Flavorful Peppers

Saturday, May 17th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Fuchsias in hanging baskets make beautiful patio plants. They bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds to their pendulous blossoms.
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • Spray roses every two weeks to keep them healthy and prevent leaf diseases. Neem oil is a safe alternative to chemicals.
    • Flower seeds can be sown directly in the garden now. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias will give you beautiful flowers all summer.
    • Calibrachoa, or Million Bells, are a trailing, miniature petunia that comes in bright oranges and reds. Plant them in full sun for a profusion of 1” wide flowers from spring to frost.

Wake Up your Taste Buds with Flavorful Peppers

Pepper popularity just keeps growing and every year gardeners are trying out new varieties. The number of pepper varieties available, especially the hot types and sweet non-bells, has exploded and now numbers in the hundreds.

Peppers are grouped into three types: sweet bell peppers, sweet non-bell peppers and hot peppers ranging from “warm” to “blazing hot.” The big development in bell peppers has been a variety of colorful bells ranging from red, orange and yellow to lilac, purple and chocolate. In standard green bells, California Wonder and Bell Boy are still favorites. They turn to bright red as they ripen. However, Red Beauty, which produces sweet red peppers in only 68 days, is the most popular bell pepper today.

The sweet non-bells range from the little Italian Pepperoncini peppers which are good for pickling to the long, yellow Sweet Bananas. Corno di Toro, the heirloom “Horn of the Bull” pepper, is imported from Italy. Fruits are 8 to 10 inches long, curved much like a bull’s horn, and ripen to a gorgeous red cone. Pimientos, with their heart-shaped fruits, are ideal for salads, garnishes and canning.

Italian Long Sweet, widely used in Italian cooking, is very sweet when red-ripe. Colorful Gypsy peppers turn from yellow to orange-red and they are crunchy, firm and sweet.

Hot peppers are usually called chilies. Anaheim is a long, green chili that is mildly hot. Ancho-Poblano has heart-shaped fruits that are called Poblanos when used green and stuffed to make chili rellenos; and called Anchos when dried and ground into chili powder. Pasilla, the popular Chili negro, is mildly hot and slightly sweet and is used in many Mexican dishes, including “mole” sauce.

Hot and spicy Jalapeños and flavorful Serranos used to be considered the “hot” peppers. Along with Hungarian Wax, which has spicy, fairly hot banana shaped fruits that are perfect for pickling, and Fresno, small fruits with fiery flavor, they run in the mid-range of the heat scale.

Slightly hotter are Tabasco, bred for the famous extra-hot Tabasco sauce, with fruits that ripen from yellow-green to red, and Cayenne, which has long, slender, slightly wrinkled fruit that is excellent for chili and homemade salsa.

But for the really hot peppers there are Habaneros, “the hottest chili in the world,” and Thai Hot Dragon, “eight times hotter than Jalapeño,” Jamaica Scotch Bonnet, “smoky and fiery hot,” and Caribbean Red, said to be hotter than all the rest.

Peppers like warm weather and can be damaged more easily by cold weather than tomatoes. Use hot caps or “Walls-O-Water” to get them started early. They like soil rich in organic matter and adequate moisture through the summer. Plant peppers in full sun, about 18 inches apart. Place some bone meal in the planting hole to help prevent blossom-end rot. Mulch to keep down weeds and keep in soil moisture. Some gardeners mulch the plants with black plastic to warm the soil as much as possible, which can increase yields.

Enjoy some new taste sensations with flavorful peppers this summer.

Seed Starting Time

Monday, April 12th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • New rose bushes may have been damaged by the cold weather this week. Prune back dead shoots and new growth will come out to replace it soon.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now. Start your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce spinach and chard. It pays to grow your own!
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, should be planted right away. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

Growing from Seeds

When spring arrives, it’s time to plant some seeds. There’s something very rewarding about following the whole life cycle of your plants from start to finish, and trying different varieties from the usual ones you can find at the nursery.

Seed racks at local nurseries, are full of new types of flowers, vegetables and herbs. For a very small investment, you can grow a whole garden of different varieties.

The essential elements for growing from seed are bright light, bottom heat and moisture. Many seeds will germinate without light, but they must be moved into bright light as soon as they are up. Bottom heat is not essential, but it speeds up the process. Moisture is important, especially for seeds which are germinated on top of the soil. A plastic dome over the flat, or strips of plastic wrap will keep the moisture content just right.

There are two ways to plant the seeds, depending on whether you want to transplant the tiny seedlings or not. You can plant 10 or 15 seeds in a single cell of a cell-pak and then transplant each plant into its own pot in about two weeks. Or you can put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell and remove all but the strongest one after they germinate. It may depend on how large your germinating area is.

Plants can be grown on the windowsill, but you will get stockier, stronger plants if you use fluorescent lights suspended about 4 inches above the pots. They can be left on 24 hours a day or at least 12 hours a day.

Most perennials do best when planted on top of the soil. Sprinkle them over the moistened seeding mix, spray with water, then cover with plastic wrap. Place under the lights and most seeds will germinate in 5-10 days. In about two weeks, you can remove the plastic wrap then water as needed. Growing plants need good ventilation. If necessary, set up a small fan to keep the air moving.

It is important that your pots and propagation area are clean and sterile. Soak pots briefly in a 10% solution of clorox and water before filling them with bagged seeding mix. Clean pots and moving air will usually prevent “damping off”, a disease that causes young plants to keel over.

When should you start your seeds? Tomatoes and peppers should be started right away, along with sunflowers and marigolds. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and basil can wait until mid-April or May along with zinnias.

The last thing to remember is not to plant them outside without hardening them off first. It’s best to get them acclimated to it gradually. Some people take them out a little longer every day, starting with an hour the first day. Or you can put them out in a cold frame for a few weeks, lifting the plastic for a few hours a day.

If this is your first try at seed starting, it might be better to start small. Remember, there is always next year when it comes to gardening!

Harvest Time!

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Cool season vegetables should be planted right away to insure good crops this fall.
    • Mums are the beauties of the fall garden. Choose plants now in a wide variety of colors.
    • Divide Oriental poppies and bearded iris now. Add some bone meal in the bottom of the hole when you replant them.
    • Wisteria trees need to be trimmed throughout the summer. Keep long tendrils trimmed back to maintain the shape of the tree.
    • Plant beets now for fall harvest. They will have a deeper red color than beets planted for spring harvest, and tend to have higher sugar levels too.

Bring in the Harvest!

The long hot days this summer have made the garden grow like crazy and now the harvest is coming in. The tomatoes are starting to ripen, summer squash is plentiful and beans and corn are coming on fast.

It’s time to harvest the garden to keep production going strong. The more you harvest, the more you grow. Harvest vegetables in the morning when they’re crisp and cool.

Squash tastes best when harvested young. Pick zucchini when it is eight inches long, and pick crookneck squash when only six inches long. Immature winter squash lacks flavor, so wait until the rind is hard. Harvest winter squash with two inches of stem remaining. A stem cut too short is like an open wound, and will cause early decay.

Cantaloupes are starting to get ripe. To make melons sweeter, hold off watering a week before you expect to harvest the ripe fruit, when it starts to turn color. A cantaloupe is fully ripe when it pulls off the stem easily.

With other melons, check for a strong, pleasant aroma at the blossom (not stem) end to indicate ripeness. A watermelon is probably ripe if it makes a dull “thunk” when thumped, and when its underside has turned from white to pale yellow.

Pick most kinds of tomatoes when their color is even and glossy and the texture still slightly firm. Some varieties, primarily large heirloom types, ripen before they reach full color. Pick them when they are mostly colored up and bring them inside to finish ripening.

Let sweet peppers reach their final ripe color of red, yellow or orange, for maximum sweetness and flavor. Hot peppers are nutritious at all stages. Sample them at different points to see what you like best.

Lettuce is a fast crop and it’s important to harvest heads before they “bolt” and go to flower. Harvest butterhead lettuce when a loose head is formed; crisphead lettuce when heads are firm; and looseleaf lettuce and romaine any time when the plants are large enough to use. You can pull off leaves of leaf lettuce or harvest the whole head.

Cabbage also must be picked before it bolts. Test the head for firmness, then cut it off. If you have mature heads that you’re not ready to harvest, hold off water or twist the plant to break some of the roots. This should keep them from bolting.

Pick green beans when they are at least three inches long but before they begin to get tough and stringy. Harvest pole beans faithfully every other day and the plants will yield right up to frost.

Corn is ready when the silks turn brown. Check an ear or two by pulling back the husk and testing a kernel with your fingernail. It is squirts a milky-white juice, it’s ripe.

Home gardeners have the advantage of being able to pick their vegetables just as they reach their prime. Knowing when vegetables are perfect for picking is a skill that you will gain with experience. For the best flavor and quality, prepare them for eating or freezing as soon as possible after harvest.