Category Archives: Garden

Peppers harvested from my garden!

#dirtclods2015: It’s June, Y’all

12th June 2015

The First Tomato of 2015 Southern Fried Soprano

I don’t know if I am more embarrassed or proud to admit that as of today, June 12th, 2015, I have officially harvested at least twice the amount of produce than I did in 2014’s garden.

Before you think I’m just downplaying my success, let me tell you that aside from one cucumber, two Yellow Pear tomatoes, and four peppers (which I promptly chopped up and put into delicious hamburgers), my garden last year was mostly a spectacular failure.

And yet, the Giant Failure that was my garden was also, coincidentally, one of the greatest sources of my happiness in 2014. I learned so much from last year’s garden and its assorted problems–I learned about squash vine borers, the ravenous appetite of bunnies, and the very entropic behavior of plant disease.

Even though I didn’t harvest a lot of actual fruit, I reaped so many lessons from my garden that it was well worth every single tear I shed over my destroyed pumpkins or my diseased tomatoes. 

I took those tears and resolved to learn something from my failures. The results have been pretty sweet so far. Check it out:

Peppers harvested from my garden!

I became a Real Southern Girl™ this past Wednesday when I made my own pepper jelly for the first time using those beauties you see above (two small serrano peppers, one cowhorn pepper, and two Mucho Nacho jalapeños). I have always wanted to start preserving, canning, and pickling.

I had such a good time making my jelly. I am hoping that with each time I can, I’ll become a teensy more efficient. I hate making such a mess.

Honestly, I feel like if I could go back and do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have started with making jelly.. I feel like I started a video game on expert mode and somehow skipped to the final boss. Still, there are six little glass jars of gorgeous pepper jelly in my house (and I didn’t even need to artificially color my jelly, like so many recipes!).

My tomatoes are coming along pretty swimmingly. I’ve picked about six or so cherry tomatoes from my two Mexico Midgets, and I’m happy that every one of my tomato plants, even the weirdo Indian Stripe that was.. for some reason… growing on the ground (despite it being planted in a pot??), is flowering! I let Mama Tixqueen have the first tomato.

A secret: I haven’t tried any of my tomatoes yet, despite having a handful sitting on my window sill. I’m really waiting for the big ones to start ripening!

The first bean from my garden!

This little bean here? That’s a miracle. I managed to grow a bean! Despite beans being one of the easiest veggies to home-grow… yours truly has never been able to manage a full bean, thanks to some very hungry bunnies. UNTIL NOW.

As for the rest? My cucumbers have started flowering (after a successful replant), I’ve got an okra plant that’s getting taller, my peppers section looks like a forest it’s doing so well and my squash and eggplant aren’t dead yet.

I’d call this a success so far.

How’s your garden growing, friends?

Drip Irrigation for the Home Garden

27th April 2015

(In exchange for my time and honest opinion, Central Arkansas Water compensated me for this post. My opinions are my own. I would never endorse something or someone I didn’t fully support!)

dew drops

I’m like the James Dean of gardening. When it comes to my dirt clods, I’m a rebel without a cause.

Plan? Who cares! Water? Whatever! Spray it everywhere!

Unfortunately, this attitude has led to a lot of waste on my part–especially when it comes to water. 

I thought a drip irrigation system for my rather modest garden set-up was unnecessary and complicated.

I was wrong. Really, really wrong.

Thankfully, Mark Brown, the water conservation agent for my county’s cooperative extension office, was able to set me straight. During Mark’s visit to my garden, I learned a bit about UAEX’s partnership with Central Arkansas Water and how I could make my garden more water-wise and efficient.

The easiest step I could take, Mr. Brown said, was to install a drip irrigation system.

Drip irrigation systems have a host of benefits. They:

  • directly deliver water at a low-flow volume at soil level, reducing water waste
  • help maintain an even level of soil moisture
  • reduce risk of plant disease spreading due to overly moist foliage
  • have a 90% efficiency rating compared to traditional sprinkler systems (50-70%)
  • can be used with timers to automate watering

It’s easy to see why a drip irrigation system is an awesome option.

Off I went to Home Depot! IT WAS PROJECT TIME.

I garden by a lot of different methods (and drip irrigation can be used with all of them), but for this project, I decided to use a few of my container tomatoes.

Head to your local home improvement store (you’ll find the supplies in the plumbing section). If you’re more of a DIY-er than I am (God bless you), you can get your piping and accessories individually. For the rest of us, there are handy dandy kits that include (almost) everything you need. 

I purchased a DIG brand Patio Irrigation System–and it cost me all of $11.97. Super budget-friendly!

Mark recommended I also buy a splitter to affix to my faucet so I can still use my regular ol’ garden hose, as well as a pressure regulator to help.. you guessed it, regulate water pressure.

From there, it was just a matter of threading and cutting PVC piping, sticking fittings and drippers into the pipes, and placing my feeder tubes into my containers.

It didn’t take more than an hour from start to finish to outfit 4 containers, and that’s with me getting tangled up in PVC microtubing!

I’m excited to see how my new drip irrigation system benefits these tomatoes. You can bet I’ll be adding to my existing set-up in the near future. I don’t want my raised bed or my flowerbeds to get jealous!

PS. If you want to become more water-wise, you should check out the resources available through Central Arkansas Water and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension. Mark has written some great (and free!) fact sheets on landscaping and home irrigation systems. You’ll find great info on home water conservation as well.

Discover more about the benefits of drip irrigation here.

Save Money in the Garden

Tips for New Gardeners - Southern Fried Soprano

To You, New Gardener

22nd April 2015

Tips for New Gardeners - Southern Fried Soprano

Hey you, new gardener. I’ve got some advice for you.

Since I started gardening, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances, asking me for advice on starting their own gardens. It’s flattering, for sure, considering I haven’t even been a Real Life Gardener™ for two seasons.

What advice would I give to someone who wants to start their own garden?

tips for new gardeners

1. Grow what you love.

Truly, I feel like this is the most important tip. It can be pretty overwhelming deciding what to plant. There are so many varieties–heirloom or hybrid, which cultivar is good for your climate.. I could go on.

In the end, though, all that matters is that you’re pleased with what’s in the ground.

You’ll encounter people with some pretty strong opinions. If you want to grow a simple jalapeño–do it. Don’t worry about the people who want you to grow some fancy cultivar. Only want to grow tomatoes? Go for it. Want to put sunflowers in your backyard though your mom thinks they’re tacky (mine doesn’t–and any mom who does.. I’d like to talk to that mom)? SO WHAT WHO CARES.

Pepper Army - Southern Fried Soprano

I like peppers. So.. I’m growing a lot of peppers.

New gardener, if you like it, try to grow it. Gardening, while a joy, is some pretty hard work, and hard work is made less hard when you love what you’re doing. There’s no guarantee your garden will turn out the way you want; you’re at the mercy of nature and a bunch of other factors. But the journey is a lot more rewarding when you’re working toward something you want to see rather than something you’re told you’re supposed to want.

There is nothing better than talking with my mama about the things her daddy grew. Her eyes light up. Those are the things I want to grow. It doesn’t matter if they’re out of fashion, outmoded, or silly.

2. Keep a journal.

sparrow magazine garden journal

from Sparrow Magazine

Garden journaling is super important, even if you’re not a record-obsessive human like me.

Garden journals have been around since we started stickin’ seeds in the ground, really, and with good reason–they’re the best way we have to keep track of what we did and when we did it.

What’s even cooler is that some garden journals become works of art, full of beautiful illustrations and depictions of blooms and beauty.

jennifer branch garden journal

love this from artist Jennifer Branch

 If you’re not an artist (I’m certainly not), that’s okay, too. Your journal, of course, is whatever you want it to be, but I recommend you keep it pretty practical. Use an old Moleskine, a spiral notebook, or binder and keep track of what you planted, when you planted, and how it’s going. You can structure it however you like–it can a list, it can be a diary.. it can be anything.

Think about how great it will be next season to open your journal and see a precise record of the past year’s garden. Patterns emerge! You’ll learn something! Neat.

If you’re not into paper, there are even garden journal/diary apps for your smartphone or tablet, or you can use a note-taking program like Evernote or OneNote.

I use my garden journal for lots of things. I record information about the varieties I’m growing (info I get from the seed packet, etc.), Important Events™ in the garden (like when things germinate or when I transplant seedlings), and reminders to fertilize/weed/check for pests. My garden journal is just for me, and it grows as my plants do!

If you’re not sure where to start, check out these tips from Sparrow Magazine on Keeping a Mindful Garden Journal.

3. Ask for advice, but trust your gut.

Everyone’s got an opinion. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some of these opinions are pretty much bumpkis, and when you ask for advice, you’ve got to learn to weed out (pun intended) the useful help from the distracting silliness.

I’m a member of a ton of gardening Facebook groups, and they’re super useful. For new gardeners, though, they can be overwhelming. How many times have I seen someone ask a question about a problem they’re having and then get frustrated with the diversity of responses as to the solution to that problem? Too many.

None of those people responding to the New Gardener on Facebook know that person’s garden. Those people only have the limited information the gardener is giving them, and those people are responding based upon their experiences and environments, all of which may be very different from the person’s own.

You’re a new gardener, but you are NOT an idiot. Trust what you know and what you see in your garden. Ask for help, but don’t assume that every answer you get is sound advice.

4. Let go.

Nature is pretty good at, you know, being nature. Case in point.

Last year, I tossed a couple of pumpkin seeds near the back of my backyard fence. I didn’t need them anymore and they were the last two in the seed packet.

“Hey! These are biodegradable!” I thought, and I threw them to the wind. Bye little dudes, sorry I couldn’t use you, thanks for coming, you’ve been great.

A few weeks later, my mom asked me to check near the back fence, because something was growing. It turns out that those two measly pumpkin seeds, those seeds I so carelessly and casually threw away, sprouted.. and I had two volunteer pumpkin vines.

I‘m telling you this story because I, like so many new gardeners, want to over-tend my garden. Brown leaf? Oh God, my plant is diseased! A little bit of wilt in the hot Arkansas afternoon sun? MY PLANT IS DYING, I NEED TO DROWN IT IN WATER.

Needless to say, I won the award for Helicopter Gardener of the Year. And I ended up doing more damage to my plants than just leaving them alone would have done.

Yes, new gardener, sometimes it’s best to let nature do its nature thing. Hands off. The planet’s been growing things for a lot longer than we mere humans have.

5. Watch for critters!

Y’all. Animals. They’re adorable. I love them so much.

.. Until they start eating my plants.

Squirrel Pepper Damage - Southern Fried Soprano

Y’all. A squirrel did this to my pepper plant. It is not even May yet.

Last year, I had a raised bed garden full of cute little bean seedlings, and in the course of 24 hours, the adorable rabbit that has lived in my backyard since before I can remember ate every single one of them.

That rabbit didn’t care that I personally had planted each little bitty seed in the ground. That bunny needed to eat.

But because it’s an adorable rabbit and I can’t bear to think about.. permanently removing it, this year I had to take some extra steps to ensure Mr. Cottontail finds lunch elsewhere. These steps make accessing my raised bed garden a LOT more difficult and a LOT less fun, but it’s the trade-off I’m making so that my beans this year might at least have a chance of survival.

Rabbit Proof Fence - Southern Fried Soprano


New gardener, you undoubtedly will face both cute and not-so-cute furry things attempting shenanigans in your garden. You’ve got choices on how to control them, depending on your space and resources. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.. but you’ll have to do something. Choose wisely!

I think that covers it. I’m by no means an expert, but I have learned a couple of things in my first year of playing in the dirt.

What suggestions would you have for a new gardener?

#dirtclods2015: The Cucurbits

20th April 2015

Southern Fried Soprano - Garden









Have I ever told y’all how much I love the plant family Cucurbitaceae?

In case you didn’t know, this plant family gives us all sorts of wonderful garden goodies. Cucurbits include things like pumpkins, gourds, squashes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Do you like watermelon? Check it out. It’s a cucurbit.

Needless to say, these are all things I love to eat. (You’ll hear more about my affinity for all things pumpkin in the fall, probably.) They are also all things I had trouble harvesting last year.

… Except for one cucumber. Here’s a picture. Cucumber!

I’m still proud as punch of this cucumber.

Last year, I got a pretty late start with most of the things I attempted to grow–and I grew everything but my peppers from seed, which means I got a REALLY late start when you consider how long it takes things like pumpkins and gourds to mature.

I didn’t have much luck with pumpkins, gourds, squashes, or watermelons last summer.

I bought squash plants–which promptly died. I bought a little watermelon seedling. It died.

I sowed watermelon seeds at least twice. Seedlings never survived.

I bought squash and pumpkin seeds… which grew beautifully. And then were invaded by SQUASH VINE BORERS. Every single one of my beautiful, thriving squash plants–each and every pumpkin vine… all destroyed. I probably spent an hour crying after I tossed the infested plants over the backyard fence.

I’m trying not to let the trauma of last season prevent me from planting squash and pumpkins again for this year, but I can’t help but feel tentative as I put my little seedlings in their pots. Fingers crossed.

What varieties am I growing this year? These are the ones already in the ground and growing (confession: I have some more seeds I should sow).


– Early Sweet Sugar Pie: I love pumpkin pie.
– Jack o’Lantern: … what, you don’t want to carve pumpkins?

Winter Squash

Waltham Butternut – We’ll see if I ACTUALLY get any squash, considering a chipmunk seems to have taken to munching on my two little seedlings. I’ll probably direct sow a couple more seeds. I JUST WANT TO ROAST SOME BUTTERNUT SQUASH, OKAY?

Summer Squash

– Pic-and-Pic Hybrid: tried growing this dude last year. You know the story.. squash vine borers.


– Picklebush. Okay. I hate cukes, but LOVE pickles. I just really love pickles. I even love the world ‘pickle’, quite frankly. This is a compact variety that’s supposed to be pretty prolific, so I’m hoping to make lots of pickles. I’m not sharing, either.


– Sure Thing Hybrid: I got this variety because it says that it “produces in unfavorable conditions” (re: Arkansas weather). We’ll see.


– Sugar Baby. Because I’m a glutton for punishment and I demand to have cute little icebox watermelons.

Do you grow any of these veggies in your garden? How much do YOU love pickles (probably not as much as me)?

Southern Fried Soprano Pepper Grow List

#dirtclods2015: Pepper Grow List

16th April 2015

Southern Fried Soprano Pepper Grow List

I love spicy food. Like, really love it. Mama Tixqueen came up with her famous taco casserole, chock full of jalapeño peppers, while she was pregnant with me (and because everything else tasted like cardboard). I ate a lot of peppers in utero, y’all.

My dad loved peppers and hot sauce, too, and as a kid, he tried to teach me what he called “hot sauce zen.” We would have contests to see who could eat the spiciest thing without showing signs of too much pain. He won. Whatever.

I love peppers and use them voraciously in my cooking. I’ll eat them raw. I’ll eat them pickled. I’ll eat them in sauces, stews, chopped, stuffed.. I haven’t met a pepper I didn’t like. Growing them in my garden, of course, was the next natural step.

Pepper growers are a different breed of gardener. Can I say that? I say this with the utmost love and respect, but, pepper gardeners, y’all are straight up crazy. Browse any online community of those dedicated to growing hot peppers and you’ll see a lot of stick-waving contests. Who’s got the hottest pepper? Whose pepper produces true to type? Who can get the most seeds to germinate?

I’m geeky, but I draw the line at GARDENING COMPETITION. Can’t we just enjoy it all? Why does it have to be about who has the biggest plants or the hottest peppers? Whatever.

I’m growing quite a few different pepper varieties this year. As you can see from the above photo, I grow my peppers in containers. I leave the raised bed for other things, and unfortunately, I haven’t gotten my Actual Yard to be a lot more than a big pile of rocky clay. It’s on my to-do list.

My number one goal, though, is to be a Real Southern Girl™, level up, and produce my own jalapeño jelly from one of my plants. Fingers crossed.

So what am I growing? Presenting my…

2015 Hot Pepper Grow List

1. Mucho Nacho

I wanted a jalapeño in the mix, but I didn’t really want to bother with your standard, run-of-the-mill jalapeño variety. Part of the fun of gardening, for me, is cultivating varieties I can’t necessarily buy at the supermarket.

Mucho Nacho takes that “run-of-the-mill” jalapeño and ups the ante a little, supposedly. Bigger, more substantial peppers that are great for pickling or stuffing. I love stuffed jalapeños.

2. Anaheim

These guys are pretty tame as hot peppers go, but I love their fresh, mild flavor. I grew Anaheims last year and Mom and I enjoyed chopping them up into burgers.

3. Dragon Cayenne

I’m excited about these because my cayenne variety last year was decimated by disease or a sinister something else. Cayenne pepper plants have so many little leaves. Looking forward to seeing how this one does!

4. Cowhorn

Another new variety for me this year. I was attracted to these because of how long the fruits get–6 to 8 inches! I love big peppers. Unfortunately, something is already chomping on them in the garden (I suspect it’s a squirrel)
5. New Mexico 6-4L

As you can tell, I’m not growing a ton of super hot varieties, because the culinary uses for those varieties take a lot more work. This pepper is another mild poblano variety.

6. Poblano-Ancho

Stuffed poblano peppers. Cheese. Beans. Rice. ‘Nough said.

7. Roberto’s

Honestly, not sure what kind of pepper this is.. or what to expect. I picked something I didn’t recognize at the Spring Planting Festival in April and went for it. I will report back on my findings.

8. Carolina Reaper

So, yeah, “I’m not growing a lot of super hots.” That’s true. I’m not. But.. if I am going to grow a super hot variety, why not try THE HOTTEST PEPPER IN THE WORLD? This guy’s only been around for a few years, so there’s a lot of controversy about whether or not the new cultivar is producing true-to-type. But, hey, Herb had them at the plant sale.. and I bought two plants.

Wish me godspeed.

9. New Mexico 6-4L

I would say that I’m growing this guy, but.. there is an Animal™ who likes to nibble on it, so we’ll see if the poor little dude survives.

10. Habanero

Pretty standard. I originally only had one plant of these guys, but… I couldn’t resist grabbing another at Home Depot.

11. Serrano

I had lots of luck with my serrano peppers last year. I love their flavor and am looking forward to having a nice crop this year, as my plant seems to be thriving already! Hooray.

Do you grow peppers in your garden?

#dirtclods2015: Tomato Grow List

7th April 2015

southern fried soprano gardenTo describe the last two years in Arkansas as “life-altering” would be an understatement. I have changed so much (for the better, I hope) in this relatively short bit of time. I have learned a lot about myself–and without getting too philosophical (that’s for another post), one of those things is I love gardening.

Until last year, my experience with gardening could be summarized in two events: 1) sunflowers grown with my mom (WHICH WERE STOLEN, BY THE WAY [still mad]) in Kentucky and 2) my family’s well-intentioned attempt to plant tomatoes during our first summer in Arkansas.

It didn’t go well. Midwesterners adjusting to the humid climate and rocky soil of the South had no chance. And thus ended any further Yehling attempt at a vegetable garden (or any garden at all, really).

My dearest mama Tixqueen has had houseplants as long as I can remember, though–spider plants, asparagus ferns, some pretty ancient Christmas cactuses from my Uncle George (they’re still going strong)… lots of stuff! I’ve always loved the greenery that brightens our home. Still–never really showed any sort of interest.

Long story short (I will tell it some time), everything changed last year, and I became obsessed with seed-starting, container gardening, raised bed gardening, square foot gardening.. heirloom vegetables, organic fertilizers, pest control… and while not everything was a success (RIP to my squash and pumpkins), for someone who until then hadn’t really ever felt beholden to cleaning the litter box let alone watering a plant every day, my garden was super successful. And even with the varying rates of success and the crushing defeats from a renegade rabbit and squash vine borers, my garden was the highlight of my summer.

IN CASE YOU DIDN’T ALREADY KNOW, it’s April! And spring! In fact, April is such a great time for gardening that it is, wouldn’t you know, National Gardening Month. If you’ve ever thought about gardening, #whynot start one today? Doesn’t even have to be fancy. Maybe a little basil plant in your window. Mm, basil. Pesto. Now you’re with me.


I didn’t have this blog last year, so most of my garden documentation was relegated to sending photos to friends and usurping the Eggshells Kitchen Co. Instagram account to post pictures of my squash plants (may they rest in peace). No more though!

I’m looking forward to using this space as a place to talk about exactly why I think I fell so hard for gardening (and why I think you will too), what I’m up to in my #dirtclods, and the results of my work, good or bad! 

The weather here over the past few weeks has been kind of dreary, though not miserable. The temperatures are nice for working outside, but the clouds blocking the sun and the seemingly never-ending dampness make soil temperatures less than ideal for planting. It’s even gotten a little chilly at night, forcing me to cover some of my containers with plastic bags to protect my fragile babies.

So. What am I growing (or hoping to grow) this year?  Tons of things! Vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers.. but I thought I’d start by listing the longest variety list first, and the thing that maybe started my gardening obsession–TOMATOES! There are an estimated 20,000 varieties of tomato. Do you think I could try them all?

Tomato Cultivars for 2015:

–  Arkansas Traveler (developed specifically for Arkansas climates!)
– Indian Stripe (I got this one from the Spring Planting Festival this past weekend; Herb Culver from Bean Mountain Farms says it was gotten from someone in Strong, AR)
– Cherokee Purple (classic heirloom that everyone seems to love)
– Bradley
– Park’s Whopper
– Red Beefsteak (hoping to slice a lot for tomato sandwiches!)
– Mexico Midget (insipid name, so much fun to grow [and hopefully I won’t kill them this year])
– Early Girl

Have you ever grown tomatoes? Are you planning on it this year?