And Then the Cold Came

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Gardening 2014

Last week all the temperatures were in the upper 70s and we even had a couple of days in the mid 80s! The plants really took off. I noticed the first tomato forming. It was about the size of a marble and has grown to about the size of a ping-pong ball. You can also see small buds on the pepper plants where the first peppers will grow.

Yesterday, one week later it was in the mid 50s , got down to 37 degrees last night, and is supposed to stay in the low 60s for the next 4 days. Can’t imagine worse timing. I should have least brought the small pots inside but the only herb that seems to be damaged is the basil. Its top leaves are hanging like a wet dish cloth. The ones lower down seem to be fine but I’ll probably have to prune it back.

The pepper plants don’t look as bad as the basil. They are droopy but still have some firmness. Not quite to wet dish cloth levels. We’ll see. The tomato plants don’t seem to have any adverse effects but the proof will be in the fruits themselves. Not sure if any of the 8 or so flowers on it had already been fertilized and starting to form fruits.

I’m totally bummed. Things were going so well.

Containers Out Back

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Gardening 2014

In the back yard I’ve planted some vegetables, and herbs in containers and pots. In addition we had raspberry and blackberry growing in pots already. I think they were planted 2 or 3 years ago.

We had a metal cooler that we used at our wedding 3 years ago. I drilled a dozen holes in the bottom and filled it with topsoil, sand, and moisture control garden soil. It seems to drain quite well so my silly mistake of forgetting to put a layer of gravel on the bottom hasn’t had any negative effects. I also mixed some Osmocote 14-14-14 fertilizer into the top half.

On the left, in the back, we have a Heinz “beef” tomato . In the back middle there is a jalapeno pepper plant and on the right a hot banana pepper. In the front are two broccoli plants. All are from Bonnie Plants bought in peat pots. This is probably too much for this container but we aren’t looking for huge harvests so I hope they at least produce. It should be about 5 gallons of soil for each plant.

The tomato plant is already fruiting. One tomato at least and several (8 or 9) flowers.

SAMSUNG

In another container, which I forget the name brand of, I have planted cucumber seeds. It is a bush variety cucumber plant by Burpee called “Picklebush”. Growing cucumbers and making pickles was the main driving force behind trying to garden this summer. My daughter and I both love a good dill pickle. They are actually up now but I only have this picture of the empty container right now.

SAMSUNG

There are several things I don’t have a picture of yet. One is a San Marzano tomato planted in an 8 gallon pot. We hadn’t purchased this pot when I took the first pictures so I don’t have anything of this plant yet. What surprised me the most about this one was the planting directions. I guess tomatoes are the exception to the rule and when you plant them you are supposed to bury the lower branches. In fact the directions said to bury 2/3rd of the plant! I guess the lower branches will grow roots and make for a strong root system.

I also planted five different herbs in small pots. Bonnie Plants peat pots were on sale so we went this route instead of growing from seed. We have basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro.

The Front Beds

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Gardening 2014

One major constraint on my gardening efforts is price. I mean, after all, we aren’t very good at this so why spend a bunch of money. So, instead of buying trays of flowers we are growing from seed.

We have a few existing plants in the porch bed.
Porch Flower Beds

I don’t remember what the ornamental grass is. The other plants are Hostas. Those things are more or less indestructible. I’ve dug up that bed twice. Turned the soil over and chopped it up with a shovel and still they live! In the spaces between them, in the empty bed, and around the tree go the seeds. We are planting two flowers from the morning glory family and some violas.

Convolvulus Blue Enchantment
First are the Convolvulus Blue Enchantment with seeds from Burpee.
blueenchantment

They are a bush variety with morning glory shaped flowers. They only get about a foot tall. I tried to grow these once before and literally none of them came up. This time though they came up great. I tried to get a shot of them around the tree but the seedlings are a bit too small still. Squint! (and click to enlarge)
Blue Enchantment Seedlings

Stupid thing I did: These need to be covered with soil about an inch deep, so I used a pencil to make hole and then wiggled it around to widen it. Knowing that not every seed comes up I then dropped about 3 seeds in each hole. Obviously I should have made different holes grouped close together. Kind of silly. Since they germinated so well I had two and three seedlings coming up through the same exact hole. You are supposed to thin these out anyway but normally you’d want to wait until they grew some true leaves first and see which is doing the best. I had to go ahead “pick a winner” early and snip off the extra seedlings.

Johnny Jump-Ups
These flowers are related to pansies. They go by the name Johnny Jump-up Violas or Helen Mount Violas. Our seeds are from the Livingston Seed Company. They’re beautiful flowers with an interesting shape. I’ve read that they also follow the sun during the day.

johnnyjumpup

I’m not sure, but I think a few of these have broken through the soil. They are incredibly small seedlings and I’m not 100% sure that’s what I’m looking at or if a few weeds have sprouted up.

Weird story: We first bought these seeds from Burpee, at Home Depot. None of the packs had any seeds in them! I thought I must be stupid or something. Turns out the entire batch at the store was empty. We got our money back and luckily found them at another store.

Blue Picotee Morning Glory
Steph went to get more Viola seeds and saw these and had to have them. If they look like this when finished they will be quite impressive!
glorybluepicotee

They are a true, vining, Morning Glory. To get these to germinate I scuffed up the seeds slightly with an Emory board and then soaked them in a dish of water overnight. Wow! The taproot was coming out of the seed by the next morning for some of them. They came up quick in the peat pots I germinated them in and they are looking great!

bluepicoteeseedlings

Steph wanted to plant them around the mailbox. I didn’t really care for how that looks when it works. Instead we decided to use a plant stand we have out back that we don’t use. The plan is to bury the legs of it in the bed beside the porch and let the morning glories climb it.

trellisstand

Before I go one final picture, of our tree bed.

fronttreebed

Attempted Gardening

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Gardening 2014

Neither my wife nor myself would be considered plant savvy. Despite this we try to grow things. Just for kicks I thought I might document the effort this year, as pathetic as they might be.

The Landscape
We have three main areas where we are planting. In the front of the house we have a flower bed around our front yard tree. Now this tree loves water so already we might be on shaky ground, but we are planting flowers around it. There are also flower beds outside the front door, around the walkway. There are a few potted plants on the front stoop as well. Finally on the back patio we have set up various containers to grow fruits and vegetables. Steph has also been growing herbs, in pots, out back for a few years but we haven’t done anything with that yet this year.

Soil
We live in a pretty average suburban housing project. This means the soil sucks. In both the flower beds and even the yard you don’t have to dig down very far (3″-6″) before you are hitting a soil/gravel mix. This year and two years ago I’ve added soil.

Given what we have now, even adding regular topsoil is an improvement. About half to two-thirds of what I added was just regular old Earthgro Topsoil that they sell at Home Depot and Walmart. It has a lot of negative reviews but I think that might be because what is in the bag varies by region. What I bought was great. Not very much clay, and only the occasional small rock or tree branch.

The remainder of what I added was Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Garden Soil. I added it as the entire top layer around the tree, mixed it with the topsoil in the flowerbeds, potted plants and vegetable containers. This seems to be pretty nice stuff to me. It is moist but crumbly black soil that obviously has lots of finely composted organic matter. It also contains a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Technically it isn’t for use in containers, I think because it holds moisture so well, but I also added some playground sand with it, and the topsoil, in the containers and they seem to be draining just fine.

Italian Chicken Stew

We’ve been making this recipe for a while now and it’s one of my favorites. It’s a little spicy with a nice mix of flavors. We call it Italian Chicken Stew but on most sites it is called Sister Ria’s Lazy Chicken. I’ve sometimes seen it claimed it is a Rachael Ray recipe but I’m not sure if that is true.
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