Pepper Ponderings

Since the original purpose of this blog was to chronicle our garden from season to season, I reckon it’s time to get along with the business of doing so.  There is such a variety of different vegetables that it really is essential to keep track of what has grown well, what hasn’t, what our family enjoys and what we probably won’t try again next season.   So with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at peppers.

All of our peppers have come from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com).  All of them have been started here from seed, hardened off, and transplanted into our garden.  In years past, I have utilized 5-gallon grow bags for our pepper plants.  This year I planted them into raised beds in the garden, and the jury is currently out on whether I want to continue this way in the future.

Since seed catalogs change from year to year, I’m going to list links and descriptions of the peppers I’ve planted, here:

Canary Bell Pepper
70 days. Superior sweet pepper, medium-sized, thick-walled green fruits ripening to bright yellow color. Sets early and produces all summer. Superb in salads, and a premier type for grilling. Exceptional flavor, very productive two-foot plants. Resistance to Tobacco Mosaic Virus.

Etiuda Pepper
75 days–Blocky, thick-walled orange fruits are crisp, very sweet and juicy. These golden-orange bells can reach up to a half-pound in weight, and are lavishly produced on tall plants. Originally a Polish commercial variety, Etiuda is equally at home under row cover, in the greenhouse or out in the garden. Lovely and very choice!

Golden Cal Wonder Pepper
78 days. Colorful golden bells that are very sweet and tasty. Gold peppers are superb for fresh eating, great for kitchen or market gardens. The productive plants produce early and are good for northern climates.
NOTES: Reviewers on rareseeds.com have mentioned that this pepper takes a long time to ripen to yellow, and I have found the same to be true for our plants, two years in a row now.  I may forgo this in favor of other, earlier-ripening yellow peppers for next season.

Golden Marconi Pepper
80 days. A late Italian pepper with beautiful, big, yellow, 7-inch tapering fruit that are very sweet and great for frying or fresh. This wonderful heirloom is delicious and mild. A great variety for market.

Italian Pepperoncini Pepper
The popular little, thin, pickling pepper. 3-5-inch fruit have a superb flavor and just a little heat. Small plants. This heirloom comes from southern Italy.

Jimmy Nardello Italian Pepper
This fine Italian pepper was grown each year by Giuseppe and Angella Nardiello, at their garden in the village of Ruoti, in Southern Italy. In 1887 they set sail with their one-year-old daughter Anna for a new life in the USA. When they reached these shores, they settled and gardened in Naugatuck, Connecticut, and grew this same pepper that was named for their fourth son Jimmy. This long, thin-skinned frying pepper dries easily and has such a rich flavor that this variety has been placed in “The Ark of Taste” by the Slow Food organization. Ripens a deep red, is very prolific, and does well in most areas.

King of The North Pepper
An exciting bell pepper for short-season growers. This variety produces nice, blocky fruit that are nicely flavored when picked green or red. Plants are productive even in most of the northern areas.
Notes: Perhaps I’ve just had poor luck with seeds, but for whatever reason this is the one pepper that has never germinated well for me.  I only have one plant this year, and it isn’t thriving as the few plants I’ve had in the past did.  Hopefully it will produce, as King of The North peppers are delicious!

Lilac Bell Pepper
75 days–Fruits are a stunning medium lilac-purple. Crisp, juicy, and sweet! What a lovely addition to a relish tray! Medium-sized fruits start out yellow-green, ripen to purple, finally to red.

Lipstick Pepper
70 days. A delicious pepper with 4-inch long tapered, pimiento type fruit that are super sweet. This fine pepper is early and ripens well in the north. A flavorful favorite with thick, red flesh.
Notes: This is one of my very favorite peppers to grow.  The fruits are quite tasty and the plants themselves are hardy and robust.  Our family enjoys them raw and grilled or sauteed.  This is a wonderfully sweet pepper that never fails to please.

Melrose Pepper
This is a superb heirloom frying pepper brought from Italy years ago. The 4-inch fruit turn brilliant red and start producing very early with flavor that is rich, flavorful, and very sweet. Great fried or fresh, a true Italian variety that seems to have been widely grown in the Chicago area. We have had many requests for this pepper.

Midnight Dreams Bell Pepper
75 days. Blocky four-lobed bells are the most amazing ebony-black we have seed in a pepper, amazing looking! The glistening, gem-like fruits are unusually thick walled, crisp and mild. Produced abundantly on compact plants that are very sturdy. A new favorite!

Oda Pepper
70 days–Very strong, compact plants cranks out tapered, pointed bells from early summer on. The fruits are the loveliest shade of plum purple, ripening to a lustrous red-brown. Crisp, juicy, thick-walled fruits are very sweet. The short stature make it a great choice for cloche- or low-tunnel production.
Note: We love these little peppers!  First place at SCOS Horticultural Show. Orange Bell Pepper
Super sweet, brilliant orange fruit are blocky with good-sized thick flesh that is flavorful and among the best tasting of all peppers. Plants produce large yields of this most magnificent pepper.
Paradicsom Alaku Sarga Szentes Pepper

80 days. One of the truly great Hungarian peppers. Yellow, flat, ribbed, pumpkin-shaped fruit have the tremendous flavor that peppers from Hungary are famous for. The flesh is very thick, crisp and juicy. This rare variety was collected at a farmers’ market in Matrafured, Hungary, but developed at Szentes, Hungary. A winning variety.Peperone di Cuneo Pepper
78 days. Tomato shaped sweet peppers in red and yellow. Very productive, thick-walled and fine flavored. From seed collected by Jere on his 2012 Italian trip. This variety was first mentioned in the 1915 “Market Bulletin” from the town of Cuneo, Italy. This is the local pepper of Cuneo, where it is still grown on a small scale to this day. We loved snacking on these as they have a most amazing, sweet pepper flavor. Very productive in our Missouri gardens.Purple Beauty Pepper
75 days. Purple peppers are always a favorite, as they are so colorful. This variety produces loads of beautiful bells on compact, bushy plants. Crisp texture and mild, sweet flavor makes this one popular with everyone. I even believe Peter Piper picked a peck of these purple peppers and I don’t blame him.

Quadrato di Asti Giallo Pepper

80 days. The giant yellow Quadrato bell pepper. The huge fruit are a favorite here. The largest variety we have grown, beautiful and blocky, with very thick walls; the flavor is outstanding–sweet and rich! This Italian variety gives very heavy yields; one of the best varieties for marketing. This superb pepper is a real winner!Sheepnose Pimento Pepper
70 days. Gorgeous cheese-type sweet pepper, ripening from green to red. The fruits are round, oblate, and stylishly ribbed—so pretty in the garden or on your table! Thick walled, crisp and juicy fruits keep an extraordinarily long time when refrigerated. An Ohio heirloom, so you know it’s a great performer in northern climates.Sigaretta De Bergamo Pepper

We offer here the esteemed “Cigarette Pepper” of Bergamo, Italy. The long, slender cigarette-shaped fruit are highly popular in salads, due to their great taste. It is also perfect for pickling and frying. A delicious and hard-to-find variety.
Sweet Red Stuffing Pepper

The brilliant red-colored version of our heirloom stuffing peppers which were given to us by an Amish grower. The seed was passed down from her Grandmother. Very productive plants, produce tiny bell-shaped peppers about 1″-2″ across.

Sweet Yellow Stuffing Pepper
This amazing little pepper comes to us from an Amish grower of Indiana. The seed was passed down to her from her grandmother, whom she fondly remembers growing these peppers in the 1950s in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The very productive plants produce the cutest little mini bell-shaped peppers, only 1-2 inches across! She uses these to make wonderful stuffed and pickled peppers!

Tam Jalapeno Pepper
70 days A very tasty mild Jalapeno type, with the same delicious flavor, but a lot less heat. Great yields.

Violet Sparkle Pepper
75 days—Pointed, wedge-shaped fruits are purple streaked with pale yellow. We originally received a few seeds of this variety from a Russian seed trader. Ripens red. Very lovely and delicious, sweet, crisp and thick-walled.

From garden to pantry…

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.”  – Proverbs 6:6-8, NIV

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

So much of life on a homestead is made up of seasonal plans and tasks, and many of those tasks affect other goings-on later in the year.  When snow is piled high in drifts and piercing winds whip through our peaceful valley, I pore over seed catalogs, my eyes and tastebuds hungry for vivid colors and sun-ripened flavors, dreaming of frostless soil and the luminous green of tender, new spring leaves.
When red-winged blackbirds arrive with their distinctive call, the earliest seedlings emerge from freshly-turned earth, and red-breasted robins bob and skip for worms that follow the spring rains, I am already anticipating the summer days ahead.  I dream of warmth-loving peppers, squash and cucumbers, lightning bugs, whippoorwill calls and sultry summer nights, good for catfishing, whispered dreams and stolen kisses on the riverbank with the love of my life.

Preserved goodness!

Preserved goodness!

Now summer has wrapped us in her long, lazy days, and dappled fawns frolic along the hems of verdant-skirted cornfields.  The season has graced us with chicory blossoms, fledgeling bluebirds, crimson-streaked sunsets, and small-batch ice cream from our favorite local creamery.   Our annual Old Settler’s celebration and jaunts to county and state fairs are soon approaching; the garden is in full flourish with treats on every vine, and it is time – even now – to consider autumn.  It is time to remember frost, to contemplate the change of seasons that draws a bit nearer with each humid night, as the stars that now shine close enough to touch move slightly further out of reach along their timeless celestial paths.

And so, as the rhythms of summer march steadily onward with trellises shrouded in cucumber-laden vines, pepper plants heavy with sun-warmed fruit, and raised beds offering the last of late cabbages, it is time to harvest and prepare, to preserve and tuck away our bounty for the cooler months ahead.

So far this season I have – in preservation parlance – “put up” several pints of chow chow, pickles and peppers, with much more to do.  Hopefully our tomatoes will continue their recovery from septoria leaf spot and yield some good salsas, pastes and sauces in due time.  In the mean time, here are some recipes I have followed this season, as well as some I intend to use in the very near future…


Crunchy Dill Pickles – adapted from Simply Canning

  • 8 lbs of 3-4 inch pickling cucumbers
  • 2 gals water
  • 1 1/4 cups canning or pickling salt
  • 1 1/2 qts vinegar (5 percent)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 T whole mixed pickling spice
  • whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
  • garlic cloves, 1-2 per pint jar
  • grape leaves, 1 per pint jar
  • fresh dill (1 1/2 heads per pint jar) or 4 1/2 T dill seed (1 1/2 tsp per pint jar)Wash your cucumbers and thinly slice off the blossom end. (the blossoms have an enzyme that will make your pickles soft)Add 3/4 cup salt dissolved in 2 gallons water. Soak cucumbers in water for 12 hours. Drain and get your canning supplies together.Gather your canning supplies
    • water bath canner
    • canning jars
    • canning seals and rings
    • jar lifter
    • canning funnel
    • large pot
    • bowls
    • large spoons
    • sharp knife
    • towels and dish cloths
    • Pot or kettle for the brine
    • ladle

    Get the water in your canner heating while you prepare your pickles.

    Combine vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, sugar, and 2 quarts of water. Place pickling spices in a cheesecloth and place in your vinegar brine. Heat to boiling.

    Fill jars with drained cucumbers. Add:

    • 1 tsp mustard seed and
    • 1 head fresh dill or 1 tsp dill seed per pint.
    • 1 grape leaf per pint.

    Fill jars with hot pickling brine. Leave a 1/2 inch head space.

    Altitude – processing time:

    0-1000 ft – 10 minutes

    1000-6000 ft – 15 minutes

    over 6000 ft – 20 minutes


    Cabbage Chow Chow (Relish)

  • Ingredients:2 quarts shredded cabbage (about one medium head).
    1 cup sweet onions chopped fine
    1/2 cup chopped green or red bell peppers (optional)
    2 Tablespoons saltCombine chopped vegetables and sprinkle with salt. Let stand 4 to 6 hours in the refrigerator. Drain well.Combine the following ingredients and simmer 10 minutes. Use a pot large enough to put the vegetable mix in later.2 cups vinegar
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    2 teaspoons dry mustard
    1 teaspoon turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    2 teaspoons celery seeds
    2 teaspoons mustard seedAdd vegetables to vinegar-sugar-spice mixture and simmer another 10 minutes. Bring to a boil. Then pack, boiling hot, into clean, heated canning jars, leaving  1/2 inch head space. Place canning lids and rings on jars and tighten.    Process 10 minutes (adjust according to altitude).
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July 10, 2015

Ditch lily

Ditch lily

Finally!  After 3 days of overcast, cool weather and occasional rain, it is SO nice to feel the heat and see some blue skies.   We have perfect growing weather today, and I spent part of the morning feeding and watering the garden, adjusting drip irrigation, and pulling weeds (as always).  It’s shaping up to be a beautiful day, and I love to see the chickens out frolicking in the sunshine while I work.

Everything that isn’t a tomato received Espoma Garden-Tone fertilizer this morning.  Garden Tone is a 3-4-4 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) fertilizer, good for just about any vegetable or herb.  This is my third year using it and I like the consistency, the reasonable price, and the fact that it is organic.  I apply it twice a month, mixing it well into soil, and then water deeply, and all of the veggies just take off.  The only thing I’m  not crazy about is that if it isn’t thoroughly mixed into the soil, it will mold, but with a little extra effort that is easy to avoid.

Purple tomatillo

Purple tomatillo

I feed tomatoes with Espoma Tomato-Tone, and have also had very good luck with this product.  The 7-gallon grow pouches receive a scant quarter cup of Tomato-Tone every couple of weeks, also mixing well into the soil and watering afterwards.  Tomato-Tone is a 3-4-6 formula, and the lower nitrogen ratio helps to keep the plants from putting all of their energy toward rapid growth instead of setting fruit.  In the past I have also had success with Neptune’s Harvest, a fish and seaweed-based fertilizer.  It is mixed with water and applied directly to the leaves, but care must be taken in hot weather not to overapply or accidentally scorch the leaves.  It’s something I may try again here in the near future, but between the rain and the septoria fungus, I’m trying not to overwhelm the tomatoes while they try to fight off disease and hopefully set some fruit.  That said,  I’m excited to see what a hefty meal and a good drink will do for the garden this time around, now that we’re well into some good weather for heat-loving plants.

Calima bean plants.

Calima bean plants.

It’s kind of hard to believe that not even a month ago, most of our plants were fresh transplants and tiny.  Now the pepper plants are loaded, carrots are showing their frilly tops, pearl onions are putting on size, and the tomatillos are practically a forest.  Cucumbers are rapidly taking over the trellises and overloaded with blossoms.  Calima beans are growing at an almost-exponential rate, and I can’t wait to steam up some haricots verts before too long.  It’s time to do a heavy harvest on the herb plants and dehydrate a bunch of them for winter storage and use.  Opal basil in the planter box is richly purple and fully-leafed, but we’re still waiting on the green Emily basil in beds to come up to size for salads, pesto and other sauces.   The watermelon vines have grown rapidly and several small melons are already visible.   Cantaloupes and tigger melons are climbing the garden fence and should begin to set fruit any day now, judging by the abundance of blossoms and steady hum of bees visiting the melon patch.

Broccoli

Broccoli

The only thing I’m still on the fence about at this time is the tomato plants, as it is too soon to tell whether they will rebound from the septoria leaf spot or succumb to it altogether.  I’m due to spray them again with copper soon, but it is unknown at this point just how resistant to treatment this fungus actually is, but I’m going to move forward with very cautious optimism that we may see something out of these plants  yet.  Many of our tomatoes are setting fruit and many more have blossoms, but not to the extent that I would expect this time of year.  I’ve already decided that a change in strategy is necessary for next year, and will most likely transplant tomato starts into 2-gallon grow pouches, and move them to a low tunnel in late April/early May.
Hopefully this will give them the head start they need as well as room to grow, and temperatures should be easier to control in the low tunnel so that they are well-established prior to hardening off and planting out.   It seems the third week in May is usually pretty consistent enough for a target date, and now that the garden is effectively finished, I can put my focus on planting next season, rather than building.

I will also pick the last of our cabbages this week & turn them into chow chow for canning, and maybe a little fresh slaw.  The broccoli plants are *finally* setting crowns and I’m hoping they hold out through the hot weather that is looming this weekend.  It’s almost time to start fall broccoli, kale and cabbages, so those seeds will be sown as soon as these plants come out & either head to the kitchen or the compost pile.

Chicory blossom

Chicory blossom

Summer is in full swing and this year is extremely lush and green from all the rain – a nice contrast to the droughts we’ve  had in recent years.  Corn is already waist-high in the fields, the ditch lilies and chicory flowers are in bloom, and clover blossoms send up their perfume in the warmth of the sun.  Bugs are plentiful, to the delight of our chickens and chagrin of local gardeners.   Squash vine borer moths visited us in June, although I removed every visible egg and, fingers crossed, haven’t seen any signs of damage yet.  Cucumber beetles and squash bugs haven’t arrived yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled and ready to do battle on both fronts.  In the mean time, it’s almost time to make pickles – another post on that soon!

Forecast – 7/10/15
High: 82° F
Low: 63° F
Skies: Partly cloudy
Dew point: 61° F
Humidity: 69
Precipitation: 0.03 in.
Sunrise: 5:49 AM
Sunset:
8:49 PM

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Squash Shenanigans

Squash plants.

Squash plants.

The squashes have really exploded with recent warm weather, which means there are some delicious meals right around the corner.  I was afraid we wouldn’t see much from them since everything was transplanted so late, but in typical squash fashion they have taken off and grown like (dare I say it?) weeds!  It never ceases to amaze me the difference a week’s worth of warm, humid weather and a good rainfall can make in a garden.

Photo-Jul-08,-10-21-57-AM

Bush and vining squashes.

All of the squash plants are in 7-gallon grow pouches for this season. I may bump them up to 10-gallon pouches next year, depending on how this year’s yields come along.  Squashes are heavy feeders with intensive root systems, and while I’ve had success growing them in the 7-gallon pouches in the past they may need a little more room to step up production a bit.

Squash "Gelber-Englischer Custard"

Squash “Gelber-Englischer Custard”

Most of our squashes this year are bush varieties.  Our family enjoys stuffed pattypan (scallop) squash, so we have quite a few of those going.  Pattypans are hard to beat, both for their unique shape and classic squash flavor.  It was tough to narrow down choices when ordering seeds, so four lovely varieties grace our garden this season.  I’ve added pictures of each kind, seed packets and plants, to the gallery at the end of this post.
Along with the pattypans are some lemon squash, in the place of our beloved yellow crook-necks, and the ubiquitous summer favorite, zucchini.  I started off with only two zucchini plants, as my neighbors are awesome and I want to keep it that way.  That rounds out our bevy of bush squash varieties for this season.

Squash trellis.

Squash trellis.

Spaghetti and butternut squashes are also grown in pouches and set under hog panel trellises, like those we use for our cucumbers and tomatoes.  Since both types grow on heavy, wildly sprawling vines, I try to utilize vertical space in our garden by encouraging these plants to grow upward.  This involves a series of gentle, ongoing negotiations – twisting a tendril here, coaxing a leaf there – until the plants have sufficiently anchored themselves to the panels.  From that point they are easily woven through the openings on each panel so that the vines have plenty of room to roam.

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July 7, 2015

Sprayed tomatoes this morning with Bonide Copper to treat septoria leaf spot.  Fingers crossed that it helps, along with removing infected foliage.

Oda peppers and Violet Sparkle peppers have some beauties on the vine that might make good entries for SCOS later this month.  Also considering entering some Dragon’s Egg cucumbers, as they are unique and beautiful.

We received right around 3/4″ of rain yesterday so I can hold off watering for a couple of days.  I’ve come to believe that gardening is the process of staying a few steps ahead of everything else that wants your plants!

Today’s Forecast
High: 72
Heat Index: 77
Low:
Humidity: 57%
Precipitation: None
Wind: N 13 mph gusts to 20 mph
Skies: Scattered clouds & sunshine
Sunrise: 5:48 AM
Sunset: