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).

Spring Vegetables

A Good Head Start

We installed a cold frame in our vegetable garden in order to have some fresh vegetables in winter.  We did get some cold loving vegetables like Chinese Broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, carrots and mustard greens.   Several times the vegetables inside wilted from the cold when we couldn’t get access.  In the middle of winter when snow piled two feet up the frame, we couldn’t get the door open without a lot of digging.  But it still gave us a good head start for spring vegetables and we get to have fresh vegetables early in the season despite the seesaw weather.

The seeds I sow in November like spinach, Bok choi and mustard greens, sprouted early and became our first salad crops.

Inside our cold frame, the taller spinach are the one I sow in November last year

Then I sow more cool weather vegetables like Mizuna, Shungiku (Tang Oh), Chinese broccoli, Corn salad, arugula and more of spinach and mustard greens in March when I got access to the inside. These will become our second crop.

I sow this patch of Mizuna in March. It ‘s great for salad and soup

Mustard greens from seed in winter grow among arugula

I usually thin the Bok choi so they will have room to grow bigger. I use the ones I pull out in salad

Shungiku or Tang Oh or Edible Chrysanthemum love the cooler temperatures. I prefer them in soups

Since the cold frame has no ventilation, early spring is when we have to be careful.  We need to leave the door open on hot days otherwise the vegetables in there will be cooked.  I devote this patch under the cold frame for growing leafy vegetables because it provides shade during the summer months.  Once the plastic is cover removed, I grow Bitter melon and beans and let them climb up the frame as they provide shade for the vegetables below.

With a couple days of heavy rain other vegetables in the garden double their size.  Asparagus shot up a few inches a day with rain.  We were supposed to cut them when they reached six inches high but…

We didn’t have time to cut the asparagus when they should have, but they still were delicious

Siberian garlic

After it was fed and with plenty of rain, our garlic, both Siberian and Rocambol garlic, got much bigger very fast.  We had a good garlic crop last year and still have some left in the basement.  So far this year should be good too.

 

 

The Growing Season Begins

Started Seedlings

We’ve been bombarded with snow storms every week for the last three weeks and still have plenty of snow on the ground as a result.  The temperature dropped back to winter levels again after a warm stretch in February.  But it’s time to start germinating seeds for a new season, especially those that need more time to grow, bear fruit and ripen.  I started our tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings last week.  The tomatoes have already sprouted up.  Chili peppers will need a little bit more time to sprout.

I started these tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings on March 13 and all the tomatoes sprouted by March 17. I forgot to keep ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Rose’ tomatoes seeds last year so I used the ones left over from 2015 and they still sprouted at the same time as the new seeds.  Peppers and Eggplants still take their time.

True Black Brandywine- ‘is extra large in size and full of deep, earthy and sweet flavor’; Dark Galaxy- ‘The taste is a perfect balance of tangy-sweetness-so juicy and refreshing! Each fruit is a unique work of art..’

Aside from the usual tomatoes we have been growing, Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Mortgage lifter, Nova, Indigo cherry drop…among them, this year we will try two new varieties.  I ordered True Black Brandywine and Dark Galaxy tomato seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, one of my favorite plant and seed companies.  I have never been dissatisfied with their seeds.

Aside from it is highly ornamental, ‘it’s high-test heat is counterbalanced with complex flavors’

This year we also picked a new variety of pepper to try, also from the same supplier, ‘Buena Mulata’ peppers. The description is impressive and hopefully we like it enough to keep it on our long list of chili peppers we grow.

I also started varieties of kale and Swiss chard this week.  By the time the last frost date comes, hopefully in mid April, they all should be ready to settle in to the garden. We agreed that the ‘Dazzling Blue’ kale we tried last year is worth growing again.  If you like ‘Toscano’ or ‘Nero Di Toscana’, you will probably like this kale.  It has similar leaves but with purplish/pink midribs and I find it’s a little sweeter.

These Dazzling Blue kale are from last season, beautiful to look at and tastes delicious too.

We grow organic and love to try new kinds of vegetables so we’re a little choosy about where we get our seeds.  Below is a short list of reliable companies we use for our vegetable seeds and plants:

I hope you find something you like from these companies to add to your garden.  I derive no benefit or profit from suggesting them, just my experience from patronizing them over the years.

Happy planting!

Maximizing Space

Growing Vertically

We devote only a small part of our backyard for vegetable gardening and I’m always looking for a way to add more plants and increase productivity in the existing space.  Though we have put a deer fence up around our backyard, we still have to put a low fence around the vegetable garden.  If we don’t, there would be nothing left.  Deer cannot get in our back yard but rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels and chipmunks are still able to sneak in and enjoy what we grow.  So we are limited to growing vegetables within this little fenced in area, therefore I try to make every inch work to its maximum productivity.

Looking back at the last season, I note what worked and integrate it into the coming season along with whatever adaptation increases efficiency.  The method described below can be used for any plants that grow vertically, not just vegetables.

Aside from incorporating different plants in any one plot, I also grow vertically.  While most gardeners grow beans on a cone shaped ‘teepee’ I believe, I put up a trellis for beans that’s over the path, high enough to walk under, and grow beans on each side.  Last season, I put one up by the vegetable garden entrance.  It worked well and when the beans were fully grown and had developed pods, it looked beautiful and provided easy access for picking the beans too.  The trellis can be moved to any part of the garden easily when needed or I can grow different vegetables on it.

The bean trellis early last July. You can see the netted frame structure behind it.

Toward the end of July, beans have grown to cover the trellis with plenty of pods. It’s easy to walk under when picking beans.

I’m not sure what type of beans these are but their ancestry is Italian. My neighbor brought the seeds back years ago and we have been growing them ever since. They are delicious as young pods as well as dried beans later.

Once the weather was warm enough to remove the plastic from the cold frame, I put up a net in its place, see the first photo, to filter and soften the sunlight.  It reduces the light by about 50%.  Leafy vegetables like lettuce, Mitzuna, and Pac Choi prefer a little shade.   In the middle of summer, when the temperature is high and the sunlight is strong, these leafy vegetable will bolt easily and the lettuce will turn bitter.  With shade over them, they can take their time to grow, their leaves are crisp and sweet and the soil will dry more slowly.  I grow Bitter melon on the side of the frame structure and let them entwine themselves up the frame.  I gradually roll back the filtering net as the melon plant grows allowing it to take over shading the vegetables below.

Bittermelon growing up the frame (see first photo) and completely covering the top of the structure, providing shade for the leafy vegetables below.

The melon fruit hangs down making them easy to pick

Early in the season when the structure still cover with a filtering net. Vegetable that do well in semi-shade here are-Left front to back- Wasabi Arugula, Chinese broccoli, two types of lettuce. Right front to back- Mizuna, three types of Mustard greens

Later on when the melon plants cover the structure, I put in more lettuce like ‘Spotted Trout’ and ‘Truchas’

One down side of having the vegetables grow up the frame is that I have to cut them all down when the temperature threatens to drop close to freezing.  I need to put the plastic back on and turn it back into a cold frame again.  Most gardeners leave the plastic on but open the ends of the structure to let the air flow through in summer.  I could have done the same but I would lose growing space on the top of the structure.  I would also have to put a smaller frame over one of the 3’X18′ plots and cover it with a sunlight filtering net to grow these vegetable in the heat of summer.  I prefer to kill two birds with one stone: shade the vegetables and have extra growing space.

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