Un Cachito de la vida

Un Cachito

Un Cachito de la vida - A little piece of Cameron's life

Perhaps this is a little too dramatic of a title, but I really have been bummed out by my garden. Last year, I actually turned out quite a few small bell peppers and jalapeños. This year, I had great aspirations and have been sorely disappointed. I had one miracle plant and now it appears to be dying before it can bring meaning to its life (harsh judgement, I know).Just to give you a little background, I had a dream once of a salsa garden, with peppers, tomatillos, tomatoes, etc. I had heard that tomatillos don't grow in Utah, but I found a Mexican immigrant here in town who apparently did quite well with them. Since I spoke the language, I knocked on his door one day and had a chat. He told me to come back in May when the seedlings were up and ready to be thinned out and he'd give me some. I eagerly agreed and came back. I walked home with a tray of 16 tomatillo plants and promptly went to work getting the garden going. We have really clay-y soil, so I added a bag of turkey manure to it, hoed it around, and made nice little hills and furrows. I planted the plants along with a serrano plant I had and actually ran out of room, so I cleared more space (w/o the fertilizer). I was satisfied and prepared myself for a bountiful harvest. I mean, there's no way 17 plants could all die, right?Fast forward a few weeks, and everything was shriveled up (they were watered frequently), except the pepper plant, but it was on it's way. My brother swears it was the manure which made the soil too acidic, but I'm not buying it (since there was a section w/o it, and plus I had used it the year before). Anyway, after a month or so, everything was dead. A bit later, I noticed a plant just outside the border of the garden, that seemed green and healthy and which I figured was a weed, except that the leaves seemed tomato-y. I let it grow, and it continued to do so. It was growing quite well and even started to have small yellow flowers, which also looked tomato-y. My brother thought it to be a weed and was going to pull it, but I said to wait. However, after two or three weeks of yellow flowers and no fruit or buds growing behind them, I decided I had been fooled and that it was indeed a weed. However, impressed by its rate of growth, I decided just to leave it.Maybe a few weeks after that, I went out again, and to my glorious surprise, I found little tomatillos growing. Then more. Soon, there were dozens and dozens of the things:

It was about mid September or so when I realized that they weren't growing much bigger - just more and more of them. I thinned maybe 20, but it didn't change it's behavior. Come October and cold weather, I started becoming very worried that Winter would kill my babies before they were useable. I started asking advice on how to keep the little guys alive until adulthood and even got a response from Anne Raver, the NY Times gardening columist. Armed with similar advice from others, I got some stakes and plastic sheeting. Whether from the wind (which can be brutal), the cold (which has dipped into the mid-20's at times), or some other curse, I don't know, but the plant appears to be sick:

So I ask in desperation, does anyone know if I can save these? Should I attempt to transplant to a pot and bring it indoors? I don't want to be a complete failure :(

Posted by charr at 12:14 PM

Reader Comments

Well, I've never had much success growing things myself, but Mel's dad has a bunch of tomatillos every year, so I know it can be done! He's got a bunch of huge plastic pots that he grows everything in, and a drip irrigation system to keep them watered. Maybe he could give you some advice on your garden; I'll forward him here, if you'd like.

Posted by Levi at November 6, 2005 6:13 PM

Levi, that might come in handy. Do you know if he uses a greenhouse, or brings them inside when weather gets cold? Thanks!

Posted by Cameron at November 7, 2005 10:17 AM

Yes: this is Mel's Dad and you may have a variety that does not get very big and there are several varieties. As for the soil they may have had too much water or fertilizer and with heavy soil they don't need frequent watering. When the plants start to die from the environment or wind or out side forces they well start to die from the top and outside and progress toward the inside and or if it is from the roots such as too much water or disease of the roots they start to die from the bottom and inside up. As far as turkey manure it is concerned it is very high in nitrogen and also nitrogen is also a salt and turkey manure is very salty anyway. How else and the get the turkeys to gain weight so they feed them salt lots of salt just like the stock yards fatten the up the cattle by feeding them salt so they retain water. That much salt could be salt damage to the plants. It can only be removed by leaching it out of the soil. Some chemicals can some times be helpful like calcium chloride to help leach out the salt. But that's not easily done. In Utah the water from the tap has a ph is some where between 8.0 to 8.8 which is very alkaline, 7.0 being neutral. If the leaves are yellow with green veins then there is a nutrient deficiency such as iron, zinc, copper, magnesium and etc. Which is cause by a high ph in the soil, which blocks the uptake of these nutrients.
Compost is very important for the soil and leaves are also helpful so work some in now so they well be decomposed by next spring. Peat moss is also good to add to help break up the soil and add organic mater and it decomposes slower than leaves. Work it in deep to help the drainage of water excess salts. Do not use gypsum! It is useless in most of Utah soils.
Next year get high quality seed from Burpee or some other good seed supplier and plant them very early in the soil as soon as the soil can be worked and put clear plastic (sunlight penetrates clear plastic better and warms up the soil faster than black plastic) around the planted seed to help warm the soil and put "walls-of-water®" over the seeds and they well start to grow as early as mid to late April or sooner. Also raised beds also help warm up the soil sooner in the spring. Plant 2 or three seeds per spot and then thin them out as soon as you know that they have a good start. Don't forget that it can freeze as late as mid to late May in Utah so keep them covered. They are healthiest when they are grown from seed and can get a good start done this way. They also transplant very successfully.
If you plant them in 5 gallon pots and drip irrigate them all summer, you can bring them in the fall before the first frost.
Miracle grow® is a good fertilizer to use on the plants I like to use the tomato fertilizer or a good blossom type with lots of phosphate and low nitrogen. You can also work a slow release fertilizer in to the soil at planting time such as 14-14-14 from LESCO. Be careful not to over fertilize.

Posted by Howard at November 7, 2005 4:45 PM

Howard, Thanks for the advice! I didn't actually know that there were "small" and "large" varieties. Perhaps I should go visit my source and see how his plants came out.Regarding the turkey manure, are you saying I shouldn't use it? Next year, my garden attempt will be in quite sandy soil on the North side of the Point of the Mountain (assuming you're familiar with Utah). Should I try to mix in some peat moss still? How should I do things differently there?

Posted by Cameron at November 8, 2005 7:38 AM

It's all dead. I went to the Supercomputing conference last week in Seattle, and while gone, the temp dropped enough to freeze and kill my plant. :(

Posted by Cameron at November 22, 2005 8:14 AM

Aww. Well, at least you have some advice on how to start early next year!

Posted by Levi at November 22, 2005 9:16 AM

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