By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS
Special to The Breeze
The calendar says autumn has arrived. True, the days are shorter now. There is not as much sun, however that is because someone has not turned off the rain. So, the sun is hiding behind those white puffy Florida clouds as they slowly turn darker and darker, raise the humidity and then attack us with much too many intermittent rain storms. We can't rule out the lightening and thunder that comes with this intermittent weather pattern.
We always need rain in Southwest Florida, however when it comes so fast and furious, it leaves us knee deep in too many places. I was caught in the Sunday afternoon monsoon about 4 p.m., going west on Cape Coral Parkway. Drainage, being what it is during these kinds of rains, was causing a lot of big waves of water washing across one side of the car, and what few other cars were going faster than my 15 mph as they passed me were tossing waves of water across the other side of car. Not a fun thing.
That is the worst rain I have ever driven through in the 16 years I have lived here. Thank goodness for our nice white lines outlining the roadway lanes. I could catch a glimpse of them just enough to keep straight.
I would have pulled off into a nice parking lot but never could see one in time and did not want to be standing still out there on the parkway.
The heavy rainfall did sink down through the ground out here in the southwest. In about 3 hours everything looked nice and bright. Just a few puddles. I do not have to fill the pool again for awhile. Our fresh water lake is the highest it has been since spring.
Any gardener that does not know where their low spots are in their gardens or yards needs glasses.
If I remember correctly, the two weeks before we started the last two weeks of this blessed rain was very dry and I had to hustle to keep potted plants from drying up.
One thing we can brag about in this area is, if we are very dry for two weeks, figure on the next two weeks to be very wet. Of course this is September and we usually get a lot of rain, but it is nice if it comes in lesser volumes at a time.
We gardeners should be happy that it is easier to pull weeds, and find our low spots, and anything that was not growing too well is either drowned by the heavy rainfall or thriving because of it.
I finally did get a couple of bell pepper plants to start. I am glad I left them in the garage instead of planting them last weekend. They just do not swim well in pots.
I hope people who are patient and have planted some seeds can now find them. They may have a very haphazard gardening spot when they all start growing wherever they were splattered by the rain.
I would love to have more room to grow these pepper plants. I could have a rainbow of colors - yellow, orange, green, chocolate. Yes, there Is a dark, shiny chocolate bell pepper. It does not, however, have a chocolate flavor.
Growing times are mostly 70 days to 75 days for the big bells. I like to harvest some when they are green and leave some on the plant to turn yellow or red. The first harvest of the green are crisp and tangy, the later reds, etc., are are not quite as crisp and are sweeter, but still have the bell pepper taste.
My peppers being planted in a 14-inch black plastic pot do not need mulching. I do not put little collars around them either because I will not have the same critters as soil planted ones.
You can mix in some compost with the organic soil you fill the pot with or look around the market and see a nice small bag of vegetable planting soil, with nutrients. Peppers do not need much fertilizer if they are planted well at the beginning. I understand that it is best not to plant a pepper in a pot and soil that has grown an eggplant or tomato plant. I have freshened up an old tomato plant pot and never noticed any difference in the pepper, but maybe that was just a good year.
I do not remove any bottom leaves of the pepper plant as I would a tomato plant. I look for nice sturdy stems and good looking leaves that do not have any signs of insect damage. If you see a suspicious leaflet when you get home just pinch it off. I set them aside for a couple of days and rinse them good with the hose. A small plant will be a little delicate so don't be too rough with the water.
They like lots of sun. Once in awhile a real small plant may end up with some sun scald. Try to plant them on a cloudy day.
They do like water so do not let them dry out in the container. Not a problem for a couple of more weeks.
No systemic chemicals in the pot. No spraying of any chemicals either. They ruin both the taste and your health.
You may want to stake your pepper. That's fine. Put steak in at beginning so you don't crush so many roots. Also, you do not have to use the black plastic pots, they do heat up more than a lighter color. You do not need to spray the whole plant at each watering, however once in a while early in the day is good to keep any pests off.
When you harvest the peppers, do not pull them off but cut them off so as not to break the main stem. Once you pick some off the vine some more will grow. They do not like really cold weather but we will be OK. If you think they are going to be setting ducks in a cold north wind, you can carefully drape a sheet over them, especially if there is a stake in there to hold it off the plant itself.
I wanted to mention that the city fertilizer ordinance restrictions ended Sept. 30.
There is a great Bonsai Show and Sale today and tomorrow, in Fort Myers. They are not good to grow and eat but they are beautiful to grow and admire. The show is at the Lee County Election Center (across 41 from Bell Tower Shops), right behind the old Robb and Stucky store.
The free show runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Amazing, a free event out of the sun and rain.
Happy gardening until we meet again.
H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.