Fish Pepper

Another couple weeks and I can start germinating tomatoes and chili peppers inside the house.  We live in the northeastern part of the US, roughly USDA Zone 6, so we have around 6 months or less of warm weather to grow our vegetables.  If we don’t start the seedlings in the house around the end of March there will not be enough time for them to bare fruit and ripen.  Starting to germinate them earlier than this, the seedlings will be too lanky when it’s time to put them in the ground around May.

Growing up eating spicy food, chili pepper is a staple in our kitchen.  The love of spicy food extends to the love for a variety of peppers. I experiment with one or two new peppers every season.  If I like them, I keep the seeds to grow the next season.  If I don’t like them, it’s ‘one and done.’  As of now I’ve grown at least 13 different types of pepper.  They range from extremely spicy like Bhut Jolokia to sweet pepper like baby bell pepper.

Mature chili peppers from last season. A mix of Bhut Jolokia, Lemon drop, Sikkim, Bhutan, Yellow torch, Long Thai pepper, Black Jalapeño, Purira, Buena Mulata (grew the Buena Mulata for the first time last year)
Tiny Thai chili pepper a.k.a Bird eye, a.k.a. Mouse drop. This chili is our kitchen staple. I can use it in many dishes: stir-fry, salad, condiment, hot sauce, dried and ground to a powder. It’s only .5 to .75 inches long but don’t let its size fool you. It packs a punch.
Wild Brazil is another staple in our kitchen. Another tiny chili with a lot of heat, plus citrusy scent. It never gets bigger than .5 inch. These I use in anything I want to have a spicy and lemony scent. Also great for making hot sauce and chili powder.

One of the peppers I fell in love with is Fish pepper.  I grew it for the first time  two years ago. I first learned about the Fish pepper in a free local magazine, either Edible Manhattan or Edible Queens, not sure exactly which one.  I picked the magazine up at the farmer’s market, read the article about Fish Pepper which prompted my search for the seeds.  I was lucky to find organic seedlings at one of the farmer’s stands.  I was warned not to grow them next to other peppers because the next generation may not look and taste like the parents.

Fish pepper with beautiful variegated leaves
Peppers are also variegated. The young ones are a pale yellow with green stripes
Mature fruit will turn red but will still have faintly faded stripes

I think after seeing these images, most of you can see why I fell in love with them. The beautiful variegated leaves and fruit worth being used as an ornamental plant. But it happens to work great with all types of seafood, hence the name. And, we love seafood. The information I found about this pepper claimed that it originated in the Caribbean and was brought to the US in the 19th century. It has a medium heat so one pepper is enough for a small seafood pot.

I’ll grow it again this year from the seeds I collected last season. The new generation should look like their parents above. I grow them in pots and move them far from the vegetable garden. I did the same with the first generation and it seemed to work. I don’t need a Fish pepper that tastes like Ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia).

Early Crocuses

Spring is just around the corner. This year it seems like winter and spring have been taking turns in our neighborhood weekly. The temperature has gone from below freezing to close to 50F and back down again every week. Our tulips have started to push themselves above ground. I wish they wouldn’t do that. There is at least a month and a half of winter weather left and if Mother Nature remains angry at us, it may snow in April.

As unpredictable as the weather has been, there are spring flowers that wouldn’t mind a little cold and some snow on the ground. The Snowdrop is one. I have only a clump of them in the garden since they don’t have a great variety of colors, just white and green. The other is crocus. They come in many shades and colors. It’s a lovely site to see when growing en-mass in a variety of colors.

Mixed Crocuses on the lawn in early spring

To get a natural effect, I purchased around 200 mixed crocus bulbs and cast them on the lawn. Then I planted them wherever they landed. The second year, I added the expensive and larger flower types and over 100 more mixed bulbs. Too many? No. The first 200 I put in, maybe only half were able to evade squirrels and chipmunks. We could see a lot of pockmarks on the lawn from them digging up the bulbs. Even when the bulbs have already sprout little leaves and flowers, they still dug them up eating the bulb on the bottom. I made a mental note of any empty patches in spring so I can cast more bulbs in autumn.

What the critters missed provides a beautiful effect on our empty, brown lawn in early spring. They also provide an early food source for pollinators. Then they just disappear as the grass takes over.

Here are some colors you can find on the market:

Yellow with white under petal
Dark yellow with brown stripes
Dark purple
Purple with white trim
Lavender
White
White with purple stem
Lavender with purple stripes

They are easy to grow and each bulb will become a larger clump in just a few years, provided they are not eaten. They need no extra attention, we feed them at the same time we feed our lawn. We also leave our grass clippings on the lawn as mulch for crocus and grass.

To extend a growing season and add some color in autumn when most of the flowers are fading, plant fall crocus. This type will come up and flower in autumn for you and the pollinators to enjoy.

Hellebores

It’s still very cold here and I cannot do much in the garden aside from filling bird feeders and changing water in the birdbaths. But there are a lot of activities with regard to gardening in the house. The plant catalogs are piling up as well as weekly if not daily email from companies I have ordered from in the past. New issues of garden magazines provide suggestions for new plants on the market. Winter is a time for compiling information and planning for the coming season. I don’t mind spending money on the garden although reckless spending was never my habit, so I spend the winter down-time outside immersed in:

  • Price comparison on plants that I want to add in spring.
  • Research on plants suite for area need to be redone: dry and sunny, moist shade, dry shade, boggy, sandy area…
  • Research on plant habit and propagation: height, width, bloom time, pollinators-friendly, self-sown, invasive, pruning time…
  • New vegetables in the market and what they are good for.
  • New diseases and insects to look out for in the area

These are just some of the winter chores I do. I find myself looking for late winter-early spring flowering plants more often around this time. Maybe it’s just a longing to see colors back in the garden.

One of the late winter-early spring flowers I fell in love with are Hellebores. Their leaves are almost evergreen and they even bloom before the daffodils. It very effectively self-sows yet never becomes invasive, so I keep looking to add new colors to our garden every year. One plant per color and patience to let it grow is enough. Within a couple of years this one plant will become a patch or a colony if I let it set seeds.

After a couple of years, one plant will expand into a patch with plenty of flowers
The darker color ones grow much faster and produce a lot of seedlings
Individual flower in the colony above

I don’t remember the names of the earlier Hellebores I planted. I forgot to note the names down and there are so many colors and patterns out there that I can’t really use mere descriptions to identify mine. With the new batch, I keep name tags and note on color and location down. Below are some of them, forgive me for the unidentifiable ones. I’m open to any suggestions for identifying the unnamed flowers.

White with purplish freckles
Yellow & Pinkish
Pure white with greenish base
‘Painted Double’
White with green base & maroon pattern
Maroon & green
Double pink
‘Winter jewel-Golden Sunrise’

I love them in part because there are so many colorful choices of Hellebores to select from and they also come in single and double layers petals. They are winter hardy, no fuss for drought either. They can be grown in semi-shade. Since they are a low grower, I grow them under the trees, by a rose trellis and along a shady path. They are not invasive. They produce seedlings but the seedlings may not be true to the parents especially when I grow a variety of them close to one another. That’s the fun part of it; I’ll never know what the flowers from any seedling will look like until it blossoms. Pollinators love them; they are a good food source for early spring when other flowers have yet to blossom. If you want to reproduce the ‘exact’ color as the original plant was, you can do it only by division. Dig the plant you want to propagate up and separate an individual from the clump, then replant it.

Last year, I added ‘Onyx Odyssey’ to the garden. As the name suggests, the flower is black. I can hardly wait to see it bloom. I’ll keep you posted.

Winter Birds

The weather forecast for a foot of snow last Sunday didn’t become reality however the temperature has dropped down to 0 Fahrenheit plus windchill factor of -20 Fahrenheit. Icy rain water from Sunday turned into solid ice on all surfaces. Our driveway, from which we cleared wet snow & slush off and salted, still became skating rink. Wherever I look there is either frozen snow or ice. Conditions like this are difficult for non-migrating birds.

We have a symbiotic relationship with the birds in our garden. Aside from serenading us with their beautiful songs, they help rid us of insects during growing season. We in turn provide food, water and shelter for them in winter. We left brush piles and bird boxes up for them to take refuge in. Weather conditions like this weekend are crucial for us in expressing our gratitude so there will be more of them visiting our garden next year.

We leave bird boxes up in winter for the birds to roost. We take them down in early spring, clean and refurbish, if needed, then put them back up for new sets of bird to nest and raise their young.

Food, water and shelter are three necessary things for non-migrating birds in winter. Most birds can easily find shelter on their own but having a shelter close to their food source makes life easier especially when it’s frigid outside. But when there is deep snow or ice sheets covering everything, it doesn’t matter how luxurious a shelter is. If there’s no food, birds will move on. They also learn where reliable food sources are and tend to stay close by.

We leave one weight sensitive feeder in the garden but both feeding ports of this bird feeder were frozen shut this weekend

We feed them more in winter: two double suet feeders, one tray feeder (only when we are home to monitor it), and two hanging feeders. We fill them with mixed of shelled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, peanuts, chipped-sunflower seeds, chipped-peanut, and dried-berries. We reduce to one feeder and one suet in late spring when there is plenty of fresh food around.

Heated birdbaths are very crucial and a magnet for winter birds. We place seven birdbaths in the garden during warm weather which are emptied and clean every five days. This is the best way to prevent mosquito larvae to reach maturity. We leave only two heated ones out in winter. Both of them are in the close proximity of the house so we can clean them regularly. Mosquitos still lay eggs in winter, providing warm water. Yes, to my surprise too, I found mosquito larvae in our heated birdbath in winter.

A Titmouse enjoy warm water amidst snow and ice ..Nice hairdo
American Goldfinch waiting for his turn at the feeder
Black-capped Chickadee puffed up against the wind

As our relationship goes, we learn to read each others sign language. When the feeder is empty or they have difficulty getting seeds out of it, we will see birds line up on the pool fence facing the house. It’s as though they’re saying ‘What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know the feeder’s empty?’ When we fill the feeder, they will perch close by, watching us doing our job, and come down as soon as we close the lid.

Now is when we care for them, and they never fail to reciprocate when growing season begins.

Winter: Planning Time

Winter is a great time to sit back and enjoy the emptiness in the garden. Our garden is not quite empty since I left a lot of seed heads intact for the birds and insects. Some brush piles for them to take refuge in from the cold, situate here and there. Still, it’s much emptier than during the growing season.

Winter is also a time for planning the next phase of the garden. Plant catalogs start to pack our mailbox. I’ve been mindful of what I select for the garden, one or two new plants a year and they have to be multipurpose. Aside from looking good in the garden, it has to be a food source for birds or insects. Native to northeastern part of the U.S. is a plus. Otherwise it has to grow vertically like all the climbers and ramblers.

Those who have limited space like us would understand that last reason for choosing plants that grow upward rather than outward. This is the reason we added clematis to our garden. Clematis can grow on a trellis, mailbox or entwine on shrubs or roses. We have planted five different clematis so far but I would recommend only three of them.

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ on a trellis with ‘Sundrop’ to the left

Betty Corning‘ produce hundreds of small lavender flowers with a slight scent. The flowers look like small bells swaying in the wind. Bumblebees love them. This clematis seems to bloom forever once it starts to bloom. Ours bloom from late May to September. I cut it down to a foot and a half in late winter and feed it. Throughout the growing season, I keep cutting the spent flowers off so it will continue to produce new flowers.

‘Ville de Lyon’ produces plenty of deep red flowers

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon‘ is another clematis with a long blooming time. Though it’s less dense than ‘Betty Corning’, it has bigger flowers which can make a trellis disappear underneath. The bright red petals get even redder in the rain. I cut the dead stems off in early spring (when I see no new buds sprouting from that stem). I also cut the unruly, overgrown stems off as well.

‘Crystal Fountain’ produces a very big flower with lighter color fringes in the middle

We have ‘Crystal Fountain‘ clematis growing up a trellis and entwined with ‘Himalayan Musk’ rose. It makes a really good statement with very large flowers, plenty of them.

I plan to add one more clematis in the garden this spring, maybe another yellow or white. I want to add more colors to the garden without taking up too much space and clematis seems to be a perfect choice.

New Year, New Dawn

Happy New Year 2019 everyone

As I have been doing since my childhood, on the first day of the year: I wake up early to watch the first sunrise. And, for the past few years, on the morning of January 1st, I also capture an image of the sunrise. No matter how pretty or moody the sky is, it’s worth getting up early to watch the new dawn and breathe the morning air. It was a little bit cloudy this morning since it rained through the night. The sky was a little moody but the morning’s gold was there, pushing through the clouds.

Golden ray peeking through the dark clouds at 7:23 am

It wasn’t a cheerful morning but the sun finally came out in the afternoon. A strong wind chased out the clouds and kept me inside most of the day. But it’s a good start for the New Year as I was able to get a lot of things done including this blog.

To balance out the moody image of the first morning on top, I present to you ‘New Dawn’, our climbing rose.

‘New Dawn’ rose last summer
Up close

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year. May you succeed in what you do no matter big or small. May you have a satisfied year ahead and may all your dreams come true.

Thank you very much for reading.


Monarch

Raising More Monarchs This Year:

As much as I want to complain about the heat and heavy rain, the garden seems to enjoy it.  The lawn that I haven’t invaded with extended garden yet is lush green.  Vegetables and flowers are growing profusely.  Except for tomatoes, the heirloom types don’t do well at all.  And insects, they follow their food in.

We are happy to see more Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year.  They are not just visiting the flowers, they also mating, laying eggs and producing a new generation in our garden.

Monarch
A male Monarch on Garden Phlox

Monarch
This one taking nectar from Zinnia

Monarch
This female really loves Lantana. She traveled from flower to flower for almost 30 minutes

And then……

Monarch
Mating

I keep checking underneath Milkweed leaves for their eggs and caterpillars.  I found some eggs but it’s hard to look for caterpillars especially when they are small.  They are very good at hiding.  But, I did find some….

Monarch-caterpillar
Probably hatched a day or two ago, with a hole on the leaf that he chewed off

Monarch-caterpillar
A full grown Monarch caterpillar. It’s as beautiful as it’s metamorphosed version

Seeing them in all stages in our garden makes us happy to be contributing to slowing down their possible extinction.  Hopefully they can make it safely back to Mexico for their winter hibernation.

 

 

Hibiscus

The Color Of Summer

Staying away from social media for almost two months proved very productive.  I don’t mean to offend anyone who has been reading my blog or bloggers I’ve been following but I needed time to reflect, get things done and read books.  I did get a lot of things done, have read more books and even started baking again.  Now I’m back, refreshed.

Summer is really here with extremely high temperatures and humidity.  Aside from sunflowers and echinacea, another flower that represents summer really well is hibiscus.  I have two hardy hibiscus in the garden, ‘Plum crazy’ (plum color as it’s name suggests) and ‘Midnight Marvel’ (deep red flower with maroon leaves).  Their flowers are almost the size of a dinner plate.  I put them in the ground in a sunny spot and left them there.  I cut the dead old stems back to two inches above ground in spring, feed them and let them be.  They have come back up every year when the heat hits the area.

Hibiscus-Plum Crazy
‘Plum Crazy’ with plum color and very large flowers. This one has been at this spot for more than five years.

Hibiscus-Midnight Marvel
‘Midnight Marvel’ with eye-catching flowers and leaves

The tropical ones need a little bit more pampering as they have to stay in pots and go back in the basement in winter.  They need to be watered and fed regularly.  They also need plenty of sunlight.  With food, water and plenty of light they will flower continuously throughout summer.  I prune them once a year in spring so they won’t grow too big.  Flowers that develop before I take them to the basement still bloom but they rarely produce new flowers until they come back outside again.  Spider mites and whiteflies are the main pest when they are inside the house.  I spray them with insecticide soap to keep the critters under control inside.

Hibiscus 'Bon Temps'
I have been growing ‘Bon Temps’ in a pot for three years. It’s still doing well and flowering all summer.

I purchased the ‘Voodoo Queen’ last year because I wanted to see if the color really changes as the nursery claimed, though I hardly have space left for more plants in the basement.  She didn’t disappoint me.  Here are two shots of the same flower on the same day.

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-morning
Hibiscus ‘Voodoo Queen’ in the morning

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-evening
Her color changed to this color in the evening. Looks more like a Queen than a Voodoo Queen

With a few hibiscus on the pool deck and in the garden and 90 degree heat and high humidity, I feel like I’m in the tropics.  A little cool breeze would make it seem even closer to that reality.

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