Category Archives: Gardening Books

How To Grow The Sweetest Peppers

The only pepper I saw in my mother’s garden was the green, bell pepper.  And I never liked them.  The taste was too strong, bitter, almost biting.  So I never planted peppers until I found red and yellow bells.

Assorted bell pepper fruits from Mexico

Discovering peppers of color led to what is now my favorite pepper of all time, the Italian sweet pepper.

Italian sweet peppers are at the heart of any great sausage and pepper sandwich you’ve ever had.  And Italian sweet peppers add flavor to any recipe including my scallopini (recipes below the “bugs that bug” peppers).

Italian Sweet peppers have a rich green color that gradually turns brilliant red.  The flesh of the pepper is medium thick. The fruit is slightly curved, tapering to a pointed end.

Italian sweet peppers

Italian sweet peppers are a staple in my garden.

Today, Italian sweet peppers are the only peppers I grow.

Starting From Seed
Peppers are a warm weather plant so, like tomatoes and eggplant, I always start them from seed.  And I always start peppers 2 to 3 weeks earlier than the date specified on the seed packets.  Why?

In my zone, peppers that are started 8 weeks before my last frost (around May 15th) just aren’t big enough or strong enough to set fruit before the middle to end of July.  As a result, if I started them when the seed packet said to, I’d only get a few peppers from each one. If I start the plants indoors and early, my plants are larger and more vigorous and I get a glorious crop from every one!

I use 24-cell APS starter kits from Gardener’s Supply and I highly recommend them.  Funny thing is, I’ve been using cells for seed starting for years and now, recent research revealed that growing peppers in larger tray cell sizes or containers will produce larger transplants.

The kits ensure that your seeds and seedlings get just the right amount of water while sprouting and growing.  Not too much – not too little. The capillary mats in the cell system take advantage of osmosis.  Because of the system design, I never have to contend with damping off.

I fill the cells with Gardener’s Supply germinating mix, place 4 seeds in each cell…two in opposite corners.  Then I cover each cell with a bit of sphagnum moss, put on the plastic top and set the tray on two ceramic tile that sit directly on the heat mats. I fill the tray with water and then check 4 or 5 days to see if the seeds have sprouted.

NOTE:  You have to check your seed trays every day to make sure there is enough water in them.  Because I sit them almost directly on the heat mat, the water evaporates pretty fast.  If the seeds dry out at any time during the sprouting or early growing stages, the plants will either die, outright, or just malinger – no grow very much at all.

As soon as the seeds sprout, I lift off the clear cover and drop the light to within 1 inch of the cells.  As the plants grow, I keep the trays watered and I keep the light as close to the seedlings as I can without touching them.  If the light touches them, even a fluorescent light, it will burn the baby’s leaves and slow the plant’s growth.

When the seedlings have two full sets of leaves, I give the plants a very mild fertilizer called Plant Health Care for Seedlings, also from Gardener’s Supply,

Once the plants are 3 to 4 weeks old, I transplant them into 2 inch peat pots.  NOTE:  If all the seeds sprout, either separate the seedlings and put one in each peat pot or clip the smaller of the seedlings off with nail scissors so the remaining seedling has more room to grow.

Transplanting Peppers To The Garden
Before you put your pepper plants in the ground, make sure you are NOT planting them in the same area where you had tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes last year.

Peppers are in the Solanaceae plant family and are botanically related to these popular garden vegetables.  Because they are related, peppers can share the same spectrum of pest problems and should not be rotated into soil recently lived in by their kissing cousins.

Also, whether you’re growing from seed or using transplants (unless they were outside when you bought them), you have to “harden off” your plants before you stick them in the garden.

Hardening off does NOT involve tools or torture.  It just means that you have to introduce your transplants to the outdoors, gradually.

Five or six days before you want to put them in the garden, start setting them outside for a couple of hours the first 2 days and keep an eye on them.  Make sure they have water and are not staked out in high sun or high wind.  Then leave them out all day for 2 days then overnight for one night.

NOTE:  also, when hardening off, stop fertilizing.  If the plants have small flowers or fruit on them, pinch both off.  You want to help the transplant direct all of its energy to rooting in the soil before it tries to set flowers or fruit.

Remember, peppers like warm earth and warm air – even warmer than tomatoes.  So the optimal temperature for them to go into the ground is 75 to 85 degrees. Peppers are typically transplanted about two weeks later than tomatoes, for me that’s early June.

Peppers can be planted in single rows or twin (double) rows on a raised bed. Space the pepper plants 12 to 24 inches apart and space rows about 4 feet apart. If you decide to use a double row, make the rows about 18 inches apart on the bed and put the plants in the ground in a zigzag pattern.

By the way, peppers and tomatoes don’t work and play well together so don’t plant tomatoes on one side of your trellis or fence and peppers on the other.  The pepper plants will grow but will be stunted and the peppers themselves will be small and prone to rotting.

Feeding The Peppers
If you don’t want to use fertilizer on your transplants, here’s a little trick I learned from a farmer friend.  Crush up eggshells and put about ½ of a cup of them in the bottom of the hole. Toss a bit of soil on top of the crushed shells before you put the pepper plant in so the baby roots (cilia) are not cut.

Crushed egg shells are slow to break down but will feed the plants.  And they are free so I love using them as my fertilizer.  By the way, you can also use crushed egg shells to stop slugs…just by sprinkling them around the base of your plants.

Peppers have shallow roots so water them when they need it and don’t hoe too close.  Also, stake peppers so that when fruit loads are heavy, the plants don’t topple from weight or high winds.  I use old, inverted tomato cages as you can see below.

Staking sweet peppers with tomato cages

Sweet peppers need staking.

That sounds odd but the cages work better than anything else I have tried.

I put the tomato cage over the plant with the wide ring on the ground and fasten the ring down with ground staples.  Then I gather up the tips of the cage and secure them with a wire tie.  The pepper plant stays inside the cage, grows up straight and is supported even in the heaviest wind or thunderstorm.  And I don’t have to tie the pepper plants up.

How to Grow Peppers is excerpted from my Kindle organic gardening book Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us and is available on Amazon.

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My Tips for Sustainable Living

I am loving Nathan Crane’s series on sustainable living.

I am learning a lot from the people in this series and gaining new insights and new ideas. I am also realizing that almost every change I have made in my life over the last 20+ years, including my focus on organic gardening, has brought

Community gardens are gifts.

Gardening is good for body and soul.

me one step closer to living more sustainably. That was not why I made the changes.

Being sustainable never entered into my choices. Watching, listening, seeing and, at some deep level, awakening, knowing and choosing to make changes in my life and my home that are ethically in tune with me began with a diagnosis of cancer.

Once started, the changes didn’t stop. Here are some simple things I did, you can do, to just start down the path of being kinder to yourself, your loved ones and your world.

Buy organic meat and poultry. My husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. Everything changed.  And this was one of the first changes I made.  I found neighbors who were farmers who were organic and we bought our first pasteur-raised, free-ranged food.  I am a vegetarian now but we still buy organic meats from our friends.

No paper towels.  Sounds silly, small, but it was the first choice I made.  I weaned the household (and my husband) off of them in a year.  We have not had paper towels in our home for 7 years.  I buy fabric napkins at thrift shops and use them and wash them and use them again.

Drying clothes on a line.  I live in a relatively affluent neighborhood where

Breezecatcher 4 arm dryer

My Breezecatcher dryer saves me $100’s every year.

there are no clothes lines.  My solution? Buy a “solar dryer” that I can put out in the morning and take down in the afternoon.  I save about $80 a month on electricity just by drying towels, sheets and heavy cloths outdoors, year round.

Lettuce is an easy crop to grow and so tasty.

Lattuga in any language is a great addition to your garden.

Growing My Own – organic gardening has moved from an idea to a full-blown love of mine and it all started with lettuce!  Twenty plus years later, I have never looked back.  I am cheap, pragmatic and able to raise almost every veggie or fruit we eat using nothing but time, sunshine, water and love.

Making my own laundry detergent.  I decided to do this because I live in well country – and there are a lot of families downstream from my septic system and tile field.  Commercial laundry detergents are pretty harsh so I found a recipe (on the internet) using washing soda, laundry soap – Fels Naptha – and water. I add a few drops of Thieves oil for scent and make 3 gallons at a time for pennies on the dollar.  And I get the peace of mind of knowing that I am not poisoning my neighbors’ wells.

Making kombucha and sauerkraut.  This is my newest venture and I LOVE it. Fermented foods are so easy to make and so inexpensive to prepare.  You can pay $6.50 for a pint of sauerkraut or make a gallon – 8 pints – for $2.00.  Same with Kombucha — fermented black tea.  Pay $5.00 a bottle or about 15 cents a bottle.  It’s easy to make, delicious to drink and again, so very good for you.  Save money, feed your family and save resources.

Don’t listen to me.  Listen to yourself.  Take a step that works for you. Grow something. Save something. Make something. Don’t wait for someone else; make the change you want to see.

Let’s go back to Edward Abbey’s America.

“If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others.”                                                                                           Edward Abbey

Gleanings from Sustainabilty Series w/Nathan Crane

Day 3 of this fabulous series and I am just learning so much and being validated in a whole lot of ways as I enjoy the Search for Sustainability.

Episode 3 is about health, your health and how you can get it back.  and do so without medicines, doctors, surgery.  The easiest change? Get rid of processed foods.  Just get rid of them and grow your own!

Organic gardening depends on dirt.

Growing your own organic veggies is easy.

You will save money.  You will save yourself.  And you will feel better.  Those messages come through loud and clear and I am living proof that they are true. I’ve lost 60 pounds I didn’t know I had to lose.

My husband has lost 45 pounds and is still losing.  His blood sugar is normalizing — after 20 years of Type 2 diabetes.  It’s good news and it is easy to do just by making that the choice to grow or buy organic produce.

Organic gardening for everyone who thinks it's hard.

Tips & tricks to make gardening easy & fun.

Growing organic veggies and fruits is easy, it’s fun and it’s a way to share what you learned from your mom or dad, your aunts and your friends like I did in my book.

There are other choices that are also coming through loud and clear in this series.

Do it!

The motto of a very famous shoe company should also be your motto.  Just do it.  Once you start, you will find it just gets easier and easier because you start feeling better.

Live it!

Live this life of health and renewal and joy.  Step back into the real world with other people who are choosing health and growing or buying organic foods.

Teach it.

There is nothing more rewarding than being able to share what you have learned on your journey through life.  This is where Nathan Crane is.  This is where many of the people in this series are – teaching it.  This is what I do in my book.

Even if you don’t feel you are ready, just watch. Maybe just take one small step because that’s what sustainability is all about.  Make one small change, today.

Pruning Guru Makes It Easy

Move over Lee Reich. Reich is one of my go to resources for gardening, growing and weeding. He also used to be my “go to” guy for pruning tips and tricks. Although I still love Reich’s book, I have a new, best friend when it comes to pruning.

Her name is Ann Ralph; her book is Grow A Little Fruit Tree.

For the first time since I started reading about and trying to understand what to prune, when and how, I completely understand pruning and I know the answers to the what, the when and the how!

It is so simple that I am amazed!  And Ann Ralph’s approach ensures that your dwarf trees will not be 25 feet high and still growing with fruit totally out of reach.

Here’s the first bit of advice I was surprised by.  When you buy a new fruit tree, cut off its little head!

Ralph calls this, “…the toughest cut you will ever make.” Although the reasons she shares in her book are logical and the outcome desirable, the author notes that many people just can’t bring themselves to do it and guess what, their dwarf stock quickly exceeds all predictions for height and you are stuck with a fruit tree you can’t manage or harvest.

Now for the second bit of advice.  I live in the United States.  Ralph’s “rule?” Prune in June.  Just before Summer Solstice.  Yes, even if you trees have fruit on them, prune.  This prune is for height, not necessarily for shape.

Like a whole lot of people, I was told to prune when the tree was dormant – January or February, before it set fruit.  And so I did.  That’s why all of my trees grew 10 to 15 feet every spring!  Winter pruning should be for shape; pruning a tree back in winter unleashes all its stored energy into growth in the spring and you become the proud owner of a monster tree!

I’m not going to give away all of Ralph’s amazing, practical and straightforward advice.  If you have fruit trees, buy the book.  I got the paperback and the Kindle book and have devoured every word, twice.

An amazing, easy to read and easy to implement book on pruning is gold to any gardener and this book is all of these things and more.

Lee Reich’s Annual Plant Sale is ON!

Lee Reich is having a plant sale!

If you’ve read my book – Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us or enjoy my blog, you know who Lee Reich is.  He lives on his “farmden” (farm/garden) in New Paltz, New York, teaches everything from drip irrigation to pruning to organic gardening and is one of my favorite gardening resources.

Reich’s books – Grow Fruit Naturally and The Pruning Book – occupy pride of place on my gardening bookshelves.  And now, you have a chance to meet Reich and even buy some of his homegrown, organic plants!

Reich is holding his annual Plant & Garden Sale on May 30th and is offering organically grown plants including:

  1. Hardy passionfruit
  2. Dwarf banana
  3. Hardy kiwi fruits
  4. Seedless grapes
  5. Two crop figs
  6. White alpine strawberries
  7. Nanking cherries

…and a whole lot more.!  Reich will also have to some tools and books and other garden stuff!  Here are the details.

SALE: Saturday, May 30th, from 10am-2pm (please, no earlybirds)
387 Springtown Rd., New Paltz, NY

For information or updated plant list: 845-255-0417

And, coming up, on June 20th, Drip Irrigation workshop.  Drip irrigation for: greater yields, saving water, less plant disease, easy automation.  Cost: $57
For registration and more information –  http://www.leereich.com/workshops

Margaret Roach Holds Open House

If you live anywhere near Margaret Roach’s New York home, you should sign up for her open house in May.

Roach, who has written three books including ” A Way to Garden, I Shall Have Some Peace There and Backyard Parables, was also the leading garden writer for 25 years at Martha Stewart Living.

She hosts  a public-radio show and, on rare occasions, opens her 2.3 acre spread in the Hudson Valley to experts and visitors for a day of delightful learning and sharing of all things gardening.

But what’s really wonderful about this accomplished woman is how very human she is, how real and how willing she is to share mistakes, secrets and her special gardening friends.

Her open houses fill up fast so visit her site and sign up if you can go.  Then share what you see, learn and love about visiting with this extraordinary author, gardener and fellow human being.

Grow So Easy Organic – Find Free Tools to Start Your Garden

Want to start organic gardening but don’t want to spend a lot of money?  You can and it’s pretty darned easy.  Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.

You do not have to buy any chemicals or herbicides.  You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.

The short list of what you need is dirt, water, seeds and sun.  If you try organic gardening and don’t like it, you’ve probably only invested a few dollars and some time.

But if you do try it and you do like it, you probably already own just about everything you might need to get started.  What you don’t own, you can usually get, for free.

So, here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:

  1. Dirt – free.
  2. Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.
  3. A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.
  4. Newspapers – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them.  You can use them for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.
  5. Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw to get rid of and which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.
  6. Some found items that your cukes, tomatoes and peppers can climb
    Cucumbers growing up an old inner spring.

    Cucumbers like to climb and did great on this old bed spring.

    up or grow in.  When I say found, I mean things like the old double-bed spring I use for climbing vegetables or the headboard and footboard from the cast aluminum bed that I found on the side of the road.

  7. Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.
  8. A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.
  9. A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.
  10. Twine – free if you (or someone you know) buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants.  You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn.  NOTE:  Do NOT use green baling twine.  It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.
  11. Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.  They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants.  And they’ll slow down all the bloody beetles that want to share your food.
  12. Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from.Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening.  All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.
  13. An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back.  NOTE:  I consider this a requirement for my gardening.  If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I forget and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.
  14. A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.

There’s no hurry.  You don’t have to have all of these things all at once in order to get started.  In fact, I accumulated all the items above over the years.

So, you can garden happily without most of them.

FYI – I call this section in my book – Grow So Easy: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us “practical” because most of the tools you need are in your closets or cabinets, the garage or the shed.  Don’t buy….just give gardening a try.