Thursday, July 31, 2008

Latest Addition

Here's a picture of the latest addition to our collection of container plants. This one (which belongs to the wife) is a 17 inch bowl-type planter that we filled with a variety of colorful things and placed on our front porch. I think it looks pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rescue Plants

Marianne and I often take a look at the rescue shelf at local home improvement stores and nurseries in search of a good deal. Rescues are plants that, for various reasons, have such a poor appearance that they are just one step removed from being tossed out by the store. Because the merchants are often willing to take what they can get at this point, you can really rack up some savings. Last night, for example, we bought a Lantana plant that normally sells for $10 at Lowe's for a clearance price of only $1. With a little some time and effort, it will make a great addition to the front yard for hardly any money at all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hot Weather Tomatoes

Since the temperature has settled in the 100+ degree range our tomato output has fallen drastically. Most blooms just won't set fruit at these temps. Yet, as an exception to the rule, our Sunmaster and Heatwave plants still have a few tomatoes on them. Two have ripened on Heatwave A (I'm using the A and B designations whenever we have two plants of the same variety) in the last week, and it still has three growing on the vine. Sunmaster B--a plant that we put out in June--has put on a couple of tomatoes as well. That's not many tomatoes, but I'm impressed with any production in this heat.



Monday, July 28, 2008

Tiny Pepper with Big Burn

Yesterday I decided to eat this little Tabasco pepper. For some reason, it just didn't grow very large at all. But don't let its tiny stature fool you. It was HOT. I mean that really painful, eye watering, give me something to stop the burning NOW, kind of hot!

Look very closely, it's in the palm of her hand

On a dime

After finally getting my mouth to cool down a bit, I decided to conduct a little research on the heat ratings of my Tabasco relative to other peppers. I found that the pepper industry uses a standardized measurement known as the Scoville unit to rate the capsaicin content (heat) of all peppers. The Scoville scale dates back to 1912 and carries the name of its creator, American chemist Wilbur Scoville.

My Tabascos are rated at a very respectable 30,000 to 50,000 of Mr. Scoville's units. Jalapenos, by comparison, come in at a relatively Arctic 2,500 to 5,000. Serranos are a bit warmer at 5,000 to 15,000. The Habanero kicks things up alot with a rating of 200,000 to 350,000. A Red Savina Habanero can surpass even that, reaching a very painful 580,000 Scoville units. But even that scorcher fails to approach the world's hottest chili pepper. The Bangladeshi Bhut Jolokia (also known as the Naga Jolokia or Ghost Chili) obliterates all competition by registering an astonishing 1,001,304 units on the Scoville scale. Wow! I don't think I want one of those.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Basil Growth

Basil has really turned out to be a wonderful crop to grow in our desert container garden. It's great as a companion plant for tomatoes, as it's supposed to keep away certain pests. It loves the Sun, and, with daily watering, thrives even in our Summer heat. The homegrown version of the herb also tastes so much better than the store-bought variety that comparison is just laughable. That's a huge plus, considering that pasta dishes are some of our favorite and most common meals.

While most of our basil is doing very well, I do have one problem spot. In the pictures below, compare the basil in the long window box container with the basil planted around the tomato plant in the black 15 gallon container. Both groups of sweet basil came from the same set of seedlings and were planted at the same time. The two containers are located only a few feet from each other and get the same amount of Sun each day (about 8 hours). They are also watered on the same schedule. The only difference, other than container shape/size) is that I used Miracle Grow potting mix in the black container and a cheaper potting soil (amended with composted steer manure and earthworm castings) in the window box.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Garden Helper

Just a few pictures of Buster, one of my garden helpers.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tomato Olympics

With the Beijing Olympics approaching, and the spirit of competition in the air, I thought it might be fun to have our own race here in the Desert Container Garden. So, I now introduce the first ever tomato seedling biathlon. Over the next 4 week period, we'll judge the plants on the rate at which they come up and the amount that they grow. Pictured above you will see the contestants. In the left two pods we have our Russian entrants, Black Krim #1 and #2. In the center two pods, the Italians might be tough to beat with San Marzano #1 and #2. And on the far right, the Americans will attempt to bring home the gold with Hawaiian Tropic #1 and #2. Thanks to my WONDERFUL WIFE of one year (today) for making the cool markers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine

We picked up a couple of sweet potato vines at the local nursery the other day. Marianne and I think that the vines, with their sharp contrast of dark purple and bright green leaves, look really cool. Now if they'll just grow in this heat.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

World's Smallest Vegetable Bed

Well maybe there is one smaller somewhere in the world, but the flower/veggie bed that I built yesterday is pretty tiny. I plan on growing a tomato plant (haven't settled on a variety yet) and perhaps one of the Purple Beauty bell peppers that I bought for Marianne (I detest bell peppers, but she loves them). The things are supposedly purple even before they ripen, and should look very cool. When I decide on a tomato plant variety, I will plant another of the same age and type in one of my containers. Then, at the end of the year, I can compare their growth and production. I'm curious to see if the tomatoes on the plant in the ground will grow larger than those on the container plant.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bye Bye Better Boy

I finally did away with our struggling Better Boy tomato plant. As you may have gathered from previous posts, this plant has been a real disappointment. Despite growing to approximately 7 feet in height, it produced only two tomatoes. The largest of these weighed in at just over 4.3 ounces (122 grams), while the other pushed the scales to an even 2 ounces (56 grams). Both were a far cry from the "extra large fruits....some weighing 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams)" touted by their seeds' pack.

When I pulled up the plant last evening, I noticed that its root system was not nearly as developed as I had expected for such a large plant. I don't really know what is normal for a mature tomato plant, but the Better Boy's roots stretched out no more than one foot across. They subsequently had left lots of dirt unused in their whisky barrel home. Maybe poor root development accounted in part for the plant's lackluster performance.

I replaced the Better Boy with a Mortgage Lifter variety that I picked up at local nursery. The plant obviously had been there a while, as it looked pretty rough around the edges and was discounted from an original price of $4.87 to $1.85. But after pruning off the dead limbs and leaves, the thing looks good for a rescue plant. We'll see how it grows, and if it produces more than the barrel's previous occupant.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cucumber Update

Our hanging cucumber plants seem to be doing quite well. They are growing very quickly, and this morning I noticed that one had produced its first bloom. I've never grown cukes before, so I really don't know how well they set in the heat. Tomorrow it's supposed to cool down into the 90s for a few days. Maybe this cold front will help out a little.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tabasco Pepper and Capt. Wayne's Salsa

We finally have a ripe Tabasco pepper! It seemed like the thing would never turn orange. I am really curious about how its going to taste and its heat level. I expect, and hope, that it tastes something like the Tabasco sauce that carries it name.
it even looks hot
On the topic of peppers, Marianne made some of her famously delicious "Captain Wayne's Salsa" the other night with Jalapenos and tomatoes from our container garden. It gets its name from a 747 captain who taught her how to make it. This stuff is addictively good and has a massive kick. If we could bottle and sell it I think we'd be rich in no time. I'd share the recipe, but if I did I might end up in the desert... (Old Vegas reference)

Captain Wayne's Salsa

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Desert Wildflowers

Marianne and I have several hanging containers around the house in which we enjoy growing various types of flowers. It's nice to add a little color to the desert surroundings. But this is easier said than done, particularly in the Summer months.

In our search to find a variety capable of surviving the desert heat, it seemed that we'd tried about everything offered by the local home improvement stores and nurseries. Then, a few days ago, we stumbled across some seeds at Home Depot labeled "Southwest Desert Flower Mix." Although we had no idea what they might look like (other than a generic stock picture on the packet), we decided to give them a try. As you can see by they pictures below, so far things appear to be going well. The wildflowers seem eager to grow, as many have already popped up in just a couple of days. It will be interesting to see what they grow into. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fall Tomato Crop

Just an update on my plans for a Fall tomato harvest. As you may have read on an earlier post, a recent hornworm attack destroyed several of our plants (see: Return of the Hornworm). Our very productive Black Prince and Lemon Boy plants were, unfortunately, among the fatalities. While this ticked me off severely at the time, all is not lost on the tomato-growing front. The two Heatwave and two Sunmaster plants are still growing and doing very well, while the Better Boy limps along in its normal, unproductive manner.

Along with these established plants, I'll soon be transplanting several seedlings in hopes of a Fall crop. For this purpose, I have Black Prince, German Queen, Ace 55, and Lemon Boy plants all starting under the grow lamp. I've grown all of these from seeds, with the exception of the Lemon Boy which is a bit of an experiment. But that's a topic for another day.

Fall tomato plants

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

First Heatwave Tomato

It's the middle of July, and our Heatwave tomato plant has put out exactly one ripened fruit. While that doesn't sound like stellar production when compared to the others, this plant hasn't exactly lived the typical life of its garden neighbors.

Way back in March, I decided to try my luck at growing an upside down tomato plant. So, I went to the local nursery and bought a very healthy looking Heatwave seedling, with hopes that it would produce well into the Summer. After returning home, I noticed the tiniest of sprouts in the container with the new plant. It was so small that it appeared to have just popped through the soil that day. After planting the upside down seedling (which promptly died) I very carefully transplanted the tiny seedling into a small container and placed it under the grow lamp. Several months later it's now a mature Heatwave plant, with one ripened fruit and several others ripening on the vine. And, as temperatures have cooled into the upper 90s over the last week, a few more blooms have set tomatoes. Not bad for a little bonus seedling.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tree Issues

My post today is not about a container plant. Instead, I'd like to discuss a tree planted in front of our house. As far as I can tell, the tree in question is a Rhus lancea which is native to South Africa and sometimes referred to as African Sumac or Karee (it took lots of Internet searching to figure that out, and I'm still not certain!). It came with the house a little over three years ago as a very small sapling. Having really thrived, it now stands approximately fifteen feet tall with a spread of about ten feet.

Over the past month or so, the tree has started showing signs of stress. Many of its leaves have yellowed and dropped off, while much of the new growth appears misshapen. The new leaves look very strange, as they emerge twisted and fused together.
lots of brown leaves
new leaves look worse than the brown ones

The weird thing is, that nothing has really changed concerning the tree's care. It's on the same watering schedule as always and the weather hasn't been abnormal for this time of year. I'm hoping it's not some sort of tree disease. Maybe I just need to fertilize the thing. Any ideas?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Red Bugs on Okra

Some very tiny red bugs (at least I think they are bugs) have decided to make a home of our okra plants. Yesterday, I noticed that a few of the leaves were discolored just a bit. Upon a much closer inspection, I discovered lots of little red specs. These things are very small, much smaller even than a flea. A quick Internet search hasn't turned up any possibilities as to what type of bug they might be. I suppose that I'll have to find something to spray them with today. I was hoping the rain last night would wash them away, but I don't think the five drops that fell accomplished the task. But hey, at least it rained!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cucumbers in a Basket

A month or so ago I decided that I wanted to grow some cucumbers. How to do this became a challenge, as I realized that I really didn't have the space for such a large and sprawling plant. So after thinking it over and failing miserably a couple of times at growing a hanging upside-down tomato, I decided that the hanging basket was the way to go. I planted a couple of cucumber seeds in the basket that I had used for the hanging tomatoes, started watering, and presto--two cucumber plants. The vines will, hopefully, trail down below the basket with the cucumbers hanging on them. Due to the size constraints of the basket, I don't think they will get too big, but we'll see.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Return of the Hornworm

When I flew into Vegas late last night after my six day trip to Alabama, I discovered that my return had not been the only one. It seems that the dreaded hornworms had taken advantage of my absence to launch another, far more devastating attack on our tomato plants. While they consumed the foliage of only one limb a few weeks ago (see post: "Attack of the Hornworm!"), this time they stripped three fully grown plants. Our Lemon Boy, Black Prince, and Better Boy have all been damaged beyond hope of recovery. The worms also ate quite a few leaves (and even some tomatoes) off of the large Heatwave and Sunmaster plants. The amount of destruction these worms can unleash upon a plant is really shocking. I wonder if there is any organic way to defend against the creatures?

Lemon Boy

Black Prince

the culprit

tomatoes for breakfast

thirteen ruined tomatoes

Monday, July 7, 2008

Family's Garden

Here are a few pics from my family's garden in Alabama. Check out the number of tomatoes on their plants. I wish I could get mine to produce like that!

All 48 plants look like this!

Huge German Queen

Lots of Okra

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bama Veggies

Things certainly grow well in the Alabama soil. Here are a few pictures of some okra and tomatoes harvested yesterday from my parents' and grandfather's garden. The amount of vegetables growing there is really amazing. I'll have some pictures of the garden itself tomorrow.

German Queen tomatoes

a few of many, many tomatoes from their vines

single day's okra harvest

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

This is a guest post from The Wife, writing to y'all from over yonder in Alabama! We left Vegas Wednesday night and arrived at the in-laws at the crack of dawn (10am) yesterday. So far it has all been just lovely y'all, with sweet tea (yum!), fried okra (twice!!), and warm biscuits for breakfast - it is all so good! Speaking of southern food, here is a picture of my Husband at the airport in Dallas eating biscuits and gravy and grits! Hah, he was sooo close to home and he just couldn't help himself but start the comfort food feasting right there and then!

For the record, John wants me to put in a caption about him looking silly in this picture, but I refuse, a picture says a thousand words y'all! The picture below shows a close-up of the entirely white meal, isn't that something, it just tickles me to death to see a complete meal all in one color!

Anyways y'all, we are fixing to cook our special recipes for grilled okra and portobello mushrooms for the big family lunch - hopefully they love these dishes as much as we do! Enjoy your Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mystery Plant

This little seedling sprouted next to a Habanero that I planted last week. I have no idea what it is. I guess it could be another pepper plant or maybe some sort of weed....who knows? I'll just let it grow for a while and see.

mystery plant

My largest Heatwave tomato plant started from a seedling about the same size as the mystery one pictured above. I had bought a normal sized seedling to use in an attempt at upside-down tomato plant growing. As I transplanted it into the hanging basket, I noticed the very small plant growing beside it. I carefully removed it, planted it in a small container, and placed it under the lights for a month or so before transplanting it to an outdoor container. Meanwhile, the upside down plant turned out to be a horrible failure (but that's another story). The bonus seedling has since grown into a large plant with several tomatoes ripening on it at present.

Heatwave tomatoes ripening with basil companion plant

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Runaway Rose Bush

Believe it or not, I almost threw this rose bush out for dead a short while ago. After setting it in the front yard last year, the plant really seemed to struggle. It produced one small rose (its only one to date), wilted away, and refused to grow. By late Summer, I decided that maybe its location was the problem and replanted it in a container. Yet in its new container home, and despite ample doses of rose food and rose mulch, the plant continued to weaken.

While our other roses grew rapidly and produced numerous blooms early this year, this one plodded along without even the hint of a bud and very few leaves. Then, one day I noticed a new stem sprouting beside the old one. Within a week the stem was over a foot tall. Then, in a little over a month, it raced upward to its present six and a half feet! It grew so fast and tall that I had to train it around a couple of bamboo poles to keep it upright. Now, two additional stems have sprouted and are growing as quickly as the first. Maybe I should cut it back, but I think I'll just wait a while and see how tall it will grow....