Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Lavender Lost...

Our lavender plants are well established and provide much beauty and fragrance to our yard and patio.

Vigorous growers, they produce scads of blooms and grow to nice, large orbs of purple and green.

Earlier in the season, I'll cut back the blooms to encourage a second one.

Late in the summer, though, the plant is spent and it's time to cut back.

This is a good time, too, because once the flowers are gone, so are the ever-present bees who might get a little riled when you stick a big pair of loppers into their midst.

Chop, chop, chop...and now the garden waste bin is full.

I'm done for this year, the plant now has plenty of room to fill back up. Just need to sweep up this mess and I'm finished for today.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Eat Your Dragon

One plant I really love in our garden is the dragon fruit. This tropical cactus does very well in our climate and I'm hoping to get more production out of it.

We have two varieties, one with white flesh and the other a vibrant, hot-pink flesh like a watermelon on acid.

It's time to eat this one.  Eaten straight, it's ok. Slightly sweet but a bit bland.

The best, we've found, is to cut it up in cubes and very lightly sprinkle a little powdered sugar on it.

This amps up the natural sweetness and the taste is as stunning as the looks of the fruit.

Best of all, I went out this morning and found more flower buds on the plant. More fruit to come...

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Not All Pests Are Animals or Insects...

Well, I want to start off the post with something pretty. The Dragonfruit, which go very quickly from bloom to ripe, are ready. I picked this one and another one this weekend. This particular variety has a deep, dark, hot-pink flesh inside its fruit.

I wish it would produce more. The plants, a cacti, have little thorns that keep the animal pests off so I don't have to worry about the squirrels or deer getting to them. They also are very drought tolerant, which would make them ideal if they produced more fruit.

Speaking of pests, this morning I saw a lady come down to our back wall and snatch a large cluster of flowers from our plumeria tree. As you can see above, it grows a bit over our back wall. There's a public jogging trail on the other side.

I guess, I don't mind them taking whatever grows over to the other side, I just hope they don't harm the plants or think they can reach over the wall and take whatever they want. 

How do you feel about parts of your plants that grow beyond your property?  Is is open season on whatever grows there?

In other parts of the garden, you might have heard that California is in the worst drought of our history. The state has announced fines of up to $500 per day for visible water wasting. That's in addition to a conservation rate of 20%...we must cut back 20% on our water use.

I wonder about that last one. I've been trying to cut back for years. In fact, I qualified for a lower sewer service rate because we cut back 20% years ago. Do I now need to cut back another 20%?  What about those around me who haven't cut back at all.  Do they get to waste more water than me?

I tell you, the more I think about it the deeper the confusion is. 

Here's our lawn, which I have on a timer. You can tell it's suffering from lack of water, I'm just trying to keep it alive enough to come back when the rains do. It gets 10 minutes of water very, very early in the morning so that all the water is soaked in before the sun comes up. 

This is typical of what the lawns in our neighborhood look like right now.

A couple of people have stopped watering altogether but that brings up a lot of dust. What to do?  I think I might swing by the city hall someday and see what they will allow me to grow there instead of grass but that also might cost quite a bit.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Early Harvest

This will probably be my biggest harvest this summer. 

While the squirrels decimated my zucchini...I will not get so much as one squash this least the tomatoes and grapes pulled through.

The grapes are usually end-of-summer but this hot, drought parched year made them come in early. Very early. But we did get a good crop. The bunches above represent the last of this year's.

The tomatoes are just starting to come into their own. The rodents attacked them early in the season, even uprooted the vines I have now, but I guess tomatoes aren't to their tastes after all because they've pretty much left them alone since then. 

Now the plants are recovering and producing fruit.

Luckily, the dragon fruit grow on spiny cactus stocks, so we can count on a few fruit from time to time from that.

It won't be long til we're picking Meyer lemons too.

Copyright 2014 -Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 7, 2014

Battling Back for a Harvest

So far, my harvests this year have been pitiful. The drought's taking it's toll...not on the plants directly...but driving animals down from the dry, cooked mountains behind our house.

Deer have been using my rose garden as a diner, picking up dinner whenever the flowers are in bloom. Squirrels have invaded, some even trying to burrow under our water heater, and have decimated my zucchini. Although they can't stand the hot chiles, the leaves are to their taste and our pepper harvest is very minimal.

The pest control guy says to just block their access so we try to fill every rodent-sized hole with bricks. Just when I think I'm making progress, I look out and see another squash or pepper plant laid waste.

We have had limited success with our tomatoes, especially the cherry tomatoes I grow in a hanging basket.

The grapes have been my most successful battleground. Years ago, I put up a rodent-deterring cage around the bottom of the vine. That works for the mammals but the birds still have access to the top.

I've tried netting and, while that worked, the fruit was tiny. My wife thinks it constricted the plant too much.

This year I applied holographic tape to scare the birds away. My wife says she still see mockingbirds eating the fruit but even so, some clusters have made it through (I put fruit nets around some of the clusters but not most of them).

The heat and drought have also had another effect. Our grapes usually ripen at the beginning of September. We're harvesting now...the first week of July...and expect to get around 10 pounds.

At least I've had one success this year. Now, if I can just sneak some veggies past the squirrels, I'd be a happy gardener again.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Recipes for a Cheapskate: Stuffed Chiles

Sunday's are barbecue days at the Cheapskate's house. Probably 40 out of the 52 weeks in a year will find me out on the patio grilling some poor, dead creature over flame.  The garden often provides the side dish.

This week, along with some roasted potatoes, it's an extremely simple stuffed chile dish.

These three Anaheim chiles are from our plant. They have somehow made it through the relentless squirrel attacks we've had this year.

Anaheim chiles are very tasty and have just a hint of heat.

After washing, I just score them. The chiles off of this particular plant have hardly any skin on them so I don't bother peeling them.

Not a lot of seeds inside either, so it's just insert a sliver of cream cheese, sprinkle on a shredded jack and cheddar mix, wrap in foil, and cook on indirect heat on the grill along with our main dish.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Orchids of the Earth

It's time to repot some cymbidiums.  As my mother-in-law would tell you, it's a chore I should do more often.

In general, cyms should be repotted every 2-3 years. It's not a tricky process but it is hard work and messy at times.

First, to determine which plants need to be repotted, look for plants that have filled up the entire pot. Maybe they look more dead than alive and the mix is broken down, that would be another sign that they need to be repotted.

You'll need the plant, a pot (usually I put them back in the same one, on very vigorous plants I might increase the pots size a bit), mix, trowel, hammer, and pruning seal (not shown above).

Knock the pot off. You can see this plant is more root that soil, indicating it needs repotting. With your fingers, reach in and break up the root ball. Remove as much soil as you can, along with dead roots.  I also remove the dead-looking back bulbs and maybe even some green growths to make a more centrally-shaped plant.

You can also pot the dead looking bulbs, as long as they feel very hard and firm to the touch, and new plants will grow from them.

Cymbidiums are terrestrial orchids, meaning that they grow in the ground in the wild unlike epiphytic orchids (like cattleyas, dendrobiums, and phaleanopsis), which grow on the side of trees.

This means you can't use straight bark chips on them like the other orchids. I buy a pre-made mix from an orchid nursery but you can also make your own using 50% small to medium bark chips, 25% perlite, and 25% peat moss.

You can see that there's a hole in my bag. Want to know where the Cheapskate is? Just follow the trail of cymbidium mix.

Put an inch or two of mix in the bottom of the pot. Spray pruning seal on any wounds left by tearing off old bulbs. Find the leading growing edge of the plant. Cymbidiums don't grow out in all directions, the green point at the bottom of the bulb above is the new growth. The plant will grow in this direction.

Put the none-growing edge up against the edge of the pot and the new growth facing the center.  Fill with mix all the way to the edge of the pot. Use a hammer handle to pound the mix down as tight as you can.

If you've pounded the mix tight enough, you should be able to lift the plant by the leaves and the pot will not fall off.

Once done, it should look something like this with the growing edge given room to grow across the pot for the next two or three years.  Water it in and put back on your orchid bench.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Collapse of the Rainbow Coalition

Ok, so my last attempt at mockingbird dissuasion failed.  I put holographic tape on the grapevine. It's supposed to give them vertigo and headaches and leave the plants alone.

Not here, these mockingbirds just see it as decorations for a free grape buffet.

One last try...I'm using the netting that you find on some fruit you get at the grocery store on each cluster as a barrier. Unfortunately, I only have two of them.  If it works, we'll be saving more of the fruit netting for the next crop.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Rainbow Pride on the Grapevine

No, it's not a gay grapevine...I think. 

I'm always in search of a better scarecrow. The birds, especially mockingbirds, just love the grapes. Last year, I put in netting but my wife thinks that crowded the plant together too much resulting in small grapes.


This year, I'm going with a high-tech scarecrow.  You'll see this a lot in wine country.

I've got some holographic tape that I cut into strips and tie in strategic parts of the plants.

It's supposed to give the birds bad acid flashbacks and drive them away. I know it does it for me.

We'll see how it goes come harvest time.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Mysterious Chile Lovin' Varmint

Each year it seems I face new challenges with the garden. This year are varmints. Some obvious, like the deer who are eating my roses, and some not so obvious.

The not-so-obvious one is the mysterious creature that lives under our water heater. Our pest control guy said to put bricks around it to block it's lair.

But, it just digs a new hole under the bricks.

It only comes out at night, so I haven't been able to see it yet. Only the damage it leaves behind.

Here, you can see my Anaheim chile plant, which miraculously still produces even with 90% of it's leaves chewed off.

It's pretty much decimated my much-anticipated pasilla chiles but I'm not giving up yet.

I've filled a pot with mix and transplanted the best looking of what's left of the pasilla and put a spare dripper on it.

I've hung on the wall, out of the reach of a certain night-seeking, ground dwelling creature...I hope.

Stay tuned.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Oh, Deer...and Other Assorted Pests

Over the weekend, my wife caught this deer in my neighbor's yard, helping itself to the colorful buffet. Shoo'd off, we laughed a bit and and said "at least they don't know where we live."

Only 99 Cents!

Yesterday, I found this...

...munched off buds on our front yard rose garden. At least I won't have to deadhead this batch this weekend. 

I guess we're not as off-the-radar to the deer as we thought. Does make me hungry for venison, though...

Then, our tomatoes were doing so well. Weighed down with soon-to-ripen fruit, I couldn't wait for the delicious bounty.

We found this...some creature of the night (either a raccoon, opossum, or skunk) dug 'em up and took the fruit. I salvaged one green tomato that I will fry up.

My wife replanted them and a few days later, they look like they might survive.

Last, I looked out our bedroom window and found a squirrel helping himself to our zucchini plant. I scared him off but he got most of it.

We live right next to the mountains and are in the worst drought of my lifetime here in California. I guess a lot of the wildlife are streaming down, looking for water and food.

Hopefully, we can get something of a crop even with the new population of pests this year. 

What do you do to keep these critters out of your garden?

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.