Happy 4th of July!

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How to Grow Potatoes…

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Whenever I talk to people about my garden and what I grow in it, I always get the same response…”POTATOES???  Omigosh!  I’ve always wanted to grow potatoes!”  What people don’t realize is that potatoes are the easiest thing to grow (for me at least and in my climate).

While potatoes are traditionally a cool season vegetable, I’ve found a way to grow them year round here in San Diego.  In the winter I plant them in my normal planter beds, in the full, warm (or warmish winter) sun.  And in the summer heat, I plant them on the side of my house, where they get full morning sun, but then are shaded during the hottest part of the day.

So, I don’t know if the way I grow them is the correct way or not, but it’s how I do them and I’ve been very successful with them for almost five years now.  Here’s how I grow potatoes…

1.  Potatoes love very fertile, well-draining soil.  I actually use pure compost.  You can get it for free from our local dump, so each season, we take the truck, fill it up and then bring it back to the potato beds.  You can also use a 5 gallon bucket and put one seed in each.  Or a giant pot and put 3 seeds evenly spaced in it.  I’ve heard you can even use a giant, black yard size trash bag.

2.  Once you have the soil in place, you need to figure out a watering system.  You can hand water, but all of us are so busy all the time, so I have a soaker hose set up.  This way, when it’s time to water, I simply turn on my spigot and set the timer on my phone for 20 minutes.  Using a soaker hose also minimizes wasteful watering (something extremely important here in drought-ridden California).  The soaker minimizes evaporation and gets the water directly where it needs to go.  I water mine about twice a week when the seeds are planted and once the plant breaks through the soil surface, I water once a week.

3.  Getting potatoes seeds.  Now, in the spring (and if you’re lucky enough to get them before they sell out), you can purchase potatoe “seeds” from Home Depot.  White Superior, Red, Yukon Gold.  All are yummy.  If it’s the “off-season” or if they are sold out, don’t worry.  Go pick up some organic potatoes at the store (of the variety you want to grow) and put them in a paper bag in a cool, dark place.  Check on it periodically and once the potato has three distinct “eyes” growing out of it, you now have a potato “seed”!  If you have an over achieving potato seed that has grown six or more eyes, cut that bad boy in half to make 2 seeds!  Basically, cut it up into chunks with each chunk having at least three well-defined eyes.

4.  How to plant.  Dig a hole about 6 inches deep, place the potato seed in the hole with the eyes pointing upwards, cover with soil.  Water deeply.

5.  The plants will start to grow big and bushy.  They (or at least mine) are extremely low-maintenance.  I don’t fertilize them during the season (they get all of their nutrition from the compost).  I water once a week.  I don’t really have any problems with pests other than the feline kind that like to dig up my taters.  The one thing you do have to do on a regular basis (at least weekly) is to go and look at the base of your plants and make sure you don’t see any potatoes poking through the soil.  If you do, you need to mound up the soil around them, because if a potato is exposed to sunlight for too long, it will turn green.  Once it turns green, it turns bitter due to moderately poisonous compound.  If you do happen to get a green potato, don’t throw it away though!  While you can’t eat it, it makes a perfect seed for the next batch of potatoes!

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6.  About 1-2 weeks after the plant blossoms (beautiful pale lavender flowers), you can dig up the potatoes for the small “new” potatoes that are always so ridiculously overpriced in the stores. 

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For full-size potatoes, wait until the plant completely dies down and then you can harvest them.  My first season of potatoes freaked me out because the plants had been doing so well and then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they started to die on me!  I freaked out!  I started watering them more, fertilized them, checked for bugs and other parasites.  Only to discover after a google search that “Duh!  Potato plants are supposed to die!”  A tip though, once the plant dies, do NOT remove the dead plant until after you’ve harvested the potatoes, otherwise you might forget exactly where you had potatoes planted!  I leave my potatoes in the ground until I’m actually ready to use them.  Since we love potatoes, they don’t stay in the ground very long.  Just make sure to save enough potatoes to make new seeds.

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7.  Potatoe weeds.  The one thing you will most definitely have to deal with though are potato weeds.  Unless you harvest each and every potato from each and every plant, any teeny, tiny potato left in the ground will grow eyes and turn into another potato plant.  And while that’s not a bad thing, if you do crop rotations (which I recommend), you might have a potato plant growing in the middle of whatever you plant there the following season.

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8.  My favorite thing about growing potatoes though…EATING THEM!!!  Slice them super thin and bake them with fresh ground sea salt for potato chips that rival Lay’s.  Chop into cubes and fry with olive oil and onion.  Make the creamiest mashed potatoes you’ve ever had.  There’s not a bad way to eat them!

Try growing potatoes!  You’ll find that they are super easy and taste SOOOOOO much better than anything you can buy at the grocery and specialty stores.

I’m Blaming My Hangover on My Garden…

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Yes, you read that title right.  I am full-on blaming my hangover this morning on my garden.  It’s all my garden’s fault.

You see, in the winter I typically do not work on my garden.  Even though I live in a climate where I can garden year round, I need a break.  By the time fall is ending, my garden feels like a chore.  UGH!  I have to go trim this again, I have to go fertilize this again.  The plants don’t look as lush and pretty as they used to, so the garden doesn’t look as lush and pretty as it used to and as I am The Fashionista’s Garden, I want things to look pretty too! 

So, I typically let my garden go to hell in a hand basket all winter long.  I let it grow where it wants even though I stop watering it.  And it becomes a huge eyesore, but I simply don’t want to deal with it.  With no more fresh veggies coming out of the back yard, I find I have less enthusiasm to cook dinner so winter dinners tend to look like Domino’s pizza, Carls Jr burgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, you get the disgusting idea.

And then spring comes around.  And as the weather gets nicer and nicer, the garden becomes a bigger and bigger eye sore.  I want to spend time out in the back yard, but there’s SO much stuff to do to make it pretty, so I end up just leaving it and leaving it and leaving it until I’m super stressed out about it and then FINALLY I make the time to work on “just one small section” which as all gardeners know turns into an entire day working in the garden. 

I start with one crop.  One tiny crop to start the season.  This year it was cucumbers.  It felt like forever as I waited for the seed to emerge from the soil.  Then waited patiently (ok, maybe not so patiently) for those first few true leaves to show.  And then the next thing I knew, I had blossoms!  And then cukes!  The first cucumber of the season I thoroughly enjoyed sliced with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground sea salt.  HEAVEN!

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So then I got motivated again.  I planted more.  I planted yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, red bells, carrots, lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini.  All of my favorite veggies.  And of course, as the garden was looking better and better, the rest of the back yard was looking worse and worse.  So I started working on that. 

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Cleaning around the pool, deep cleaning the pool to get it ready for summer, reorganizing the backyard furniture to look more inviting, getting a gas firepit for fun nights, a new outdoor rug for under the canopy, outdoor pillows to make the chaises more comfie. 

My backyard had turned into something amazing and I of course wanted to share!  So, what do you do when your backyard looks amazing?  You invite friends over for a party of course!  And what garden party would be complete without some of my super amazing peach sangria!  (Recipe at the end of this post.) 

And so we had a party last night to celebrate the garden, to celebrate the back yard, to celebrate the start of summer, and to celebrate great friends and their birthdays.  We had the most absolutely amazing time!  I hadn’t laughed that hard in I think years.  The next thing we knew, it was 1:30 in the morning.  Everyone went home, I crashed in bed.  Only to be woken up at 5 am by the cat wanting to come in the house (he knows our bedroom window and cries and scratches at it to be let in).  Then was woken up at 6 am by kidlets talking and laughing from the office where their friends had had a sleepover the night before.  And then woke up at 7:30 having to get kids ready for bowling, get myself ready to teach a class at the district level PTA training this afternoon all the while ignoring the absolute disaster of beer bottles, wine bottles and empty glasses that once held sangria in them. 

Yes, I am a little worse for the wear this morning (and writing this article while at a noisy bowling alley definitely doesn’t help), but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.  But I am blaming it on my garden, because afterall, if I hadn’t started working on the garden, none of this would’ve happened.

Jeanette’s Sangria

Ingredients:
Fresh berries (I like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries)
Fresh peaches (only if they are in season though!)
Vodka (and it’s ok if it’s the nasty cheap stuff, great way to use it up)
Stella Rose peach sparkling wine

Directions:
This is a sangria you do NOT want to make the night before.  It’s best to make it maybe and hour or two before your party.  Wash the berries (slice the strawberries) and toss them into your giant pitcher.  Slice the peaches and toss into the pitcher.  Add 2 cups of vodka (more or less depending upon your preference).  Top with the Stella Rosa peach sparkling wine.  Stir gently (as the wine is carbonated, it will fizz).  Put in the fridge until you’re ready to drink it although I highly recommend, for quality control purposes only of course, to pour yourself a glass immediately to make sure that it tastes good, afterall, a good hostess never serves a horrible cocktail to her guests!  😉

The Future of My Garden Depends on California…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or in another country and even then you’ve probably heard that there’s a severe drought happening in California right now.  It’s got a lot of people really scared and even more people really frustrated.

You hear about the communities in Central California that are actually out of water. They have water trucks deliver water for them to drink, cook, bathe with every day.  Being as far south as you can in California without becoming Mexico, their problems seem so far away because I can’t actually see it.

I do see however the horrendous photos of resevoirs and lakes in Northern California.  Some of which were at max capacity just a few short years ago and are now just a sliver of what they once were.  And the photos of the non-existent snow packs in the Sierra Nevada that feed us our water throughout the long, dry summer months.

That’s the scary part.  The frustrating part is the wastefulness I still see on a daily, yes I said DAILY basis.  I will go for a walk and see run off going down the gutter from someone who forgot to turn off their lawn sprinklers.  I’ll drive through a neighborhood and see someone’s sprinkler that’s broken, spewing water into the air and down the street.  Or still, people using their garden hoses to wash off their driveway when a good ole’ fashioned broom would do just as well and save our precious resource.

The most frustrating thing of all though happens when we do get rain.  This May has been the rainiest May on record for San Diego (or so I was told).  That’s a good thing, right?  It would be if we could capture it.  On every street corner is a storm drain where all the rain water gets funneled into and that storm drain leads right out to the salty Pacific Ocean where it then becomes unusable.  Sure we have a desalination plant coming along nicely just up the coast, but it can’t supply enough water for the city (at least not all by itself) and it is ridiculously expensive and requires a lot of energy. 

California has been dealing with droughts since the 1960s.  They come and they go, and granted this one is a doozy, you’d think that after FIFTY-FIVE YEARS of a cyclical nature, we would have come up with a better plan to capture the rain we do get without wasting it and letting it just drain right out into the ocean.  We have a high-speed bullet train in the works, and super ginormous sporting stadium in the works, but no plan for water other than to “cut back your water usage”.

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I read somewhere that there is a community in central California somewhere that built a water system to capture rain water.  They didn’t use state-of-the-art, futuristic plans.  They made their plans based off of the ancient Roman waterways.  They then built a large park on top of this water capturing miracle.  The idea behind it is that it rains (duh) and the rain gets soaked into the grass and goes into the waterway.  Water falling elsewhere gets funneled in there as well.  When it’s not raining and they water the grass and the trees, any excess goes back into the waterway.  Apparently, this system works so well that the community does not have to import any water!  And the community gets a big, beautiful park to enjoy.  Now I know that this is not a cheap feat to build, however, what if we stop building gigantic sporting stadiums for overpaid athletes who increasingly so have become worse and worse role models and build something that will benefit the entire community.  Let’s get some water then build sports stuff.  Like I said, I don’t know if this story is true or just an internet legend, but you’ve got to be honest, it’s a great start.

So, with the future of California’s water in limbo, that also leaves my garden in limbo.  I’ve already stopped watering my front yard over a year ago when we first saw the glimpse of the severe drought.  It’s brown and only turns a little green when we get rain.  I installed soaker hoses in the garden beds last summer to be able to minimize wasteful watering as well as keep any water from evaporating as fast.  But I wanted to do more.  So, here’s my improvements for this year.

For those following this web site, you’ve no doubt seen photos of my garden beds recently…all overgrown with a variety of plants.  I got down and dirty this season and I pulled out any “wasteful” plants…that is, I only kept plants in the beds that actually provide me with something.  If I don’t use it, I will lose it.  So the sage, thyme, parsley and oregano plants went bye-bye.  I don’t use them.  I planted them because that’s just what you plant in a garden.  They eventually grew gigantic and woody so out they went.  I did keep the rosemary though since I do use that.  Instead, I’ve only planted stuff I use-cherry tomatoes and the yellow pear tomatoes, one eggplant, cucumbers, zuchini, yellow squash, carrots, lettuce and red bell peppers.  And when I finally finish the third planter, it will be nothing but strawberries.  Only what I eat, nothing going to waste.

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The only herbs I kept (because they’re the only fresh ones I use)-rosemary and chives.

I’ve also had a problem lately with our new nine month old kitten digging in the garden beds.  In the past I’ve tried many things to keep the neighborhood cats from thinking that my garden was one giant cat box.  I tried stapling weed guard over my beds with just the plants sticking out.  No good, cats scratched through and tore the weed guard.  I tried cayenne pepper sprinkled into the soil.  Yeah, didn’t work either and just made my garden soil pinkish.  The most successful was the season that I covered my beds with chicken wire and just cut holes for my plants to fit through.  Success at keeping cats at bay, yes, but if I didn’t stay on top of my veggies, I consistently had problems of cucumbers and zucchini getting caught in one of the holes in the chicken wire and growing through it.  There had to be another way.

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Some of my favorite veggies-yellow pear tomatoes and cucumbers.

Enter pallets.  Hubbie works in construction and has access to tons of them, so much to his dismay, I had him bring home a bunch last week.  They just so happened to fit perfectly into the width of my garden beds (4 feet wide) and they took 2 1/2 to 4 pallets per bed (depending on the length of my garden beds, some of mine are 12 feet long and others are 16 feet long). Plopped those puppies down, filled the open slots with fresh soil and then planted my seedlings and seeds.  It actually raised my beds a little more which my back is appreciating.  It also made for a nice place to step if you needed to cross the beds quickly and it (so far) kept the cats from redistributing my soil from inside my beds to outside.  The existing plants that I had (specifically the cucumber) I retrained to go on top of the pallets which has made it so much easier and not to mention cleaner to harvest my yummy green buddies.  And as an added bonus, (again, so far) it has made my garden retain its moisture longer.  The soil under the wooden slats has not been evaporating as quickly.

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My pallet creation.  You’ll see I did keep the geraniums and lavender to keep the bees happy.  🙂

We shall see if this works the way I am hoping it to.  In the meantime though, I think I might just stop and smell my flowers and enjoy my garden.  Who knows how long I’ll be able to have it.

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Flowers in the garden-bouganvilla, some sort of geranium type thing, Gramma’s Christmas Cactus still going strong in MAY and a purple morning glory.

Stuck Between a Tomato Plant and an Herb Garden…

I know, weird title.  It’s supposed to be “stuck between a rock and a hard place”, but I really truly am stuck between a tomato plant and an herb garden.  This is all regarding my center raised bed planter in my back yard. 

Last summer I had tomatoes on the back end of the planter and did an herb garden on the front end with my usual giant lavender plant in the middle.  I pulled out the tomato plants after they’d lived a long and yummy life, but apparently, one of the plants dropped a tomato and I didn’t see it because I now have what can only be described as tomato ivy.

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In this picture I am standing on the far side of my first planter (which is 4 feet wide), the tomato ivy is in the second bed (which is also 4 feet wide) and the tendrils of tomato extend PAST the third bed (which is also 4 feet wide)!  I didn’t catch the plant in time to properly cage him and when he fell over in a wind storm months ago, I thought he was done.  Apparently not.  He not only lived, he thrived!  The one plant has taken over the entire back area (The kitten loves it!  She plays jungle kitty in it).  But I don’t have the heart to rip it out!  Look at all of those cherry tomatoes, some even red already!  What’s a gardener to do?

It wouldn’t be so bad, except the herb garden in the same bed has gone absolutely bonkers as well (and did I mention that they all grew so crazy in a serious drought and I didn’t water them all winter!).

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What you see in the picture is thyme in the left foreground followed by sage and rosemary behind it.  On the right you have oregano and in the very back, you have the dill and parsley.  I don’t use fresh herbs very often.  So, I don’t know why I even planted these.  I guess my thought process was that everyone always grows herbs as well, so why not!  Well, now I have tons.  I’m tempted to transplant these guys to the front yard as a pretty border along my fence but am hesitant for a few reasons…first, I don’t know how they’ll take coming out of their store-bought soil and going into our super clay-ey soil here in San Diego and second…see all those blossoms on them…during the day they are COVERED with bees!  And I need bees for my vegetables not to mention we need to help the bee population anyway we can.

So, you can see now why I’m stuck between a tomato plant and an herb garden.  Do I take out these plants to be able to use the real estate for my summer garden?  Or do I leave them be for the sake of yummy early tomatoes and a fabulous supply of bees?

I’m leaning towards leaving them be for the above reasons, but also I’m really swamped work-wise right now.  Time is definitely a commodity.  I am going to use some of the herbs though this week. Shocker!  Lol.  I’m putting on a staff appreciation lunch for my kids’ school and the theme is “Garden Party”, so the herbs are going to make beautiful and fragrant table decorations.

And for those keeping track…

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Yes, that is my Gramma’s Christmas Cactus and yes it is blooming in May. She must be thinking about me!

And stay tuned, because in a week, the potatoes should slowly start coming out of the ground and into my belly!

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Spring is in the Air!

Spring is technically not here until Friday, but here in San Diego it’s summer already!  Temperatures this past weekend were mid-90s at my house. I was outside constantly checking on my wee baby seedlings that had just started to emerge from the ground days earlier. Fortunately I was able to keep them moist the entire time and they are doing great.

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Look!  Baby lettuce!

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Something ‘ s growing here. I forgot what I took a photo of.  Lol. It’s either a variety of tomato, an eggplant or a cucumber.

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My hibiscus is flowering. I always love when it does because it reminds me of my gramma.  When she passed a few years ago, I inherited all of her plants and this was one of them. It’s sad though that the blossoms only last 1 or 2 days.  Makes you remember that life is fleeting and to enjoy every second of its beauty.

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Another plant from gramma in all it’s gorgeous color.

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And my favorite…lavender.  love the smell, love the color.

I can’t wait until my veggies start producing flowers because once they do, I’ll be that much closer to fresh and flavorful produce!

Buh-Bye Yucky Winter Leftovers!

I had decided to let my raised beds have a break this winter (it was more for me, but hey).  But here in sunny San Diego, the weather has been getting ridiculously warm (it’s supposed to be 90 at my house on Sunday!) and as such, the back yard was atrocious looking.  Something had to be done.

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My poor plant.  😦

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Our canopy cover had died.  After a couple years of dry weather, hot sun and wind (not to mention my 20 pound cat using it as his own personal hammock), it finally shredded.  My poor little peeing boy statue was urinating dirty brown water.

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My poor raised beds were overgrown.  Those big bushes in the very back?  Yup, those are lettuce.  Betcha didn’t know that lettuce could get that big!  And in the front, those yellow and green honkers…leftover zucchini from the summer.  Quite messy.  Quite an eye sore.  And definitely wasn’t providing me any yummy produce.  YET!

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I went to work right away but it wasn’t easy.  I even broke my trowel!  😦  Guess I have to go shopping now (but a fashionista always loves shopping so I guess it’s not too bad).  🙂  And yes I garden in rubber kitchen gloves.  I don’t like bugs.

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The potatoes and onions we planted a few weeks ago are doing great!  Can’t wait to start harvesting those!

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I didn’t tackle everything in the garden yet, but I did get it started.  I got the new canopy cover up, transplanted some plants, rearranged others to match the flow better.  Gave the potted plants a good feeding and although the peeing boy statue is still urinating brown, I guess that part of the yard doesn’t look too bad (I’ll have to clean his fountain another day).

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I also got the first planter cleaned up and planted.  I have cherry tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, purple eggplant, cucumber and carrots planted.  We are trying something new this year as I have a problem with said 20 pound cat who loves me to death because I apparently supplied him with the world’s largest cat boxes for him, so we are trying a water and air soluble weed mat to keep the cat out of the soil not to mention keep weeds at bay.  I have holes cut for each plant as well as the soaker hose.  My gardening style is always “let’s try it and we’ll see”, so we’ll see!