Tomatoes, Onions, and Oranges...Oh My! This Week's Chores

Our tomatoes look like they're about at the end of the line. Good plants...they've given us about 20-30 pounds of delicious harvest this year. So do I pull them out now?

Here's what I harvested just now before starting...along with a couple of pearl onions that spontaneously grew in the onion plot that I harvested months ago. Not one to waste anything, I'll add all this to a salsa later. I have some good peppers to use, too.

Well, the weather's still hot. Around 100 today and it won't really get cold here in Southern California for a couple of more months.

How about instead of cutting them down, I just cut them back and see if they grow another crop?  As my friend Max Arteaga might say "Why Not!"

Also today, I notice that some of my cara cara navel oranges are splitting. Hopefully, the rest of the fruit on this primadonna of a plant will make it to harvest time in December.  I always have a hard time getting a good crop off of it...last year it was about 16 very delicious oranges. It is a dwarf plant.

Finishing off today's chores with mowing my sun-scorched lawn and sweeping the patio.

Happy gardening!

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

The Pretty, Popular, Tropical Weed

Yep...weed. I'll explain but first, this is my backyard neighbor's palm tree on top of the hill behind us.  He has a lot more space and money than I do, so he's not a cheapskate gardener. He's not a gardener period...he hires one to come and take care of the property.

This is my next door neighbor's palm tree. She's not a cheapskate either but still has a gardener come over. She's a widower in her late 80's with numerous health problems and would be a gardener if she could

The palm tree is synonymous with Southern California. They grow everywhere, why do I call it a weed? Go back to the beginning of the last sentence...they grow everywhere.

The seeds sprout endlessly and I am constantly finding them in the garden where they don't belong. Here's one growing along our back wall.

Just about too big to yank out easily, but just almost.

Here's another one growing along a wall of our house.  

It wasn't as hard to pull.  On a good (or bad) day, I can pull up 50 of these seedlings easily. If left to grow, they'll sprout into a very hard to kill, full size tree...home to woodpeckers, rats, skunks, and more.  Easily catching on fire...not the best thing to have next to these dry hills.

Image by Jim Harper
Used with permission under CC BY-SA 1.0 license

Contrary to popular belief, no palm tree is native to the Los Angeles area.  They are all interlopers. The only palm tree native to California is the California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera), which grows in the oasis canyons of the low deserts of Palm Springs, Borrego, and Coachella.

They are easy to recognize with the fan palm shaped leaves and thick trunks.


For me...they mostly just get in the way.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Herbal Essence

Not much to do in the garden this week except to relax and enjoy it a bit. I'll have some more work to do next week.

Today, I'll give you a tour of my wife's herb garden. Not really a specific garden...we just grow them wherever they fit. Above is some basil, which is always good on pizza and pasta.

Speaking of pizza, we've got a couple of plants of oregano which also adds some good flavor to my salsa.

Here's some mint in bloom. Good with tea and a prime ingredient of albondigas.

Marjoram and another oregano on side...

...and thyme on the other.

We'll spice things up with some hot peppers, which are just starting to come in.


Copyright 2012-Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Recipes for a (lazy) Cheapskate - Super Easy Salsa

I've got a bunch of tomatoes from our garden that I better use quick or they'll go bad. Those first two are from the farmer's market and I'm going to harvest their seeds and then use them.

Today, I'm going to take some of them and make a basic salsa.

For spice, I roasted these jalapenos and yellow peppers on my barbecue last weekend.

After harvesting the seed, the remains of the heirlooms go in the blender. See those pieces on the bottom that look like peaches? That's actually the yellow tomato from above.

I toss in two more of the largest tomatoes from the garden, the chiles, a quarter of a white onion, and some salt. Set on the "sauce" setting and let 'er rip.

Here's the result.

After a taste test, I think I need a little more heat, so I put in one of these little fire chiles that my wife's aunt grows in her backyard. They are really hot. I wish I knew what they are called but I don't. I did harvest some seeds a few months ago and now have a few plants in my garden.

My son, Tim, comes over for a taste test.  What do you think, Tim?

If you'd like to try, just get some tomatoes, onions, chiles, and salt. Throw 'em in a blender and add salt and/or chiles until you get your desired heat and taste.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Prepping Next Year's Garden - Seed Harvest

I got these two heirloom tomatoes at my local farmer's market for the express purpose of getting seeds for next year.

As you can see, they're getting a little long in the tooth, so I better get to it.

Cutting them open, there's not too many seeds inside so I get what I can and put them on paper towels labeled with each fruit's color.

I'll let them dry then put into envelopes and wait for next year's planting season.  Stay tuned!

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

The Arctic Orchid...Bletilla

With my recent posts about phalaenopsis...or butterfly...orchids, which are not easy orchids to grow for beginners, people have been asking me what orchids they can grow.

To start, especially if you live in a colder climate than me (Southern California), I'd recommend something like you see on this page...the bletilla orchid.

It's a terrestrial orchid, meaning it grows in soil, not on the side of a tree. It works wonderfully in moist to soggy ground. Think of that faucet you have in the back yard that always spills a couple of drops. That's where I planted mine and I never had to do anything to self watered, was next to the warm house, and built itself into a very thick, big, blooming clump.

It's hardy to 25 degrees. Lower if you cover the deciduous bulbs with mulch after the leaves have fallen off. If you have them planted in the ground, right next to the house, and you live in the lower 48, the heat from the house would probably be enough.

Shade lovers, they do quite well in the ground on the north wall of our house.

Got a moist patch of dirt on on the north, west, or east side of your house...fairly shady? This can go there and you're off to the races in the world of orchid growing. Just bury the bulbs about 2" deep, water in, and watch for results in the spring.

Available at many garden centers for a dollar a bulb, it's also a very cheap way to get into the hobby.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

In Praise of Multitaskers - The Garlic Chive

My motto is that it has to provide beauty or nourishment to be in my garden. Once in awhile, you have plants that do both. Now here's one that adds a third category...pest control.

As you can see above, the plant has very show clumps of flowers, almost  like little bursts of fireworks.  It grows readily from seed and without a lot of help from the gardener.

It grows in clumps and will invaribably spread around your garden. 

The plant is pretty much completely edible. Use the flowers as a spice for Asian broths. Cut the long, thin leaves into bits and sprinkle on your food for a garlic flavor. I like to put them in my eggs. 

You can cut the leaves as much as you want without hurting the plant.  You have to uproot it to kill it.

Planted around roses, garlic chives help to keep the aphids off of the roses. I think this is because the aphids are attracted to the chives more than the roses but it's a great, green method of pest control for your roses.

The one drawback is its readiness to grow.  It will quickly spread all over your garden. The pictures here show a planting that came up spontaneously...not from my original planting about 20 feet away. They don't compete with other plants and play nicely with them but they can get to be a bit weedy.

It's easy to control by just grabbing a clump of leaves and uprooting it where you don't want it.

A nice addition to your herb garden. Between this and our basil, it's hard to say which one is used more.  Available by seed at most garden centers, hardware stores, and in the produce department at Asian supermarkets.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Taming the Wild Orchid...Repotting Epiphytic Orchids

Today, I repotting an orchid. Specifically the phalaenopsis orchid from my previous post. It's finishing its bloom so it's a good time to repot.

The phalie is an epiphytic orchid. That means when found in the wild, it grows on the side of trees, not in the ground. There are orchids that grow in the ground, the cymbidium is the most well known, and are called terrestial orchids.

Since they do not grow in soil in nature, we do not use soil when growing them in pots in the garden either. Most commonly, epiphytes are grown in chopped up chunks of bark. Some times, people will mount them on cork oak or tree fern bark and hang them on the wall too.  I'm using the bark-in-the-pot method.

First, you need to know when to repot. With orchids, it's pretty simple. When they are about to burst the seams of its pot or the potting mix is completely disintegrated is a sign that they need to be repotted. I do mine every 2 - 3 years. 

After the bloom is done is the best time unless it's the dead of winter. If it is, wait until freezing temperatures have passed and the weather is warming up.

You'll need the following to repot:

1. A pot to put the plant in. You can use the same one if there is enough room. There should be at lease 2 inches on each side of the plant. A phalaenopsis is a bit unique in that it grows up more than it grows out, so it doesn't need a whole lot of room to spread. Something else, like a catteleya orchid...which grows bulb after bulb on a creeping rhizome...will need more room to expand.

2. Pruning shears


3. Pruning seal. This is a tarry like substance that you spray on plant cuts like spray paint to prevent pathogens from entering into a plant wound.

4. Vitamin B-1 solution.  This is sold commonly as plant starter or transplanting solution.

5. A flame source like a lighter or candle.

6. A hammer

7. Orchid mix. This is sold commonly at garden centers or online. It is chopped up bark and comes in various size chunks. I prefer the small to medium chunks.

Remove the plant from it's pot. You can see that this phalie, like most that you'll find in supermarkets or drug stores, was grown at a factory nursery in a plastic bag-like pot in sawdust.  A few taps on the size of the pot will help it slide off easily.

Remove the mix from around the roots as much as you can. Pull off any dead roots. If you need to cut anything off of the plant with shears, run the blades over a flame first to kill any pathogens that might be there. If you cut off a piece of the plant, seal the wound with pruning seal.

Put an inch or two of orchid mix in the new pot. Hold the plant centered over the mix with the roots spread out with one hand and fill the pot with orchid mix with the other hand to the brim.

When filled, take your hammer with the handle down, and use it to pound down the mix to compact it (they make tools specifically for this but they're based on hammer handles need to spend money on them). Do this repeatedly...fill and compact with hammer handle...until you have a tightly compacted mix filled to withing a half inch of the rim of the pot.

Mix a half capful of B1 solution into a half gallon of water and thoroughly water the plant. Now, let sit for 5 - 7 days in a shady area with absolutely no water. If you water too soon, the damaged roots can rot. This gives the roots time to heal. After this, go ahead and put it where it will be permanently...see my phalaenopsis post for tips on where to grow it.

Other chores this weekend:

Sweep the patio...probably my least favorite gardening chore.
Prune the lavender and baby's breath.
Fertilize...for the roses, this will be the last feeding of the year.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Calling All Volunteers...

Don't worry...I'm not asking any of you to come to the Cheapskate's house to do free gardening...

See that pretty flower at the top?  It's from a Christmas cactus.

We have it hanging in a basket in the backyard and it's a spectacular bloomer...especially in the dead of winter. Wonder why it got it's name...

Anyway, we're not here to talk about the Christmas cactus, we're here to talk about volunteers. You know what a volunteer is, don't you?

No? Well, there's a picture of one just above this paragraph. You know what a weed is. That's a plant that grows without you planting it, taking up valuable resources, for no value returned. 

A volunteer is almost the same thing.  It's a plant that sprouts spontaneously without any input from you but, hey, this guy's not bad. In fact, it's kind of cool.  

That's the difference.  A weed is a spontaneous plant you don't want, a volunteer is a spontaneous plant that you like and decide to keep.

This one grew out of our Christmas cactus basket. It sort of looks like an alien from another planet. It's succulent, like the cactus, so we're guessing it came with it.  

For the longest time, we had no idea what it was. Finally, after much googling, I found it...Kalanchoe daigremontiana...also called "The Mother of Thousands."

It gets its name from the many leaflets that line the edge of the plant. They fall off and make new plants...mother of thousands. An apt name.

Cool pink flowers too...we'll keep it around.

- Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Recipes for a Cheapskate Gardener - Barbecued Veggies

One of the best things about gardening is being able to create your own food from scratch...I mean REALLY from scratch...having everything in your dish come from your own yard.

You don't even have to go to the supermarket...

Among other crops this year, we grew corn, summer squash, onions, tomatoes, and carrots. This is how I use them in a summer barbecue.

First, I pick the squash, onions, carrots and corn and wash them thoroughly (except the corn).

Next, it's on to the tomatoes. Same thing...wash them well and set aside for later.

Chop up the squash, carrots and onions. Chop the onions very fine.  Dice the tomatoes and set aside separately.

Get a large ziploc bag. Put the carrots, squash, and onion in it. Also drop in around 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon each of kosher salt, pepper, and chile powder. Seal the bag and shake it vigorously.

Now, get a sheet of foil paper and dump the contents of your ziploc bag on it. Loosely gather up the foil paper so that everything is wrapped up. Loose is the key word here, leave some gaps for the heat and smoke to permeate.

Start your barbecue, coals on one side (or if gas, leave at least one side unlit). Put the veggies in foil on the indirect heat side. Leave with lid covered for at least 30 can use this time to cook the meat on the barbecue too.

About 15 minutes in, I throw the corn with the husks still on on the indirect side of the grill. These should be done at the end of the original 30 minutes too...they don't take as long to cook as the carrots do.

Serve as is on a plate and sprinkle some of the diced tomatoes and parmesan cheese on the veggies. The picture at the top shows what the veggies and corn looks like with my fabulous grilled duck breast. 

Aside from the meat, this meal probably cost me less than a dime. It is also fresher and tastier than anything you can get at a supermarket or a farmers market.  Can't you just imagine how good it tastes?

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All rights reserved

Calling All Deadheads...This Week's Gardening Chores

No, there's no Dead concert going on. I'm talking about cutting off spent rose blossoms. They look dead, hence the term "deadheading." 

Here's a bush perfect for this .  To deadhead, find the first set of leaves under the dead blossom with at least 5 leaflets. You can go a little lower too, if you'd keep the shape desired, etc. Cut on a angle just above those leaves.

When there are multiple deadheads on a stem, I like to cut low enough so I can get all of them in one cut.

Why deadhead? First, it makes the bush look cleaner and nicer. Second, dead blossoms left on the plant tend to turn into seed pods (rose hips) that inhibit more blossoms from forming on the bush. When you deadhead, you cut off the hormones that tell the plant to shut down flower then sprout from the junction of the leaflet and stem where you cut.

Being early September, this will be the last deadheading of the season. This is pretty much the same for most of the continental United States. Along with the final deadheading, we feed our roses one more time with fertilizer. 

Now, we'll just let the roses be for the rest of the year. No cutting, no feeding (continue to water as needed, though). Those rose hips that develop will help nourish the plant for the cold weather to come.

Other chores going on for the Cheapskate this weekend:

Mowing the lawn
Fertilizing the garden
Checking spray patterns on the sprinklers and drip emitters

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Dutch Oven Beef Stew

It can still get a little chilly at night here in Northern California. A hearty stew is just the thing to take the chill off. This reci...