Tag Archives: peppers

My favorite plant

Happy new year!

My favorite plant to grow last season was the Jamaican red hot pepper I bought at Urban Harvest. I thought it was a scotch bonnet pepper, because of the photo on the packet and that’s generally what I think of when I hear talk of Jamaican peppers, but it didn’t look like the scotch bonnets we usually buy.

It does look like a spaceship!

It does look like a spaceship!

Jamaican red hot changing colour

Jamaican red hot changing colour

Here they are in a bunch

Here they are in a bunch

I had the most success with peppers in 2015.  The pepper plants I’ve bought at Kensington Market haven’t done well in the past so last year I didn’t even bother. I grew them all from seeds (the five colour Chinese peppers from saved seeds) and they all did really well!

Good old reliable five colour peppers, purple stage

Good, old reliable five colour peppers, purple stage (red pear tomatoes at the back)

I bought some habanero seeds at Urban Harvest as well as two types of sweet peppers, California Wonder Sweet and the Golden variety. I debated for too long on a dark sweet pepper plant (the next time I went back it was gone) so I’ll be looking for it this year. I thought about it all season!

There weren't many and they weren't big, but they looked like sweet peppers!

There weren’t very many and they didn’t reach full maturity when I picked them, but they looked like sweet peppers (and tasted great)!

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Some didn’t fare so well

Habanero was the only one I grew in a pot because there wasn’t really any room in the garden in Hamilton, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to plant them in the community garden where theft is an ongoing problem. I didn’t think they did well initially because I didn’t find many on the plant. Turns out my cousin was picking them and cooking with them.

Habaneros on the vine

Habaneros on the vine

Habaneros in full colour!

Habaneros in full colour!

There’s a guy at my sister’s workplace who loves to grow hot peppers. He brings them to work and then dares other guys to eat them. Apparently they have a good time. My sister is a bit offended, on principle, that the girls are never invited. She almost called him on it once but then decided not to, in case she was dared to join in the fun.

I’m not really into hot peppers beyond growing them (I mean, how cool is that Jamaican red hot?! Never seen anything like it! They fascinated me all summer). They give me heartburn and I tend to touch my face a lot so I’ve had some not so pleasant experiences handling them (let’s be honest: traumatic experiences of burning eyes and fears I’d never see again — on more than one occasion. If this ever happens to you, milk and plain yogurt relieve the burning and swelling really well).  Luckily my mom and brother love them so they never go to waste. My brother made a few jars of hot pepper sauce using the ones I grew and scotch bonnets from the grocery store and they happily enjoyed them at practically every meal.

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Seed starting

Starting seeds this year was an interesting experience. I started tomatoes, leeks, sweet and hot peppers, butternut squash, watermelons, parsley, eggplants, and a few flowers (lavender, lupine, and yarrow) in early April on top of the fireplace.

Plastic keeps in the moisture

Plastic keeps the environment warm and moist

I saved plastic mushroom containers to use as seed trays. They seemed a good size and depth and it was easy to make drainage holes in the bottom. I also saved a few yogurt containers thinking I could use them for tall plants, like tomatoes, once they got big enough. I used note paper and taped labels to the trays, but they didn’t stay on. And I used leaf mold as my growing medium, which I purchased at Urban Harvest.

Seeds looking for light

Tomato seedling looking for light – mid April

Butternut squash

Butternut squash standing at attention – end of April

Watermelon

Watermelon – end of April. They didn’t survive.

I found the seed starting tips from Fine Gardening the most useful;  Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life also added some good information. The one thing I don’t think I did was fertilize the seeds, although I did buy vermicompost from Urban Harvest for that purpose. I also though this article on the benefits of cinnamon for preventing diseases in seedlings was really interesting; I want to try it next year.

Once the seedlings started to get bigger, I took them to my dad’s house. I don’t get much light in my apartment and having access to a house with a shady back yard  allowed me to harden them off outside for short periods of time.

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad's place

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad’s place – excited to see some true leaves! End of April

My dad was not too impressed with my plan to gradually increase their time outside by one hour every day over a week’s time (possibly because I was bugging him to do it), so they stayed out longer than they probably should have in some cases and in conditions that were probably not ideal (cold and rainy!).

Hardening off in the back yard

Hardening off in the back yard – I probably should have thinned these out. Early May.

At the end of May, I was able to hitch a ride with a friend to Hamilton (otherwise I’m not sure how I would have gotten the plants up there). They look much healthier having been in the sun for a while and their stems are nice and thick. I read that gently brushing your fingers across the leaves encourages stem development. Perhaps it simulates the plant blowing in the wind.

Box car Willie tomatoes

Box car Willie or red or yellow pear tomatoes – and a pepper plant in the centre.

Peppers!

L – California sweet and golden peppers; C –  habanero; R – mystery peppers

 

Knowing what I know now, what else would I do differently next year?

  • Use sticks in the soil to label the seedlings. At the time, I couldn’t find the tongue depressors I knew I had and didn’t consider that the paper and tape would fall off when I was moving the trays around
  • Bring the plants to a sunny window much sooner than I did. Maybe some plants would have survived (poor watermelons).
  • Thinned the plants, either by moving some to other containers or killing them off (probably the former. I have a hard time killing off seedlings). It probably would have caused less deformation, particularly in the tomato plants
  • Fertilized the seedlings. This probably would have made them stronger. I was a bit nervous about doing this. All the articles I’d read said to use a ‘weak’ tea, and the dilution instructions for the vermicompost tea bags and the even the kelp meal required steeping them in large quantities of water so I couldn’t do it at the apartment. That was really the only time I was thinking about it.

Starting seeds was totally worth it, as you’ll see in future posts!

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Merry Christmas

I’m happy for some much needed time off for Christmas, but it’s hard to get into the season with spring-like temperatures and no snow. Hard to believe two years ago we were dealing with the ice storm in Toronto when we’ve had double digit temperatures for the past few days.

The warm weather makes me think of gardening and reflecting on my experiences this year. I didn’t do much of it during the season, for reasons I can’t recall. There were successes and failures, as there always are. I tried a few new things that I hope to repeat next season. So if I can’t get into the Christmas spirit with these warm grey days, at least I can enjoy the colours of my garden bounty.

Merry Christmas!

End of season harvest from Hamilton garden, September

End of season harvest from Hamilton garden, September 2015: hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, eggplant

 

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An experiment in containers

I finally planted the garden last weekend in Hamilton. It’s been a really long winter and not much of a spring. My uncle prepared the plots the week beforehand but I had planned to attend Doors Open (loads of fun!) so it got put off until last weekend. I suppose I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, because my aunt had warned me that my uncle had already planted in spaces that were mine last year. But I had a plan all mapped out, and when I saw how many areas were occupied, I was pretty upset.

Probably the most angering - my $4 perennial rosemary removed for 4 thyme plants

Probably the most angering – my $4 organic, perennial rosemary bush removed for 4 thyme plants

I had tomatoes here last year and planned to put zucchini here this year. I guess it's still possible...

I had tomatoes here last year and planned to put zucchini this year. I guess it’s still possible…

I managed to get it together, realizing that there was more than enough space left and plenty of opportunity, and I became excited again. I could try container planting!

Tomato and basil

I had been wondering where to put the two red pear tomato plants I bought. Both are going into containers.

I bought a spearmint plant in Kensington Market. This will be a hanging mint basket once the peppermint I'm rooting is ready for planting.

I bought this spearmint plant in Kensington Market. This will be a hanging mint basket once the peppermint I’m rooting is ready for planting.

This mint is growing wild in the garden in small amounts. Once the roots start to form,  I'll plant them with the spearmint. I'm hoping for an abundance this year!

This mint is growing wild in the garden in small amounts. Once the roots form and I plant them with the spearmint, I’m hoping for an abundance for tea (and other things) this year.

Herb garden!

Herb (and red dandelion) garden!

Marigold container

I’m growing marigold for the first time. Hope it can still do it’s beneficial companion planting thing from a hanging basket.

Here’s what I did with the remaining ground space:

Peas my uncle planted at the back. To the left I put zucchini, at the front (from left to right) will be nasturtium and a borage plant

My uncle planted peas at the back. To the left I put zucchini, at the front (from left to right) will be nasturtium and a borage plant. I’m concerned the borage won’t have much space (because it gets really big) but I figured I could always trim it to maintain some control.

From left to right: Back: carrots, eggplant, Chinese five colour pepper, onions. Front: Leeks, beets, collard greens, onions

From left to right:
Back: carrots, eggplant (seed), Chinese five colour pepper, onions.
Front: Leeks, beets, collard greens, onions

I got these scotch bonnet peppers at Kensington Market. Thought it might be nice to try these heat-loving buggers in the greenhouse.

I got these scotch bonnet peppers at Kensington Market. Thought it might be nice to try these heat-loving buggers in the greenhouse. I planted a companion to the left (not visible) but I can’t remember what it was.

Regrets/concerns:

  • I should have planted the borage behind the garlic bed (I put spinach there) and put cornflowers next to the nasturtium and peas instead.
  • That the cheap plants I bought at Kensington Market won’t grow

Fingers crossed for much success this year!

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Harvest moon

In honour of the upcoming harvest moon, I thought I’d look back on some of the harvests of the season:

Red and yellow pear tomatoes. I think there's some dandelion under there somewhere...

Red and yellow pear tomatoes. I think there’s some dandelion under there somewhere…

It's as big as my forearm! And was mighty tasty despite its size.

It’s as big as my forearm! And was mighty tasty despite its size.

Zucchini blossoms bring some brightness to the green of the cucumbers, dandelion, beans, sage and chives.

Zucchini blossoms add a splash of brightness to the greens – cucumber, zucchini, beet greens, peas, mint, chives and thyme

All stages of the 5 colour Chinese peppers represented: purple, white, yellow, orange and red!

All stages of the 5 colour Chinese peppers: purple, white, yellow, orange and red!

Goodness from the roots: beets and carrots

Goodness from the roots: beets and carrots

Beet power!!!

Beet power!!!

Eat your greens!

Eat your greens – red romaine and kale from my uncle’s greenhouse, with some chives thrown in for good measure

One of the first harvests: onions, pear tomatoes, a cracked acorn squash, and some herbs

One of the first harvests: onions, pear tomatoes, a cracked baby acorn squash (my cousin hit it with the lawnmower by accident), and some herbs (sage, mint, chives, and thyme)

Feast-a-plenty!

Feast-a-plenty!

Happy harvesting!

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Victoria Day

I complained enough about the weather.  I put off planning.  I thought I had time. Then somewhere along the way, planting season crept up on me. I don’t think I’ve been as ill-prepared as I was this year.

Milo relaxing in front of my uncle's greenhouse. He put his lettuces, peppers, and eggplants in here.

Milo relaxing in front of my uncle’s greenhouse, home to his lettuces, peppers, and eggplants.

We planted on Victoria Day. It’s a good thing too. Although last frost was expected to be May 9th, making Mother’s Day weekend OK to plant, we were hit with sub-zero temperatures. My cousin bought her mom two big, beautiful ferns that were severely damaged when they left them out overnight. What a pity.

I scrambled to put together a gardening plan for the entire back yard, not just the space I’d asked for. I wasn’t being greedy. I used square foot gardening technique and companion planting sensibilities in order to maximize our space and our yields. I took into consideration some of the stuff I knew my uncle would want to plant, like tomatoes, squash and zucchini, and asked if anything needed to be added. I was being thoughtful and organized. My uncle wasn’t worried. He said we’d figure it out when I got there. In the end, he had his own plan.

My uncle's okra, chives, and thyme.

My uncle’s chives, okra and thyme.

My uncle is much like me. He likes to do things his way. He left me the space I’d asked for, as promised, but proceeded to plant the remaining space in a haphazard manner. At least he was smart enough to plant early Monday morning when it was cool and not in the dead heat of midday like I did. I had to rejig my plan that morning. I could have waited to plant in the evening when it was cooler, but I was stubborn. My cousin, who was helping me, was extra irritable as I tried to explain plant spacing and companion planting. She was baking in her black sweats. She finally convinced me to come inside for a snack. While she took a nap, I went back out and finished in the early afternoon hoping I would at least end up with a nice tan.

Left to right, back to front:

From back, left to right: Sugar snap peas along the back, cornflower far left, butternut squash far right; herbs  far left (parsley, dill, cilantro), zucchini, and onions

From the back, left to right::

From the back, left to right: pepper, eggplant, sunflower, cucumber; calendula, beets, carrots, collards

A few things of note this year:
1. Soil conditions – the soil is not as rich as my community plot.  It’s quite dry and rocky but not clay or cement-like. We used compost that my uncle said he got for free from the city (no comment) and composted cow manure. I added a healthy dose of kelp meal to all the transplants and to the soil around the heavy feeders (squashes).

2. Security – I’m really looking forward to not having any of my harvest stolen. Sweet.

3. I live out of town – this is going to be a challenge. It’s already been over a week since I planted and I haven’t been back. Luckily it’s been quite wet lately.

4. New plants – I went a little crazy at Urban Harvest this year. I bought $46 worth of plants and kelp meal, a cost I wasn’t expecting since I had saved so many seeds last year. New this year:

  • butternut squash seeds
  • Chinese five colour hot peppers – My sister picked these.
  • long purple eggplant seeds
  • alpine strawberry
  • sugar snap pea seeds – another of my sister’s picks.

5. Old plants from seed – Nasturtium, that is. Last year I bought it as a plant. This year, I’m trying the seeds I saved. We’ll see how that goes.

Nasturtium seeds I harvested last fall. Let's hope they grow!

Nasturtium seeds I harvested last fall. Let’s hope they grow!

I bought another alpine strawberry plant today. Planning to go by after work on Friday to plant it and see what’s happening. I know I definitely have to do some sucker removal with the tomato plants. With all the rains I’ve been imagining that the zucchini seeds washed out of their little hill. I know it’s possible because that’s what happened when I first watered after planting them. The recent single digit temperatures has made me concerned about the eggplants because I read online that they really really like the hot weather and don’t tolerate cold very well.

From back, left to right: Borage (planted), crazy sage plant (so much growth!), garlic I planted last fall and neglected (it's doing pretty well), and one lonely alpine strawberry (not for long!)

From back, left to right: Borage (planted), crazy sage plant (so much growth!), garlic I planted last fall and neglected (it’s doing pretty well), and one lonely alpine strawberry (not for long!)

My cousin found me some pots that I can use for my fairy gardens (I’m surprised she remembered). Gotta get on that soon.

What herbs should I put in here?

What herbs should I put in here?

We had the neighbours over and did fireworks on Sunday night. My cousin was disappointed that the firecrackers she’d had for over a year weren’t as spectacular as she had expected. We had a good laugh though and enjoyed other neighbours’ fireworks in the distant. This is what’s left of the bucket my uncle used to light the fireworks.

Can you believe the damage?

Can you believe the damage?

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Still thinking about seeds…

Visited relatives last weekend and came back with some sage, mint, and hot peppers from their garden. I’m using the mint and sage for tea and I’m trying to save the pepper seeds for next year.

Sage, mint, hot peppers

What I’ve realized after reading articles on the subject, particularly the Seed Saving Instructions for Beginners and the Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook , is that the fruits must fully ripen on the plants before the seeds can be harvested otherwise they may not germinate. I had been drying seeds from a green pepper, not a fully ripened red one, and it did not ripen on the plant (obviously). I tossed them out today and after washing my hands, forgetting I had been handling hot pepper seeds, I began to rub my eye. Big mistake! My eye swelled and burned like mad. Without thinking again I put water on my eye, which made it burn even more! I should have remembered that drinking water after eating peppery food just makes things worse. I did eventually recall what helps to soothe the pepper burn – milk! I put some milk in a cupped hand and rubbed it on my eyelids and the swelling began to go away immediately as did the burning. Pfew!

The other day I was surprised to find some calendula seeds just lying around in the plot, near where the borage plant used to be.  So I gathered them up and I’m making sure they are fully dried before I package them for next year.

Calendula seeds

I read in an eHow article that seeds that fall on the ground can be moldy and can get wet (which makes they nonviable for saving). I’d still like to try growing them so I think I’ll separate them into another package, rather than putting them in with the seeds I bought from Urban Harvest. The soil was very dry when I found them so I’m hoping they are still OK.

So now I’m thinking more about harvesting flower seeds for next season. I’ve been admiring the yarrow in the community plot all summer.

Yarrow

I’ve been reading lately about the benefits of yarrow as a companion plant. According to wikipedia, it attracts predatory wasps and ladybugs, improves the soil, and improves the health of plants that are grown nearby. eHow also gives some other useful information about yarrow. It apparently takes 2 years to become established, which is a bit of a bummer.

I helped myself to some drying flowers just off of the community plot and I’ve placed them in a paper bag to fully dry. You can shake the bag to try and separate the seeds from the chaff before you store them.

I saw an interesting video on Youtube today about collecting nasturtium seeds. I’m going to be looking for these on my next visit to the garden!

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