening once it gets hot. My mother won’t have to drag the hose around and damage my plants. We should have a better water bill. We watered for 30-45 minutes last year to get everyone hydrated enough once it got hot and that led to a lot of over flow.

Still a bit to do but I’m very happy with my progress. The peppers will go out at the end of the month.  I was a bit sad because I had to kill a few plants. I had three pots that were double planted. The containers I have just can’t support that growth. It led to a lot of stunting and struggles with some of my plants this year. I had to fight temptation and not allow second plants to grow. I think we will have more productivity in the end. We’ll find out.

Now I have to go re-caulk the shower.

Potting Up Peppers

My pepper seedlings came up some weeks ago. They are slow to grow in the cooler weather. Peppers are tropical creatures and crave warm weather. However, living in Virginia instead of India or Central America, I must start them in February.

Peppers can take a month to germinate. Normally when planting you see seedlings in three days. If I soak good cucumber seeds, I see a tail developing in 24 hours.  I’ve taken to soaking them for 24 hours before planting. That gets water into the seed to start the reaction. Its harder to keep the soil properly wet. But, I digress.

When I think of pepper, I think of Jalapenos and other central and south american peppers. I was rather narrow in my view and I didn’t realize my ghost chili (Bhut Jolokia) came from India. Color me ignorant. I found this out when I was worried about their lack of germination. Suddenly, it made sense. They need more then some wet and warmth. They need to make sure it is really time to come up and play.

Patience won. My two American Chili types came up first. My Ghost Chili were almost two weeks behind. I did not give up faith and they have blessed me with five seedlings.

I’m a bit scared.

126

 

In four cups I have way to many seedlings. Conventional wisdom is to sow many seeds and thin them out. I’m not as conventional as I need to be. My space has been very, very limited so I decided that with my seedlings thriving, I would separate and re-pot them.

128

This may kill them all.

You may notice I only have six pots. That is because I am going to crowd my peppers. I did so last year with tremendously good results. A lot of the research I have done about over crowding is that it takes a lot of daily work to keep the plants thriving. In the big picture they would do best if alone, but I only have a limited number of containers. They are going to share again and we will see how it goes at harvest time.

First I let the soil dry out. Normally I water them in the evenings. The little cups dry quickly. However, I let them dry over two days. They were not drooping so I took that as a good sign. Since I used a mixture of seedling starter mix and good incorrect dirt from my other pots, the roots were not firmly trapped.

129

 

The plants are very young. They only have a few leaves on them and very undeveloped root systems. The excess soil crumbled away and left their tiny root balls exposed.

138

 

Gently I tucked them into their new holes and filled them with dirt. Everything nice and loose. It will settle and then I will just top it off.

141

 

Once they were moved I took them back inside. The peppers are not ready for these cool days. I suspect I’ll have them in until May.  I planted them nice and deep. They were a bit slender and tall from the light balance issues I had trying to accommodate them and the tomatoes. Now they can have the lights all to themselves in a nice and even fashion.

The tomatoes are being kicked out this weekend so the peppers will get to hang out alone with the grow lights and warmth until outside catches up with us.

Starting Ground Cherries

I’m growing a type of ground cherry. They are a weird little fruit that comes wrapped in a husk that was once its flower. Tart but sweet, I think they are tasty. The main reason I’ve attempted to grow them however is for my husband.

My husband would like gooseberries and we are not in the correct climate for gooseberries. The ground cherries are an alternative that he may like. For the same reason I am growing two types of green tomato. Tart with sweetness is a favorite flavor combo of his.

The internet spoils you for information. There are forums dedicated to growing tomatoes and peppers. If you need indoor plant growing advice you will find yourself upon forums dedicated to marijuana and the precise way to control environments in the middle of your living room.

I picked up a pack of ground cherry seeds from rareseeds.com. It gave me a pack of beige colored seeds the size of pin heads. Somehow, these are to turn into gigantic bushes loaded with fruit.

The first thing I did was figure out how to plant them. The basic mantra of bury and cover and water doesn’t always work. I’ve had a lot of success with plants that are pretty much sitting on the surface with just enough dirt on them to stay damp. This is how I get my lettuce to germinate. From one website I read it said that they may take a while to start and that heat and sunlight stimulate them as well as being wet.

The first showing were two tiny leaves the size of the seed. For days I watched those seeds. They slowly grew. Very slowly. Every watering would knock it over. I’d gently scrap some covering over its exposed root thing and hope for the best. It had good days and bad days but finally it grew its first leaf. Then its second.

Over in the other area of the growing chamber, my tomatoes were taking off. The ground cherry however just grew ever so slowly until it stopped falling over.

From what I read this was common and not to worry. They struggled at the start and then took off.

While not yet the size of my tomato plants, I’m pleased with their growth. At a month old my ground cherry looks like a plant.

IMG_20160407_100928

It is still very small. That is one of the starter pots. But it has many leaves and levels.

IMG_20160407_100923

The individual branches kind of go out. Its like a bush and a vine.

I have no idea if I am going to try to trellis this or cage it. I’ve been reading about it from other sites to get an idea for it. I have a large container for it. Larger then what I have for my tomatoes because it is more bush like and I really, really want fruit from this plant.

There are two smaller ones growing in the pot as well. They just sprouted a few days ago.  We will see if they also establish themselves. They are growing better in sunlight. I can see visible and measurable growth after a handful of hours out in the sun vs all day under the light.

I don’t live in a very rural area. Picking plants to grow involves time, reading, and buying seeds. Then I get to see if it works for me or not with my containers and deck.

Only Perfection

The internet has taught me a lot about people. Not all people or even a particular type of people. The personality someone has online and offline can be completely different things. But the internet has taught me that there is only perfection from everyone else.

I have a habit of being truthful. I have a further habit of being casual. I write in the same way that I speak. I try not to speak as much as I write because I already feel that I talk to much. But, in general when I write something I have a conversation with the other person.

That doesn’t seem to be the same for many that I speak to. But the internet has also taught me to defend my argument. I am supposed to make sure that I use no absolutes or casual truths. I must express that I am speaking with anecdotal evidence. I should then look up the theories of arguments and discussions so that I can bring them into play to defend my argument or attack another.

For a place where one can sit down and write their opinion to their hearts content, there are just as many or more who will come and dispute that opinion. It is fascinating.

Today, I attempted to use simple terms to explain a complex topic. When I do this I don’t worry about fine details if someone does not even understand the base of the topic. But, when one does such a thing in public there is that person who steps forward to extract a single sentence and wave it around.

Spurious was the term used to define my sentence. A sentence used to condense a very broad topic. They then supported their argument with ‘studies’. Ahh studies. Such a fun topic that we could go on for. But it was not their accusation or their studies that made me sigh. It was the simple loss of the casual explanation. Everything must be perfect because everyone has the ability to search the web and refute things. But, because of that search and refute fewer people are willing to speak.

‘The internet is destroying us’ is the latest piece of the destruction of society. Everything destroys society after a while. I will say that the internet changes society. There are many instant experts these days. Mix that with the ease of destroying something over creating it and the exchange of ideas can become tough.

But, it is not the first time this has happened. It will not be the last. Before, it was standing on a forum and trying to introduce new concepts and ideas before the most learned. Now, it is learning how to bend and twist under the scrutiny of strangers with quick access.

Of course, I may be overly comfortable with the lack of perfection. Perhaps, all I do is support excuses when I should instead seek to better myself.