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One of the benefits of growing vegetables in zone 9 is that we are able to grow vegetables all year long.  

However, despite our relatively mild winters, warm-season vegetables such as  peppers and tomatoes can’t handle temperatures when they dip below freezing.  So just before freezing temperatures hit, I run out to the garden and pick off all our tomatoes and peppers before pulling out the plants.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing this – I’ve done it for years.


I allow my green tomatoes to ripen indoors – click here to see how.


I then dice my green peppers, place them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer where I can use them whenever I make my kid’s favorite Mexican rice for dinner.

A few years ago, I decided to try to overwinter my tomato and pepper plants instead of pulling them out. 


This is what my tomatoes looked like with no frost protection.  That was no surprise.

But the next year, I decided to protect my tomatoes & peppers by covering them with old sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.  

I even went one step further and hung an outdoor light underneath the sheets.  

To my surprise, both my tomato and pepper plants came through the winter just fine, with a small amount of frost damage, and I had an early start to the growing season.

It was a lot of work though – having to cover them and uncover them whenever temperatures dipped below freezing.

Also, that winter was a relatively mild one and temperatures never strayed below the upper 20’s.  However, we do occasionally experience temperatures that dip in to the low 20’s and in that case, protection or not, the peppers and tomatoes would most likely die whether or not they were protected.

So, do I still try to overwinter my peppers and tomatoes?  

The answer is “yes”and “no”.


I do throw sheets over my peppers, but not my tomatoes.  The reason is that tomatoes are slightly more sensitive to the cold.

If we were to experience temperatures in the low 20’s, my 2-year old pepper plants would most likely not survive.  But, that is what it is like to grow vegetables – you try your best, but sometimes it’s not enough.

**Have you ever successfully overwintered a warm-season vegetable?**

I don’t know about you, but I have enjoyed the wet weather of the past few days.  We almost received 3 inches of rain where I live in a period of 48 hours.  For those of you who do not live in the desert – that is considered A LOT of rain for us 😉


I spent Saturday morning dodging raindrops as I visited two different clients regarding their landscapes.  The rest of the day, I spent indoors just thinking of how much my garden is enjoying this rain.


You may not realize that rain water is much better for your plants then the water that comes from your hose or drip emitters.  Our water is somewhat ‘salty’, which is a result of its journey down the Colorado river and all the rock it passes by.


Plants do not like salt much and a heavy rain will help flush the salts away from the soil.


As the sun began to peek through the clouds this afternoon, I ventured out into the garden in order to harvest some lettuce and Swiss chard for our dinner.

A small sampling of today’s harvest.

It had been a while since I had taken a good look at my vegetable gardens and there was quite a bit more to harvest then I had expected.


I am rapidly falling in love with Swiss chard (yes, I said ‘love’).  

While I do not like cooked leafy greens, I have been surprised at how delicious raw Swiss chard is in salads.

It also adds a nice bit of color with its red and yellow veins.


Sugar snap peas are covering their vines, but it is hard to find them all since they blend in so well with the leaves.

I plan on serving them on our veggie tray Thanksgiving morning.

Right now, I have more radishes then I know what to do with.  But, we had 5, thinly sliced radishes in our salad.  In addition to thinly slicing them, I also quarter them so that my kids will eat them.


Two of my favorite types of leaf lettuce – Romaine and Black-Seeded Simpson.

I have had some problems with caterpillars eating my lettuce, so I will head out tomorrow with my spray bottle of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis).


Fall is the best time of year for all of my pepper plants.  While they can handle hot temperatures, they don’t flower during the height of summer.  

Once it begins to cool down in mid September, flowers appear again followed by peppers.

Sadly, once the first frost occurs, they will stop producing and will often die.  Last year, I was able to save my bell pepper plant by covering it when temps dipped below freezing.

I have a ton of bell peppers and jalapeños.  I will dice them up and place them in freezer bags so that I can enjoy them throughout the winter months.


I discovered that I had a lot of parsley growing and I only harvested about half of it.

While parsley will last through the winter months, my basil won’t survive the first frost.  So, I picked some basil too.


I plant to dry my basil and parsley.  Once dry, I will crush the leaves and put them into spice jars.

Drying herbs is easy and you can learn how to do it here.

The remainder of the fresh parsley that I have growing outdoors I will harvest on Thanksgiving to use as a garnish for a few of my favorite dishes.

While I spent part of this afternoon harvesting vegetables, I noticed that I still have not thinned out my carrot seedlings.  Oh, they will still grow if I don’t thin them, but what I will get in return are small carrots not worth eating.

So, I’ll grab a pair of scissors and head out into the garden and snip off the extra.

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How about you?  

Have you put your garden to bed for the winter or do you still have things growing in it?

I’d love to hear what is happening in your garden…

I don’t think that my sister’s chicken has ever seen a caterpillar that large before.

Do you think she will eat it?  Or will the caterpillar emerge victorious?
I’ll let you know at the end of this post…

Those of you who have ever grown tomatoes probably recognize this green, horned caterpillar.


If you are not familiar with this green menace, let me introduce you to the ‘tomato hornworm’.

As their name suggests, they love to eat tomatoes and the leaves on their plants.

What you may not know is that also like to eat potato, pepper and eggplants as well.

What is even worse, is that they can be a little hard to find.  With their green color, they blend in well with the tomato plants.  Tomato hornworms also tend to hide underneath the leaves.

At this point you may be wondering if you have these pesky caterpillars on your tomato plants.  How can you tell?  

Well, some telltale signs include holes eaten from the leaves and tomatoes.  You may also see little green pellets (caterpillar poop) on the leaves.

The only way to know for certain is to go looking for them.


So what do you do if you find out your tomatoes are infested with these caterpillars and how did they get there in the first place?


Well, tomato hornworms grow up into moths who in turn, lay eggs on the underside of tomato leaves.  The eggs hatch in about a week and the newly emerged caterpillars start eating non-stop for 4 – 6 weeks.


As if that weren’t enough bad news, as the caterpillars grow larger, they eat more.  After about a month on gorging themselves, they drop into the soil where they form a cocoon and transform into a moth who will start the cycle again by laying eggs.


How can you do to get rid of them?


Well, there are a few ways to get rid of them and even help to prevent them in the future.


– The easiest way to get rid of a current infestation of tomato hornworms is to simply pick them off and dunk them into soapy water, which kills them.


– If pulling off large, green caterpillars isn’t your thing, then you can spray them with a product that contains Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which infects the stomach of the hornworm, killing it.  Bt is safe for animals and plants.


– There are some wasps that will act as parasites to the caterpillars and lay their eggs directly onto them.  The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the caterpillar.


Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to deal with tomato hornworms at all.  So, I am all about prevention.


– In the fall, till the soil around your tomato plants.  This will unearth any cocoons that are attempting to overwinter in the soil, which kills them.  Do this again in spring, before planting new tomato plants.  This is usually 90% effective in getting rid of tomato hornworm cocoons before the moth emerges.


Okay, so back to the chicken, caterpillar face-off…


My sister’s chicken Francie is a ‘naked-neck’ chicken and yes, she is supposed to look that way 😉

It turns out that the chickens were a little put off by the large size of the caterpillars.  So, they wouldn’t touch them.


That is until… the caterpillars were cut up into smaller pieces.  Then the chickens couldn’t eat them fast enough. (I know, kind of gross, isn’t it?)


**I want to thank my sister, Grace, for her fabulous pictures.  You can find out more about her photography, here.



This morning, I spent some time outside in one of my vegetable gardens with my granddaughter, Lily.



While I worked, she had fun with the plants in my containers.  


My cool-season containers are in full bloom.  Leaf lettuce, petunias, garlic, parsley and nasturtiums are growing very well.

My 1-year old tomato plants are huge.  They extend over the fence between my containers.

There is even a small tomato seedling coming up in front of the yellow container.


They have taken over this part of the vegetable garden.  I admit that they aren’t particularly beautiful with the dead, brown area in the middle (the result of sunburn before I got my shade cloth up this summer).

There are a few green tomatoes on the vines, but they won’t have time to ripen before the first freeze.  So, I plan to keep an eye on the weather report and pick my green tomatoes just before a freeze is scheduled.

The green tomatoes will ripen indoors in my kitchen.


My bell peppers are doing just fabulous.

Last summer, I treated them with epsom salts, which helps to promote fruit production.  (You can read more about my experiment with epsom salts and my pepper plants here).


The epsom salts did their job.  I have over 6 bell peppers ready to be picked.  I’ll pick them before the first freeze, dice them and freeze them until I need them for making my Mexican rice.

Both tomato and pepper plants are damaged or killed in freezing temperatures in my zone 9a garden.  I will protect my pepper plants from frost by covering them with old sheets.  

I will not do the same for my tomato plants because they are very large and it would be hard to cover them all.  The other reason that I won’t bother to protect them is that many gardeners report that the size of tomatoes decreases as the plant gets older.

I will start again with new plants in late winter.

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I hope you are enjoying this holiday season.  You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting as often.  Partly this is due to the fact that I get busier in December preparing for Christmas.

The other reason is that I am having tendon trouble in my thumb.  I wear a splint, which helps somewhat – but it is very hard and laborious to type one-handed.

I do have some new posts coming up though, so stay tuned 🙂

Back in August, I was lamenting the lack of bell peppers on my pepper plants – “Got Peppers?”

So, I got out my Epsom salts (which is made up of magnesium sulfate) and water.  I added 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts around each pepper plant and watered it in well.

So fast forward a few weeks and guess what!?

 
 Just look at all of them!


 I’ve already picked some to use in my Mexican Rice recipe that I will be making for dinner tonight!
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Thank you all who took the time to share your stories of kids and the funny things they do.  Gracie is doing much better since the doctor extracted the plastic fork tine from her nose.  BUT, I did have to stop her from carrying a plastic fork the next day 😉