Just Fuzzy: Asparagus, Random Veg Musings, and Jalapeños

I’ve started my “cool weather” garden, and have some lovely broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (lots of those, I love them!), peas, and radishes growing.  I’m so excited!  Because I live in zone 9, I have a pretty long growing season, and this is the first year that I’m making a real effort at fall/winter gardening.  Last year, I did a slap-dash mini-effort that failed abysmally; as I’ve said before, vegetable gardening has a steep learning curve.

I did successfully manage last year to plant and grow a couple of asparagus seeds (heirloom, of course, no GMO monsters for me, thank you very much), and they are both doing great.  Asparagus is weird, though, and supposedly hard to grow (oddly, I grow that just fine, but can’t get any kind of leafy green to grow past the seedling stage–they get a few true leaves, go all long and lanky, and then die. Supposedly, any moron can grow leafy greens. Alas, not I.  Yet.).  Asparagus is an enormous plant, and so beautiful . . . lots of ferny green fronds that sweep down the side of the pot.  Yes, I’m breaking all the rules and, for now, growing asparagus in pots (10-gallon ones, but still pots).  They’re only a year old (or will be next month), and while they’re rather large, they’re not ginormous.  Yet.

Anyway, asparagus (which I love) takes three years to be ready to harvest properly.  You’re not supposed to touch the teensy spears that grow the first year–though I must say that my more vigorous asparagus did produce some almost-normal sized spears this year!  If you don’t harvest them and just let them grow, the plant will put energy into developing deep, strong roots.  The spears that do grow will eventually become more of those ferny fronds and, some time after that, flowers and/or berry-like seed pods (depending on whether your plant is male or female).  According to what I’ve read online and in some gardening books, you can harvest a few spears in year two, so I can’t wait for spring to do that.

Despite taking three years to “mature,” asparagus will continue to produce spears, they say, for up to twenty (20) years.  That’s one great investment in both time and money, I say.  Asparagus is expensive anywhere you buy it (and will only become more so), and if you don’t buy locally, say at a farmer’s market, it’s old, stringy, hard as a rock, tasteless, and nasty.  I think that’s why a lot of people don’t like it, actually.  Who wants old, gross asparagus?  But if that’s what you think it’s supposed to be like, of course you’d not like it.

I remember the first things that I noticed buying at the supermarket that no longer tasted or “felt” right: peaches, strawberries, and tomatoes.  The peaches really got me because I used to love peaches as a child, but suddenly, they didn’t taste at all peachy and had a cardboard kind of texture that was definitely not peachy (or normal).  Strawberries just didn’t taste like strawberries anymore; they looked amazing, though.  Huge, bright bright red, and perfectly shaped.  Every. Single. One.  But they tasted like . . . the ghost of a strawberry.

And tomatoes?  You know I actually forgot what tomatoes were supposed to taste like until this summer.  I’m not kidding (or exaggerating, as we all know I am wont to do).  Tomatoes are supposed to be not only “tomato-y” but, depending on the variety, almost sweet, certainly strongly-flavored (in a good way), and I had just . . . forgotten.  For years I’d eaten supermarket tomatoes (all gorgeous, huge, perfectly shaped), and I started knowing that’s how they should be: gorgeous, huge, perfectly shaped, and utterly devoid of any flavor at all.  Tomatoes aren’t like that at all.  They aren’t uniform, cookie-cutter, tasteless things; they grow in all sizes (and on the same plant).  Some are smaller, some not as perfectly-shaped (a couple of my cherry tomatoes, for instance, were a bit oval in shape, while others were perfectly round), and they all have a delightful, full, rich flavor.  It’s really quite the revelation.  If you’re not growing anything at all, try just one tomato plant next summer and see what I mean.

So I’m quite the green thumb (knock wood . . . I can use those woody, nasty things that the supermarket labels “asparagus” for that) when it comes to asparagus.  The other thing that I had great success with was jalapeño peppers.  Who knew?  Again, these are supposed to be “temperamental” and tough to grow, but I got some seeds in an heirloom seed kit, and thought, what the heck?!  Apparently, they love all the heat and humidity here.  It rained and rained and rained some more all summer, to the point that I had standing water in parts of my yard.  I moved an old, sturdy plastic shelf–one of those with plastic legs you stick in the bottom–from my garden storage area to that area, and put my jalapeño plant right over that standing water.  They loved it!  It’s a small plant in a small pot, but the thing just went nuts with kicking out the peppers.

On the not great side, I don’t really like jalapeños.  Or I didn’t.  I found out (online) that you can blanch some of that “hot” out of them; well, how great is that?  I like some hot foods, but these are just too hot for me, so I had to find a way that I could eat them and like them.  Blanching helps, then I make them into “poppers.”  The simple version of which is:

Cut in half (long ways) and de-seed them (the hot is also in the seeds), blanch for about 2 mins, pile on cream cheese, put the other half on top (if you want, not necessary), and bake them at 350 for about 10 mins.  The toaster oven works great for this, and you don’t have to heat up your whole oven (and kitchen) that way.  There are a zillion recipes online for jalapeño poppers, but this one is easy, fast, and delicious.

So next month, I’ll be planting a few more asparagus plants and next spring/early summer, more than a few more jalapeño plants.  If nothing else, at least these small successes keep my spirits up as I try to navigate the not-as-easy-as-you’d-think waters of home vegetable gardening.

Just Fuzzy: Survival Gardening? Start Now

I have a draft post on politics, but the thing that is really taking up my time and energy these days (apart from life, work, family, etc.) is my disastrous attempts at a veggie garden.  I use the term “garden” loosely, however, because it’s really just a bunch of stuff–mostly tomatoes–mostly in pots— on my porch.  But some of the bigger stuff, I did try in the yard.  Ugh.  What a total disaster.

Okay, so you think that stocking up on those “survival garden” seeds is all you need to do?  That having a nice stash of heirloom seeds will be sufficient to feed you and your family when the um, stuff hits the . . . well, you know?  Please please please think again.  And start your seeds now; the learning curve is huge on growing veggies.  Huge, I say.

So. Last year, I tossed some seeds in a seed-starter thingy, repotted the happy seedlings into good-sized pots onto the porch, and pretty much ignored them.  They’re seeds, they grow, that’s what they do, thought silly silly Fuzzy.  End result: 10 pole beans.  Everything else (cukes, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce . . . lots of stuff) died either mysteriously over night or under the daily deluge of rain we were treated to for days and days on end.  Ten pole beans a year will not keep a mouse alive (more on those little horrors later), let alone a full-grown woman and her family, friends, neighbors, and random whomevers who are hungry.

Last year was a sad, sad year for Fuzzy’s garden.  This year, I was better prepared.  I’d read countless books on gardening, visited tons of websites on same, and stocked up on stuff I needed last year (besides a clue).  I got fungicides, pesticides, and all-purpose-icides; I got fertilizers and who knows what else (all organic, why not?), and most importantly, I had a plan.  This year, I was going to keep records of what I planted (last year, I seriously stuck seedlings in pots with no record of what it was supposed to be when it grew up–I guess I thought I’d figure that out when it produced a bounty of veg.  Ha!), when I planted it, when I transplanted it, when I noticed what little bug or fungi or whatever was attacking my veggies.  I had a chart.  Okay, I had about three charts (I’m anal that way).  I was not going to be casual and disinterested like last year.  Nope, this year, I was going to be on top of it all, paying close attention to every chewed leaf, every weird-looking whatever, and I was going to conquer this thing called vegetable gardening.

Um.  Well.  That was the plan.

Plans get thwarted, though, and my first challenge was freaking raccoons.  You have no idea how much I hate raccoons.  They are not cute, they are not adorable, they are not charming little “bandits.”  They are rabies-ridden, flea-bitten, mean-spirited over-grown sewer rats with attitude, and they delight in digging up the most gorgeous watermelon plants–and tomatoes, squash, cantaloupes, and cukes–before they’ve even had a chance.  They dig and they chew and they toss things around.  I found my happy little watermelon plant uprooted.  That’s it, just uprooted.  Not eaten, not chewed, not even nibbled.  Just killed for no reason.  Grrr.

Okay, so the whole raccoon thing was probably my own fault.  But again, and this goes to my urging you to start now planting your seeds and not waiting until your life depends on success, I have no idea what I am doing.  I read that making your own compost was a good idea, and I thought, yay! I can do that!  I didn’t, however, make (hahaha!) or purchase an actual compost bin (can you see where this is going?), so I just dumped kitchen scraps (aka yummy yummy raccoon treats) into a shallow hole in the yard that I then covered with dirt.  Can a person be any dumber?

I panic.  And am a little grossed out–what if they pooped on the veggies they didn’t manage to eat or kill for no apparent reason (um, yeah, except that whole “compost” thing I was trying and that they thought was a full-on raccoon buffet)?  Ew. And ew.  So I scramble, I reach out to Adrienne (who grows the most amazing veggies), and between us, I finally decide to get an electric fence to put up around my yard garden patch.  I’ll deal with that next year. Sigh.

So all I have left are some veggies (I refer to tomatoes as veg throughout, not as fruit) in pots.  Okay, fine, I say to myself, I’ll foil the disgusting raccoons by keeping my “garden” in pots. On the porch. Far, far away from my now-abandoned composting piles.

Good plan.

I got one of those motion-detector thingies that make a noise, flash lights, etc. that I am sure will keep raccoons off my porch.  And actually, it seems to have done so.  What it doesn’t keep off my porch are mice.  Or maybe rats.  Disgusting disgustingness any way you slice it.  There are piles of chewed up acorns and chewed up tomatoes in all my pots.  And I mean here even green tomatoes! They aren’t just waiting until they are ripe and ready for the picking (as websites assure me is the norm).  Oh no, Fuzzy’s mice-rats-rodents are noshing on green freaking tomatoes.  Cherry and beafsteak; they actually pooped on the beefsteaks that I sprinkled (humanely) with cayenne pepper.   I’m thinking, at this point, that humane is highly over-rated.

Yes, I read online that fighting rodents is as simple as sprinkling cayenne pepper around the base of the plant or sprinkling peppermint essential oil on cotton balls, etc. Neither works, so I sprinkled the pepper on the actual fruit (still green!), so what do the rats-mice-wretched rodents do?  They chew around the cayenne pepper.  What a nightmare.

I’m not really sure if the culprits are rats or mice.  I saw one when I dramatically yanked open the front door at 11 p.m. one night, and it looked rodenty.  It’s definitely one or the other.  Unfortunately, my motion sensor thing seems to have simply provided them with a predator-free zone to chomp down on and poop on my veggies.  The noise, lights flashing, doesn’t phase the rodents in the least, but it does seem to deter owls, foxes, and raccoons who might actually relieve me of problem rats/mice/whatevers.

Okay, so let me back up a bit.  I’m not only growing veg, I’m a sucker for lavender and have two kinds (English and French) and some mint (yum!); the rodents haven’t chewed these, as they have my tomatoes and seedlings (after the watermelon and cantaloupe disaster in the yard, I got some seeds for types that are good in pots–yum, yum, rats/mice/whatever LOVE those seedlings. Sigh).  Rodents positively love jasmine, btw, but they seem to just like the flowers.  Not to eat . . . just to drag to their perch in a veg pot to scent up the place.  Then they merrily chow down on random acorns they drag up and on green tomatoes dusted with cayenne pepper.

The cayenne pepper and peppermint didn’t work, so I tried egg shells.  I read somewhere that slugs and cutworms don’t like to crawl across egg shells, so I think, woot!  pointy, sharp eggshells can’t be comfy for rodents to sit on, either, so I crumbled up some (thoroughly washed) eggshells and spread them over the soil on the attacked pots.  That seemed to work.  At least so far.

Not only can you expect disgusting beasts like raccoons and rats-mice-whatevers to attack your plants, but there are other horrors to deal with, too.  My cucumber was producing like crazy: big, gorgeous, delicious cukes.  Early in the season, I had some horror attacking the base of the plant, so I sprayed it with one of my organic pesticides, then with some soap and water, and then buried the affected stem in soil.  That solved that problem.  But later on, around mid-July, I find these horrible, clear tapioca-like (only clear not white) bubbles of gunk in my pots (not just cukes) and on the leaves of my cuke.  I had no idea that these were actually pickle worm eggs, but I did know they were icky, so I got rid of them.  But I guess I didn’t get them all because the next thing I know, my gorgeous cukes were showing holes where these revolting little green worms were digging into and eating (and pooping on!) my cucumbers.  I was so devastated.  Where did these little horrors come from?

I do an internet search, figure out what it is, and then I dig in to fight.  Pickle worms are some kind of moth stage, and will one day, after devouring and ruining my cucumber plants and fruit, become that moth.  Who will then cover my delicious cukes with their gooey, disgusting eggs.  And unless you see a clump of the clear goo, you can’t really see the tiny little individual eggs or whatever the heck they are between being goo-eggs and little green worms, so they just devour your cucumber (or squash or melon) plant’s flowers and leaves and fruits.  Wretched beasts.

As you can imagine, I’m not a happy camper.  I descend on my cuke, vowing to save him, with pesticide (only in the early evening, after the bees are gone–I need bees to pollinate my cuke . . . if he survives), and I attack him with pruning shears.  Clip go the chewed leaves.  Clip go the fishy-looking fruit.  Clip go flowers that seem “wobbly” or weird.  Clip. Clip. Clip.  I accidentally even clipped off a bit of vine that I didn’t mean to.  Sigh.  Anyway, between the ruthless clipping and the applications of pesticide, I somehow manage to save my cuke plant.  Yay me!   It was a bit against what I read online, but I did plant another cuke seed to grow in case the drastic measures failed.  This, of course, was chewed off by the freaking mystery rodents.

Moral of the story?  Don’t wait.  Start planting now. Learn about growing veggies because they don’t just magically grow vast bounties of food.  I didn’t even tell you about the horrible fungi some of my tomato plants had for a while or the wretched little aphids who needed to be doused with a dish soap and water mix.  There’s a learning curve to this vegetable growing thing, best to learn now.