Breaking Bad – in the garden

18 05 2014


bb_waltJesse Pinkman, I see you have a small time pepper operation, growing some jalapenos and poblanos.

I have an offer for you. I will grow up some of the hottest peppers in town, and you will help distribute them.

Yo, Mr White. My peppers are already the hottest. I use them to make chili powder, yeah, b!+ch.bb_jesse

bb_waltJesse, your product can barely produce medium salsa. You forgot your Chemistry already. Capsaicin is what you need!

bb_jesseYo Mr. White, yo. My product is hot, b!+ch, yo.





Jesse, be reasonable. your product barely reaches 8000 Scoville units of heat. What I am talking about is so much more. For instance, Bolivian white peppers- 10,000 to 30,000. Fatalii- 125,000 to 325,000. Habanero- 150 – 325,000 Scoville units. The Ghost pepper and the Trinidad Scorpion pepper- 800,000 to 1 million Scoville units of heat! One of these peppers has more heat than a tub of yours.

bb_jesseMr. White, yo. I like making cherry product, yo.




bb_waltOur business will be the Pimiento Picante Hermanos. But first we need to grow the plants. Seeds should be started a good 8 to 12 weeks before setting outside. Keep the seeds warm to aid in germination. A seed mat helps. And when deciding on planting dates, don’t forget that hot peppers are warm weather crop. Transplanting in March in zone 6 will give you plenty of dead transplants.

So you do have a plan? Yeah, Mr. White! Yeah, science!



We plant them in a sunny spot, about 1 ½ to 2 feet apart. I know to plant in fertile soil with good drainage. The soil should average 60 degrees in temperature before planting. I like to extend the season by starting them under a mini hoop house or greenhouse. Place a cardboard or aluminum collar around the plants to help prevent cutworms. While maturity dates vary, we should expect to harvest some peppers about 90 days after transplant. And harvest we will…

scorpion pepper transplant

scorpion pepper transplant


fatalii pepper transplant

—– Intermission ——-

This is a public service message. Wear protective gear when harvesting hot peppers. Please. Let me relay an experience I had handling jalapeno peppers one summer. I failed to wear gloves while halving the peppers for homemade jalapeno poppers. After food prep, I washed my hands thoroughly. Twice. A trip to the restroom demonstrated how wrong I was. To quote Jerry Lee Lewis- “Goodness, gracious! Great balls of fire!!!” The fire down below lasted for hours. I washed my hands several more times. Washing proved ineffective when I took out my contacts. Pow!! I inadvertently launched fire missiles into my eyes. I had to scrap that pair of contacts. Note that we are growing something a little more potent than jalapenos. End of message.

—— End ——

Walt and Jesse put on the protective gear to harvest the hot peppers

Walt and Jesse put on the protective gear to harvest the hot peppers

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Breaking Bad: In the garden. Comments and fan mail are always appreciated.

Back to the Beanstalk- the Sequel

24 08 2013

Remember the beanstalk playhouse from last year?

It turned out OK. I harvested plenty of beans. Unfortunately, it could only be used as a playhouse if the kids were playing a game of “solitary confinement”. What is the solution? Obviously, we just need to make the structure bigger.

Say hello to the new and improved Beanstalk Playhouse. It is framed using 2×2 posts in a tent shape and stabilized at one corner. I planted five varieties around the perimeter- two varieties of green bean, one variety of lima bean, a yellow bean, and a scarlet runner bean. I planted green beans on 3 sides, limas on 2 sides, yellow beans on one, and scarlet runner beans on 5.

New and improved bean playhouse

New and improved bean playhouse

Wait… 3+2+1+5 =…. Either I’m getting really crappy at math or something just doesn’t add up.

Would it help if I told you that the structure has five sides?

Yes, but it still doesn’t add up. You have more beans than sides, Dave.

Off topic- Doesn’t that last sentence sound like something you would hear in a restaurant kitchen?

Anyway, back to the funny math.

This may illustrate better:

Side one – green beans

Side two – green beans

Side three – green beans

Side four – lima beans

Side five – lima beans & yellow beans

And scarlet runners interspersed around all five.

Entrance to the bean tent

Entrance to the bean tent

One lesson reinforced from this latest experience is to space your plants properly. The green beans are thriving from their closely spaced plantings. Green beans… Yum! The lima beans, well, an actual harvest would have been nice. The plants are growing but not achieving much; you know, the limas are kind of like [insert name of favorite politician or Jersey Shore cast member]. I may have crowded them out by planting closer than recommended. But this is my first year growing lima beans, so we’ll file that as a rookie mistake.

Pieces of the old playhouse inside the frame of the bean playhouse

Pieces of the old playhouse inside the frame of the bean playhouse

Do you have any unique ways to grow beans? Let me know…

Answers to life’s great questions

3 08 2013

There are several questions in life that the multitudes ponder.

Questions such as:

  • How can Dave be as awesome as he is?

  • Can you not fiddle with the Oreo middle?

  • How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

And, of course

  • Is it possible to overwinter a pepper plant?

Some of my blog followers may remember my adventures this past winter. I dug up the plants in October, placed them under lights in the basement, fought off aphids, had fun with ladybugs… the list goes on and on. But did the plants survive?

Well, I must tell you that two out of four survived the winter, one cayenne and one Marconi. Only one plant did well through Spring. It was the Marconi pepper plant, a long, sweet stuffing pepper. Not only did it survive, but it is currently thriving. There are 9 (nine) large peppers currently hanging off of the plant. Pictures show the results.

Marconi pepper plant

Marconi pepper plant

There are currently 9 peppers on the plant

There are currently 9 peppers on the plant

As for the other questions above, the answers follow:

  • It just comes naturally to him.

  • This was a rhetorical question. Stop messing with the Oreo middle. It’s just wrong.

  • If you’re Mister Owl, it only takes three. A 1996 study of Swarthmore Junior HS students took a median of 144 licks. Engineering students at Purdue recorded 364 licks with the “licking machine” they made. A University of Michigan student recorded 411 licks with his licking machine. Harvard students created a mechanical rotating tongue that recorded 317 licks. It looks like a tongue is more effective than a machine. Your results may vary.

This last answer generates many more questions. Licking machines? Mechanical rotating tongues? Wow. Just wow.

Trashy Peanuts

21 07 2013

“Listen here young man. I want you to take those Peanuts and throw them in the garbage. Right now.”

What a great idea!

I grew potatoes in a trash can before. It was a fun experiment, and the harvest was fun and easy. Peanuts require extended periods of warm weather (at least 120 to 130 frost free days), and the Rubbermaid container will help the plants get a good/warmer start. And you know what they say, everybody loves a nut.


Ahem, don’t you mean that everybody loves a legume?

What the heck is a legume? A peanut is a legume. Despite the name, a peanut is not a pea and is not a nut. It is actually related to other legumes including beans and lentils.

Is Mr. Peanut aware of his origins? Actually, I have always wondered about the origins of Mr. Peanut. I mean, a peanut with a top hat, cane, and monocle is not an everyday occurrence. I think it looks like a costume. It’s as though he is a superhero with a secret identity.

Off topic: What is Mr Peanut’s secret Identity? That monocle had me thinking of Colonel Mustard and Colonel Klink. But I doubt that a Colonel Peanut would willingly give up his rank.

Colonel_Mustard-2 colonel-klink

The top hat is the real giveaway. And after a few Scooby snacks in the back of The Mystery Machine, it’s time to unmask Mr Peanut. It turns out he is… Mr Monopoly?!?!?!


“And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!”

But you know how truth can be stranger than fiction. Below is the true, and humorous, story of the peanut mascot’s origin.

Back to the peanuts. Be sure you have plenty of warm growing time. In the case of Central Pennsylvania, that meant starting the plants indoors several weeks before soil temperature reached 65 degrees. Also grow the peanuts in a light, loamy soil. The plants get blossoms that eventually insert themselves into the soil in a process called pegging. (As a warning, do not search the term ‘pegging’ without including the term ‘peanut’. That’s a mistake you’ll only make once. Trust me, you don’t want to see the results. Then again, maybe you do if that’s your sort of thing. I sure didn’t.)

peanut02 peanut01

Anyway, warm air, light soil, and some room to grow. I have the plants spaced fairly closely in the can, but there is enough room for peanuts to grow. In no time at all, (or 4-5 months, whichever is longer), you should have a fine peanut harvest.


More Tomatoes: Giving some support

16 06 2013

Our plants are in the ground; and though they may be small at first, they will eventually grow into amazing specimens with that desirable tomato harvest. This will be a thing of beauty: globes that are large, round and smooth; I just need one in my mouth for a taste. When the ripe orb touches your lips it’s just heaven. It is important to provide appropriate support for the girls, keeping them high and proud for the world to admire. Am I still talking about tomatoes? Um… yes, tomatoes.

Tomatoes need to be kept off the ground, away from the dirt, pests, and soil-born pathogens. How can we accomplish this?

Let’s explore four different categories of tomato support:





Poles are the easiest to place in the garden, but may require maintenance through the growing season. You drive the pole into the ground next to the Ms Tomato, being careful to stay away from the roots. Then just gently tie her to the pole, working your way up the main stem as she grows. Note that indeterminate varieties continue to grow throughout the season, and may outgrow a post if not long enough.

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun...

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun…

Just for fun I purchased some corkscrew posts to use in one garden bed this season. I’m sure the neighbors got some ideas if they overheard me talking about a screw in the garden or even a corkscrew in the garden. Either way, it sure makes gardening more fun. I just installed the post in the ground and gently wrapped the main stem around the corkscrew. Those limbs wrapping themselves around the pole is a thing of beauty.

In honor of Father’s Day, I am reminded of something comedian Chris Rock said. It’s a father’s job to keep his daughter off the pole. Of course he was referring to a different kind of pole. In our situation, it’s better to revise the quote. It’s a gardener’s job to keep the tomato plant on the pole.

Trellises are used in a similar way to posts. The plant is gently tied to the trellis as she grows. Some can get creative by tying up side shoots as well, having the plant grow flatter against the trellis. Have you ever had all of your limbs tied up? Trust me, the tomatoes won’t mind, either, as long as the ties aren’t too tight. What’s that? You haven’t had all of your limbs tied up before? How presumptuous of me. And I guess your level of enjoyment would also depend on whether somebody is tied up during a bank robbery, a kidnapping, or a third date. But I digress…

Trellis picture I "borrowed" from another site... I don't have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Trellis picture I “borrowed” from another site… I don’t have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Have you ever been to a vineyard? Think tomato plants instead of grape vines and you get the trellis idea.

Nothing but net... The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

Nothing but net… The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

By nets I don’t mean trellises, although netting can be used on a trellis. What I am referring to is netting installed under the tomato plant. The net is either in combination with a series of posts or the walls of a garden bed. It provides support for the tomato plant, keeps the fruit off the ground, but lets the tomato plant continue to grow au naturelle without other support. Using lingerie as an analogy, think of this growing method as the under wire shelf bra of the gardening world. And who said gardening couldn’t be exciting?

Now let’s stop my mind from wandering and get to my current favorite method of keeping the tomato plants up. Of course I am referring to cages. Time for the cage match, it’s a rage in the cage, starring Nicholas Cage… Yes, a cage…

Row of tomato cages... Aren't they pretty?

Row of tomato cages… Aren’t they pretty?

Why cages? Without them things can eventually get out of hand. Just ask Siegfried and Roy. Cages allow the plant to continue to grow upward without encroaching on other real estate in the yard or garden. The netting discussed above can lead to sprawl. You don’t have the continual maintenance of tying up the plant during the growing season, as with the pole or trellis.

Looks good in the right kind of cage...

Looks good in the right kind of cage…

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage...

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage…

You can purchase cages or make your own. It’s important to choose the best design for your garden. Some will look better than others. Kind of like a cage dancer… She may look hot on stage, not so hot in a holding cell…





I decided to make my own using a huge roll of 5 foot tall 14 gauge galvanized wire fence. I don’t think I would have succeeded without my bolt cutters and pliers. The assembly was a lot of work, but check out the results. The cage is basically a wire cylinder with larger holes created at different levels for harvesting. The cylinders have diameters ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches. All wires are wrapped into curves to prevent sharp edges. Keep things smooth and rounded for your comfort and the comfort of your plants. Send me a note if you would like more assembly details.

The openings in the  tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest...

The openings in the tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest…

I’m glad you took time to join me with my exploration of tomato supports. Remember to provide them with support, and they will reward you with a beautiful, and bountiful, harvest.

T2 — TOMATO PART 2: Planting a few ideas

26 05 2013

Less than 10 days from our last frost, and my tomatoes are growing. This picture is from May 25th in Central PA.


Did you ever have one of those days where you had only three things to buy at the grocery store? One thing led to another, and you ended up with two carts full of groceries, and a case of beer. Not a problem … until you discovered you completely forgot about the original three items on your list.

(Well, you remembered beer, so things aren’t that bad.[ Coming soon: why beer is good for your garden] ) But you get the idea.

The Tuh-MAY-der post Part 1 was kind of like that. There were so many things to say, that I missed a few tiny details. Such as planting.


What do you mean Dave? You said to plant them. Like, put them in the ground. Duh.


Well, sometimes how you do something is just as important as knowing that you need to do it.


The woman in your life asks you “Do these pants make my ass look fat?” Knowing how to answer the question is even more important than knowing that you need to answer in the first place.


Anyway, here are a few things to remember when planting tomatoes.








  1. No trenchcoat needed for this trench
    Don’t dig a round hole. Make it more like a long trench
  2. Deeper, baby! Deeper!
    Dig the hole for the tomato deeper than you intend to plant it. This helps lighten the soil and aerate it. The roots don’t have to work as hard to get to nutrients and water


    A manure martini? None for me, thanks, but the plants would love to have one.

  3. You’re full of manure… with a twist of lime

    What’s that supposed to mean? Have you been drinking?
    My sobriety has nothing to do with this…. I love you, man….Woooooo!!!
    No, what this means is you should be adding compost to the soil mix in this hole
    I may use composted manure, among other types. As for lime. Add it to the soil for calcium. Calcium deficiencies can cause blossom end rot. Don’t lose your crop to something easily prevented.

  4. sideways2c

    Tomato planting- Illustrated

    This entire situation has gone sideways
    And so should your tomato. Remember the trench? Your tomato plant should be planted at an angle in this trench, closer to horizontal than vertical. Plant the stem up to the lowest leaves. (Don’t plant any leaves. The lowest on the plant can even be removed if there are sufficient healthy leaves remaining.) The stem will grow roots and add to the root system. The soil surrounding the root system will warm up sooner and grow faster

  5. How about a drink?
    For the plant, that is. Give it a decent watering after planting. Do not compress the soil when you water. You don’t want to cancel out the soil aeration from earlier.


With your feet planted firmly on the ground, and your tomatoes planted firmly in the soil, you can eat some Planters nuts then  go over to that special someone and plant a big wet kiss. Let me know if this planted some ideas.

Oh, and if you want to know what my favorite answer to the dreaded “Do these pants make my ass look fat” question, leave a comment on this post, and I will send the answer to you privately.


I hope that you enjoyed Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 3



Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe, tuh-MAY-der… just shut up and pass the ketchup

18 05 2013

Let me sing praises to the tomato, that most wonderful fruit.
I mean, that most delicious veggie.
I mean… Ms Tomato, I hate to sound indelicate, but are you a fruit or are you a vegetable?

Ms Tomato pauses, then answers in two simple words. “It depends.”
What exactly does that mean?
Apparently, the answer to whether a tomato is fruit or vegetable depends on whether you are in botany class or in law school.

The botanists out there know that a tomato is the sexual organ of the plant, the ovary containing the seeds – definition of a fruit.

Off topic– Thinking about the movie site Rotten Tomatoes…
What would Hannibal Lecter have to say?
“Ms Tomato, I would like to eat your ovaries with some fava beans and a nice Chianti… FFFFF”

How about a fresh tomato, Clarice…

As for the lawyers, they know that the supreme court decided the issue in 1883. The case of Nix v Hedden was over that taxation of tomatoes. Vegetables were taxed by the Tariff Act of 1883; fruit was not. The court unanimously decided that it didn’t matter what the dictionary said. Everybody thought tomatoes were vegetables anyway, so they should be taxed.

Now that we solved that, it’s time for planting!

Next big question: start them from seed or buy the plants? There are benefits to both. Buying the plants is fast and easy. Starting from seed, on the other hand, is a lot cheaper and gives you a better variety.

Starting seeds indoors? Give them light… lots of light. (SEE Grow lights in the Basement) Keep the plants from drying out, but don’t over-water. For indoor seedlings, it’s good to get wet, but too much of a good thing can be fatal.

(Growing tip- periodically have a fan lightly blow on the plants. It will dry out the soil a little and will strengthen the stems.)

Seeds should to be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost, and transplanted after the last frost date. I ignore that advice and plant mine 12 weeks before last frost, setting them out when the forecast looks like frost is going to be rare.

You have to keep the plants from freezing. Think how long you would last if somebody froze your limbs every night. It almost destroyed Schwarzenegger’s movie career. Have you ever seen Batman and Robin? Arnold played Mr Freeze, one of his most cringe-worthy performances ever.


This Ahnold killz plants. Hasta la vista baby!

Last week’s casualty of the big frost

Anyway, protect your tomatoes from Mister Freeze. One gallon water jugs work as a heat sink to keep the plants a little warmer at night. Place three around the plant. The sun will warm them up in the day. They will give off the warmth at night. Be sure to cover the tomatoes with garden fabric or mini hoop house when there is a threat of frost.

I hope PART 1 was as much fun for you as it was for me.
PART 2 is coming soon.