Falling for a Speckled Lettuce...and Spinach too!

My next fall project is to make a salad. I planted some lettuce last spring but the local wildlife gobbled it up as soon as the first tender shoots broke ground.

I've also had my share of tomato problems but I'm not ready to throw in the towel on my home-grown salad yet.

I've got some cool weather heirloom lettuce and spinach that I'm going to plant for fall. It's a slightly less than 2 months from sowing-to-harvest variety so maybe I can have that salad for Thanksgiving.

I'm putting the soil into the seeding tray. Funny how the hardware store doesn't sell them with drain holes in them already, first I had to take a nail and poke a bunch of holes in the bottom.

I'm putting the lettuce on one side and the spinach on the other. After sowing and covering up the seeds with soil, I tuck the top of each seed packet into the side of the tray so I can remember which side is which.

Water in...

...and cover with cling wrap (more to keep the animals out than anything else). Once I've got some good, healthy little plants, I'll transplant into the space that the onions and bell peppers were growing in during the summer.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

My Languishing Lawn

In the valleys of Southern California, it regularly tops 100 degrees in summer. In my particular micro-climate, pushed right up against the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the hills trap and intensify that heat so that we also have several days of better than 110 degrees.

It's hot, plain and simple, and not all of the greenery can take it.

My lawn is one. It's St. Augustine grass. It used to look good for around 6 months of the year, and then die back because of the heat or winter dormancy.

We also used to have a big ash tree that shaded much of it but the city, fearing it might have termites, removed it and the shade it provided (when we asked for a replacement, the reply was "we don't have a budget for that"). 

While I missed the shade, I didn't miss raking up all those leaves so I didn't make a fuss about it.

Until I found the other insidious effect...without the shade, my lawn is severely scorched from this blistering summer sun (see the picture at the top).

So, this fall, my big project is the rehabilitation of my lawn. Since I'm the Cheapskate, I've got to find a way to do it that's not going to cost an arm and a leg.

I looked into renting an aerator. Minimum of $45 for three hours...not too bad...but the guys at the rental shop are scaring me saying you better know what you're doing with it and that it's a real bear to operate.  "A gardener can do it for around the same price," I'm told.

Approaching my neighbor's gardener, he tells us at least $800 and that doesn't include the cost of the aerator rental. He'd rather install sprinklers and a new lawn for a cost of several thousand dollars.

My middle and last name might be "Urban Gardener," but he's not quiet getting the first name...

So here's my plan...I'm going to overseed with drought resistant grass.  First, to aerate the lawn, I'm going to wet down the ground real good.

Then I'm getting a metal rake/fork and gouging the ground to aerate and break up the roots.

Some of those clumps are pretty darn tough...look what it did.

Here's today's results. I'm going to do a little bit each day until I'm done. Then, I've got a 10-day trip coming up where I can seed, set the timer on the sprinkler to water everyday, no one will be here to bother it, and - hopefully - that can give it the time and moisture it needs for some quality germination.

Wish me luck!

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Cherry Falls

No, that's not one of my punny titles, that's the actual variety name of the cherry tomatoes that I planted in a hanging basket outside of our kitchen window.

My travails with the regular tomatoes have been well documented here this season, although that could also be having a happy ending soon, but the cherry tomatoes have done a decent job.

Starting off in April, I selected a suitable basket and lined it with coco fiber. Next, I repurpose a plastic shopping bag so I can slow down and direct the drainage by poking a hole in the bottom. This will let the water spread out and pool for a minute or two before draining out getting the soil nice and moist evenly around the roots. Then, some potting soil for the plants to grow in.

The seed go in and are watered in before hanging.

I hang the basket outside, put a drip emitter over it, and the timer waters it for 5 minutes everyday.

A month later, a healthy seedling emerges.

In July, I get my first fruit on the biggest stem. It will repeat this act about every two weeks for the rest of the season. I can't wait to get some more stems, more fruit, and have more of a "tomato" fall effect.

Now, according to the picture where I bought it, the plant should look like this.

Unfortunately, none of the other stems (three in all) feel like producing. Fortunately, the one that does is a reliable producer and is still giving us great salad ingredients to this day...I picked those ripe ones a the top this morning.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Vanquishing the Dragon

Time to harvest some of our dragon fruit. No, not this one. Maybe next week but today I have to get the very ripe fruit in the back of the plant.

Not as easy as it seems. The dragon fruit plant is a type of cactus so it will be tricky to reach around to the back through all the needles.

I do manage with minimal damage and get these two. Just in the nick of time, too, as you can see one fruit already split.

Once picked, it's an easy job to cleave it in two...

...and scoop out the sweet pulp inside.

We sample some of the flesh and it's much sweeter than last year's bland crop. 

I'm going to mix it with a little vanilla ice cream, put some caramel on top, and enjoy.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

September Status

While I contemplate how I will rehabilitate my lawn this fall, I go to the back and ponder how that garden is doing.  This plumeria is growing into our space so after it's growing season is over, I will lop of a few of the most offending canes.

When done, it should look something like this one, next to the grapevine.

This year, I planted mostly to have just enough veggies for the three of us. It worked well with the zucchini and bell peppers. Not so well with the tomatoes. And, some, like our patch of chile plants, are producing like there's no tomorrow.

I can't keep up with them all and some are just falling off, lying on the ground. Well, I'd rather have too much than not enough.

Another plant that is producing a bumper crop is our guava tree. We should start picking it in a week or two.

Although our regular tomato plants are a failed crop, I am getting some nice cherry tomatoes from this hanging basket by the kitchen.

They're great with bleu cheese on a salad.

I'll end this post with a quick look at our next delicious bell pepper crop. These are so tasty, I can't wait to have some more.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Peppering up the Premises

Finally getting a chance to get back out to the garden, starting off with the beginning harvest of our bell peppers, pictured above. Got three ripe ones, ready to go, one for each of us. More on that below.

The plumeria always does good, this year they were exceptional. One problem...if you want to call it that...is that branches get too heavy and want to break off.  If you want, just stick it in the ground and it will become a new tree.

I go ahead and break this on off. I've already got enough plumeria, so this one goes in the trash.

More dragon fruit is ripening. I need to find a good recipe for this beautiful but somewhat bland fruit.

And what's that? Why it's a tomato! About time.

Back to the bell peppers...I cut them in half, spread a little cream cheese in them, put in some bacon bits, more cream cheese, top with shredded pizza blend cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, and jack), put in foil, and barbecue.

When done, I serve it with these delicious grilled chicken thighs.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Avoiding the Labor on Labor Day

We had triple digit temperatures and high humidity this weekend in L.A. so I was mostly trying not to get heatstroke.

Gardening chores were mostly of the mundane and easy variety like fertilizing and some light weeding. Since the front lawn is mostly a scorched brown, I was able to get away with weed whacking the few growing green spots on it, saving me from mowing for another couple of weeks. That will be this fall's number one project...aerating the lawn and overseeding with a heat and drought resistant mix.

I did have a chance to look around to see what I could harvest and anything else that needed attention. Pulling back the prickly canes of our dragonfruit showed a couple of beauties ripening against the wall (above). There's also a couple of greener fruit on the front of the plant.

I noticed something has been chewing on my newly sprouted zucchini plant, so I put a few more seeds in the soil and covered with a critter cage.

The spurge is always surging so I spent some time yanking it out too.

Bell peppers are almost ready to pick. These might be on the menu next weekend and I'm hoping to get a couple more harvests before they're done for the year too.

The sweet onions just won't stay good in the ground anymore, so I harvested the last of it too. The onions have been a very delicious addition to our summer menus.

Lastly, the garlic chives are blooming in our herb corner. Trying to decide whether I should let them propagate or cut off the flowers. They're delicious but the get fairly weedy.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sufferin' Succotash!

Well, I'm back. Sorry that I had to take a little hiatus there but there was a family medical emergency that consumed us and my blogging time was one of the things that had to take the hit.

I've got a three-day weekend due to Labor Day so I'm scrounging in the garden to see what I can find.

There's some sweet onions, ready to go (above) and some chiles.

I pick a few and head over to Fresh and Easy (that's Tesco to my UK friends). In the day-old bin, I find some good looking summer squash and some grated carrot at marked-down prices.

I add the last of our zucchini, some baby gold potatoes, chop up an onion with three of the chiles.

It all goes into a recycled plastic bread wrapper (yes, we try to recycle everything here).

Throw in a dash of olive oil, some salt and pepper, shake up in the bag to mix everything up and coat well. Then I empty it on a sheet of foil paper.

Grill it on indirect heat for half an hour and serve with our entree. In this case, a very tasty flat iron steak.

Entire meal is around $6, shared with two people, most of that coming from the meat.

Copyright 2013 - 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...