2008 Garden Update #4

Welcome to my fourth garden update for 2008. At least I think it’s the fourth update. Regardless, here we go.

I don’t want to spend much time on the herb portion of the garden other than to say that some of the herbs are growing very well, and some of them have been neglected and are desperately in need of a transplant.

The varieties that are growing well are the basils– sweet, spicy globe, purple. By luck, our purple basil contained a Thai basil seed, and that is growing well. For those of you who have only grown sweet basil, I highly recommend you try some other varieties. The purple basil is beautiful. It makes a great garnish and can add a nice color to a dish. The flavor is pretty much the same as the sweet basil. The spicy globe basil and Thai basil depart in flavor and aroma from the standard sweet basil. They smell very licorice-ey, and maintain some of that in the flavor. I’ve enjoyed using it, and if you like basil, you will too.

Other good-growing herbs are (for once) mint, catnip, curly parsley, and rosemary. I need to transplant the sage, thyme, oregano, cilantro (won’t make it in our heat anyway, why bother?), dill (same as cliantro), and flat parsley.

So time for the peppers.

Jaime and I spent all day today working on the pepper plants. Almost all of our peppers were in 7″ pots before today, and ranged in height from 8″ to 30″. Only one pepper remains in styrofoam– the Red Savina Habanero. It’ll be transplanted into a 7″ pot soon. It’s just a slow grower.

We transplanted into regular potting mix. I forget the brand, but it’s the cheapest stuff they had at Lowes– $11 for 3 cubic feet. I have a bunch of $10 off $25 coupons, so we’re basically buying our dirt in $25 increments (for $15). We called around to the nurseries and greenhouses for bulk potting mix, but none of them had any (or were closed on Saturday, dummies).

I like potting mix, but it often seems too dense to me. Too much peat and too much bark, or at least the wrong shape bark. I used to work at a greenhouse, and we used a nice potting mix that contained a bit more perilite than most commercial mixes, and the bark was almost like little pebbles of bark. We grew everything in this same exact mix– tens of thousands of mums, thousands of poinsettias (for the Chicago Botanical Garden no less), and hundreds of thousands of other plants ranging from geraniums to begonias, from vinca to verbena, from ivy to asters. We made no adjustments to the soil for PH or texture or absorbtive qualities or anything like that. We used a good quality potting mix, and we used it for everything with incredible success.

So, here is what I’ve come up with for my peppers. I start with the regular potting mix from the store. To each cubic foot of potting mix, I add about 3 quarts of perilite. This aerates the soil, making it much more porous and light. I have found that garden plants grow grow well in this ratio.

For nutrient supplement, I add two heaping tablespoons of CRF (controlled release fertilizer) with micro-nutrients (important, don’t buy CRF without it), just to juice the mix a bit. I also add two heaping tablespoons of bone meal, which technically is an under-application, but the CRF covers most everything the plant needs anyway. If you’ve never used/seen/heard of bone meal before, it’s exactly as it sounds: a meal made from bones. Think corn meal, but with bones instead of corn. It’s 1-11-0, so it’s a low nitrogen source and a pretty good phosphorous source. The phosphorous will help the peppers set lots of nice strong blooms that will hopefully become nice healthy peppers. Bone meal is slow release– it takes a while for bone to break down, and the effects of the fertilizer are realized over time.

With soil like this, I shouldn’t have to fertilize my peppers at all throughout the season. They should have everything they need available to them from the minute they hit the pot.

For pests, I’m trying paraffin oil this year, which I bought as a concentrate that is sprayed on. All the research I’ve done indicates it’s kerosene, although I can tell you it is not kerosene. It isn’t marked as flammable, and doesn’t smell like kerosene. I’m not sure what it is, but it says it is made from natural ingredients. Any way you look at it, it’s got to be better than the fairly ineffective Sevin dust, and it’s got to be less deadly than the pesticide of last resort– Malathion.

For anti-fungal treatment, I’m using the same as last year: Liquid Copper. It’s a beautiful blue liquid that appears to be copper suspended in ammonia. You mix it with water and spray it on. You have to keep shaking it because if you don’t, the copper will settle back down to the bottom. Strange stuff, but it works incredibly well to rid your peppers of bacterial spot. I’m spraying this as a preventative this year, since our crop was severely diminished last year by my inability to diagonse and treat bacterial spot.

So anyways, the peppers. I feel like I’ve already said that.

As of right now, in the final pots, we have the following:

  • 6 Bell Peppers
  • 2 Hungarian Hot Paprika Peppers
  • 4 Long Red Slim Cayenne Peppers
  • 3 White Habanero Peppers
  • 3 Spicy Mustard Habanero Peppers
  • 3 Sweet Paprika Peppers
  • 3 Fluorescent Purple Peppers (one is not fluorescent for some reason)
  • 1 Pimento Pepper
  • 1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper
  • 1 Tabasco Pepper

That’s 27 plants, all in containers. Considering the average container size is about 6 gallons or so, we’re looking at roughly a yard of potting mix. Holy crap!

Our two Caribbean Red Hot Peppers are still in 7″ pots, growing slowly as expected. We’ve also got a half dozen Thai chili peppers in 7″ pots, as well as a Medusa Pepper that we picked up last week. We have one remaining Fluorescent Purple Pepper to transplant, although it’s not fluorescent like the rest. And of course, the Red Savina I mentioned above.

That is all for now. I’ll take some photos as soon as I can and post them in 2008 Garden Update #5. Stay tuned…

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