Friday, April 30, 2010

Give them an inch and they'll take 1.8 liters

Watering plants is a complex exercise where many variables come into play. What's your soil? What is the variety of plant? What time of the day is it? Do you feel like watering when it's hot and ... please the complete post at my new blog: Grow and Tell. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flower Noob

Although I am getting somewhat comfortable with growing vegetables from seed, growing flowers for me it’s a different story. The only flower I have complete post at my new blog: Grow And Tell. Thanks!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wind-blown Sunday

It rained yesterday. Around 4:30 pm or so we even got tiny hail briefly. Today it was sunny most of the day but very windy. Still, it was a good day to work outside.

First I set up my 35 gallon rain barrel. I bought this rain barrel some... please read the rest of this post at my new blog: Grow and Tell. Thanks!!!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tomatillo News

I am growing Tomatillos for the first time. I chose a giant variety and a regular green variety. In case you've never heard of tomatillos, they are used primarily to make the salsa verde you may have the whole post at my new blog; Grow and Tell. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Apple watch

Although I planted this apple tree three years ago, I still know very little about apples in general. I think this is a Golden Delicious but I could be wrong. The id tag fell early last year and I don’t remember. I know it’s a yellow apple of some kind. Anyway, I dutifully planted another apple tree in the the complete post at my new blog, Grow and Tell. Thanks!

Friday, April 16, 2010


You will be forgiven for rolling your eyes at my excitement but you would understand if you knew that this pear tree has not grown one inch since I planted it three years the complete post at my new blog: Grow and Tell.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More and more

It seems like the more I get done the more there is to do. The potatoes are ready for more soil already but I did not get it done. It’s on the list. The the complete post on my new blog;


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hail AND High Water

The first murderous hail storm of the season descended this post in my new blog at

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Blog

I am moving my blog to Wordpress. It seems I have more control over my blog than I do here.
Anyway, I will post abbreviated versions here for a while until I completely switch over.

My new blog is

Friday, April 2, 2010

Monsoon Season

The Monsoon season has begun. Torrential, driving rain; howling winds; stem-breaking hail, thunder, tornadoes. From here on out until Summer my vegetables will fight for survival. It is a miracle that they make it at all.

Not that it is all bad. When I started growing plants, I noticed that my plants were a little brighter and stood a little straighter after heavy thunderstorms --heavy on the thunder that is. Now I understand that a certain amount of Nitrogen gets fixed from the air by the tremendous energy of lighting and it gets delivered to the plants via the rain.

I am reading the book Just Food by James E. McWilliams. What an eye opener! McWilliams is an Agricultural Historian and he makes a good case for not concentrating solely on food miles when we look for sustainable agriculture. There is so much more in the book though. I am terrible at book reviews but when I am done I will attempt to review it here.

I have this fantasy rolling around my head that I can produce vegetables at mega-farm prices in my yard. I've been doing some research on the Internet (it is amazing how much info on farm production there is online) and, at least for tomatoes, I need to make my plants produce anywhere from 8 - 20 lbs (3.6 kg - 9 kg) per plant. Of course, I have to get that at a profit if I was to sell my tomatoes.
The next stage is to grow 50,000 lbs of tomatoes in one season, which is the output of many tomato farms.
Then I would like to grow various crops, not just tomatoes.
Naive? Maybe, but even if I can't do it, failure is such a wonderful teacher that I am bound to come out ahead.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What happened to Spring?

This year I worked really hard to ensure that I planted my cold-weather crops on time. What good is it to plant peas by St. Patrick's day when April 1st looks like this?

Yesterday, the high was in the low 80's and today, April 1st, more of the same. Sure, my tomatoes and peppers are doing cartwheels but it looks like another year without peas. Sigh...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Heirloom seeds to Terminator seeds?

The whole of Seed Saving Exchange's seed collection is now part of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an act that apparently gives biotech companies access to them so that they can make derivatives that they can then patent. This sounds alarming but I confess that I still don't understand how we could ever keep a biotech company from doing this in the first place.

Rather than rehash the whole thing, go to this post and read the letter from Seed Saving Exchange's founder Kent Whealy. It's a long letter full of ugly business but it is worth reading.
Now, I wonder how many of the heirloom vegetables I am growing fall into this.

One new thing I learned by reading Kent's letter is the concept of Terminator Seeds. The sci-fi geek in me perked up and I immediately pictured a tomato from the future sent back to kill my Brandywines! Seriously though, the concept of a Terminator Seed stinks of Big Business. A Terminator Seed is the seed from a plant that has been genetically modified to kill the embryo in the seed so that you and I cannot save the seed. Basically all the seeds in the plant are duds, blanks, sterile.

Another neat thing I learned about by reading the letter is the concept of Sacred Seeds. Apparently Native American nations have collections of seeds that have been preserved by them. Now these seeds are also part of this complicated Global Crop Diversity Trust deal.

Ok, so I am being a bit paranoid about this but don't underestimate the things that people will do for money. After all, this has happened before when genetically engineered pollen blew over to farmers' fields and then they got sued (this is alluded to in the letter). I'd hate to go to jail because I saved some seeds.

And you thought Blight was your only gardening problem!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

First tomato plant out the door

Today I put the first tomato plant outside. It is a Nepal tomato plant in a sub-irrigated planter (SIP). Since our nights are still in the low 40's (Fahrenheit), I decided it was time to try the Wall o' Water.
That green piece of plastic with the water pockets sitting on top of the bucket SIP is the Wall o' Water. It functions as a greenhouse of sorts. The water in the cells transfers heat gently to the plant. I visited a website a while back for a tomato farm where the farmer swore by these things. Now I am going to try it and let you know if it works. The Nepal tomato plant is only 3 inches tall so I did not fully fill the cells with water, maybe I should have....hmmmmmmm.

I washed four of the 18-gallon tote SIPs in preparation for planting some pepper plants. Last year the pepper plants did very well on these so I am using them exclusively for peppers. These four will hold Bell peppers; California Wonders of course, but also Sweet Chocolate, Red Bells, and Sunbright. I will plant 4 plants per tote.

The Oregon Spring tomatoes HAVE NOT germinated in the Winter Sowing milk jug yet. The temperatures are expected to rise around the high 70's (Fahrenheit) this coming week so maybe they will germinate then.

Over and out.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Composter

I went to Sam's and bought a composter for less than $40 American dollars. I want to find out if I can fulfill all my compost needs on my own without resorting to store-bought compost. If I can, I will be one step closer to my goal of affordable produce. Yes, I am of the mind that the vegetables I grow are more expensive, albeit freer of nasty stuff, than the vegetables I get from the supermarket. But I am intent on changing that. In fact, I want to grow vegetables and produce them at the same price as the big agribusiness farms. Call me crazy but I have a tiny itty bitty sense deep inside of me that this can be done even if I lack agribusiness' economies of scale.

Another new thing in my vegetable garden is The Cage. Below is a picture of the almost completed cage that will contain some of my Sub-Irrigated Planters (SIPs). I took this idea from the Inside Urban Green blog. I don't know why they use these cages in their roof gardens but I know why I will use mine:
  1. My 1 yr old puppy Lexie.
  2. The murderously hot slab of cement that covers the sunniest part of my yard.
There will be wooden slats across the bottom of the cage that will keep the buckets from touching the hot cement and overheating from below and I will surround the cage with chicken wire to keep my dog from snacking on the plastic five gallon buckets. I needed to build additional holding places for my buckets because this year I have too many and they won't all fit inside the protected garden area.

I planted the Kennebec potatoes today. As planned, I used the empty potting soil bag as a grow bag. I was also going to use a five gallon bucket to grow potatoes this year but I changed my mind at the last minute because I want to use all my buckets for tomatoes. Instead of a bucket, I reused the tops of the 18 gallon totes I made SIPs out of two years ago. Last year I used these tops as mini-raised beds that held cherry tomato plants. They worked great for that. This year, however, I decided to try them as potato containers. This is how they will stack by the end of the season:

Right now however, I only need the bottom part:

Last, I put together the 8x4 bed that I bought at Sam's and filled it with compost-amended soil. I planted Apache salad onions, Arugula, red cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and mesclun.

Next, tackle the fruit trees.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Emergency Post

Due to bad weather conditions in their wintering sites in Mexico, the Monarch butterfly population has declined dramatically.To learn more, head over to MonachWatch. Meanwhile, maybe you could plant some Milkweed (Asclepias) for the Monarch caterpillar to feed on as they migrate north.

Pass it on.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tomato Food

Thus far, I have learned that you can put the following things in the hole before you put your tomato plant in the ground:

  • Fish heads
  • Aspirin
  • Garlic
  • Banana peels

All these things, when decomposed by the beasties in the dirt, give nutrients to the tomato plant. Actually, you could probably put these things under any plant as the nutrients provided are useful to all plants.
I think the important thing is to break down the stuff into small bits so that the decomposition process happens faster.
You can also add these items to your compost pile/barrel (although probably not the aspirin).
I wonder, however, if there are enough microorganisms in potting soil to breakdown these things in a container...mmmmm....

Briefly, this is what each thing does;
  • Bananas add Potassium, Calcium, Nitrogen and Manganese.
  • Aspirin works to protect the plant from some diseases and pests.
  • Garlic does the same as the aspirin.
  • Fish heads provide calcium and nitrogen.
Sure, you can just buy something at the store in convenient powder or liquid form but then, what would be the fun on that?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Newspaper pot redux

My estranged friend Tim seemed to think that my newspaper pots lacked pizazz and he sent me to this website to learn how to make a proper newspaper pot. The blog has both a video and a series of photos detailing the construction of an origami box that can be used as a pot for growing plants.
I watched the video several times until I got it. Once I understood the instructions and once I practiced a little, making an origami box was fun and easy.
Advantages of the origami box over the regular newspaper pot are:
  • You can fold the origami box and store it easily for later use. I can probably store 100's of these in a small box or bundle them with a rubber band and store them in a drawer somewhere.
  • The origami box is sturdier.
  • You don't need anything other than your hands to make them.
  • You can make different sizes of origami boxes by simply changing the size of the paper with which you start.
Sure, it takes a little longer to make an origami box but then again, with just a little practice, I was able to make an origami box in about 30 seconds.

A) My regular newspaper pot made by wrapping newspaper around a pill bottle.

B) The origami box made with a piece of paper 8.5 inches by 11 inches (21.6 cm x 27.9 cm)

It is too late for me to use the newspaper pots for my seedlings this year. By the time I remembered that I wanted to use newspaper pots I had already purchased my bamboo pots and my coir pellets for the season. Still, I will make many of these throughout the year in preparation for next year. Heck, maybe I will eventually be able to grow my veggies inexpensively!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Newspaper pots

This is the first time I make newspaper pots for sowing seeds indoors.
I took a pill bottle and wrapped newspaper around it and folded the bottom over. I had a bit of trouble keeping the pots from coming undone but at the end I had something resembling a working pot to sow my seeds in. I will fill them with coir.

Like I said, keeping the bottom from coming undone was the tricky part. I did not want to use anything else besides newspaper so I am relying on friction to hold the thing together.

I will try a few and see how I do. If they work well, I will try to figure out a better way to make them.

I also took the cardboard tube from a spent paper towel roll and cut it into sections. I am trying a couple right now to see how they hold up.

I checked my Winter Sowing experiment and the seeds have not sprouted yet.

Yep, my dog Lexie jumped the fence and dug up all my peas. Time to change the fence and re-sow the peas.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Bridge

I am always in awe of what plants do. Here is a little poem along these lines:

The Bridge

I ate the fruit
I saved the seed
I put it in the ground

and day by day
with sun and rain
a bridge has dared

to bring together
Heaven and Earth.

© 2010 David Borboa

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Potatoes and Ollas revisited

So last year I tried growing potatoes in trash bags with marginal success. My mistakes were:
  • The bags I used were too big.
  • The bags lacked structure which made it difficult to add more soil as the plants grew.
  • I did not provide adequate drainage.
Still, the poor potato plants tried their best and at the end I did get a few potatoes. I did much better with the tubs. The only problem I had with the tubs was that when I tipped them to harvest the potatoes, the tubs broke.
So, this year I gave in to marketing and purchased two factory-made potato bags. These bags are 18 inches (45.72 cm) high and 14 inches (35.56 cm) in diameter. I planted two varieties of potato today --Yukon Gold and Purple Majesty.

I have been told that the first week of March is too early to plant potatoes but I have planted potatoes this early before and it has worked well for me.
As a test, I will also plant potatoes in:
  • The empty garden soil bag. I'll cut it to match the dimensions of the store-bought bags.
  • A 5 gallon (18.925 liter) bucket.
I really want to try the Olla (clay bottle) method of watering my plants but Ollas are rare to non-existent around here. So I took a pottery class last year in an effort to make my own but it turns out that making clay bottles is an advanced skill so I never made any. I am now considering going to one of the many pottery shops around here and paying someone to make them for me.
Olla watering is a very old method of watering allegedly brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. You bury a clay bottle near your plants with the mouth of the bottle exposed (for refilling the water) and the roots will obtain the moisture they need from the water that seeps through the porous clay. We'll see.

Stay tuned...

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Long List

Thus far, here's what I have sowed:

* = germinated, seedling up

First Batch
Cherokee Purple *
Pineapple *
Brandywine *
Maskotka *
Arkansas Traveler *
Urbikany *
Amateur's Dream *
Yellow Pear *
Perestroika *
Black Russian *
Galina *
Market Miracle *
Jubilee *
Red Cherry *
Juliet Hybrid *
Siberian *
Black Krim *
Supersweet 100 VF, Hybrid - has not germinated. packet says up to 21 days!
Polish Linguisa *

Second Batch
Silvery Fir Tree
Prairie Fire
De Barrao II
Kotlas (a.k.a Sprint)
Gregory's Altai
Big Rainbow *
Abe Lincoln
Box Car Willie *
Great White

To be planted tomorrow
Oregon Spring
Zaryanka Sunrise
Sub Artic Plenty
Sungold F1 Hybrid
Tigerella (a.k.a. Mr. Stripey)
San Marzano

First batch
Sunbright *
Jalapeño Tam *
Jalapeño M *
California Wonder *
Mini Bell mixed *
Hungarian Yellow Wax *
Chiltepin - not up yet. Trying again although I have overwintered last year's plant
Anaheim *
Red Bell *
Habanero *
Serrano *
Quadrato D'Asti Rosso *
Long Thin Cayenne *
Ancho Magnifico *
Chichimeca *
Early Jalapeño *
Iberian Cayenne - not germinated yet

Second batch
Sweet Chocolate
Grandpa's Home Pepper
Early Mountain Wonder

I also planted a number of gourds including
Apple small
Tiny Bottle
Apple Large
Long Handle

I see now that it was foolish to start the gourds inside as they are growing quite fast and maybe root bound by the time I can put them outside but the heart wants what the heart wants...

My Spring garden will be planted tomorrow, weather permitting. This year I am trying
Onions (bunching)
Mustard Greens
Potatoes (Yukon Gold, Purple Majesty thus far)

As to where I am going to put all those tomato plants (2 per variety), I am not quite sure yet. I have began a campaign to borrow unused yards but I hope I have enough 5 gallon buckets to accommodate most of them. I will begin building The Cage tomorrow as well.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Winter Sowing part dos

Before Winter is over, I need to retry this Winter-sow thing.
Here it goes:

Procure a plastic container with enough room for a seedling. In this case an empty milk jug but an empty 2 litter bottle will work as well.
Take the cap off.
Cut or perforate draining holes at the bottom of the jug.

Cut open a flap on one side of the jug and make sure you leave it attached to the jug. This opening will allow you to put the soil or seed starting media of your choice into the jug --about 3 inches of it or so.

Please BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL when cutting the flap!!!!
I use scissors but I am NOT advocating any one method. If you use your extra-sharp, family heirloom scissors that your great-grandmother used to cut your grandma's wedding dress and you ruin them by using them to cut into a plastic jug, don't blame me.
By the way, if you have a coffee cup with an unglazed bottom, it is alleged that you can sharpen knives and scissors on said unglazed bottom. But I digress...

Add soil in the jug and pour water to moisten it. Sow your seeds as you normally would in the garden and tape the flap shut. You can also make small holes on the jug and the flap to tie the flap shut with a wire tie or rope.

Place the jug where it can get sun and moisture via rain or snow. That's it!
The seed should germinate when the conditions inside the jug are optimal.
Here is my jug with Oregon Spring Heirloom tomato seeds therein:

Why do this? For me, if this works, the benefits are:
  • I don't have to take room inside the house for seedlings.
  • I don't have to bother with heating mats or grow lights.
  • I don't have to babysit the seedlings.
  • I don't have to worry about hardening the seedlings.
Our last frost date is still over a month away so this test is still valid. I will post weekly progress reports. I have seen pictures of plastic jugs and bottles covered in snow and reportedly, the seeds germinated just fine when the time came.


The plant tags they sell at the store are too big to id seedlings once I put them under lights. I like to put the grow light within 2 inches of the seedling and I was running into trouble with the plant tags being a tad too high. The solution of course, was to make my own tags out of empty milk jugs.
First I drew patterns on a piece of plastic cut from the jug:

Then, I used my cheap scissors and cut the patterns out. Voila! instant plastic plant tags just the right size!


So far, out of the first batch of seeds, I only had two plants not germinate yet: SuperSweet 100 cherry tomato and Iberian Cayenne. I will give them until Sunday and if they have not germinated by then I will consider them a fail and re-sow.
I started a new batch of tomato and pepper seeds two days ago and I will be starting more tomorrow, time permitting.

The coir seems to be working great as a starter medium. I still have some peat pellets from last year so I'll use them but I think this will be the last year I'll use them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I went through my blog all the way to the first postings of last year and boy! is it different this year!
Last year by this time, we were seeing temperatures in the high 40's. Today's high is expected to be in the high 30's.
  • I sowed my first batch of seeds this past Sunday --February 21.
  • I am a tiny bit more knowledgeable about my veggies this year than I was last year by this time.
  • My dog is one year older and a tiny bit less spastic, although she still eats anything I put outside whether it was meant to be eaten or not.
  • I have most of what I need for the garden already so I can concentrate on growing things and not on growing my inventory of gardening tools.
  • And most importantly, I am more confident in my ability to make my veggies grow and fruit.
It was nice to look at some of the photos in my blog from last year and see what all this work is all about. There will be tomatoes, there will be peppers. Also, it was good to read about all the headaches I suffered last year to bring me down from my pre-season gardening cloud. Blame this ignorant bliss on the seed catalogs. Right now, before any plants are growing, all I have are the beautiful pictures of the vegetables and flowers grown by some mystical Master Gardener at Thompson & Morgan, or other such magical place. Surely they don't ever have to contend with raging winds, driving rain, murderous hail, uninvited hungry beasties of wing or fur and all manner of crawling critters.
No matter. I will do this again this year.

I buy my seed locally anywhere they sell it. On the web, I buy from 2 or 3 places. This year I ordered seeds from:

Thompson & Morgan
Seeds Trust
Reimer Seeds

Locally, I bought seeds from:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Plantation Products (American Seed and NK Lawn and Garden)

Last, I actually saved seeds from last year although only from a couple of pepper plants.

My Tomatillo Mexican Husk sprouted yesterday, Tuesday February 23, two days after sowing!
Also, one of my gourd plants germinated as well. I moved them under lights.
This morning, I had a number of Siberian tomatoes starting to come up.

Let's do this!

Monday, February 22, 2010

And we're off!

I have officially began my 2010 growing season! I sowed multiple varieties of tomatoes and peppers inside. This year I am not using peat at all so I have switched to coir (coconut fiber). My local Lowe's even had starting pots made from bamboo. So I am off to a good start. This is my 2010 plan:

A) Grow stuff.
B) Eat it

Seriously though, I read on the web about Winter Sowing and I thought it was an interesting idea. Winter Sowing is exactly that, sowing your seeds during winter. In a nutshell, you put your seeds in a plastic container like a milk jug or a plastic 2 litter bottle with some growing soil (a mini green house) and set the container outside. The seed will sprout when it is ready and the seedling will be hardened.
So I procured three plastic milk jugs, put soil in them, followed the instructions, put some tomato seeds in the jugs and with a heart full of hope I set them outside for the process to take its place. Ah! but it's never that simple! Sometime between the process taking place and lunch, a certain destructive puppy jumped the chicken wire fence (she is way bigger this year and I am sure it took her no effort) and ate all three jugs thus ending this Winter Sowing trial. Alas, what is a gardener if not a hardened soul prepared to deal with weather and dogs and whatever else comes? I already have prepared the second set of jugs and will be putting them out at a more secure location but before I do that I need to take pictures of the whole affair.

The other major thing I am planning is to attempt a Spring garden. I tried growing broccoli and cauliflower and carrots and peas before but I started them too late. So this year, I am sowing all that good stuff much earlier --peas no later than St. Patrick's they tell me. So we'll see.

I also promise more pictures this year.