Monday, August 29, 2011

Earthquakes and Hurricanes

Dark skies Friday night
The view out the window all day Saturday

Wow. Mother Nature has been busy on the the East Coast over the last five days. Here in the DC area, we had an earthquake on Tuesday and then Hurricane Irene stopped by over the weekend. In my neighborhood, we got rain from the hurricane Friday night and all day Saturday. Since we were forced to stay inside, it was a good excuse to watch bad TV,  drink wine, and eat junk food.

The neighborhood birds huddled on the ledge above the neighbors' door to get out of the rain. Aside from heavy rain throughout the day, the storm wasn't that bad where we live. We don't live near the coast, so we got heavy rains and wind, but no flooding or destructive wind gusts like they got near the beaches.

We were lucky. Aside from a few tree limbs and leaves, nothing else fell around us. No trees came down, no one in our neighborhood lost power.

The day after--the garden looked exactly the same as it did before the hurricane. We left the plants on the deck but moved them off the ledge and table and placed them against the house. The winds were strong but didn't knock anything over. 

I took these pictures of a butterfly on the hydrangea plant on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday was a warm, sunny, gorgeous day. Butterflies, birds, bees, and other insects (especially mosquitos, ugh) went about their normal business. You'd never know that a hurricane had just blown through. That said, I'm happy to see Irene in my rear view mirror. Thanks for the free water, Irene! Please tell your friends to stay away.

Thank you, Blogging Friends, for your well-wishes during the last few crazy days. I hope all of you on the East Coast made it through the storm with no issues!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Small Flowers

First, a sincere Thank You to everyone who left kind words of encouragement on my Kitchen Garden post, both in the comments section and elsewhere. I know that making mistakes helps you learn, but for some reason, garden mistakes seem so final, maybe because they sometimes involve the words "dead" or "rot."  Sometimes it's also because I'm not sure what I did wrong--was it something out of my control, like weather or bugs I didn't catch in time? Or is it something I did? I certainly appreciate my new-found garden blogging community, not only for the encouragement but for your garden tips and experience as well!

In my garden, I'm still tracking and mystified by the sunflowers' blooms. Not only did they bloom late, but they're also much smaller than last year. Above is the second set of coconut ice sunflower blooms, much smaller than the first set.

Once again, this year's Chianti hybrids look smaller than last year's and not as dark red either. These pictures are of a new set of blooms that has developed over the last week or so. So what was it that made them smaller this year, weather? Soil? The seeds? We'll try again next year and see what that batch looks like.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Non-Earthquake Wednesday and Tomatoes

No damage to the Bumble Lush home or garden after yesterday's earthquake. We were very fortunate. Were you in the quake zone? Was this your first earthquake? It was my second and felt more like a tremor to me (because there was no damage). If you were in the affected areas, I hope that your families are safe and property is fine.

Non sequitur: I had these tomato pictures scheduled for my Wordless Wednesday post:

top to bottom: Black Krim harvest; variety of tomatoes and tomatillos; grape tomatoes of different sizes; and a grape tomato and patio princess harvest

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Kitchen Garden

Before I owned a home, I would watch hours of HGTV, dreaming of the kitchen, bath, and landscaping projects I would do once I became a home-owner. (Now that I am one, I am painfully aware of the time and money that interior and exterior decorating costs). I remember an episode of an early morning garden program that featured a woman going out to her backyard kitchen garden to decide what to eat for dinner. She picked a few herbs, an eggplant, and some other vegetables and put them into a cute little basket. I thought, "That's what I want! I want to go out into my backyard and pick fresh food for my dinner. (And I want a cute basket too.)"

I forgot all about that until one recent weekend afternoon. I was standing in my kitchen, wondering what to eat, when I decided to make an easy chickpea salad using some vegetables I had recently harvested. That's when it dawned on me that my little container garden is developing into a kitchen garden.

It is nothing like what I saw on TV that day, or what I see on websites featuring people's expansive vegetable patches with many different vegetable varieties. My garden is small and still needs a lot of work and organization. We don't have a lot of yard space for gardening, so almost everything is growing in containers, which has positives and negatives. But we grow enough for the two of us to have regular meals with fresh veggies, and we freeze the extras and/or give them to friends. We no longer "just grow" yellow squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers. We're now trying new varieities of these, as well as beans, cucumbers, luffa. Eventually I think we'll be more creative in the kitchen when it comes to meals. I think we've come a long way from the first summer when we didn't know what the heck we were doing and just wanted to grow a few tomatoes and peppers to see if we could do it.

I took a few pictures of recent meals we've had with freshly-picked vegetables. It's nice to have them on hand to throw in a pasta dish for a quick and easy dinner when it's late and you don't feel like cooking anything too complicated. We added steamed broccoli and squash to this pasta, and tossed it with olive oil, pepper, and fresh tomatoes. It was a refreshing meal on a hot summer night. (Glass of wine is often very necessary).

This was my quick and easy chickpea salad: I drained a can of chickpeas and cut up some fresh-picked orange, yellow, and green bell peppers. (Technically that green one didn't get picked. It was knocked off by fierce winds). I picked some parsley and diced up a cup of Tiny Tim tomatoes, tossed everything with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and voila, a super fast cold salad was on my plate.

Although I have a long way to go before I truly consider myself a "gardener," I am really happy with the new skills I'm learning from gardening and preserving food. I don't think we grow enough to can anything, but we do freeze some vegetables and make soups and tons of yummy tomato sauce to freeze too. This year we're learning to save seeds from our favorite and best vegetable plants.

I'm also happy to know exactly where my vegetables are coming from, how they were grown, and the tomato I've ever bought from the grocery store compares to one picked right off the vine. I hope one day to have a vegetable garden in the ground and not only in containers. I would love to grow potatoes and melons. I'd love to have a little greenhouse so I can have tomatoes all year long. I still need to find a cute basket. In the meantime, I'm very happy to have fresh vegetables right outside my door.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Most Favorite Garden Plant

In my recent 2011 Pepper List post, I mentioned that this Anaheim pepper deserves its own post. This is why:
I love it for various sentimental reasons. I started this Anaheim pepper from seed in March 2009, which was the first year we decided to grow our own vegetables. Of all the pepper seeds I planted, it was the only one that germinated. It has grown from a spindly seedling into a healthy plant and heavy producer. I was so proud of having grown something from seed that first year that I wanted to keep it over winter. (At the time I didn't know or realize that you could "over-winter" some vegetable plants and that it's actually quite a common practice). We brought it inside and settled it by the west-facing back door so it would get plenty of sunlight. We watered it and misted it every now and then to keep it humid in the dry winter air of the house.
It did very well! By early spring 2010, while still indoors, it started to produce blossoms and buds again. We moved it outside once the temperatures got warm enough, and it grew enough last summer that we transferred it to a bigger pot. Some of our other pepper plants seem to die off, but this one kept going. Last year, we decided to overwinter it again. In the fall of 2010 we moved it to our spare bedroom so we could close the door and keep our cat away from it. The room has an east-facing window, and we left the shades open all the time. The plant thrived even more. The closed door and intense morning sun created a sort-of greenhouse in the room, which stayed fairly humid throughout the winter. This is now where we keep our seedlings and other plants that we're over-wintering.

This is a tough plant! It has survived extreme temperatures like the record-breaking brutal heat of Summer 2010, cold autumn nights before we decided to keep it inside over winter, a spider mite infestation, and an attack from my cat that left it with a broken limb (part of the reason we moved it to a cat-free zone).
This plant is in now its THIRD growing season, and it continues to do well. We've been reading up on how to collect and save seeds, and we're planning to harvest and save the seeds from the best fruit. I want to preserve its genes for future totally awesome pepper plants.

Anaheim peppers are supposed to be on par with jalapeños in terms of heat, but ours are fairly mild.

Do you have any favorite plants (vegetable or otherwise)? Do you have any sturdy, repeat producers?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Little Red Harvest

A recent harvest of some red stuff--a pint of grape tomatoes and about eleven cherry peppers. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The 2011 Pepper List

This is a list of the various peppers we are growing. All are in containers. (A full list of all the vegetables we're growing this year can be found on the tab titled Growing This Season).

First the bell/sweet peppers:

Bell peppers (from seed): I planted a some bell peppers from a seed packet called "carnival mix." The packet contains a variety of red, orange, yellow, white, and purple peppers. It's fun because you don't know what you're going to get until the peppers start to turn colors. The seeds I planted have produced yellow and orange bell peppers. I was hoping for white or purple, but no luck. I planted these last year too, and didn't get white or purple peppers then either.

Golden Bells (bought as young plant): I guess this will be the year of the yellow pepper! In addition to the yellow ones popping out of the carnival mix, we bought a yellow pepper plant. We have harvested one already, plus a couple of green ones that fell off when a branch broke off. It is taking them a long time to turn yellow, though.

Sweet Chocolate (heirloom, from seed): This is a new variety we're trying this year. As the name implies, they are supposed to taste sweet, and the flesh should turn a rich dark brown color when ripe. They're said to ripen early. We started them from seed months ago, and they've grown so slowly! I'm anxiously waiting to see what they look like.

Purple Beauty (heirloom, from seed): These were started at the same time as the Sweet Chocolates, and at first they were growing slower than the Chocolates, but slow and steady is winning this race. There are many buds on the plant, and I spotted the first purple pepper over the weekend hidden under all the leaves.

Choricero (from seed): These seeds were a gift from my friend Emily. {Thank you, Emily!} I've never grown them before but I'm very excited to see and taste them. Emily said that in cool climates they should be sweet, but in warmer climates they'll be hot, and I read that they're supposed to grow to about three inches long and about an inch wide.  It has taken these plants a loooong time to grow, but I have one fruit and many buds, so I'm crossing my fingers that they continue to grow.

Cherry Peppers (from seed): We had these last year and liked them so much we decided to do it again. These peppers are cute and compact and ripen to a beautiful bright red. They're sweet and taste very good grilled (like on a kabob), baked, or sauteed (which we did the other night with some chicken).

Now the hot peppers (aka, Husband's Section because I am a Wimp):
Cayenne peppers (bought as young plant): We're growing these for the first time, and it's fun! I love their shape and color. We've harvested quite a few of these already and they are hot. Well, to me they are. I have a pretty low tolerance for spicy food. This pepper is definitely my Husband's plant.

Jalapeño (bought as young plant): This is our third summer growing jalapeños. They are very easy to grow, although this plant has grown slower than some of the others peppers. I do see many buds and we have fruit now, so it looks like it will produce nicely for the rest of the summer.

Serrano peppers (from seed): Another new addition to the garden. We started these as seeds and have lots of fruit. Now we're just waiting for them to ripen. 

Spanish pepper (from seed): I saved the best for last. This is my Most Special Plant. I started it from seed in March 2009 and it has produced a lot of fruit for three growing seasons now. I will do a separate post on it with more details later this week because I think this guy deserves his very own post.

So these are the peppers we're growing this year. I see a lot of salsa in our future.

One final picture--The Mystery Peppers
I do this every year. I forget to label my seeds, and I always think I'll be able to remember what I plant in each pot. For the most part, my memory is good. My Sweet Chocolates and Purple Beauties are in identical pots, but I know which is which. And I was able to tell the difference between three almost identical kittens. But I totally forgot what's in these pots. Actually, I know at least two (maybe all four) of these are Jupiter bell peppers. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what grows. Garden surprises seem to be a theme in my garden this year.

A few pepper growing tips: All of our peppers are in containers, and they have grown extremely well in pots. We've noticed that the bell peppers tend to suffer from blossom end rot, so we put eggshells in the soil for added calcium. As they grow tall, the plants need to be staked, similar to tomatoes. And of course, they need plenty of sun and water. We mulch all our containers to keep moisture in and weeds out. One of the benefits of growing hot peppers--the spider mites, bugs, birds, squirrels, etc., seem to avoid them.

What pepper varieties are you growing this year?

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Blooms - Sunflowers Again

I'm linking up with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day today, and am looking forward to seeing what's in other gardens around the Internets. In my garden this month it's all about the sunflowers

The teddy bear sunflowers have begun their second life. The first set of blooms lasted a couple of weeks before succumbing to the brutal summer heat, but these new buds were on deck waiting to bloom.

I have a mystery flower. This is the mystery sunflower that bloomed amongst the Chianti sunflowers last week. Not sure what variety it is, but it's very pretty.

This is what a Chianti sunflower looks like! It bloomed a few days ago, and I'm so happy to see this beautiful flower in my garden again this year. 

Unfortunately, the Chiantis are not as tall as they were last year, and the heads aren't as big either. But  there are other Chianti buds growing behind the first bloom, so I should have more flowers soon. 

Sadly the Coconut Ice sunflowers that bloomed last month didn't even last two weeks, but there are new buds growing on the stalk, so I should have another set of Coconut Ice blooms later this summer.

The Pink Diamond hydrangea tree is blooming. The blooms are white in the summer, but by fall they will turn a deep shade of pink. The tree has been slower to bloom this year compared to last, and there don't seem to be as many blooms or as many butterflies, bees, and other winged visitors as there were last year. 

Also in bloom, as I mentioned on Friday, the Mighty Petunia.

Happy GBBD!