Five Fiery Fall Favorites for Pepper Perfection

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Heirloom ‘Matchbox’ Peppers Grown from Hudson Valley Seed Library Seeds

It’s almost the end of October, so that must mean I finally have peppers! And this year has been extremely satisfying in the pepper department. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t actually know how to measure a “peck of peppers” but I am willing to bet I have a least one.

Along with the several sweet peppers that were kind enough to perennial-ize themselves from last year, and our usual ‘Ancho-Poblano’ and ‘Spanish Spice’ varieties, this year we added several new additions to the pepper patch. This ‘Matchbox’ pepper was started from Hudson Valley Seed Library seed on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t notice fruit setting until seven months later in September. Today, October 23rd, the first pepper is finally ripe. I was so happy to see it that only its Scoville Unit rating of over 30,000 saved me from popping it straight into my mouth. It may not be a Habanero, but I’ll still be wearing gloves when I pick and cook with these little beauties.

Ethiopian Brown Berbere Pepper

I’m also looking forward to the ‘Ethiopian Brown Berbere’ peppers. I plan to start drying them in the next few days to make the Ethiopian spice paste called “Berbere” for a nut and seed mix recipe that I like. These peppers are a beautiful chocolaty brown, though I have heard their final ripened coloring is a brighter red. Since the plant has been prolific, I plan to harvest some of the peppers brown and dry them now, then if the rest ripen to red, I will dry those and we’ll be able to compare the flavor. I expect these peppers to be pretty hot, in the 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Unit range.

These Berbere peppers are also said to have a rich, smokey flavor that’s good for making chili powder as well as rubs and BBQ sauces. I may have to fight my husband for them to get enough for the nut mix.

‘Red Cherry Bomb’ Pepper

One pepper we will certainly have plenty of is the ‘Red Cherry Bomb.’ This was the first of our hot peppers to produce fruit and here in late October it is still covered in deliciously bite-size bright red peppers. It’s on the milder side, good for fresh salsa, diced on pizza, or tossed into omelettes to get you going for the day.

This variety is definitely a keeper–maybe. It was sold to me as an open-pollinated heirloom. But I have seen other posts around the garden blogs saying that it does not grow true-to-type. If you have more information on this pepper, please share in the Comments!

‘Manzano Orange’ Pepper

Another mystery for us this year is the ‘Manzano Orange’ Pepper. Still no fruit set, but look carefully. I am pretty sure we’re about to see what it will make.

This pepper is intended as a perennial. Trade Winds Fruit calls this pepper, “a rocoto tree pepper relative” and says it, “is noted for its cold hardiness, as it naturally grows on Andean mountain slopes, this pepper will survive several degrees below freezing. Plants grow to 2-6ft, can live for many years.” At the end of next month I plan to surround the roots with a layer of compost and then mulch heavily with rice straw and hope for the best. It’s very unusual for us to have freezing temperatures but anything can happen with the weather these days!

Heirloom ‘Fish’ Pepper Plant
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No post on our favorite peppers would be complete without the African-American heirloom ‘Fish’ pepper. Great for seafood and gumbo, I also dry the light-colored peppers to make “white” pepper for added heat in cream dishes where I don’t want the red coloring that usually accompanies this spiciness. (Think Chicken a la King, for instance.) The red and mixed-color peppers that aren’t eaten fresh are dried for pepper flakes and get added to everything from pasta sauce to bacon frittata.

Color Variation in ‘Fish’ Pepper Fruits

The colorful variety on this plant is also a fun surprise in the garden. I have gotten ‘Fish’ peppers in green, yellow, white, red and even some with stripes. And the plant itself has beautiful two-toned leaves with bold white splashes across whole sections of the plant.

How did your peppers do this year? If you have a favorite, please share it with us in the Comments.

Hot Weekend with Hot Peppers

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I had to transplant the new hot peppers into their bed in the fading evening light because of the unseasonably hot weekend, but they don’t seem to have minded. There are six of them spread out across a 3′ x 4′ bed with a few Nasturtiums. I edged the planting bed in with a dozen ‘Chandler’ strawberries because my daughter can’t seem to get enough of them and they won’t mind a little shade from the growing peppers when things heat up for real. But I’m afraid to look at any of my companion planting books now that I’ve mixed strawberries and peppers.

The peppers for this bed include a ‘Manzano Orange’ which has soft, fuzzy leaves that look more like an eggplant’s. The Manzano pepper is one of the few chilies that are not in the Capsicum annuum species. Instead, it’s a Capsicum pubescens from the Andes. Maybe that’s where the fuzzy leaves come in. Wilipedia says pubescens means hairy. The thick-walled peppers are supposed to look like small apples and make nice hot salsa.

I’m hoping to over-winter the ‘Manzano Orange,’ though it’s going to need to be replanted somewhere with a lot more space because Wikipedia also says, “They grow into four-meter woody plants relatively quickly, and live up to 15 years, which gives them, especially with age, an almost tree-like appearance.” Sounds wonderful! This winter I was able to keep two sweet pepper plants going on in pots on the semi-protected patio. They are each several feet tall and leafing out fully with lots of flower buds right now. I’m very interested to see if, and how, they produce this year. I think they are a ‘King of the North’ and a ‘Corno di Toro.’

My Hot Pepper Have to Have list has been trimmed, due to my uncanny ability to kill pepper seedlings. I can grow asparagus from seed. I can grow potatoes from true seed for God’s sake! But I cannot seem to manage to keep pepper seedlings alive long enough to make it into the garden. Out of the dozens of pepper seeds I have started this year, only one ‘Fish’, one ‘Matchbox’ and one ‘Joe’s Long’ have survived. They are heading out into the garden along with the purchased starts of ‘Pasilla,’ ‘Red Cherry Bomb,’ ‘Ancho Poblano,’ ‘Ethiopian Brown Berbere,’ ‘Pimento Super’ and the ‘Manzano Orange.’

Suddenly that seems like it might be a whole lot of peppers. What’s your favorite way to use peppers? Fresh, dried, pickled or something else I haven’t thought of? Please share!

Beaning In the New Year

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Home grown dried beansIt’s done! In honor of the New Year I have finally shelled, frozen, sorted and stored all the beans from the 2011 growing season. Well, all the ones we didn’t eat, that is. We’ve already made chili with 2 cups of the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ beans and had baked beans out of another cup of the ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ beans.

We grew a mix of pole and bush drying beans, runner beans and garbanzo beans. What you see here is ‘White Emergo’ at twelve o’clock, with cut-short greasy beans to their right. The top right corner are ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ pole black beans and below them are the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans we like so much. The big pile in the center is ‘Yellow Indian Woman’ bush beans. I want to try them in this soup recipe. The black beans on the left are ‘Black Coco’ bush beans from Bountiful Gardens. I wanted to try them because Carol Deppe talks about them in the Resilient Gardener. I’m planning to eat half of them and save the other half for seed, unless we don’t like them that is.

I also managed to save a few of lots of other kinds of beans, though it took me a while to sort them all. I’ve been trying to see which types would do best in our climate–whatever that is these days! The ‘Cannelini’ did well, though I’ll have to plant a lot more of them to have enough for dinner. This year I didn’t have much luck with ‘California’ black-eyed peas, ‘Hutterite’ soup beans, or the ‘Borlotti’ beans I wanted for a family recipe.

Here they are matched up with the rest of the harvest. Let me know if you have a favorite drying beans that grows well for you.

Dried Bean Varieties

New Year in Potatoes

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Now that the onions and fava beans are planted, I’ve started in on the potatoes. I know it’s not even January yet, but our average January temps are 42˚ F at night and 58˚ F during the day, so potato growing isn’t totally out of the question. I’m growing in containers, mostly grow bags, on the patio against a south-facing wall and I’m going to track the soil temperature, if I can find a gentle way to get the thermometer down there without spearing the developing potatoes.

Potatoes in grow bagsI planted two large blue grow bags with ‘Atlantic’ potatoes. One bag got planting mix and compost, the other bag got acid mix and compost. I want to compare the two plants and their production because I suspect the soil mix I used last year may have been more alkaline than potatoes like. I did a similar test with the smaller black grow bags of ‘Yukon Gold’ set behind the ‘Atlantic’ bags. I’m also testing some red-skinned potatoes in the green grow bags the same way. I’ll do my best to water and feed them all consistently.

I also started an unidentified blue that I believe is leftover from the ‘All Blue’ planting several years ago in the front garden. There’s a bag of ‘Red Thumb’ fingerlings because they were sprouting so nicely I couldn’t leave them out. And a ‘Desiree’ seed potato in the large green container in the back.

Conatiner grown winter potatoesThe first group of patio container potatoes were started October 30th, so they have been out there  nine weeks already. The potatoes in the green grow bag that are already leafing out nicely are ‘Amey Russet’ potatoes grown from potatoes I saved in 2011. This variety originally came from Tom Wagner at New World Seeds and Tubers. The leggy variety in the purple-ish container may be ‘Caribe’, though I won’t be really sure until we harvest them. The label must have slipped down into the container when I was adding soil mix. The black gallon container is growing an earlier planting of the mystery blues. I used the restrictive container because I am hoping to get lots of small potatoes for planting in the spring.

This is my third year growing potatoes through the winter. I chose a sheltered location this winter because last year the harvest was very small and there was considerable frost damage. But in 2010 we had a wonderful harvest in March from winter-grown potatoes.

Have you ever grown potatoes through the winter? Please share how you did it and which varieties worked well for you in the comments.

Five New Onions for the Holidays

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It was 59 degrees and sunny in the garden today, at the end of December. I couldn’t resist planting something and the onions were first in line. I saved seeds from last year’s onions, several different varieties of them–all in the same grocery bag. I didn’t even realize my mistake until I wanted to get the early white onions started. Oops. Turns out seeds for white onions look pretty much like seeds for every other kind of onions. I forced myself to make a trip to the local garden store for seeds I could identify. ;-)

Planting onions from seedI chose ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ from Nichols, even though I probably should have planted them much earlier for overwintering. They will still be delicious even if they are small. Mike the Gardener sent me some ‘White Sweet Spanish’ onion seed. It’s a long-day variety, and my garden is pretty much on the dividing line where you should grow short-day onions south of my house and long-day onions north of my house, so I figure I might get away with either one. The ‘Ailsa Craig’ onions from Seed Savers Exchange are another long-day variety that I’m hoping will work for fresh eating through the summer. I’m also trying ‘Yellow Granex’ from Botanical Interests. It’s a short day onion that should have been planted in the early fall, but some years that just doesn’t happen. I’m going to try it anyway and see how it fares compared with the ‘Walla Walla Sweet’. Hopefully one of them will be happy enough to bulb.

I’m also experimenting with ‘Copra Hybrid’ storage onions. The seed is old, packed at Territorial Seed for 2009. No hard feelings if it doesn’t sprout. I know onion seed isn’t supposed to keep well. The other storage onion I’m thinking about trying is the ‘Gold Princess’ onion, but it’s a cipollini onion and they seem to need space around them to develop well. I’m going to wait until things warm up again before making a good spot for them.

What’s the first thing you’ll plant for the 2012 garden? I think my next project will be beets, then it’ll finally be time to get some of the tomato and pepper seeds going.

Just 80 Pounds of Potatoes to Go

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20 Lb Box of PotatoesThere was certainly no danger of me winning the 99 Pound Potato Challenge with this year’s ‘Rose Gold’ crop even though it is a new Personal Best for us here in the Dirt to Dinner garden. In 2010, we harvested 20 lbs of potatoes from a fifteen square foot raised bed and this year we managed the same weight of harvest in only nine square feet. That’s almost an extra pound of potatoes harvested per square foot in 2011. And this patch of potatoes also produced flowers and potato berries that were harvested so that we can experiment with growing from seed.

The ‘Rose Gold’ potatoes were planted March 29th and harvested July 19th, 112 days later. They were planted in new ground that started out as a compost pile and was covered in a layer of rice straw and top soil. Potatoes were hilled to just over 24″ with alternating layers of straw and potting mix. They could have been hilled much deeper. Vines were over four feet tall and some stolons grew at least two feet long. With their excellent taste and this respectable harvest, ‘Rose Gold’ potatoes will probably gain a spot in our deep hilling trials this fall or next spring.

Rodent Teeth Marks?Unfortunately, I was not the first one to harvest the ‘Rose Gold’ patch. Just the other day the dog was chasing something and digging along the edge of the patch. I shooed her away and went back to watering the tomatillos. But today in that corner, I found at least six potatoes that were very strangely shaped and clearly no longer at their full weight when it came time for the count. Do squirrels eat raw potatoes? Who eats raw potatoes, can climb the fence into the yard and is faster than a streaking Labradoodle? Those potatoes started fist-sized, if you have small hands like me, and a good chunk of them has definitely been chewed off!

Potato vines starting to die backThe ‘Rose Gold’ potato vines were brown and fallen over and mostly dried up so I knew they were ready to harvest. I might have liked to allow the potatoes a few weeks undisturbed in the soil to harden their skins for storage but I pulled the patch before any more unauthorized feasting took place. I have two more patches and several potatoes in bags growing in that area. The patch shown here was planted April 6th and contains a broad mix of varieties for the Great Potato Grow Out Project.  The bulk of the varieties still have lots of mostly upright, green vines. They wilt in hot weather but with water and evening cool they stand most of the way back up again.  Except for the plant in the bottom right corner.

Potato vine finished dryingPotato varieties grow for a unique number of days before they finish setting tubers and the vines die back. Some early varieties are ready in as few as 75 days. The ‘Red Thumb’ potatoes have been the first in this trial to be ready for harvest at about 90 days. This vine is a ‘Caribe’ potato that is done growing and I plan to pull these potatoes very soon before anyone else starts to harvest them for me!

Five New Beans

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Dried BeansMy mother-in-law can’t seem to stop herself from growing enough green beans for a small army, so I do the drying beans at my house. Mostly ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ black beans, California Black-Eyed peas and a few colorful soup beans like ‘Jacob’s Gold’ and ‘Speckled Cranberry’. This year I’m also experimenting with some types of beans I’ve never grown before; ‘Scarlet Emperor’ beans, Four-Angled beans, also called Winged beans, Yard-Long beans which are also known as Snake beans or bora, both white and yellow Lima beans and tan Garbanzo beans.

Bush Beans growingWe’re using a number of different kinds of vertical supports for the beans, many of them homemade with bamboo. In Vertical Gardening Derek Fell reports that he’s able to harvest ten times more pods from his pole beans than their bush counterparts. Still, I couldn’t resist planting a bed of bush ‘Cannellini’ beans. We love ‘Cannellini’ beans but there just wasn’t a pole variety of them I wanted to try. I can substitute ‘White Emergo’ beans instead of the smaller ‘Cannellini’ in recipes, and they grow on big sturdy vines, so they will have to do for the pole variety this year.

Akahana Mame FlowersThe ‘Scarlet Emperor’ Runner beans have an 8′ arbor to climb, which I hear they will need. They were the first beans to germinate in the Dirt to Dinner garden this year. I planted a few of them on March 9th just to see how the ground temperature was doing and up they came! I guess there’s a reason they are so popular in England. I was attracted to the idea of growing a perennial bean plant but I’m also looking forward to their reportedly “showy” flowers, though we haven’t seen any yet. These gorgeous blossoms are from an ‘Akahana Mame’ growing on a teepee with ‘Louisiana Purple Pod’ and ‘French Climbing’ beans for effect.

'King of the Garden' Lima BeanThe Winged beans and the Yard-Long beans are planted on either side of an 8′ trellis with sesame plants growing through the center. Imagine an A-frame with garden netting hanging down on either side. One side of the netting gets ‘Four-Angle’ beans planted along half of it. The other side of the netting gets ‘Red Noodle’ planted on the opposite half. That way the sesame growing in between gets sun from both sides where the beans aren’t.  The last beans to go in are the Limas. They like warm soil, which is in short supply again this year. It takes several days for them to emerge from the soil and spread their wing-like seed leaves. I’m nervous a bird or bug or varmint will devour them before photosynthesis even begins but keep your fingers crossed for me. We’re trying ‘King of the Garden’ lima seed from both Baker Creek and Bountiful Gardens and ‘Golden’ Lima beans from Seed Savers Exchange. If you’re experimenting with new bean varieties in your garden this year, let us know what’s working well for you and how you’re growing them.