Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Driveway, Before and After

About a year ago we decided we didn't need quite so much non-permeable surface in front of our garage. But we definitely needed more dirt. So we hired this poor guy from craigslist who turned up not with a jackhammer, but with a 15 pound sledge hammer and proceeded to break up one half of the driveway, and shorten his life by several years I'm sure.

I loosened up the hardpan a little and planted cover crop of clover and buckwheat. This season it's planted with beans, tomatoes, peppers, radicchio and some lemongrass.

The plants seem to be loving the location, which gets a lot of sun. I know it's popular to bad mouth our heavy, clay soil here in Oregon, but clay contains lots of minerals and nutrients and it retains water, which makes it boggy in the winter and spring, but not so bad in the intense heat of our long summer days. Mulch around your plants to keep the clay from caking over and to help the soil retain moisture.

This patch of soil, under cement since the house was built in 1982, will certainly benefit from amendments, and hopefully will continue to improve. Towards the end of the summer I'll plant more cover crop, to protect the soil and add some nitrogen and organic matter.

Another great thing about having approximately 135 more square feet of sunny growing area is that it allows me to rotate crops. It's a good idea not to plant the same plant in the same spot year after year. More on that another time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's A Great Idea By Any Name

Urban Homesteaders

Here's a story from the Denver Post about some folks doing what I'm striving to do.
It make sense, it's good for you and your community and it's fun. I love running into like minded folks at the nursery or farmers market. Usually they are so enthusiastic and so willing to share information

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Peas, Pepper Update and the Tale of the Little Apple

The gorgeous weather over the last few days has caused writing about gardening to be rather sparse. Please accept my apologies. But I hope you are out in your own gardens and not in front of the computer.

Lovely Peonies, one of the many splendors of spring.

PEAS! The first ones of the season.
I'm pretty sure these were not here yesterday. But I noticed them today while watering. That's one reason I like to water by hand, it really forces me to take, long, close up looks at the plants. I know it is easier and more efficient to set up watering systems and maybe someday I will, but for now I love discovering new developments while watering.

And here are the Manzano Peppers, related to the Rocoto. They seem to be thriving despite getting a little sunburned in the mini greenhouse. The Rocoto seeds are stewing on the seed starting heat mat and I hope to see them poke their little heads up soon. Updates to follow.

And yes, the little apple seems to be growing into a teenager. The brothers of this tree did not blossom this year, so there will be no fruit. I can only attribute this to the fact that they different varieties, Cox's Orange Pippin and Hudson's Golden Gem. Both trees are bigger that the Northern Spy and they look healthy.

It won't be long now until we'll be enjoying juicy, fragrant strawberries.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is This An Apple?

Or the beginnings of an apple.
It might be, and if it is, it will be the first apple I have grown.
I grafted this little tree 2 years ago and of course I wish I had paid more attention the the folks at the Home Orchard Society when they advised putting some kind of tag on the tree that would not become weathered beyond readability or at least to make a note somewhere as to what kind of apples it will produce.
I am almost certain it is Northern Spy.
I'll keep you posted if it continues to become more apple-like.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring Garden Fair Part 2

Some More Carts and a Note on Vendors
A few more carts for your viewing enjoyment.

New Fangled,

Old Fangled

Just Plain Fangled

Part of what I love about the Spring Garden Fair is seeing the same vendors every year. We always go to the same tomato lady for most of our plants. She has a good selection of varieties, some of the old reliables we grow every year, like Sungold, Early Girl, Oregon Star. She also has new types every year, to keep things interesting. She isn't chatty and doesn't smile, which makes her a peculiar salesperson.

She had her daughter making change for customers this year. But the kid could have benefited from a quick arithmetic review the previous night. I paid with a $20 for $14 worth of tomato plants. She had some trouble making change, and her mother just looked at me and said, "I guess it's going to be a long weekend". She didn't smile, but I think I saw a twinkle in her eye.

There is a regular basil guy, from whom we bought lemongrass plants one year. My half of the plant has turned into 4 plants in 3 years. And on the opposite side of the fair is the pepper and herb lady we buy from every year.

Among the non-plant related offerings is the rusty tool and junk stall, where I bought an old, handmade looking rusty trowel. A few years ago I bought one of my favorite tools there. It is a heart shaped hoe head. I use it for weeding, planting, and busting up dirt clods.

Then there is the novelty category, including the folks who sell the Amazing Stacking Pot thingy. It's a stick they poke through the bottom or ordinary clay pots. The pots rest against each other at an angle, one on top of the other. Et Voila! They pimp it like it is an astounding invention, a la K-tel. That's NOT an invention, it's a piece of re-bar for God's sake with clay pots threaded onto it.

SOS, our favorite category. Stuff (substitute your own word here, but it should begin with an "s") on a Stick. As long as it's on the end of a stick people will put anything in their yards. Here's the proof. Besides the obligatory glass balls and teacups there were these.

Not sure who might buy this, except people who are planning ahead for their office Christmas party gift exchange.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rocoto Zombie and The Bean Queen

Okay, now that I got my Rocoto pepper plants I can relax a little. But while I was deep in the throes of hunting them I'm sure I was asked by more than one person, "What's with you and these peppers?"

And I would answer in a robotic monotone. Don't. Know. Must. Have. My arms extend straight out in front of me, eyes glaze over and focus on middle distance. I push past the inquisitor and walk stiff legged, muttering Ro-co-to. Ro-co-to.

Perhaps I exaggerate, am I not allowed to crack myself up?

Anyway, it's not like I'm one of those chili pepper nuts.
I DO NOT have a hot sauce collection.
I DO NOT have a cap or t-shirt or any apparel posing the question, "Got Habanero?"
I DO NOT order all food "3 Alarm" hot.

I'm just a gal who stumbled across an interesting plant that I'd like to add to my garden. Besides, it's not like I'm growing 7 different kinds of beans, or somthing equally eccentric. Yes, I do know someone with just such a fetish, but discretion prevents me from revealing her identity. She might not go to the Spring Garden Fair with me next year.

So she is growing 7 kinds of beans, but I'm the one with the problem. That's the beauty of gardening. Oh sure, all the noble, uplifting stuff about communing with nature. But more importantly, it provides a way to direct the crazy in us all and cloak in normalcy, kinda.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


So today was the big field trip to Jerry's to see about the Manzano peppers. I didn't know quite what to expect, it might be a total bust. It turned out to be just the opposite. He was much less nervous in his own element, very generous with his time and knowledge.

At the end of a long driveway sat 2 huge greenhouses. Inside sat hundreds of plants, tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, greens, flowers, etc.

The shrub pictured below is 8 or 10 Manzano pepper plants started last year. They are about 6 feet high, after only 1 year! That's a vigorous plant. These are planted in the ground and stay indoors all year. He also has large 4-5 foot plants in pots that spend the summer outside and come in for the winter.

I was stunned to put it mildly.

I didn't expect to see any fruit on these plants, let alone ripe fruit. And he generously gave me this one to take home.

Of course I cut it open as soon as I got home. Sure enough the seeds were black. And although Jerry warned me that it might not be hot, it had plenty of heat, not so much as to blow your head off, just right. So I bought 3 plants in gallon pots.

They had lots of other exotic plants, like this blooming cactus.

But the super big bonus was a full shopping bag full of oyster mushrooms. Yes, he grows these too, and forced a big bag on me. And wouldn't let me pay him for them.

Mel helped me inspect them. And she did a quality control taste test.

It was a great day of botanical aquisition. I am very excited about growing these peppers.
Oh, I also brought home 2 more tomatoes, a Valencia, and a Cherokee Purple. And 2 more peppers an Aji Angelo and a Fish pepper. Of course I don't need them, but Jerry's low-key enthusiasm caused me to lose my mind.

And he charged me...$15 for the lot.

In addition I got a tip on a great Volkswagon mechanic in Portland. What more could you ask for? Nice people.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rocoto Underground

It came as no surprise to me that there were no Rocotos to be found at the Master Gardeners Spring Garden Fair last weekend. That's okay, I enjoy the quest.

There was a guy selling a huge variety of unusual peppers, but they were are really, really small. I looked through all the trays of peppers and I started to get excited, seeing things that none of the other vendors had. But I didn't see any Capsicum Pubescens varieties. So I asked the guy running the stall if he had any. He said no, but wagged his thumb in the direction of another man standing in the corner who turned out to be Jerry. Jerry and his wife grow Manzano peppers, related to the elusive Rocoto and frequently grown in Mexico.

It was kind of hard to get information out of Jerry, he was acting kind of secretive, glancing furtively from side to side, as if he might be apprehended. He gave ambiguous, impenetrable answers to what I thought were very ordinary questions form me. He shrouded himself in an unnecessary air of mystery and intrigue about the secret society of Capsicum Pubesens. This just piqued my interest. I half expected him to open his trench coat, to reveal a display rack of pepper plants.

I think he was just trying to show a little professional courtesy to the guy whose canopy he was standing under. Trying to make sure he would not be seen stealing customers. I don't think the pepper guy cared at all, he was too busy selling the peppers he had.

Jerry gave me his wife's phone number and I spoke to her today. She was very generous with her knowledge and experience with growing the Manzano peppers, not mysterious at all. I'll be visiting her tomorrow to get a few plants and look at the plants they grow, some of which she described as 5 feet tall in pots. Can't wait.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Are chickens smart enough to come in out of the rain?

Answer: Not mine

Time to go shove 'em in the coop. They can be lured almost anywhere with cracked corn.

This is wet Scarlet, kind of freaked out by the camera.

Event of the Season, Big Plant Sale

First weekend in May is when the Master Gardeners Spring Garden Fair happens. My sister in law and I go together, as we have every year that I've lived here. We don't take anybody with us; we cannot spare the space in the car. We take a big wagon and usually fill it up a couple of times, before we run out of money.

This is where I get my tomato, pepper, and eggplant starts. And I always manage to find plants I didn't realize I NEED.

The plants are great and the people watching is terrific.
We love to see the contraptions people bring to haul plants.

Some folks are really committed.

Others, not so much.

Anything with wheels will work.

I look forward to this event all year with relish. It signals the real start of the gardening season for me. And it usually starts to rain as soon as we get home with our plants. This year the only difference was the intensity of the rain. It bucketed and the wind howled. All plants got a good pummeling.

It rained fiercely again yesterday and it's raining now, but much more gently. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days. That is the way of things. April showers bring May...

No matter. At least it's warmer and the ground can store up all this moisture for the scorching days ahead. Please tell me there will be scorching days ahead.