Simply Grateful Gardener

Gardening To Fill The Pantry!


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The Beginning of July and All’s Well in the Garden

Although I am still struggling with tomato leaf curl on several of my plants, for the most part, the garden is doing well for the beginning of July.

Tomatoes:

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Peppers:

There are six different types of peppers planted in the garden: Anaheim, Jalapeno, Sweet Banana, Yellow Bell, Romanian Bell, and Pablano. Of these only the sweet banana and Romanian actually have peppers. The remaining are full of flowers and continuing to grow.

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Zucchini:

This being my first year growing zucchini, I’m very happy with the results. I think that perhaps I should have given the plants more space as they are taking over the radishes, beets, and even sneaking into the peppers. Next year I’ll know better.

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The rest of the garden:

Beets:

The beets are getting big and will probably be ready for harvest soon. I’m not too optomistic, as they seem to be small. I’m not sure the ground is soft enough for them to grow.

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Cucumbers:

The cucumbers are finally big enough to climb the a-frame and there are tons of flowers already. Without many bees around though I’m not sure how many cucumbers we’ll get this year. I might be out there pollinating the flowers myself.

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Radishes:

The second planting of radishes are doing well and will probably be ready for picking in a week or two.

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Peas:

The peas continue to flourish and I’ve picked three times now and the flowers are still coming.

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Overall everything seems to be on schedule so barring anything catastrophic, hopefully by late July we’ll be getting some pretty bountiful harvests, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Saving Plants That Have Suffered Sun Scald

Consistent! I am nothing if not consistent and when it comes to my gardening this year — well, let’s just say I really need to change things up a bit!

For years I thought I had a black thumb when it came to any type of plants – house, garden, or even artificial. Hubby always joked that I could kill silk flowers, but in all honesty, he wasn’t too far off. Then a few years ago I made a real effort to grow a few tomato plants and possibly actually have a few for the family to eat. Well, that first year was tough, but by the second year I felt I was getting the hang of it and by the third year — that was last year and boy did the bounty come in. Over 1,000 peppers, 200+ cucumbers, tons of root vegetables, more beans than we could eat, and so many tomatoes that I actually had a few people who were driving who saw my plants weighted down with fruit stop by to ask me how I did it. Boy did this fluff up the old tail.

Conceit has got to be one of the seven deadly sins, and if it isn’t, well it ought to be. When I set out to start my seedlings this past spring I jumped in without giving it so much as a thought. I figured I’d done it before, so now I must be an expert, right? WRONG!

Everything and anything that could go wrong this year, has and it isn’t a matter of the weather not cooperating, my seeds not being fresh, the soil having lack of nutrients — no, it’s just me. I forgot that gardening isn’t easy. Gardening takes time, patience, attentiveness, and mostly knowledge. If you bounce around haphazardly, thinking you know everything when the truth of the matter is that you know so much about things that just aren’t so, things are going to get screwed up and screwed up fast.

This is exactly what has happened this year. I keep rushing around as if my garden has got to be done yesterday and because of this I have rushed my plants to near extinction. Even after replanting my tomatoes and vowing to slow down and learn from my mistakes, I am still killing them at every turn.

My latest fiasco was planting them outside. Did you know that you are supposed to “harden” seedlings off that are grown indoors prior to planting them outside? Well, I did, but that certainly didn’t stop me from just grabbing a tray of plants and putting them right in the ground. Can you guess what happened? Right, they began to die. Big surprise!

So, I tried to remedy my error and put my wonderful milk cartons to work. I knew to put them over the plants at night until they got accustomed to the varying temperatures, but forgot that the sun and wind would wreak havoc on them during the day. Guess what that led to? Yep, sun scald and breakage. Things just keep getting better.

To make matters even worse, I got so excited when the garden expansion was finally done and the soil looked so inviting, that I began planting my pepper plants outside. Do you think I hardened them off, learning from my tomato mistake? NO! Why would I do a silly thing like that. Can you guess what happened? Exactly! They too got sun scald and wind damage.

I swear, I am really beginning to think I should just hang up my garden gloves for the year, leave this gardening thing to the professionals and begin planning my trips to the farmer’s markets. At this point I don’t think I even deserve for my plants to live, that would truly teach me a lesson, wouldn’t it? Probably not. This dog is definitely too old to learn new tricks.

My problem is that I need to find a solution to my problem to recoup my losses and prove to myself that I am not a total failure. Googling sun scald and wind damage I found that really there is no fix for this other than luck. Some plants will recover, while other may not. This was not what I wanted to hear. I have never believed that there isn’t some solution to every problem. Even the most dire circumstances have to have a silver lining. I really can’t believe that I am being this optimistic at this point, but what the heck I’ve got absolutely nothing left to lose.

Staring out into the garden, with the sun beating down on my helpless little pepper plants, knowing that they will have at least 10 hours of full sun, I came to the realization I had two options. One, I can dig up every last plant, put them back in their little pots, hope they don’t die from the shock, allow them to recoup in the greenhouse for a week or so, and then harden them off like I was supposed to in the first place before replanting them back in the garden; or, I can find some way to protect these guys while they are still in the ground until they become acclimated to their new environment and do my best to nurse them back to health. Being the impatient sort I couldn’t see myself uprooting all those plants and trying to save them that way. No, there had to be a way to protect them.

Looking at all my wonderful milk cartons it came to me. Every plant in the garden has a stake. These stakes serve two very important purposes. One, they will help support the main stem of the plants as they grow throughout the summer (keeping my fingers crossed this happens this year) and two they hold the milk cartons in place when I cover the plants at night.  Well, maybe I could somehow use the milk cartons and stakes together to shelter the plants from the sun and wind during the day. Leaving the milk cartons over the plants all day would surely kill them. Although there is a hole at the top where air can escape, the heat of the sun would probably bake the plants and suffocate them. There had to be some way of suspending the milk cartons over the plants so air could circulate around them yet shade them from the harsh sun and gusting wind.

My solution: A simple clothespin!

By clipping a clothespin to the stake about a foot off the ground (a little more or less depending on how tall the plants were) and then sliding the milk carton back on the stake suspended the carton above the plant leaving enough space for the plants to breath and give them a fighting chance at becoming acclimated to their new home.

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Although the theory behind my idea seemed sound, it is definitely not foolproof. I have to go out several times a day to adjust the clothespins and cartons so the sun that is moving overhead doesn’t find it’s way to the tender leaves. This being said, I didn’t realize this the first day, so a few more leaves got scalded. Quite a few plants however have managed to avoid scalding altogether. Perhaps there is a little light at the end of the tunnel.

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Why is it that for weeks it was too cold out to even think about gardening and the first nice days we have when I stupidly put my plants directly in the garden, the sun shines in a cloudless sky and the temperatures reach the mid-80’s. No doubt this is one of those wonderful Murphy’s Laws.

I planted 24 peppers and 20 tomatoes outside without hardening them off. All of the peppers are still alive, but some with severe sun scald. Four tomato plants have died and a few others are pretty iffy. The remaining tomatoes have sun scald on about 50% of their leaves. Today is the first day that I believe there has not been any additional deterioration of the plants, although the day is not yet over. The peppers have at least another four hours of sun to endure.

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The remaining pepper and tomato plants I started inside have had two full days on the patio in the shade out of the wind and look pretty happy. I’m hoping by the weekend to be able to put them in the garden. The weather is supposed to become cloudy later in the week with a chance of rain. Why couldn’t that have been the case after I put those other plants in the ground? Just my luck. That’ll teach me, or not.

So, my milk cartons continue to be functional and will hopefully save the day, or in this case, save the pepper and tomato plants, and for this I am keeping my fingers crossed and — Simply Grateful.


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Tomato Seedling Masacre

Gardening takes patience. This is indeed a fact.

I have little to no patience. This too is a fact.

The fact that these two facts contradict nearly led to complete disaster.

This year after I planted my seeds for tomatoes and peppers, I placed them in a greenhouse in the kitchen and put a small heater inside to boost their growth and keep them warm. Now, I know that there are three things seedlings need to grow: Food, warmth, and light. With gardening it’s really all or nothing — the best two out of three just doesn’t cut it.

The food was no problem as I watered them as soon as I planted and then every couple of days or as needed after that. The warmth was no problem because the space heater had a thermostat on it that would turn off automatically once the greenhouse hit between 75 and 80 degrees. Light, well this wasn’t so easy. Sure I kept the blinds open on the window that the greenhouse was in front of, but there was not nearly enough light for a long enough period of time during the day to really be of any help. I looked into buying some grow-lights but they were more money than I wanted to spend, so I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and waited.

It didn’t take long for the seedlings to sprout and within just a few days they were tall and leggy, not what you really want when growing tomatoes or peppers.

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Anxious to remedy the legginess of my tomatoes, I began transplanting some of the seedlings almost immediately into larger containers, burying the long, thin stalk almost to the leaves.

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I did this before they even had their second leaves. Big mistake!

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After a week about half of my transplants died and within two weeks all but one was gone.

Patience where fore art thou?

Not my most stellar moment as a gardener.

Thankfully I only rushed into transplanting the Beefsteak tomatoes and half the Mariglobe. I left the remaining Mariglobe and Better Boy for another week or so, not because I wanted to, but rather because I didn’t have time. When I finally got to them, they had their second leaves.

So far only about 25% of those have died. Most of the ones still living have gained their third set of leaves and are growing happily on the dining room table.

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I replanted some Beefsteak and have them in the greenhouse. Once they sprouted I turned off the heater and now they are sitting in there until their third leaves come out and they are ready to be transplanted. I don’t want to take a chance on losing them again.

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At this point I really can’t afford to lose any more plants or I won’t have enough to fill the garden and pots I have planned for them which could mean there won’t be enough tomatoes to can everything on my Tomato Canning To Do List.

The good thing about having basically two different crops of tomatoes though is I hopefully won’t be bombarded with tons of tomatoes that will all need to be canned at the same time. Spacing out my crops might just work to my advantage — gotta find something positive out of this whole experience. Work with me on this!

As for the peppers, well I was much more patient with them. Again, patience was not necessarily the reason — time played a major factor as well. I transplanted only the jalapeno before they had their third leaves. Although they went into shock after being transplanted, they have recovered nicely and now have begun to grow again and new leaves are spouting.

All the other peppers were transplanted after they had their third leaves and they are quite healthy and getting nice and bushy. Looks like I’ll probably have more pepper plants than I’ll need, which is a good thing seeing as I still have to harden them off before transplanting into the garden and that gives me more than ample opportunity to kill them.

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A hard lesson to learn, but at least I haven’t killed everything and I had time enough to replant what I did, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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Starting Seeds for the 2016 Garden

Last year I started the pepper and tomato plants I needed for the 2015 gardens from seeds at the beginning of March. By May all the plants were big enough to harden off and begin planting in the gardens. At the end of the season I had picked more than 1,000 peppers and enough tomatoes to can everything I wanted and freeze some for winter canning projects.

This year I am hopeful that we will have another banner year even though there are going to be some changes in the types of peppers I plant this year. I harvested and canned so many Romanian, szegedi, and white cloud sweet peppers last year, that this year I do not plan on planting more than a few Romanian sweet peppers for eating raw. This year I plan on planting Anaheim, poblano, jalapeno, yellow banana (hot and sweet), and yellow bell peppers. My hope is to harvest enough of each of these to can/freeze for the next two years. This way I can concentrate on Romanian and szegedi peppers in 2017.

As for the tomatoes, well my plan is to expand this section of the garden. Although I harvested enough for what I wanted to can last year, I have since come up with additional projects I need fresh tomatoes for and hope to be able to fulfill my tomato needs by doubling the amount of plants. Last year I had just 15 canning tomato plants, which yielded more than 250 tomatoes. The area I have designated this year for will hold 28 canning tomato plants, 2 cherry tomato plants for eating and 2 regular eating tomato plants.

To get things rolling, I spent the afternoon preparing soil for planting seeds, filling seed trays with soil, planting the seeds, watering, labeling, and covering all the flats of pepper and tomato seeds.

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And so it begins — spring planting 2016, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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Summer In The Pepper Mines

Being fairly new to the pepper growing aspect of gardening, I truly had no idea how many pepper plants to plant this year in order to yield enough peppers for canning, eating and cooking for one season. I knew I wanted enough peppers to can at least one quart for every month for the next year, but depending on the size of the peppers, the amount would vary.

Two years ago I tried growing a few bell pepper plants with no success. Last year I planted only four pepper plants – two jalapeno and two green chili. Both yielded an unbelievable amount of peppers. I still have enough pickled jalapenos on the pantry shelves from last year for another year and the green chilies will get us through at least the fall and part of the winter.

Learning that two peppers plants could yield so much, I was still not convinced that I would have that sort of luck in growing the white bell peppers I wanted this year. With one unsuccessful attempt and one successful attempt at pepper growing, this year I decided to plant a lot of plants, to stack the deck if you will, in my favor. Plus, I put plants in two separate areas around the house to see which area was more conducive to pepper growing.

White bells are not sweet like a yellow, red, or orange bell. These peppers tend to be somewhat more mild with a touch of bitterness. I would use them in place of green pepper on tacos sooner than I would use them in place of any sweet pepper. These peppers are the ones I uses for pickling and what Hubby loves to eat raw all summer with dinner.

In the spring I planted a total of 40 white pepper plants – a combination of Szegedi, White Cloud, and Romanian peppers in cups April 1st. They sprouted April 11th and went into the ground outside sometime in early June. Twenty-five plants went in the back garden and fifteen went up front right next to the front porch.

For just about a month I watched as my plants seemed to stall and linger in a state of limbo, not growing much at all. Then at the beginning of July they just seemed to take off. July 19th I picked my first pepper and was absolutely thrilled with all the flowers and tiny peppers on the plants. Immediately I began to dream of canning peppers and filling the pantry shelves. Check out my instructions and recipe for pickled peppers on Simply Grateful Canning – Pickling Peppers.

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Well, you know the old saying “Be careful what you wish for?” Yeah, I am never going to forget this old adage, that’s for sure.

For three months I have harvested peppers. Some weeks I’d only get a few (pretty much all of July) but then starting the beginning of August, the peppers really started to come in. Every week I was canning peppers, sometimes twice a week. I would harvest 60 peppers at the beginning of the week and within a few days there were more to pick. I felt like I was a slave to the pepper mines.

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Last week, the first week in October I harvested the most ever in one picking – 225 peppers, bringing the total peppers picked for this year to 921. I am beginning to wonder if perhaps, just maybe, now I’m not absolutely certain, but it is possible, I planted just a few too many plants. I say this because although I practically cleaned every pepper off the plants regardless of how big they were last week, there are still flowers and tiny peppers just beginning to grow. If left to produce all fall, I bet I’d top the 1000 mark for peppers this year with no problem.

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At first, as the peppers began piling up and the pickling process began, I was thrilled. By mid-August I already had my 12 quarts of pickled peppers (enough for one a month for the next year) and thought I could relax. That was short-lived. As the peppers continued to come in and I continued to pickle them, it became clear that I really didn’t need this many peppers. Hubby even made comments like “Who’s going to eat all these peppers?” and “Do we really need this many jars of pickled peppers?”

This is what the pepper garden looks like this morning.

This is what the pepper garden looks like this morning.

No, no we do not. But I couldn’t even give enough of the peppers away to make a dent in the harvesting. After wallowing in self-pity for a few days while continuing to can though, I had an epiphany. Canning this many white bells in one year would free up next year and possibly even the following one to concentrate my pepper growing to other varieties of peppers. Thus, a plan emerged.

With the pantry shelves overflowing with pickled peppers, more than enough for at least two years, more likely three, next year I will concentrate on growing green chilies and red & yellow bells. My goal will be to grow enough to can green chilies for two to three years and freeze enough roasted red and raw yellow bells for at least two years. Then the following year I can grow jalapeno, green bells, and red chili peppers.

Rotating crops every three years will give me a break from canning the same thing every year. — The Silver Lining!

So, the question is: Did I plant too many pepper plants?

The answer: If I didn’t can the peppers and they weren’t something that we definitely enjoy all year-long, then yes. But seeing as this is a staple in our refrigerator and something that will not go to waste, absolutely not.

I do have to note here that the peppers in the back garden, yielded about 90% of the 900+ peppers that have been picked. Next year I will find a different crop to plant up front, rather than waste the space on peppers. Perhaps tomatoes or beans will do better there.

As for this year, I’d have to say my pepper crop was definitely a success. I survived three months in the pepper mines, have more than 40 quarts of pickled peppers in the pantry, and for this I am (albeit exhausted) — Simply Grateful.


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My Tomatoes Are Sunburned!

At our house I am not allowed to trim the bushes.  Hubby took one look at my bush trimming efforts many years ago and put his foot down. It’s not that I don’t do a good job — it’s that I do too good a job. Basically, I cut until you practically can’t cut no more. This isn’t such a problem with most bushes, but Hubby really wanted our bushes to flourish, so that was one less job I had to worry about.

When it comes to the garden, however, that is my domain. Trimming, cutting, pruning, etc. are all me. Most of the time my efforts actually help my plants. My motto has always been that getting rid of the deadwood (anything that isn’t producing or aiding the plant in any way) is a good thing. Pepper and tomato plants are constantly being pruned and cut back. Last year this was a good thing. My plants grew huge and produced more peppers and tomatoes than I ever thought possible. This year, however, something happened.

About three weeks ago I noticed some spotting and browning on the leaves of my tomato plants. I researched this on the internet and learned that my tomatoes had early blight. To fix it I bought a copper spray and treated my plants. Seven days later I decided to trim away all the infected leaves and treat the plants again. This took care of the blight but there was a consequence — Sunburn.

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See that white spot on the red tomato? That’s sun scald.

Okay, so it’s not actually sunburn, but because of all the pruning I did, which left many of my plants practically bald, several of my tomatoes are now suffering from sun scald. It isn’t a major set back, but it does give me reason to rethink my pruning techniques. I never knew that tomatoes and peppers can suffer sun scald if too many of their lush leaves are trimmed.

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Knowing this is definitely going to limit the amount of pruning, cutting, and trimming I do. I look at these tomatoes as my “warning” from Mother Nature not to get too carried away, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.