Garden Planted!

mild peppers in the garden

My conundrum was resolved late last week with the predicted weather. While it was still cooler in the mornings than I would prefer, the forecast showed a definite warming trend. Because of that and it being a long weekend, I decided to plant most of the garden. I left some of the smaller tomatoes (which really aren’t that small) and excess peppers and tomatillos at home to have in reserve and to see how much space would be left in the garden. I am hoping the cooler, overcast weather provides advantageous conditions for the plants to get acclimated to their new surroundings.

eggplants before and after

Because of success with the seedlings and because I started too many plants, I now have to pick and choose which plants to bring to the garden to fill in the remaining space. We have a lot of peppers so I doubt they will be moved up, at least those not the hot peppers I have from last year. I will have to decide which tomatoes to bring. Because most of them have blossoms, that will be a hard choice. The tomatillos will stay at home for now in reserve; we had a number of them die last year after planting. Because we use so many tomatillos, I am hopeful we get a good harvest this year.

tomatillos before and after

It is always amazing how the plants go from filling my yard to transforming the garden from dirt to garden. here are a few before and after shots.

plants in my yard

main garden

The Final Countdown

Baby Cherry tomatoes
I start the plants for the garden beginning in January in metro Phoenix with the intention of moving those plants to the cooler climes of the central Arizona mountains over Memorial Day weekend. Everything is based on that timing. I estimate the size of the plants so they can be moved. Up-potting the plants is based on that timing. My worries in the past have always been whether I will have crushing heat and dryness at my house before that weekend.

Homegrown Tomatoes
Plant ’em in the spring, eat ’em in the summer;
All winter with out ’em’s a culinary bummer.
I forget all about the sweatin’ and diggin';
Everytime I go out and pick me a big one.

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes.
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes.
Only two things that money can’t buy;
And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes

Guy Clark – Homegrown Tomatoes Lyrics

In the years we have had crushing heat in May the peppers and tomatoes have been very unhappy and it takes considerable effort to keep things alive. This year my worry is exactly the opposite – cold and wet weather. We have had unseasonably cold and wet weather this May. The weather up by the garden over Memorial Day weekend is forecast to have low temperatures in the upper-30s to mid-40s. While tI very much appreciate the respite from the heat, these are not the temperatures the plants are used to and are not within the range i am excited about moving the plants into.

So, I have pending conundrum: Whether to move the plants as scheduled or wait a week or so for warmer weather. Hopefully the forecast by the garden will show strong signs of a warming trend. I never thought I would wish for a (slightly) warmer start to June out here, and I know I will long for cooler temperatures in a few short weeks as the weather reverts to normal.

Ripening Cupid Pepeprs

For now, the plants are in my yard and are healthy and happy. I have the first baby tomatoes on the black cherry plants and blossoms are on many of the other tomatoes. The tomatillos are starting to blossom and are tall and strong. The various peppers and the eggplants are busy setting fruit and new blossoms. The serrano peppers are doing well enough I have even started this year’s fermented hot sauce: red serrano peppers, whole coriander seed, oregano, salt, and garlic. I will keep adding serrano peppers as they ripen.

Fingers crossed!

Beet it on Down the Line

Black Cherry Tomato blossoms
It’s hard to believe it is almost summer – defined as: “The time of year when the plants sensitive to cold weather are transplanted into the garden.” The frost sensitive plants are still in my yard where it is nice and warm, and, were treated to some rain (an unusual occurrence this time of year by me) the other night. The non-frost sensitive plants in the garden are growing great, with some new additions over the weekend. In fact, the rhubarb is larger this year than it has ever been.

Cupid Peppers

Over the years I have researched how “best” to grow certain plants. Much of this information has not worked for me. I have tried the recommended seed starting soil mixes and they were near disastrous. I have also read that beets should be started as soon as the soil can be worked. Maybe that works in areas that have very small intraday temperature swings and consistent temperatures from day-to-day. I have tried that advice the last few years, along with thinning the seedlings, to try to maximize our harvest. Those years I have had hardly any beets reach harvest size. I think some of that is that the garden experiences wide intraday temperature swings (30+ degrees) and that it can be 75 this week and next, then 20 the following week. I can work the soil almost all year. The years I did have great beet harvests are the years I scattered the beet seeds in their area, didn’t thin them out, except by harvest, and when I planted them in late spring. This past weekend I scattered the beet seeds in their allotted area. I will decide whether to thin them out in the coming month or so. the last couple of years of mediocre beet harvests have been disappointing, so, hopefully that will not be repeated.

Thai Hot Peppers

Another part of the garden that was started were a few of the flower pots. We are changing these up somewhat from past years to try to add more color. As long as we don’t get a killing frost these should just roll along through fall and in the mean time are providing a bit of food for the bees and hummingbirds.

I will be moving the sensitive plants that are currently in my yard up to the garden in three weeks. Now my hope is that it does not get too hot at my house. The peppers have not been happy the few days we have already had that have been at or near 100 degrees. Based on the number of peppers and eggplants already on the plants, and the blossoming of the tomatoes, I am hoping for a great garden year.

Shistito Peppers

shishito peppers
One of the joys of the garden is the ability to try new-to-us vegetables and herbs. Every year we try a few new plants to see if they grow well in the garden and if, in our opinion, they are worth growing. One of the new plants last summer was Shishito peppers. A friend kept telling us how they were all the rage in Santa Fe – a place that should have a heightened appreciation for peppers in general. When we came across a couple of Shishito plants at a nursery last year we decided to give them a try. I can always find room for two small plants and if they worked, great. If they didn’t, no big deal.

Shishito peppers are a Japanese frying pepper related to the Spanish Padrón pepper. They are generally mild; although, occasionally one will be spicy. I have eaten one raw and was not impressed. Once they are blistered in a tiny amount of oil in a very hot cast iron pan and a good sea salt is sprinkled over the top, they transcend their otherwise bland taste. One of the things we looked forward to last summer was getting up to the garden to pick a bunch of Shishito peppers and fry them up to have with an evening cocktail in the courtyard. The drive up to the garden creates not just a powerful thirst, but a powerful appetite for something picked fresh from the garden.

blistered Shishito peppers

Needless to say, the peppers both grew well and were well received last year. This prompted me to order some seeds to start plants for the summer. It is a good thing I started this year’s plants from seed as the nursery did not have any plants this year. I guess not enough people know how good they are yet. Summer started early over the weekend when I was able to harvest the first small amount of Shishito peppers. Based on how they grew last summer, I anticipate having a weekly harvest until fall. I don’t think I will be deficient in vitamin C anytime soon.

There are a number of new vegetables, fruits, and herbs being tried this year. You’ll have to come back again to see what they are.

The Promise of Blossoms

cherry blossoms

Cherry Blossoms by Jake

It’s that time of year when fruit trees and plants are full of promise. Blossoms are turning to fruit, creating the promise of delicious homegrown produce. That also means that we typically get a frost that kills the blossoms and that eliminates that promise. The past few weeks have had the apple and cherry trees at the garden in full bloom. That creates hope that we will avoid that late season frost and we will actually get some of the promise blossoms create. We narrowly avoided one frost last week; but, another potential frost is due this week. The cherry blossoms have largely turned to baby cherries so maybe that will buy us a few degrees. It has been at least three years since a decent cherry harvest.

rhubarb plants

One plant that loves this cool weather up at the garden is the rhubarb. The rhubarb has grown tremendously over the past few weeks. So much so that we harvested the first stalks for the season last weekend. You can barely tell any was harvested. Being the first of the season, and not really knowing a higher use for fresh rhubarb than a crisp, it of course became a crisp over the weekend. We mixed in some blueberries and cherries, and, wow, what a nice spring treat. I thought I had the recipe we use for rhubarb crisps on here, but I guess not. I’ll have to get that up here the next time we make one. If I was a more of an overachiever and ambitious, I might make some homemade ginger and vanilla ice cream to go with it.

Baby Celeste Fig

Orient Express Eggplant BlossomIn a different garden, one that never experiences frost this time of year, the one year old Celeste fig tree in my yard is going strong. A month or so ago I researched when I could expect figs to be produced. The information I found from seemingly reliable sources said that figs aren’t produced on a new tree until it is three or four years old. It further said that fruit is produced on last year’s wood. Well, I guess sometimes the internet is wrong (except this blog of course). I have lots of baby figs forming on new wood. Of course, last year I found that Celeste fig trees only grow about 18 inches per year. Mine has grown almost four feet and is still growing, and I did not get it until about the beginning of June last year as an 8 inch cutting.


Also in the southern garden, where the plants for the primary garden are busy growing in pots, the pepper and eggplant plants are in full bloom. I have not noticed a baby eggplant forming yet, but I do have lots of peppers starting – Thai hot chilies, Carmen peppers, Shishito peppers, cupid peppers, and Serrano peppers.

Small Carmen Pepper

I think the season is starting early this year. As long as the really hot weather holds off until I can move the plants north to cooler temperatures, it should continue for months to come.

Tomato, Pepper, and Eggplant Seedlings Off and Running

Tomato, Pepper, and Eggplant Seedlings Off and Running

It seems like just a few weeks ago I started the peppers then the tomatoes for the garden. Over the last couple of weeks I have been re-potting most of the plants, the peppers twice, because they are growing so quickly. The good thing is, the stems are thick and sturdy, much more so than years past. I have also started the tomatillos and rest of the tomatoes; but, they are still small and inside under lights.

When I re-pot tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant, I add some Epsom salt to the soil mixture to increase magnesium levels for thicker fruit. I also plant the plants at the bottom of the new pot and cover as much of the stem with soil as I can. Because all of the plants are nightshades, they sprout new roots along the whole stem. This year I moved the small plants outside earlier in their life than years past to expose them to cool nights. We have about a 25 – 30 degree intraday temperature swing, and that contrast seems to be working to encourage root growth over plant growth. To further encourage root growth, I have been pinching the blossoms off the peppers for the last few weeks. I have stopped that now as the plants seem to be doing great. Because I used a different soil mixture and did not clone any tomatoes (and maybe because of the addition of legume soil inoculant) this year, I have had almost no plants die yet. This means I have lots of extra little plants to find space for. Luckily, the kids liked digging when we were at the garden and they helped turn over some new areas for plants.

pepper and eggplant starts

This past weekend I was sorting through packages of flower seeds. Some of the seeds were planted in the garden, others were sent north with my helpers so they can plant some in their garden when the weather is more conducive. To my surprise, I found another tomato seed packet – Cosmonaut Volkov. Cosmonaut Volkov is a determinant heirloom smallish red tomato with green stripes on their shoulders. Because I am already overloaded with tomato plants, I only started a couple of seeds. That was Sunday night. To my surprise, one set of seeds emerged on Tuesday. How is that for determination!

tomato, pepper and eggplant starts

And the Race is On

And the Race is On

It’s hard to believe it is already spring. I’m actually late on that for the garden, but close enough. Last weekend was the weekend we launched the 2015 garden. My helpers were down for a visit during spring break so we took the opportunity to plant the dinosaur kale and the onions and leeks.

Last year we purchased two different varieties of onions from the local garden center. Wanting a larger selection and leeks, I ordered sets of Texas Sweet, Texas Early White, and Red Creole onions, and Lancelot Leeks. In total, that comes to over 150 – 175 onions and leeks. That number is on top of the onions we planted last fall to see what would happen. Luckily, the leeks can stay in the ground until late next fall. I am not sure how we will use that many onions yet. Maybe a lot of onion soup will be in the making.

Newly Planted Onions

The other crop we planted was the kale. I started the plants last fall intending to plant them at my house. When that didn’t materialize, I figured I would wait a bit and just plant them in the garden. I am sure the kale will be big enough to harvest a little next time I am at the garden. For now, I have to hope the netting I put over the top will protect the plants from the local deer population, which seems to grow every year.