Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On the Hippie Trail...Solvang, California

It was the Cheapskate's wedding anniversary this weekend so we went away for an overnighter up north in Solvang, California. No gardening for me this weekend.

Instead, here are some pictures of Classic Organic Farms, an organic farm just off the 101 Freeway just outside of Solvang.

Organic? Check. Peace sign? Check. So, I guess this is the local hippie farm. I've got to stop in.

Goats frolic on the green hills. Fat cats look for rodents out in the fields.

In the barn, a good looking array of fresh Fuji apples, citrus, carrots, and other vegetables await.

Paying is on the honor system. Put your money in the slot, make your own change from the loose change sitting on top, or write a check and slip it in.

Don't try to cheat, or the guard will get you.

Before we leave, I need to stop and make a new friend.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cym City

Many orchid nurseries will tell you that cymbidiums are the easiest orchid to grow. Not really, many...like bletillas and dendrobiums...are easier. Others, like vandas and phalaenopsis, are harder. Cymbidiums are really more in the middle.

Cymbidiums are terrestrial orchids that are native to mid and southeast Asia. Terrestrial means that they grow naturally in the ground, as opposed to epiphytic orchids that cling to the sides of trees and rocks.

You can see in the header above which zone I live in. I'm in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles at an elevation of 600 feet. It gets extremely hot here in the summer and occasionally dips below freezing in the winter.


Thinking of their natural habitat, you can see that cymbidiums thrive on heat and humidity.  They can tolerate a couple of nights down to 28 degrees but more than that, you better move them inside until the thermometer rises again.

This is our cymbidium bench.  It's on the north side of our house which many orchid growers will tell you will not work but it seems to work for us. They tell you this because the prime motivator for orchids to bloom is sunlight. 

One of the few professional gardening jobs I had was at an orchid nursery. We told our customers that they needed 55% sunlight.  That is, if you put the plant in direct sun, you could cover them up with the shade cloth that blocked out 45% of the light...which we conveniently sold.

In reality, as you can see on our bench, you need good light but not necessarily 55%, or any direct sunlight at all.

They only really need water once a week in cooler months, maybe twice in the hot season. Our bench has an automatic sprinkler at each end to take care of this (see our Poor Man's Sprinkler System to see how I do this).

You might imagine that with big blooms and buds like these that the flower stems might get very heavy and break off.  You would imagine right.  A stiff gust of wind can easily snap them in two.

To prevent this, you need to stake the flower stems. I use a cheap bamboo stick and a twist-tie. I cross the twist-tie between the stake and stem to provide some cushion and separation from the stake.Being a Cheapskate, I naturally recycle these stakes year after year, until they literally fall apart and I can't use them any more.

Fertilize during the non-freezing months once a month to every couple of weeks with a fertilizer that has at least 10% potassium. I use a liquid 10-10-5 fertilizer that works good on my entire garden.

The blooms on cymbidiums are thick and waxy. They can easily last two months indoors. Theoretically, they can last longer outside but they are subject to pollinators out there. Once pollinated, they will fade and drop off quickly. 

You can tell when a cymbidium bloom is about done when the central lip turns red.

I repot ours about every three years.  The one above was repotted last summer. Notice the mix still looks fresh and there is a couple of inches for the plant to grow in each direction. Even the little weed seems to like it.

This plant is in need of repotting this year...you can't even tell it has any mix.  When you repot it, you can also put those dead-looking bulbs in their own small pots and new plants will grow from them.

I'll post another report on repotting a cymbidium later this year, you want to avoid repotting during the blooming season. Right after they're done is the best time.

Their pretty tough, hardy, don't take a lot of fawning over. That's the number one killer of orchids right there...treating them like their a delicate, fragile, little snowflake. Go ahead...let them show you what they're made of. The rewards are great when you let them go their own way.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Work, Work, Work, Work...Work!

It's chore time for the Cheapskate...

Trying to put the finishing touches on my overwintering chores today, starting with mowing the lawn, then moving on to finishing covering up my new rose garden barrier with river rock.

Next up, I've got to move those pots out of the way so I can prepare that space to be another garden bed.

I've dug up and tilled the ground, now I'm putting in a couple cubic feet of Kellogg's Amend to give it a little kick start.

All done, now this will become the cornfield portion of this year's vegetable garden.

Next, the plants are really starting to take off as you can see with the front yard roses that I pruned a couple of weeks ago.

Time to give these fast awakening plants their first feeding of the season.

Finally, inspect the garden and see what I can find. Oh...look...the dendrobiums are in bud!


Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winter's Last Gasp...the Final Harvest

We pretty much have two gardening seasons here. Spring/Summer...where it's mostly vegetables and herbs...and Fall/Winter, when we get citrus and chiles.


The cold is getting to those pepper plants so I'll pluck off the rest of the fruit and cut back the plants so they don't have to work so hard during these cold months. Hopefully, they'll come back with an even better crop next year.

Our "citrus grove" consists of three dwarf trees growing on the west side of our house. The Meyer lemon, you see above, a tangelo tree, and the Cara Cara navel orange tree you see below.

The orange tree is already budding so I'll remove the last two fruit and let it go.

Here it is, our final harvest for winter 2013...I think I'll take those chiles and use it for a steak and pasta dinner recipe I'm coming up with.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sweeping It All Under the Rug...Cleanup Day

Yes, I live in L.A...land of never-ending sun, palm trees, and bubble-headed actors.  Once in awhile, the reality doesn't match the hype.  A winter storm dropped temps into the 20's, left a dusting of snow on the hills behind our house, and finally forced the plumerias, grapes, and bougainvilleas to shed the rest of their leaves


It makes quite a mess on our little backyard patio but I'd rather be sweeping than raking.

I'll clean this up and then think about some other garden chores I need to do.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Recipes for a Cheapskate: Chilaquiles con Huevos

We've got a lot of chiles growing in our garden. What can we make with them, besides salsa? On a recent trip to Ensenada, Mexico, we had some delicious chilaquiles for breakfast. I was determined to recreate them when we got home.

Here’s how I did it:


Corn tortillas – 3
4 tablespoons olive or canola oil (or blend them like we did)
Green onions – 1
Chili peppers – 3
El Pato sauce – one can (7 oz.)
Crema Mexicana – 2 tablespoons (one per serving – can substitute sour cream if you can’t get this)
Cotija cheese – 2 oz (one per serving – can substitute jack cheese if unavailable)
4 eggs (2 per serving)

Take three corn tortillas and cut them into wedges, eight wedges per tortilla. In a large frying pan, heat up 3 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat…we use a blend of canola and olive oil. When the oil is very hot, fry the tortilla wedges for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside – they should be nice and crispy.  Congratulations, you’ve just made homemade tortilla chips.

Now, chop up one stalk of green onion nice and fine.  Get three or four fairly hot chiles and chop them up too. I use 3 serrano and one Thai chile from our garden.  Put one tablespoon of oil in a small sauce pan on medium heat.  Saute the onions and chiles for around 8 minutes. Pour in one can of El Pato tomato salsa.  Turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook up four eggs (two for each serving) in your preferred style. For chilaquiles, I like over easy.  Put half of the tortilla chips on one plate, the other half on another. Pour the sauce over the chips, then some Mexican crema on top of that. Put two eggs on top of each pile of chips and sauce, crumble up some cotija cheese, sprinkle on top and serve immediately as the chips will grow soggy if you wait too long.

You should end up with something looking like the picture at the top of this post and tasting delicious.

For more on our trip to Ensenada, click on this link or visit us at The World on Wheels.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On The Farm with The Cheapskate

It's time to start this year's vegetable garden. Each year, I learn from the last year's harvest. For instance, I learned that growing carrots wasn't worth the hassle when I can get a one pound bag of clean, peeled carrots from my local grocery store for $1.29, so this year, carrots will not be in the garden.

I did find that bell peppers do exceptionally well and are very tasty right off the vine, so we're doubling our planting this year.

First, my wife and I decide what will go in the garden this year. Tomatoes, as always, but this year we're trying some heirloom varieties we harvested from tomatoes we bought at the farmers market. Two varieties of corn, sweet onions - always a delight to grow and eat, radish - new to us- as is the lettuce we're planting, zucchini, summer squash, and basil.

My wife found this starter greenhouse last year (you can buy one at the link below - thanks in advance for helping the Cheapskate out) and it worked very well so we'll be using it again this year.

The Jiffy Greenhouse comes pre-packed with 72 peat pellets.

After watering the pellets, they expand like a sponge.  I drill a hole in each one with a pencil.

Put a seed or two in each hole, then tamp down with the pencil.

I make a Word file so I can keep track of what I planted in each row of the greenhouse.

Next, I take it outside and water in the seeds.

Put on the cover, set it next to the house to stay warm, and then just let it run its course. 

In about a month, we should have plenty of plants ready to transplant. Since each one is in it's own self-contained peat pellet, all I do is stick that pellet in the ground and it's done.  Takes about ten seconds per plant.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved