Making Crushed Red Hot Pepper Flakes

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One way to extend your summer harvest of hot peppers is to make hot pepper flakes. I will say this prior to writing my process, I am not an expert in this process and just tried it out this season, and did the same process with yellow hot peppers a couple years ago, and it worked out well.

Serranos

I grew several types of hot pepper plants this season in containers and patio pots, all started from seed: Serranos (above photo), Matchbox (red pointy ends; grows on small compact plants), Habaneros (small yellow ones), and others like Ancho Poblanos (not shown in these photos).

Place on a cookie sheet

Ignore the big round ones (Cherry Bombs – too hot for us! And a bit more difficult to dry using this oven this method).

Dried in the oven

I don’t have an air fryer and wondered how that would work for drying out hot peppers, but anyhow, all I do is line them out on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven at a low temperature (175 degrees) and let them sit ALL day in there. I will check them occasionally, maybe shake the cookie sheet to toss them around, and just wait. The house will have a unique cooking smell.

Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp

It will take all day or maybe even out that night and put back in the next day for a few more hours to dry them out. I will cut some in half mid-way thru the drying process. Be very careful as the oils will get on your finger tips. Then if you touch your face, you will get a burning sensation.

Mini Grinder

Pick out all the peppers that are completely dry from your cookie sheet after it has cooled, and put them into a mini food processor grinder and pulse away. It is that easy. (Remove stems prior – again, you may want to wear gloves as the oils easily get onto your hands.)

Do not use any that are mushy

Note: Do not put any peppers in the processor that are still soft and not completely dry because they will just mold in the jar later. (For example, the big round ones, called Cherry Bombs, were just too mushy so I left those out.)

Grinded

After pulsing the mini grinder, wow, look at this beautiful color of very hot pepper flakes. I put my nose over the mix and it gagged me – not kidding. The scents were that powerful. I won’t be able to use these myself, but my husband will though. He shakes it on his soups and other meals during the winter. One jar is enough for the winter, but I’m sure he’d use more if I made more.

Ready for winter recipes

Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid

It is best to use a jar with a lid that has the open holes to shake and also, I will leave the open area open for a few days and toss these around to help the air circulation. It is important to not have any moist flakes in this – or it will just mold later. So when you dry them in the oven, be sure to not use any that are soft and not fully dried.

Growing Hot Peppers

I want to learn more about growing hot peppers because making these flakes is actually fun. There are probably better ways to dry them out – but everyone usually has an oven so this is a method I tried and it works out – for my husband. I can’t eat these – they are too hot for me.

Great Container Garden Plants

It was easy to grow various hot peppers in container gardens and patio pots. They are pretty much carefree. They like a very sunny location and do well in potting mix soils with regular watering as needed. Most of them turned to their specific ripe colors around the end of August and some still ripening in September (in my areas of Connecticut; Zone 6b). The plants can stay out till our fall frost which happens around mid to late October.

Starting from Seed Indoors

Starting them is an early start in March (about 8-10 weeks before our spring frost (referred to as a last frost). The seeds require a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal) so be sure to use seed heating mats and place in a warm location to grow them from seeds. They are transplanted into container gardens and patio pots 3 weeks after spring frost has passed.

Care

Basically, only thing you need is a good watering routine and perhaps some small thin stakes as some of my plants got rather tall (the serrano and habaneros). The other, Matchbox hot pepper, stays compact and is perfect for smaller pots. They are pretty too – covered in bright red vivid peppers. I find they do not get affected by insects or wild animals (like squirrels).

Uses

Think spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love making it in the winter months. It is also wonderful shaked into soups, stews, on top pasta dishes, and in chili recipes. If you can handle the hot spricy flavors and heat, it is wonderful.

Starter Plants

Because the seeds need good warmth (as noted above), they can be a little more demanding for starting from seeds, but I will try again next season. I have starter plants available in May so look me up if local and interested in the spring time.

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Container Garden Installer – for hire!
Hot pepper grower
Today’s date: 9/22/2021
Week’s weather: Rain rest of week, mid-70’s day
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Protect Pots from Rain

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In most cases, we adore the days of rainfall during the summer because it offers a break from watering our container gardens and patio pots, but this year, 2021, we got our fair share of rainstorms and too much at times.

I found that soil remained wet too long in some cases. It stressed our tomatoes, however, most tropical like plants love the rain. For some of my succulents, it was just too soggy. They did fine, but with today’s expected downpours (due to Hurricane Ida remnants passing over Connecticut today, tonight, and tomorrow), once again my succulent plants (agaves, jades, echeverias, etc.) will get more rain pounded on them as they sit in their patio pots. They haven’t had lots of dry periods this season, so the soil has stayed more on the “moist” side than dry side for days.

Because of this, I decided yesterday to move some of my plants onto a deck table with a patio umbrella so they won’t get blasted again. Yes, it is a bit of a PIA (pain in the a**) to move them, but I just don’t want that soil water logged at this point as we transition into September.

I will most likely move some of them to my greenhouse too. I am only doing this as part of my overwintering process early because I have a busy month coming up and this is my only week to get come chores done early. So again, plants may stay outdoors for quite some time, even into early October “for some types of plants.” However, when it comes to my succulents, I don’t like them to stay in a water logged state too long. Fortunately, this weekend’s forcast looks fantastic. It is predicted to be in the mid-70’s with sun from Friday to Saturday (yes!). But it looks like more rain on Labor Day! Rain rain rain this year.

Plants not poorly affected by rain are my tropical plants, such as this upright Alocasia, which I adore. Tropical plants add a real feel of a jungle or rain forest, and I love having that look on my deck because it makes me feel like I’m in Hawaii. If you can’t be somewhere tropical, might as well try to get that feeling at your home.

This plant is showy and grows extremely large leaves. I took the time to measure the biggest leaf yesterday. It is 3 feet height and 3 feet wide with a 3 foot long stalk. In fact, it was hard to hold up the ruler as I tried to take a few photos of it yesterday.

These plants are accustom to dealing with tons of rain fall cause they are from the tropics and are used to it – it is in their genetics, basically. That is cool. With all the strong rainstorms we had this summer, the leaves just kind of tussled around and didn’t break or even tear. Also, the leaves have the ability to shed water droplets and also the texture of the Alocasia leaves allow the water to run off quickly.

Members of the Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma are always on my plant list. They grow huge. I love the heart-shaped elephant ear leaves and enjoy looking at them every single day. In fact, my jungle look is at the end of my house by my bedroom, so I see this via a slider door and have watched hummingbirds visit quite a bit this year as they go to the orange tubular flowers below this Alocasia shown above.

Another plant which has done well despite the rain is my Mandevilla. In fact, the Mandevilla twined around one of the stalks of the Alocasia this summer as it reached out for places to twine as it grew. This one is called, Alice Du Pont, and it is a plant which I overwintered last year in my basement in the pot. I took it out early to start growing in my greenhouse and then planted it in a big raised bed like planter on my deck. I fed it bloom booster water soluble food about once a week for a time in the middle of the summer and it has bloom beautifully. It is considered a tropical vine and works well when trying to create that jungle look with some trumpet like gorgeous hot rose colored flowers.

These tropical plants will grow well into early fall. I perform a combo of overwintering techniques from mid September till mid-October. Some are stored in their small pots in my basement or greenhouse, some are taken down (foliage and tops cut off) and tubers or rhizomes below are stored in boxes in my unheated but not freezing basement. And some are kept going by harvesting seeds and sowing them next season. The Mandevilla (and Dipladenia) can be a little tricky to overwinter and get growing again. It helps that I can start them early in the greenhouse. I started some others and they did not take off or produce as many blooms. You can’t win them all in the world of nature. There are just so many factors which are out of your control. Like rain for example, but then again, rain is a helper at times as well. Mandevilla are stored as dormant plants in a dark place at about 40 degrees F over the winter. The soil should not completely 100% dry out but stay more on the dry side than wet.

As for the Alocasia noted above, also known as Elephant’s Ear or Taro, I’ve dUg them up and divided off any side shoots as well as put the tubers in boxes in my unheated basement. I’ve detailed the steps in prior blog posts on this site. This spring, I did encounter a problem. Some of my tubers were soft in spots which usually doesn’t happen. I know what I did wrong. I used “new boxes and bins” and neglected to drill some air holes in the covers. I was rushing because I was busy. I planted them anyways in spring but they were really slow to grow AND I was worried the rotted parts would ruin the whole process. Some made it and some others were tossed. The tubers must be stored in a dry cool place, away from any chances of freezing, and after the plants go dormant for the winter. I hope I will be more successful this year. Time to get the drill out!

This photo is of my Ensete (red banana plant) with Castor Bean plant (left) and another type of elephant’s ear on the right. It is the first time in years that I did not directly plant the Ensete into the large square big cement planter. I planted it into a big pot and set it into the big cement planter. I got a little lazy and busy, but it is doing just fine. It still grew massive leaves and looks super healthy. I added compost to the soilless potting mix in the black pot. I grew the castor bean from seeds of last year and the elephant ear from a stored tuber. I won’t be working on these plants until early October.

Well, I think it is time to go work in the light rain before the harsh rain arrives later today and will be pounding overnight. We have seen a lot of flooded areas around here, ditches over flowing, damp lawns, and run off. We even got a huge sink hole down the road from rain this season. It is at least 6 feet deep. We are lucky compared to the people in NOLA. I can’t imagine what they are going through and they are in our thoughts.

One last thing – other methods for dealing with rain (drain holes are a must in pots, elevating the pots with plant saucers or trays, moving them under tables, and spacing them out so air flow circulates around the patio pots after the rainstorm, and maybe even a fan. Yes, I put a fan on my tomato plants this summer, it was that wet out there!)

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
9/1/2021
Today’s temps: 66 degrees F (100% rain at 10 am); 60% rain tomorrow (Thursday)
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT

Another huge pot with Canna Lily, Amaranth (from seed), and annuals – will blog on these later!

I made this yesterday…

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All I really wanted to do yesterday was create. I had an idea in my mind to make a small wreath covered in small glass ornaments, bright red and white berries, and a couple succulent plants. I wanted to pack the wreath in a way so it would be colorful, festive and fun.

It really is amazing how long something like this can take to make by hand. In fact, I would start working on it but then had to stop to do an errand or get the other tasks around my property done, but all I really wanted to do was create.

I played holiday music from my Pandora holiday line up of Christmas music which I play every season this time of year. It started with listening to Micheal Buble’s “White Christmas” song and continues on from there to Elvis or Etta – You name it. Every song gets me into that holiday creation vibe, along with the pitter patter of birds or trees moving in the wind outdoors. In fact, a bird landed on the greenhouse roof to visit while I was in there. These moments make me pause while creating.

Yup, I did. I put on the holiday music playing from the tiny new Bluetooth speaker. So let’s see, holiday music on for the first time on Nov. 19th. I think that is my earliest yet. It does set the mood, along with warm sunshine casting upon me in my little heaven of a greenhouse, where I often create, if it is bearable outside for winter temps. Once it gets even colder, my hands get cold in my special greenhouse, kept at a low even temperature during the winter months. Sometimes it gets too cold to create in there, unless I’m bundled up from head to toe. But it is one of my preferred places to be.

After doing errands, I finally got back to making the trio set. One thing that really annoyed me was a sticker was on the bottom of the round hanging globe and it was stubborn. I was like, oh gosh, now I have to go up to the house to remove this sticker, as I don’t have a working “sink” in the greenhouse with hot water. I was thinking, just let me create – no more interruptions, which I found removing a stubborn sticker to be – an interruption. I had to find a spray adhesive removal product and finally was able to completely remove it.

After that, and getting back to my greenhouse and continuing on my creations, my stomach started growling and right then, my husband texted me he was on his way home from work. It was almost dinner time, and yet, I still wasn’t done. The sun would be going down soon, I thought. I need to wrap this up. I left everything there to ponder more for tomorrow, which is now today!

This little mouse, I knew would be adorable in the globe. I thought of the owl found in the Rockefeller tree in NY recently, as I placed my white little mouse ever so carefully in the center, being sure the tip of his red holiday hat with a tiny white pom-pom would point up to the top. I’m not sure why, but I can not get that owl out of my head. I thought, I wish I had an owl to put in here – it would be perfect, but I only had the mouse in the house. Imagine replicating the NY tree owl with that little brown blanket tucked around him and those big bulging adorable owl eyes. OMG! That would be irresistible.

Each of the three pieces have similar color themes and the red dotted ribbon. This would tie them together. Along with the mini brown pinecones with tiny red berries. If I’m not careful, anything could be damaged or not positioned just right, this is why it takes time. I would never rush them as it takes away that Zen of creating.

One thing I have found is in order to create, you need lots of various supplies and embellishments on hand. I just can’t do something totally cookie cutter, it would be like an artist having to limit their various colors of paints, which I think may occur out there, but I don’t want to limit myself when creating.

Because these each have live succulent plants in them, they need to be displayed indoors and near some sunlight or in a brightly lit room, although the succulent plants are very tolerant and may be moved into pots after the season of holiday decor is over. The globes have succulents which are very slow growing and are sturdy, so they won’t outgrow the globes for a very long time.

So that is what I did yesterday. And now I have this feeling I want to make another set. With another color theme. We will see. I will keep you posted!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
see also: www.WorkshopsCT.com

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Moving Container Plants In

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For those of you who (or is it whom?) may be new visitors to my blog site, I thought I’d let you know that my recent posts are related to storing, overwintering, and moving container gardens and patio potted plants at my home from the outdoors to the indoors in preparation for autumn and winter.

I live in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor in Connecticut (Zone 6a/b). We usually get a light frost in early October and most of my plants in pots are not winter hardy in this area. Therefore, they must be overwintered before frost in order to save them to reuse next season. I have been sharing my methods of keeping these non-hardy, tender plants alive for years inside the home or in a greenhouse.

From the web: Covering most of the state is Zone 6, split into colder 6a and warmer 6b with average temperature minimums from -10 to -5 degrees and -5 to 0 degrees, respectively. Connecticut’s new zone, 7b with temperature minimums between 0 and 5 degrees, runs along the shoreline from New Haven westward to the New York state line.

I’m starting a bit earlier to move my plants in than is required (we have not hit any frosts yet here, which would kill my tender plants) but because I want to get a head-start on my container work, I am moving in some plants now during the mid-month of September.

For many years, most of my container plants were moved into my home for the fall and winter seasons, yet, I don’t have a big house. Eventually, I built a greenhouse and I keep it at a low temp in the winters (around 50-55 degrees F), and only some plants are able to tolerate lower temperatures and survive. It is very expensive to heat a greenhouse, so my most treasured prized babies (or I should say mamma plants) get moved in there for the winter season.

This past weekend, I moved the following plants in:

Agave ‘Kissho Kan’

The story behind this mamma, of about 20-22″ in diameter, is I acquired a few trays of them to sell at an event, of which I was part of putting together with a group of other women with their own small businesses, many years ago. I ended up keeping one of the plants and have owned this “mamma” for about 8 years. I’ve lost count. I’ve collected off sets from it before, and I keep the biggest two in my greenhouse in the winters.

Agave in the bedroom

For years, I put this agave in my bedroom by the glass window slider, which is at the southeast end of the house. It gets some light during the day but not full sun all day. It did fine there every winter, but I had to be mindful of those sharp spines at the ends of the leaves when I walked by it in the middle of the night. My brain would know to not bump into it even when I was half asleep.

Agaves can take lower temps and they will do well in a cool or warm room, as long as they get sufficient light during the winter months. I do not let my agaves be subject to frost outdoors, as most are not frost tolerant. It would ruin the plant, in my opinion.

In the case of my bedroom location, where it was put during winters for many years, it got just enough light to hang in there. Most agaves are hardy in zones 9-11, and we are zone 6. I’ve yet to meet one that would survive our winters outdoors, but if I find it, I will let you know. I believe there are some more winter hardy types out there, but I haven’t found or experienced those yet.

Anyhow, after years of taking care of this particular agave plant inside during the winters, I was finally able to utilize my greenhouse instead.

Moved into the greenhouse

For the past 3 or so years, it has been moved to my low-temp greenhouse during the winters. There it will receive plenty of light (when the sun is shining in the winter months as sometimes days are cloudy) which is better for the plant (the more light the better) but it is cooler than it was in my bedroom, of course. I keep the greenhouse temp to about 50-55 degrees F. As noted above, they are able to tolerate low winter temps if kept in a sunny location.

This mamma plant gave me plenty of off-sets over the years which will pop up around the mother rosette over time. I have never had a bad pest on any of my agave plants, except last year, I found an ant trail going to the soil of this plant when it was in the greenhouse in early spring, so I re-potted it before moving it outdoors. I wasn’t happy about having to do that because it was fully rooted in a new pot already from the prior season. Here is my blog posts on the ant incident and how I re-potted it prior and took off many off-set plants:

https://containercrazyct.com/2020/04/08/ants-on-my-agave/

Yesterday, I used the hand-truck (a handy garden tool for container gardeners) to move it to my greenhouse. Actually, my husband helped me. I told him, “Be careful to not damage the spines,” as I walked beside him. He has probably heard me say that every time we have moved that plant! LOL. After 30 years of marriage (side bar: our wedding anniversary is tomorrow), he just doesn’t respond back. He knows how an*l I can be about my plants, but he seems to cherish them almost as much as I do too.

I hosed it all off with a harsh spray of water and looked it over and watched to see if any ants would come out of the bottom of the pot. No signs of that – so I let it sit outside for the evening and will move it in, maybe later today. It could stay outside all the way up to “before” frost but I’m moving it in early.

You may be thinking, oh she has a greenhouse, but remember, I was able to keep this plant inside for years during the winter months – just be sure you give it as much light as possible, and remember to reduce watering greatly.

I barely water this agave in the winter months. You should keep the soil in the pot very dry during the winter months. In fact, I probably give it about a coffee cup size of water maybe once or twice the whole entire winter, if that. And it does just fine. After all chances of frost in the spring time, back outside she goes. One day, I would love to see this agave flower, but that takes years before it occurs.

Ficus elastica (Rubber Tree)

The story behind these tall beauties shown below is I acquired a tray (sounds familiar?) of them when I was offering a container garden workshop focused on houseplants one season.

These rubber tree plants are hardy in zones 8/9-11 but in my zone, are not and must be overwintered indoors. If I had a huge house, I would put these in a nice spot by a window as a houseplant candidate, but there is no room for that in my home. They have grown rather tall.

This plant surprised me. First, if you put it into a bigger pot, it just gets bigger. They grew several feet each year. The one on the left is 5 ft tall from the soil line to the top of the plant and the one on the right is 4 feet tall. I need to learn how to propagate these. I know there is a method to do so via “air layering.” I will have to give this a try in the spring time.

This rubber tree plant has darker foliage, I believe it was called ‘Ruby’ for its cultivar name, but now I don’t remember, and I don’t feel like digging out my log book this morning, but will do so later for my readers. Running out of time is why, so free flow typing this morning!

The large oval deep burgundy leaves on it are just gorgeous and when it pushes out new growth, there is bright red tip from the tip of the stems, which is just lovely. I had no idea, to be honest, what a wonderful container plant these make in the summer time. They like part shade to part sun but I’ve seen them do well in full sun situations also.

Because the red pots would be top heavy with a tall plant like these, I did put a generous amount of gravel in the base. It has sufficient drain holes, but the gravel makes it a heavy pot to move, thus, my hubby helped me with the hand-truck again. I am getting to that age, I need that help! Thank you hubby!

Anyhow, it is just gorgeous. I hosed it all down with a very strong spray of water, and I inspected all the leaves, before moving these two pots in. I found a little round cluster of white tiny insect eggs on one leaf. I pulled that leaf off with a tug. (Note: Ficus trees release a white sap when you do this, pull a leaf off or nick the plant, so I just let it (the sap) run out and it is fine. It will make your hands sticky if you touch it and some people may be allergic to the white sap.)

Then, as a precaution, I decided to spray it with NEEM horticulture oil. Ficus trees can be prone to scale insects, so I thought, I will do this. The NEEM oil, by the way, makes the leaves all nice and shiny. I sprayed it till it runs off a bit and let it air dry before dragging these into the greenhouse. But as a whole, there were no signs of plant damage from insects or critters. The foliage on this plant is big and bold, and I love that, and now the plants are big and bold as well. I can only imagine what they will look like next season outdoors again.

Mangave

I was superbly thrilled when I spotted two Mangave plants at a nursery because I wanted a show-stopper plant for my client’s site. And this is a new hybrid on the scene. It was expensive, but I grabbed the only two available.

Unfortunately, one of them, after being planted at the client site was suffering. I remembered the soil in the nursery pot being extremely wet when I potted into their container gardens, and even smelled rot, and thought, the nursery was possibly over-watering them. However, I thought, well, it is hot and sunny here, it should be fine. Turned out it was not.

When the plant showed issues later, I pulled it out and found round types of worms in the soil. They were probably eating the roots. I took it back home and put it into my tender care area, and it took a long time, but I revived it. It actually got moved into different areas, as I tested out its responses to more sun, less sun, and of course it was re-potted into fresh soil.

This plant is very sensitive to breakage when moved. The tips break or snap very easily if bumped into, so it was tricky moving it but we did so. This plant is new to me, and it will be the first year I test it out in the greenhouse during the winter. It has a rubbery feel to its leaves. It is a cross between agave and Manfreda. The cool spotted patterns on the leaves are from the Manfreda side of the plant. It is interesting and a new find, so I’m liking the whole process of testing it out in containers and will see how it does this winter.

I will treat it in the same manner I treated my treasured mamma agave noted above, such as no watering in winter, etc. I have an article about the person who hybridized this new interesting plant, but I would have to dig that out to add more here, maybe later, as I know I can’t be blogging all morning. I have work to do today. Plus, my computer crashed on me while typing earlier, so now I’m even more far behind.

Carissa shrub

The story about this plant, which is also one I was unfamiliar with, is one I found while in Maine two seasons ago when helping my older sister move into her new home. She had work work to do during the day, so one day, I ventured off in search of nurseries in her area of Maine. I remember, I drove a lot. I found a cool nursery and saw this shrub. I thought it was so pretty so I grabbed one.

It has super deep shiny green foliage and it produces white starred flowers from time to time. It has had no problems in the same pot, and I move it into the greenhouse for the winter months before frost. The only little downside is during the winter, it will drop leaves and it makes a mess, but each spring, I put it out on the outdoor deck and it turns beautiful again, deepening in a rich green color. People will ask me what it is as they admire the beautiful green richness to it and plus it is not common in our area. It is not hardy in CT but it is a keeper.

I also inspected this plant before hosing it down with water to wash away any dust or whatever, I also sprayed it with NEEM horticulture oil as a precaution, and top dressed the soil in the pot with fresh potting mix. The roots are starting to come out of the drain holes so it is ready for re-potting which I will do at a some point. During the winters, I water it lightly from time to time, mostly because it has outgrown its pot and isn’t holding on to moisture well.

So far, I’ve been focused on moving in agaves, succulents, cacti, non-hardy shrubs, and I still have more to do, of course. My Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, Banana Plants, will not be worked on until probably later this month. They may stay outdoors here until frost or after getting hit by frost, if you are planning to store the tubers, bulbs, rhizomes, only (the underground bulb like structures). If you want to keep the whole plant in tact, they should be moved before they get hit by frost. Keep your eye on the temperatures.

As I look at my weather app, I see temps from 48 to 39 (Sunday), so we are still safe, but it is always a good practice to watch the weather people on tv on the news. They will give us a heads-up when the temps will drop lower.

I also will be showing how I move in my Mandevilla plants. I am reluctant to do them yet cause they are so full and lovely, filled with flowers right now, but I also have to budget my time and do it before it becomes a rush.

I hope this information is useful. If you have questions, please feel free to comment or email me. And I apologize of any typo’s or grammatical errors, but I have to go, I don’t have time to edit. Time to get back outside working on my plants and saving them as best as possible.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Designer of Container Gardens
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com

I am not offering my workshops on Succulent Topped Pumpkins this year due to Covid, but I will have new succulent stock by end of September for Custom Orders and some succulents for sale. Stay Tuned! Thank you. Cathy T.

Ten Years of Kissing Ball Workshops

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Wow, ten years since I started these holiday workshops. These workshops began because I felt inspired by the holiday round greenery kissing balls I’d see when visiting relatives’ homes in Canada. Then, one day, a cousin asked me to help her making kissing balls and I did.

We spent all day making them. I said, “Hey, this would be a fun class to teach.” She agreed. We drove to a place where I get all my supplies a few days later, and said, “We can split all the expenses and do this.” Yet, she responded with, “No.” She said it was “my thing and that she didn’t want to participate in teaching it.”

So, there you have it – this is how it all started, and me being a plant person, this workshop was a perfect fit for me to add to my workshop offerings as part of my small business. I could teach about the greens and create a wonderful holiday decor item.

From that spark of a suggestion, my annual kissing ball workshops evolved over the years. I started to learn how to make wreaths myself, improved the KB making technique with new ideas, and then I added new creative items, which attendees may elect to make at the workshops, such as, the candy cane wreath, horse head wreath, square wreath, cross wreath, and more. Each year, it became more and more creative. And it grew with holiday spirit and in attendance.

The KB workshops kicks off everyone’s season – so they tell me. The “regulars” tell me it is the thing that makes them get into the holiday mood. This makes me so happy. Not to get mushy, but I didn’t have any children, and you know, I have always, always missed that part of what it must be like to have kids getting up on Christmas morning to unwrap their presents. Somehow, this event has filled that void for me during the holidays. The KB workshop is my highlight of the holiday season.

In my case, the holiday spirit starts taking hold in early November. Every single year, I start cleaning the messes in my workshop space to get things ready. I’m alone and working in the cold because the wood stove isn’t running yet. I start sorting holiday items, taking count of stock, cleaning, dusting, moving items to make space, and then comes moving in the tables and chairs, etc.

All of this pre-work to setup the workshop space takes time but it has become a good ritual for me. As I work on the various aspects, I start to think about the laughter, the smells of freshly cut balsam and all the fresh greens which the attendees cut at the workshop, and the images of the past ten years pop into my mind. I usually put on some holiday music as I do my thing setting up. This helps the holiday magic fill the air.

As my mind starts to wander, I even smile sometimes as I clean due to the memories. I may even laugh when I start thinking about something in particular that happened, or whatever. I just start thinking about all the attendees in this space every December. I think about the chaos of it all – usually, it is good chaos. Everyone is excited and getting into the holiday decorating zone. But sometimes, it is other chaos of just getting all the holiday ducks in a row.

The memories are good and so is the setup but it also reminds me that some people, though, sadly, I’ve learned over the years, are struggling at that time of year – but not showing it. Maybe something recent happened in their life and they feel down or alone. But, they still show up here for the KB workshop regardless, pull up their big holiday panties, and realize, hey, I can hopefully break out of my doldrums by being here at Cathy T’s KB Workshop. And they tend to feel better afterward the workshop. This makes me happy too.

Ten years. I never thought I’d be offering this workshop for ten years. How can it be even ten years already? I remember joking once, I’ll be a little old lady with gray hairs doing this workshop – but can I make it that long? I even feel I put on weight this time of year in preparation for being Mrs. Cathy Clause at the KB workshop. Seriously!

I’ve stressed out on so many aspects to set up this event. Like, will there be enough greens, will it snow, will my truck get a flat, how am I going to stage all of this first thing in the morning, what if it rains, what if we get a blizzard, and, what if this, what if that? I’m a big what iffer! But this can be good for planning. Thank Goodness I have Mr. Steve Clause to help me. And he does. Every year – he is part of the spirit too. I believe he loves this event as well. He would miss it if I didn’t do it. He says to me – you always do the what if, but it always is fine. He’s right.

There have been so many “behind the scenes” things I’ve dealt with which no one has any idea. I thought, I should jot down some of the interesting things that happened to me as a result or at this workshop. I started to do so today. And here they are…

The Mystery Coat:

A black mid-length winter coat was left by the fire pit outside on the workshop day. After everyone leaves, I usually sit outdoors by the fire pit with Steve to relax and talk about the day. When I put out word via emails and Facebook posts to the attendees the day after the workshop that someone left their black coat here, no one from the workshops ever claimed it. The coat fits me PERFECTLY. I needed a new coat at that time and it is larger than my usual coat size, yet, somehow it fitted just right. Was it the Christmas spirits who left it here? Still a mystery. There was a small red ball ornament in the pocket.

Almost Arrested for Taking Berries:

I got yelled at by a guy driving past a road side area where I had pulled over to cut “red berries” from wild shrubs for a KB workshop. It was a remote, nowhere area. He pulled up quickly out of nowhere too, with tires coming to a halting screech. He busted out of his car, came stomping over with a note pad in hand, and said he was going to REPORT ME for stealing red berries from a property. I remember feeling so annoyed because I was finally “in a moment” of having fun. I apologized profusely and explained I had no idea this was private property. Then he asked me, “Well, why do you want those anyways?” When I explained to him it was for the holiday workshop and that I teach about plants too, he calmed down and let me go. I didn’t dare mention the words: Kissing Balls.

The Old Rusty Wreath Frame

As mentioned above, a ritual of cleaning takes place every year in the workshop space. Well, one year, I saw something tucked behind my big black oil tank in my basement. What is that, I wondered. I pulled and tugged at it and out it came with a force. It was an “old, rusty wreath frame of a very large size.” Seriously, folks. This was not put there by me. I didn’t even make big wreaths yet. Was it left behind from whomever owned this house over 30 years ago? Or did Santa leave it there? Now, if that is not weird, what is? I won’t toss out that wreath frame. It hangs in the workshop space. I find it would be bad luck to remove it.

The Big Balls

Okay, we have, over the years, made the biggest balls of them all. Every year, I have to remind all the ladies that if they make them too big, they will fall off the hooks. We keep to measurement guidelines now, but one friend did tell me, she saw her kissing ball rolling down her street on a very snowy and windy day from her kitchen window. She made her kissing ball too big, and thus, it was too heavy and fell off the hook. We don’t make them “monster” sizes anymore but they do come out larger and better, in my opinion, than what you see in retail. OK, so big balls it is! But I did have to enforce no more monster balls, after all, this isn’t Halloween, it is Christmas! LOL.

The Dark

Every year, I offer one or two day time workshops. And a week night workshop. This year, I decided to skip the weeknight offering. It is just too dark and cold outside. The greens are outdoors but we hold the workshops indoors. To lug all the greens to the indoors in the dark was becoming too much for me. One year, after everyone left, I switched on a spot light pointing outdoors to finish up some work on some items outside in the dark, and when I clicked on the spot light, there – standing right in-front of me was a deer. I was like, OMG! It startled me. I said out loud, “You stay away from my greens!” And right then, his nose glowed red. Then I heard the jingle bells of a sleigh take off.

The High

No, we don’t get high here but the smell of the greens is so over powering in the workshop space, we may get that tinsel type high from the wonderful aromas of the fresh greens. But the natural high I get from the workshop event lasts well after everyone leaves from the workshop. In the first few years, the workshop would run all day, even into the night. I had so much adrenaline after it was over that I often sat in my kitchen trying to deflate. Mr. Santa Steve is asleep in bed by then. But I can’t fall asleep, even though I’m usually exhausted, so I start looking at all the wonderful photos of everyone from the day’s activities on my iPhone. The wreaths, kissing balls, and all the smiling attendees’ faces. In more recent years, the ladies have made a day of their events. My workshop is their number one stop, and after, some will go to lunch out, or even attend another holiday event somewhere. My event transitioned into a day of activities for the attendees, not just a few hours. Pretty cool.

The Weather

Knock on those wooden ornaments, I have been very lucky with the weather. We always make the next day a backup date should we get a big snowy storm, but in 10 years, that has never happened. One year, it was so warm out, we had t-shirts on – yup, global warming does exist. Santa is very good to me. He waits to bring on the snow storms after my holiday workshops. This year, I have a feeling it will be cold however, which means me working outside in the cold. Much of my preparation is done very close to the workshop date because I like things fresh. I like quality. And some of the preparation is done far in advance like now, including getting sign-ups, picking up hard good supplies, and what have you.

Well, I know there is more storytelling to tell but I can’t think of it now. I know when I work today, some of those stories will pop into my head again. If they do I will share them. In the meantime – You too could become part of the KB story. Sign-up for our workshop on Saturday, December 7th. There are still seats available. Ho, Ho, Ho…

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Broad Brook, CT
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
860-977-9473

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Me holding a Large Custom Wreath and Wearing that Mysterious Black Coat

 

Thank you to all at the Crafts Fair

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It was a gorgeous sunny (yet very chilly outdoors) type of day at the fall craft’s fair on Saturday in Stafford, but now- for me anyways, it is planning and sign-up time for the Holiday Workshops! Here we go!

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Two Lovely Ladies with Wreath and KB Made at an Evening Workshop last year!

I’m offering 3 sessions this year and seats are limited in each, so it is again, just a friendly reminder – Sign up early before it is sold out. To sign up – visit www.WORKSHOPSCT.com and you will see 3 separate posts for each type of workshop.

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Beautiful Candle Centerpiece Example Made in Last Year’s Workshop

This year, in particular, it is a shorter month than usual. Why I’m offering my first workshop on 11/30/19, and then a week later is the next workshop on 12/7/19. I know folks sometimes don’t like hearing about holidays now, but alas, I have to plan ahead for everyone who wishes to attend.

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Two KB Examples

I also take custom orders for wreaths and kissing balls the first weeks in December.

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Extra Large Custom Wreath made by C. Testa

Just a heads-up to all – And again, thanks to everyone who visited me at my vendor table last Saturday – so fun meeting you all!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

 

 

 

Shop Small Saturday – November 25th

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Hi ya’all!

Just a quick heads-up, if you wish to participate in my online FACEBOOK raffle to be held on my business Facebook page, Container Crazy CT, in honor of Shop Small Day, be sure to swing by there on Saturday, November 25, 2017 between 8 am and 5 pm to enter.

The rules are posted there. A photo of the Holiday Prize with entry instructions will be posted early Saturday morning. Note also, the lucky winner must pick up the prize by appointment; no deliveries. We are located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT.

This is being offered a a special thank you for all the local support of my local small business. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, wherever you may be with friends, family, and loved ones.

Thank you and Good Luck,

Cathy TestaCC Logo black Wkshp
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

 

Time is moving so fast…

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Something surprising is happening – I’m receiving registrations for my annual December holiday workshop now – in the middle of August.

Last year, it was in October when registrations began, but August – wow – thank you.

I think it is a testament to the effort I put into all of my workshops to make them fun with quality materials. And because of your continued support and attendance, I am able to keep my workshops going and offering them as a great value.

What I mean is, I work hard to make all my workshops “quality” – from providing a warm atmosphere to offering quality materials. And when plants are involved, which in most cases they are, I make sure to offer healthy, thriving plants.

Since being at the bookstore in South Windsor with a temporary vendor/pop up plant shop this season, I’ve heard repeatedly from customers, “Your plants are gorgeous.”

Believe me – it hasn’t been easy, because after all the bookstore is not a nursery environment per se – but fortunately, the space there has beautiful bright in-direct light for my various houseplants showcased. The many plants and plant gifts available for purchase there are doing well – and they are available while supplies last so swing by soon if you can before summer is out.

Even my stag-horn ferns on wall boards continue to do well there. It is proof how well various houseplants will thrive with bright indirect light, and in some cases, fluorescent lighting. You don’t need a really full sun type of room to enjoy many houseplants. Many will do fine in home environments where some light is cast or there is ambient lighting.

I also maintain many types of plants in my private greenhouse from perennials, tropical, cacti, and succulents – where there is various sunlight situations, because some are put under shade cloth, while others are in full sun spots in the greenhouse – and I coddle my stock of plants for use at my workshops and for sale to anyone interested.

It takes me two hours every morning to water my outdoor container gardens and inspect my stock plants, making sure they are doing well, and give them plenty of coddling.

I tell myself every year, don’t put out so many containers at the house because I become a slave to them – but I truly can’t help myself. That is like trying to ask a fisherman not to buy another lure – or a shoe fanatic to not purchase a new fancy pair of shoes.

In addition, when I set up my workshops, where we combine nature with art – I do a lot of extras in advance so all is well-organized for my attendees, which I really don’t think others would take the time to do.

For example, for my terrariums workshops, I wash every bubble bowl by hand to make sure they are sparkling, and I package materials, rinse items, and again, make sure all the plants are doing well or get them fresh from growers for each session.

Sometimes, preparing for a single workshop takes a whole day of time. Truly. You may find this hard to believe, but it does. Of course, I want to make the whole package right for my attendees so all is well-organized. Is that going overboard? I don’t think so.

Again, it isn’t always easy – there are so many challenges, but I continue to be obsessed with my plants and workshops. I’m always taking pictures of my plants too – it is to the point, I could be classified as a plant paparazzi. Good thing plants are not shy. The photos are posted daily on my Instagram feed.

But I love it all – and I’m so happy my regulars and new attendees love it too. Thank you again for supporting my small business. I could not be doing any of this without my loyal fans and new plant friends.

As I mentioned in the title of this post today, time is moving so fast – it has been a fast and fun season and now fall is approaching already – summer is almost over, and I’m so excited to be offering more workshops this Sept, Oct, Nov and of course, DECEMBER.

In the meantime, maybe I can grab some beach time between my workshops before summer is gone.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
www.CONTAINERGARDENSCT.com
http://www.CONTAINERCRAZYCT.com

For my various locations and workshop venues, please visit the LOCATION tab on my workshops site. Thank you. Cathy T.

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Cathy T takes up-close photos of plants in her greenhouse. She is a Plant Paparazzi!

Snow -Go Away! I want Spring!

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Happy Friday Everyone,

Well – there it is – snow – ugh! After yesterday and Tuesday’s beautifully sunny days, I don’t want snow.

I’m in spring mode already – I have been offering demonstrations on Microgreens this week, setting up my display items at a new venue (BOOK CLUB) in South Windsor – and ordering and planning all for Container Crazy CT’s upcoming workshops.

It is never a totally easy process as one may think. There are lots of steps involved, but so far – all is good. We are ready for you.

So for today – here are upcoming highlights:

FREE PRESENTATION – TOMORROW

To kick off my showcases at the relocated bookstore, BOOK CLUB Bookstore & More, I am offering a FREE presentation tomorrow, Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 10:00 am to 11:00 am.

This presentation is about “Six Design Tips for Container Gardens” – and it is a slide type presentation which covers tips on how to design large and lush container gardens.

If you struggle with this aspect of your patio pots and want to learn some great tips – come on by. These tips will help you – and the first 10 or so people to arrive receive a free plant catalog.

Following the presentation, browse the bookstore’s offerings and Container Crazy CT’s showcases of Plant Gifts, Succulents, Terrariums, Wall Art, etc.

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BOTANICAL LIVING WALL ART

Speaking of wall art – This workshop is coming up. Registrations are still open but we are nearing the time when we need your confirmations. If you clicked ‘going’ on the EVENTS pages, please click CONFIRM to reserve your seat and items.

This workshop is being offered on two dates. First one is March, 11, Saturday at my Broad Brook, CT location and the 2nd session is March 22, Wednesday at the BOOK CLUB’s South Windsor location (869 Sullivan Avenue in the United Bank plaza).

For the Newbies interested, pre-registration with confirmed payment is required. Be sure to read our guidelines on WORKSHOPSCT.com. Due to a limited number of seats and plants – if you want in – now is the time to confirm.

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GREATER HARTFORD WOMEN’S CONFERENCE

The conference has invited me to speak on March 28th at 10:30 am. It is an all day conference at Maneeley’s, 65 Rye Street, South Windsor and registration is required.

My topic will be on Micro-greens – and Starter Kits will be available for purchase or order following my demonstration.

Again, my session is being held from 10:30 am to 11: 15 pm. There are many speakers and topics at this conference – a very well-known event packed with information geared towards a theme of, “Focusing on Energy in Your Life.”

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MICRO-GREENS DEMO AT BOOK CLUB

If you can not make the session above, I will be offering my demonstration again on Friday, March 31st at 5:30 pm. Pre-registration is recommended. Fee is $10 to attend. Again, you have the option to purchase Starter Kits following the demonstration.

Everyone loves trying it out after they learn how to grow Micro-greens easily. It is a perfect “wellness” topic – because micro-greens (and sprouts) are packed with nutrition. I highlight this aspect as well at the demonstrations.

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TERRARIUMS IN APRIL

As noted on WorkshopsCT.com, terrariums are on the list of topics – and perfectly timed for showcasing them at your home for the Easter weekend! But Easter is not the only theme you may use, there are many. We plan to have slow growing plants and succulents for this workshop.

Dates are: April 8th at Book Club, and April 12 at Container Crazy CT’s location in Broad Brook, CT.

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EARTH DAY

In honor of Earth Day, I’m offering my second free presentation at Book Club on April 22nd, Saturday at 12:00 noon. It will be on the “5 Must Do’s for Container Gardening Growth Success.”

If you are new to container gardening or have had issues with your patio pots in the past and don’t know why your plants don’t thrive – this session is very beneficial. We hope you will join us.

GRAND OPENING

The Book Club Bookstore is holding a Grand Opening on April 29th. Check out their Facebook page or bookclubct.com for details. Author appearances are in store (literally). And what is even more exciting, is the authors on this date are local South Windsor Authors.

The bookstore has a wonderful selection of new and pre-owned books, and the owner, Cynde Acanto, is very helpful and knowledgeable. I’m in awe of her book knowledge and I have a feeling I am going to be learning so much there from her customers too. My head has been stuck in gardening books so much, but now I’m learning about so many genres. The store has many gardening and plant books too.

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PLANT GIFT CHANGE OUTS

As for my showcases there as a permanent vendor, I plan to “change out” plants regularly – so as you come by for a visit, bear in mind, it will be ever-changing for each season. Expect to see a variety of plants, and creative ideas on how to use them. Special orders may be requested. Grab a pamphlet to learn more while there.

MY HOURS

My regular hours at the store are 10 am to 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. – and of course, I am still operating out of my Broad Brook location every day of the week.

Address again:

BOOK CLUB Bookstore & More
869 Sullivan Avenue, Ste. 6
South Windsor, CT 06074
(860) 432-7411
http://www.bookclubct.com
Pre-Owned & New Books – Author Appearances
Book Discussions – Gifts & Cards

Now, snow – please Go Away. I don’t have time for you…

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (texts are welcome)
containercathy@gmail.com

 

 

 

More about Container Crazy CT’s new venue in South Windsor

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Hi Everyone,

I’ve been getting the word out about a new venue where I will be available every Tuesday and Thursday starting March 11th at a bookstore, BOOK CLUB Bookstore & More, in South Windsor opening March 1st.

When my sister, Louise, asked me what will I have at the store, I thought it would be a good idea to set the vision so my attendees will know the scoop.

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Many times people have asked me at farmers’ markets and other pop-ups where they can find me, well, this will be the place.

TUESDAYS AND THURSDAYS

My regular days will be every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm, where I will be there to answer questions about plants, workshops, and well – I’m sure gardening books!

Since this store is a bookstore, you will find many new and used books, and the store also hosts special author appearances and regular book club discussions.

Nestled among the books will be Container Crazy CT’s items for sale and some plants, etc.

WORKSHOP PROTOTYPES

Every month, the game plan is to showcase workshop creations at this location. This way attendees may see what we will be making at scheduled workshops being offered at the bookstore for smaller groups.

SPECIAL ORDERS

Additionally, special orders may be placed with me for pickup at the store any day of the week based on requests. My large stock of plants will be maintained in my greenhouse at another location, but will be made available to you. It will be an exciting season to say the least.

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LOCATION

The store is conveniently located off of Sullivan Avenue in a United Bank Plaza at 869 Sullivan Place. As you enter the plaza, look for the bookstore on your left. It is only six miles from Broad Brook.

There are many other nice stores there too – a huge pet store, a massage and fitness facility (heard the yoga classes are great there via my other sister, Rosalie.) And I just met the owner of the health facility yesterday when I delivered some tables to the store. He was very pleasant and we discussed how my healthy and nutritious microgreens growing demonstration in March may be of interest to his clientele.

My setup will be somewhat in transition because I am traveling next week – where I will be including tropical plant research in my adventures – and returning just in time for the opening – which is March 1st. Expect to see change outs as my vision evolves.

FIRST FREE PRESENTATION

To kick off my first official day there, I will be offering a free presentation on “6 Design Tips for Container Gardens” on March 11th at 10:00 am. We ask that you register on the bookstore’s Facebook events listing as seats are limited.

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NEW WORKSHOPS ADDED

Container Crazy CT will continue to offer workshops at her usual location in Broad Brook, but now we have added this new place with more dates, plenty of parking, and more. Some of the workshops recently added are Botanical Wall Art (March), Kokedama balls (dates to be posted soon), Terrariums (April), etc.

See www.WORKSHOPSCT.com for all the dates and information.

STARTER KITS

We will have kits available for special features, such as our microgreens growing kits, available at the workshops or by request. This is another vision I have – making kits for you so you may elect to create an item at home on your own if you wish.

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And you know, I am so ready to plant up these containers framing the bookstore’s window, as soon as spring arrives. See you there soon!

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Owner of “Cathy T’s Landscape Designs” and “Container Crazy CT”
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy@gmail.com

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