Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bugs, Heat and Hard Work Paying Off

Summer is here and I have the garden to prove it! I went outside yesterday ready for a was 87 degrees here, but it felt like 98 with the suffocating humidity, and the bugs are in full force since we've had almost daily rains in our little 'hood by the river. As my plants thrive, it is becoming increasingly satisfying to cover myself with bugspray, put on the headphones, and trek out to the patch with my gardening kit. 

The garden kit includes:
bottle of homemade pesticide
spray bottle with water (for cooling off)
gardening gloves
heavy duty utility gloves
hemp (for tying floopy plants to their supports)
a wristband (for blotting my brow)
good music on Doug's iPod (lately bluegrass/folk is good farmin' music for me)
the camera

MASSIVE GARDEN TIP: (from the I've Learned the Hard Way Series
When you are suiting up with bug spray, don't just spray your exposed skin, spray yourself from head to toe, including your clothes. Those little buggers got me through my cotton pants and didn't touch my exposed skin. Let's just say they are not shy about where they bite a person either! So next time, I am going out there in a cloud of bugspray (it IS all natural spray, ladies and gents!)

Skeeters: 6   Age: 0

Mosquitos Be Gone!
Get a spray bottle and make a mixture of half water, half REAL vanilla extract....imitation will let you down.

Spray libreally to keep 'Skeeters away. You will also smell like a sugar cookie instead of DEET. Your friends will thank you, the skeeters will not.

Oh, yeah, the garden.......I'll be a little more concise this time. 

They are monsters, all of them. I am finding myself shoving stakes into the ground to tie the massive "branches" of the plants up off the ground.  The plant I keep mentioning I got from the co-op is by far the most monsterous. Take a look:

 I am holding the tallst tip of this plant. As a reference, I am 5'2", so while this is not a record breaking plant, I am amazed at how huge it has become in such a short time. I have been giving it tomato food, just like the rest, and it is the one that I am having to stake because it has branches reaching out more than 2 feet. Oh, and it has a bunch of yellow flowers. Yeeeah!

My jalapenos are doing well. There are two actual peppers and each  are pushing an inch long. I learned that after the jalas are mature and become over-ripened, they turn red and are perfect for making chipotle peppers with your grill as a smoker. Yum.
Follow this link for the how-to.

Jalapenos are ready to be picked with they are bright green, fat and firm, at about 5-7 inches long.

None of the pepper plants have supports yet, but the plant shown above is only about 10 inches tall. The habaneros are half that size, but I read that they grow very slowly.

I started to think about the habanero plants and wondered what I am realistically going to do with all these HOT HOT HOT peppers once they're harvested. Here's my answer -- Hot sauce!

Habanero Hot Sauce

1 cup water
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
1-3 fresh or dried habanero peppers, depending on how hot you like it.
1 large red bell pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt

Chop up the bell and habanero peppers, (or grind the habaneros if using dried). Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, and then simmer for 8-10 minutes. Finally, puree the mixture in a blender

Be prepared, everyone, this is what you are getting from me for birthdays, summer holidays, etc.....til the supply is gone. haha

I lost my first mustard green harvest to bugs. I must admit, I was getting low on pesticide and likely didn't spray enough to save them. I have to research how to keep bugs out of the soil....that seems to be another problem with the mustard greens. Aside from that, they seemed to grow very well in a large pot with afternoon shade.

I have eaten some of the field greens, which have been easy to grow and are delicious...way better than store bought lettuce....just in the way it crunches.
The arugula is suffering, but I think I did a whoopsie when I didn't poke drainage holes in the tray. Now the soil seems saturated and the leaves are still too small to transplant. Some time in the sun should help greatly.

A note on harvesting lettuce: Pick your lettuce in the morning, before the sun has had time to zap the moisture out of it. Wilted lettuce will not recover after it's been picked.

I'll leave you with on more bug spray recipe before going to check on my beauties outside......

Spearmint-Hot Pepper-Horseradish Spray:
This works on many different kinds of bugs- too many to list!

1/2 cup of red peppers (hot)
water (read below)
1/2 cup of fresh spearmint
1/2 cup horseradish (root and leaves)
2 tablespoons of liquid detergent
1/2 cup green onion tops

Mix all of the spearmint leaves, horseradish, onion tops and peppers together with enough water to cover everything. Strain the solution. After mixing all of these, add a half-gallon of water and add the detergent also. To use this solution, mix 1/2 gallon of this solution with 1/2 gallon of water. You can use this to spray almost any plant safely. Store this mixture for a few days in a cool environment.

I haven't tried this one yet, but I'd love to hear reviews from anyone who beats me to it. The only downside I can see is the short shelf-life.

Now on to figuring out the best way to dry all these herbs.
Sneak preview: Some will be hanging, some will go into the convection oven/dehydrator, and some i will zap in the microwave. 
Then I will report back with my findings.