Monday, October 20, 2014

Harvest Monday 20 October 2014




Harvests are getting slimmer and after a couple of nights near freezing, will be even more so. I picked a nice head of endive, although not blanched as well as I would like. I have more of that and escarole still in the garden and it if slightly frost tolerant. The Swiss chard is recovering from a case of Cercospora leaf spot and I am starting to get some useable leaves. It is amazing how the color of the Magenta Sunset chard has deepened with the arrival of cooler weather. This is the chard that knocked me over when I saw it in the demonstration kitchen garden at Tower Hill. Unfortunately chard doesn’t do well in freezing weather because if its high water content.




The pepper plants have dropped most of their leaves and with possible freezing temperatures arriving, I decided to pick all of the remaining peppers, resulting in this haul. At least I managed to get a few more of the Carmen peppers to ripen. I now have a large batch of them to try roasting this week. I have to figure out what to do with the rest of the peppers. I will dehydrate some of them and maybe a pepper relish for the rest.



I did find some yellow banana peppers at the store to add to my Trinidad Spice peppers for a batch of hot sauce using Dave’s recipe. I also threw in a small Poblano, an orange Habanero, and a Shishito. The result is actually green not yellow and is still fermenting. It smells nice, not too hot.


That is what I harvested last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Harvest Monday 13 October 2014

Not much is left to harvest except some of the Fall greens. We have had overnight temperatures in the low 40s °F (4 °C) which is shutting down most of the warm weather crops even without a frost or freeze. And given our latitude, the days are shortening and the sun is lower in the sky, so by afternoon it is below the woods to the west of the garden, casting the garden into shade. With these conditions, you can’t really expect to get anything growing at this time of year. Any fall crops you want to grow will have to be started and in the ground by at least August, when it is hot and dry, if you hope to have a Fall crop.




That said, above is what I managed to salvage from the garden. The bell pepper gave me enough to do a batch of stuffed peppers. The cilantro is a second growth from volunteer seeds, always nice to have. If I had planted seeds I guarantee they would refuse to germinate. All my parsley which poked along during this dry summer has perked up and is loving the cool weather. And all of the Trinidad Spice/Perfume peppers ripened so I picked all of them. I now have enough to try making a batch of fermented “hot” sauce. If I can find some yellow Hungarian wax peppers, I will include them, the small Poblano above, plus perhaps a single orange Habanero pepper, to make a yellow semi-hot sauce.


Garden cleanup continues. Next week the garlic gets planted, after a fairly heavy Saturday rain. The main bed for them is cleared but needs to be composted and fertilized.


That is what I rescued from my garden this week. To see what gardeners around the world are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Harvest Monday 6 October 2014

Last week I started the garden clean up process. I decided time to pull the bush beans because I need that bed for planting garlic. Turns out the beans are not ready to give up just yet. The Provider beans were kaput but I got a good picking from Jade which provided a meal for us that night. In addition I got an even bigger pile from the pole beans. The Musica beans were still cranking, although the cold nights are finally shutting them down. I got a few more Gold Marie beans but they are now finished and many of the pods have been damaged by some pest feeding on them. Surprisingly, the Violetto beans are putting on growth and flowering for a third time. If I just had a longer growing season, they would be a very productive bean.




I am puzzled by the pest that is feeding on the beans. I was expecting to find some green stink bugs, which like to drill into the pods, but so far have not found any. I did spot a couple of small, narrow black insects crawling around the Musica beans, which also have suffered some damage. Unfortunately, they had vanished by the time I fetched my camera. These things were not bug shaped nor beetle shaped. The body was sort of wasp shaped but with no apparent wings. The body was black with no apparent markings. They did not look like tarnished plant bugs. I have checked photos of bean pests online and have not found a match. I hope I can get a photo of them because I would like to know what I am dealing with.




Next up was pulling the tomato plants. I got a lot of green tomatoes for the effort and made a batch of refrigerator pickled green tomatoes. When pulling the tomatoes out of the raised beds, I had to be careful not to damage the peppers in the next row. Because of the loose, friable soil in the beds, the tomato roots like to roam the neighborhood and make themselves at home. Next year I have to reconsider what I put in the squares next  to the tomatoes. I may go back to planting shallower rooted plants like the onions in those squares.




The plant above is a Sunkist tomato from a raised bed. You can see the length of some of the roots. Most of the very longest roots seem to have grown from the top of the root ball at the base of the stem. This pretty well illustrates the advantage of planting the tomatoes deep enough to bury some of the stem. And of course, the beds are only 8 inches deep so going down is not an option.




Next I pulled the tomatoes that were planted in-ground in my extra garden plot. Those tomatoes did very well this year compared to the plants in the raised beds, and despite fairly poor soil. So I was curious to see what their root structures looked like. The two plants above are Brandywine and the root balls are probably about the same size as the Sunkist but without the really long roots. Apparently the roots found everything the plants needed in their own backyard and didn’t have to go roaming. At this point I realized I should have photographed the Sunkist and Brandywine root balls side by side, but the Sunkist was already buried deep in a trash bag of tomato plants and rotten tomatoes and I was not putting my hand in there.




The Carmen peppers have finally started to ripen. I got a large set of fruit on the two plants in the in-ground garden but they were taking their good old time ripening. How do you tell a pepper the clock is ticking and frost is on the way? I also picked some more Trinidad Spice peppers and have another five on the plant in various stages of ripening. 




I tried to harvest a single head of escarole from the August planting and wound up with two. Since I planted them farther apart than usual, they have kind of flopped on the ground so the leaves are entirely green. The first one I tried was kind of tough. I need to tie them up into heads so the center of the head blanches. Amazingly there was not a single spot of slug or earwig damage to these heads.


That’s what came from my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, check out Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Harvest Monday 29 September 2014

We have had fairly mild weather for this time of year, with overnight lows in the 50s. No frost warnings. Nothing happened at the house. That is why I was surprised to see all the black, withered foliage in the garden when I visited last week. The basil, bush beans and some of the peppers were gone. Other plants looked just fine. This was just an example of how much the climate can vary in just 2 miles (and a 100 foot decrease in elevation). Cold air apparently slides down hill and valleys can have frost while hillsides do not. But there are no hills around the gardens, so I can’t really explain it. Frost happens.




The Trinidad peppers in the raised beds are black and were pulled and put in the compost piles. But this Trinidad planted in-ground looks just fine and has 7 or 8 peppers ripening. I have a couple of Carmen peppers loaded with green fruit just starting to ripen and a Revolution bell with 3-4 small peppers. All I need is another week or two so I am hoping a frost or hard freeze holds off.




The tomatoes are finished, except for this Esterina yellow cherry tomato. I tried Esterina this year in place of Sungold because Esterina was supposed to be more crack resistant than Sungold. The flavor is good, not quite as candy sweet as Sungold but with a good tomato flavor. For the most part it was crack resistant, until a few weeks ago when we got a large amount of rain after a long dry spell. But look at the amount of fruit still on the vine, long after the last Juliet and Chocolate Pear were plucked off their vines. I am not sure these will all ripen in time. Anyone got a suggestion for green cherry tomatoes in case? Maybe they just go in the refrigerator pickle crock.




The last of the Pineapple tomatoes were harvested and I got a few decent slicers which we have been enjoying. The squash vines were pulled and the cucumbers are dead but will take some time to remove from the trellis netting. The pole beans are on their last legs, producing a few beans here and there. Musica is still trying to pump out beans but not for long. The summer vegetables are finished but at least some of my fall vegetables have survived the dry weather and are starting to enjoy the cooler weather.


That’s what little came from my garden last week. To see what gardeners around the world are harvesting, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Preparing Garlic Beds



We are coming up on garlic planting season, around here mid-October to early November. Most of my garlic seed is going into a bed currently occupied by the bush beans. Up until this week the bush beans were showing a second burst of production and I did not want to pull them yet, then things changed suddenly. While I did not expect and did not have a frost around my house, there apparently was one in the community garden this week, just 2 miles away, and the beans are now black while the pole beans struggle on. So I can now pull the beans and get on with preparing my garlic bed.


I have a general idea what I need to do but it was very timely that this week’s Vegetable Notes from the UMass Extension (available here) had advice on preparations for planting garlic. I guess I am not the only one doing it. These preparations are important to getting a good garlic harvest next summer. Here is a summary of what I know from experience and what I gleaned form the newsletter. This advice applies to New England and probably Canada but can be modified for other areas of the US other than the deep South.


  1. 1. Select healthy, disease-free seed garlic, either from your own harvest from this summer or from reputable growers who certify their garlic to be disease free. While we kind of think of garlic as being relatively trouble free, there are a number of diseases and pests that affect garlic and once introduced into your beds, can be hard to impossible to eliminate. In fact, the newsletter talks of a new pest in NE garlic fields, the garlic bloat nematode, which is spread by transport on seed garlic. That is why it is important to inspect each bulb and select only firm, healthy bulbs. Then when cracking the bulbs into cloves (which should only be done shortly before planting), carefully inspect each clove. Look for unhealthy-looking basal ends, discoloration, any dents or lesions, and cloves that seem lighter than normal. Discard these cloves in the trash, not the compost bin.


2. Select a bed that did not have alliums in it this year (they suggest a 4 year rotation) and prepare it. Garlic likes a light, well-drained soil with good fertility. Before planting, add a general purpose organic fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Commercial farmers test their soil and add only what is needed. I doubt any of us home gardeners do that, but the advice stands. For the Fall, use fertilizer types that will release nutrients slowly over the fall and winter (e.g., use alfalfa meal for N rather than blood meal). Reserve the quick-release nitrogen fertilizers for the Spring side dressing. The newsletter also notes there is some research that shows adding sulfur with the Fall nitrogen application can significantly increase yield.




3. Plant the garlic in the prepared beds in October in northern parts of NE to November for southern New England.  For me, I aim for sometime in the last 2 weeks of October. Garlic, just like tulips, requires a period of cold treatment to grow properly. The goal is to plant early enough to allow roots to develop before the ground freezes, but late enough to avoid sprouts from emerging and being damaged by freezing.


4. Each clove is planted 2-4 inches deep depending on the severity of your winters. I probably plant mine 2-3 inches deep. Since I use Square Foot Gardening techniques, I think in squares, not rows. For the larger garlics like German Red and Spanish Roja, I plant 4 per square, which is effectively 6 inch spacing. For the others I plant 5 or 6 per square.


5 You can mulch the garlic after planting. I use about an inch of chopped straw, which helps a bit with cold protection, moisture retention, and weed control. I don’t remove it in the Spring but if you are going to bury your beds in a foot of leaves, you need to remove them in the Spring to allow the beds to warm up and the sprouts to emerge.


6. When the foliage is about 6 inches tall in the spring, side dress the plants with a quick release nitrogen fertilizer. Follow up in 3-4 weeks with another dressing of nitrogen. After this, do not fertilize the garlic again. Do not water the garlic as you approach harvest time to ensure the wrappers are as dry as possible when you dig the garlic.


Thanks to an unforeseen early frost, my designated bed for the garlic is now available. All I have to do is clean it up, add some compost, and then apply some fertilizer. It will be nice to have the garlic in the ground and tick another item off the to-do list. And thanks to the UMass Extension, I have an even clearer picture of what I need to do to help ensure a good crop in 2015. Add to that I am planting 2 new varieties this Fall (Duganski and German Red) and I am pretty optimistic. While you have to exercise a little caution, garlic is still relatively easy to grow and has a huge payoff relative to effort invested.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Harvest Monday 22 September 2014



Last Monday I checked on the garden after being away for a week and found this guy watching over the garden. He looks well fed, doesn’t he? Of course, he is in the tomato patch when I could really use some help over in the brassicas, where some late and hungry cabbage caterpillars are shredding my collards and kale.




It is dangerous to leave the summer squash and cucumbers to themselves for a week, but fortunately they have slowed down with the cool nights and the PM. I did find a fire hydrant sized zucchini which went right into the compost bin.




The Bay Meadows broccoli is finally producing some side shoots.




The long red peppers are Carmen and are 8 inches long. That gives you an idea how big the Revolution bell pepper is. It is pretty rare for me to get a pepper that size. The small yellow Habanero-shaped peppers are the Trinidad Spice peppers.




The fall planting of root vegetables are starting to yield a few bulbs, including a golden beet overlooked by the rabbit.




I am a bit weary of beans but the beans have not given up yet. A lot of these went into a pot of stewed beans and tomatoes and the nicer ones went into the dehydrator. I rehydrated a few of the dried beans and I am not sure I like them. The idea was I could use them in a dried soup mix along with squash, turnips, carrots and other vegetables. Does anyone do this?




I finally had time to try drying garlic. The pile of cloves above were just from the Rossa di Sulmona garlic. I acquired the Zyliss garlic slicer that Dave has recommended and it worked very well. The tubular silicone rubber garlic peeler (mine is an Oxo) sort of worked but the garlic cloves are still moist and the skins are still pliable, so over half the cloves had to be peeled by hand. The result was great. The dried garlic is still very pungent and I can now make garlic powder in my spice blender (a dedicated Krups coffee grinder I got on sale) whenever I need it.


That’s what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Trinidad Spice Pepper

I am generally not a big fan of hot peppers. I grow a Jalapeño or two every year so I have some to throw in salsas and a few other dishes like stewed beans and tomatoes. And I keep some dried red chilies for Chinese dishes and some red pepper flakes from Korea for kimchee. I hear all the hype about habaneros and have a feeling that I am missing out on something. That is why is was intrigued when I ran across a category of peppers called “spice peppers” in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog. They include the usual Hungarian Paprika pepper in  their spice pepper collection, but they also offer two South American varieties of C. chinense called Aji Dulce (literally “sweet pepper”) and Trinidad Spice. Both are described as habanero-type peppers with all the fragrance and flavor but without the heat. Sounds like just what I need, so I bought seeds of both. Unfortunately, I killed the Aji Dulce starts so this year there was only Trinidad Spice in the garden.




SESE describes the Trinidad Spice as “a spice pepper with the flavor of a Habanero but with only a trace of heat in the seeds. Tall, bushy plants with light green foliage with 1" x 1½" bright yellow peppers.” They are not to be confused with the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T or the Trinidad Maruga Scorpion peppers, which are hotter than Bhut Jolokia and are absolutely lethal. Unfortunately the two plants in the raised beds have just sat there and have not even flowered yet. The single plant in-ground is now a nice bushy plant about two feet tall, despite wrestling for space with the huge zucchini next door. The flowers appear under the foliage canopy and seem to come out of the axes where leaves grow from the branches. The peppers, about 1.5 inches long, are shaped like a habanero and start off light green and ripen to a bright yellow.




So now in the name of science I have to taste these things. To be absolutely sure there is a great distance between these peppers and the Trinidad Scorpions, I did another search and found a description of these peppers on, where else,  They describe three types of mild or sweet habaneros: Aji Dulce, Venezuelan Sweet, and Trinidad Perfume. The Trinidad Perfume is described as “a mild chili pepper with very little to no heat. It is a habanero type and produces pods similar to a typical orange habanero pepper, about 1 to 1.5 inches in length and 1.25 inches wide. They mature from green to a bright yellow color. When cooked, they give off a perfume-like scent, hence the name. In flavor, they have a mild citrus-like taste, similar to a habanero, but with smoky undertones.” That seems to match what I am growing, so this is another name for Trinidad Spice. Sure sounds good! So I went ahead and tasted one, first raw, then sautéed in a little grape seed oil.  They do indeed have a citrus scent and a citrusy, fruity taste, almost orange like, whether raw or cooked. I also tried the membrane and seeds and no part of these peppers is hot. It will be interesting to try these in some actual dishes.


I am really disappointed I did not get to try the Aji Dulce peppers this year.  They are a key ingredient in many of the Caribbean and South American cuisines that don’t use a lot of hot peppers (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba). In fact, the Puerto Rican version of sofrito specifically uses the Aji Dulce peppers. The SESE catalog describes them this way: “Aji Dulce has the same shape, size, color and aroma of Habanero, but is sweet, spicy, and delicious, with only a trace of heat. The fruits are highly aromatic and the flavor is unusual and complex, with overtones of black pepper and coriander, and undertones of other spicy flavors.” They are Habanero shaped, 1-2 inches long, and mature from green to orange to red. They also require a long growing season, quoted as 115 days, starting off slowly and growing rapidly later in the season (around here that’s usually a couple of weeks before first frost). In South America they are grown as perennials (wish I could do that).


Interestingly, the University of Massachusetts Extension has actually done research on Aji Dulce, which they describe as growing well in Massachusetts, although most peppers in the markets are imported. Maybe I can find some in some Spanish markets here. The key finding from their research (not really surprising given its 115 days to maturity) is that the C. Chinense peppers need to be started indoors at least three weeks before the typical date for C. annum. That means starting seeds in late February, keeping them under lights and potting up when necessary so you have large, vigorous plants at plant out time in June. And I have an extra three weeks to kill them. The other fact from the study is that most Aji Dulce seed from the Caribbean is infected with the Pepper Mild Mosaic Virus (PMMoV). The SESE catalog says it sourced its seed from Donna Hudson in Tennessee, but since my starts died, I have no idea if they are contaminated. The Trinidad Spice definitely are healthy.

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