Gardens & Gardeners

Hot Pepper is Weird Veggie Winner for 2015

A jalapeno pepper with attitude was the big winner in the 2015 Weird Veggie Contest sponsored by Bonnie Plants.

A great big THANKS goes to all the gardeners who grew vegetable gardens and submitted their weird entries! While many great entries failed to garner enough votes to win the contest, they still deserve special recognition and some will be inducted into the Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit Hall of Fame.

WesternGardeners.com also sends a huge “Thank You” to Bonnie Plants for sponsoring this year’s contest and supplying prizes for the top finishers in this annual vegetable celebration!

Corpse Flower Viewing is Botanical Craziness

Corpse FlowerI’ve done a lot of kooky things in my day, but waiting in a long line of other early-rising plant nerds to get a glimpse (and whiff) of a flower could top the list.

The alert went out last night on the 10 o’clock news: The Corpse Flower at the Denver Botanic Gardens has started to bloom!

DBG members would get the first crack at seeing the monster plant starting at 6:00 a.m. When I arrived at 6:30, the parking garage was full and there was already a line that snaked its way around Marnie’s Pavilion. It was a little like standing in line for Space Mountain at Disney World.

It certainly paid to get there early. I waited just over an hour and was lucky enough to grab one of 1000 commemorative Corpse Flower barf bags — a clever play on the fact the plant emits a distinct fragrance to attract pollinators when it’s in full bloom.

Vegetable gardeners have more control when planting in container gardens

2015 vegetable container garden The 2015 vegetable growing season had a cool, rainy and slow start, but plants are finally responding to the warm dry days.

After the first 95-degree day, I noticed every squash plant had blossomed overnight. Each plant had several large squash blossoms, with plenty of buzzing bees, because they were so happy to get the kind of overnight heat they like.

Vegetable gardeners who have trouble growing in conventional in-ground vegetable beds, may want to give container gardening a try.

From my experience, vegetable gardeners have more control when gardening in containers — in spite of the weather.

This year’s container vegetable garden is about two weeks behind last year’s garden. In 2014 cherry tomatoes were ripe enough to eat in mid-July; this year, it was August First.

There were just two ripe-red tomatoes, but they were worth the wait.

Win Big with Ugly Fruits and Vegetables

weird tomatoWhat’s the oddest fruit or vegetable you’ve found in your garden?

I’ve found many crazy-looking edibles in my garden, but the tomato I named “Casper the Friendly Cyclops” is the most memorable.

This misshapen, but smiling, tomato could be a winner in the WesternGardeners.com annual Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit photo contest.

Every year gardeners send in images of the kookiest produce they pull from their gardens.

The vegetables are certainly entertaining and it’s always fun to guess what went wrong to cause those weird-looking shapes. Some environmental problem is the most common reason behind these oddballs.

In the case of Casper, the weather was exceptionally cold when the tomato plant was starting to set fruit. That’s what caused all those odd shapes on the blossom end of the tomato.

When carrots grow in rocky soil, their roots can form into strange configurations.

How to plant peppers in your vegetable garden

pepper assortmentI’ve never met a pepper I didn’t like. Hot, sweet, fried or dried, I’m crazy about them all. That’s why I plant at least a dozen different pepper varieties in my garden every season.

There will always be several jalapeno plants, but each year I enjoy adding new-to-me varieties. I’ve been known to pick a pepper plant just so I could grow enough chiles to prepare a single recipe. ‘Holy Mole’!

I’m drawn to peppers because they’re versatile in the kitchen and grow in so many different sizes, shapes and colors. There are baby bell peppers, slender green Thai chiles, long red paprika peppers and even black edible ornamentals.

Then, of course, there’s the thrill of the unknown when taking that first tantalizing bite.

Has a pepper ever made you cry or cause steam to vent from your ears? That painful burning sensation is nature’s way of letting you know you’ve had too much capsaicin. Capsaicin is the flavorless, tasteless alkaloid compound that stimulates the pain receptors in your mouth.

How to make aerated compost tea for your garden

compost for teaIf you’re a gardener who’s been conscientiously composting your kitchen waste and using the rich, crumbly material as a soil conditioner in your garden, it’s time to take your composting to the next level.

By mixing that earthy concoction with water and allowing it to steep, you can create a beneficial tea loaded with the nutrients that plants love.

Digging compost into flower and vegetable beds is an important part of any gardening program, but why stop at adding millions of beneficial bacteria to the soil when you add billions of bacteria instead?

The process of brewing compost into tea not only makes the organic matter more effective, but it improves its usefulness, too.

Compost tea can be used as both a foliar spray and a soil drench.

  • As a foliar spray, the tea’s soluble nutrients give the plant a healthy boost and help control plant diseases like black spot and early blight.

Improve your Small-Space Vegetable Gardening with this Special Summer Discount

tomato basketAt my house, summer gardening dreams are all about growing a bountiful vegetable garden — one filled with a variety of ripe and juicy heirloom tomatoes.

All of these tomatoes, from the smoky Black Krims to the small yellow pear tomatoes, grew in my small-space vegetable garden.

Some grew in the postage-stamp sized 6 x 8 vegetable bed, but most were harvested from my patio container garden.

After years of experimenting with growing vegetables in containers, I’ve learned what works best.

I’ve also learned that gardeners can grow just about any fruit, vegetable and herb in a small-space garden.

All of those tips and tricks for growing vegetables in small spaces are packed into my Craftsy online gardening class. In seven video sessions, I share all of my gardening secrets.

To celebrate summer, I’m offering my class at a special discount. Just follow this link to sign up now and you’ll save $20 on Vegetable Gardening: Innovative Small Space Solutions!

An Herb a Day Keeps Mosquitoes Away

green leavesThe American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) wants you to know this is National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.

You are aware of mosquitoes, aren’t you?

That’s what I thought!

Mosquitoes are certainly annoying, but they can also spread West Nile virus. That’s why it’s important for gardeners to do all they can to control these insect pests.

“Over the last few years, the U.S. has had increased cases of mosquito-borne illnesses such as the West Nile Virus and other exotic diseases such as dengue fever and Chikungunya threaten our shores,” says AMCA Technical Advisor Joe Conlon. “To ensure the safety of family, friends and pets, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re taking the proper steps: first, reducing mosquito breeding through water management and source reduction, and second, reducing adult
mosquito populations.”

The AMCA says one of the easiest and most crucial thing to do is to remove any standing water around your property. Empty pots, tarps, tools and trash cans of any water that has collected as they are all breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The National Pollinator Network Needs Your Garden

bee on flowerPlant and bee counted!

We’re celebrating National Pollinator Week and need gardeners across the country to join in.

You don’t have to have a large garden; any size garden is an important part of the gardening network to help take care of pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds and even bats.

Every seed or  plant that helps feed our pollinators counts.

In fact, your garden can count even more toward the One Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

By 2016 we hope there will be at least 1,000,000 pollinator gardens registered at the Pollinator Partnership website.

The One Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is the goal of the brand new National Pollinator Garden Network. The network is a collaboration between more than 20 different conservation organizations, gardening groups and seed companies.

One of the National Pollinator Garden Network organizations is one I’m very familiar with — the National Wildlife Federation. For more than a dozen years my landscape has maintained its status with the organization as a certified backyard habitat.

Black Walnut Tree Bears Fruit

walnut on treeUnlike many gardeners, I invite squirrels into my yard. I know there are plenty of gardeners out there who spend a lot of time and money to keep these furry fiends out of their vegetable gardens, but squirrels are a part of the scenery around here. And they’re just so darn entertaining.

I know that squirrels like to dig up freshly-planted spring bulbs, they take damaging bites from otherwise picture-perfect tomatoes and they feast on the birdseed I set out for my feathered friends.

But thanks to one industrious squirrel, I have a beautiful black walnut tree growing in the backyard.

It started when that forgetful squirrel planted a black walnut in a flowerpot about 15 years ago.

Research shows that squirrels forget where they bury the nuts the hide almost 75% of the time. That means about 25% of buried nuts have the potential to grow into trees. That’s what happened to my walnut tree.

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