Saturday, 29 October 2011

Heirloom Pepper Trial

Chinese Five Colour Peppers, Corno di Toro Rosso, Yellow Mini Salad Baby Belle, Mild Orange Habanero Chile, and Italian Pepperoncini.

Each year I enjoy conducting my own tests and trials on the various plants that I grow, in various manners, to find out what works best for my particular growing area, and suits my sensibilities. Amongst many other things, I have trialed... organic fertilizers versus not, growing with mycorrhizae versus not, heirloom versus not... You get my drift.   

This year, I decided to trial growing peppers in three entirely different locations and situations, in order to find out how to grow a decent pepper in Canada. Up till this year, I have never, ever, ever, been able to grow more than  a token one or two, small peppers, on any one plant, regardless of variety.

I only grow heirloom varieties, both hot and sweet, and all were started from seed, using organic practices only, by me in my own greenhouse. I am so all about the organic and the heirloom.

The test consisted of:
#1 In the greenhouse, in bio-degradable 2 gallon fibre pots
#2 In the potager, in a raised bed, amongst the tomatoes, tomatillos, and flowers.
#3 In the potager, in a raised bed, covered with a plastic covered wooden frame, a cold frame of sorts, to retain heat. ( I always thought that perhaps we just did not get a warm enough growing season up here)

#3 was a huge bust! The plants did not thrive in the covered cold frame area at all, even with the front open for pollinators and air circulation. They were small, with few flowers, and did not produce much of anything for fruit. No bug issues but still a complete bust. Two plants actually shriveled up and nearly died.   

#2 was, surprisingly, much more successful than #3. The plants remained small, flowered well, and produced the few, small peppers that I am accustomed to harvesting. A couple of aphids very early on in the season and then no bug problems after that. Each plant produced one or two small peppers.

#1 Huge Success! They flowered early, produced early, produced much fruit, fabulous size and fabulous flavour, and continue to thrive even now, at the very tail end of October. The plants themselves are large, about 2 feet tall and most are bushy, though a few varieties tend to grow tall and thin. Aphids continued to be a problem until late August. I sprayed weekly with a strong jet of water, or if I felt that big guns were needed, I occasionally used insecticidal soap. However, I found that the  water worked incredibly well. Knocks the aphids off the plants and they just do not crawl back.

In the end...
I do not know why the cold frame growing was not as successful as greenhouse growing, but it was not even close. If I did not have the greenhouse to grow my future peppers in, I believe that I would continue to grow in the raised beds, but would raise the sides/walls around the entire 6x6 bed with either burlap, straw bales, or plastic walls, so they remain open on top, with good air flow, but stay warmer due to the raised sides.

The above pictures were taken today, on October 29th and I have thus far harvested much fruit, made many jars of pickled hot peppers, and eaten many sweet peppers both in salads and soups. To my delight, it looks as if there are many more peppers to enjoy!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Preparing for a West Coast Winter

All during the summer I add more and more plants to my Stash, a collection of perennials, shrubs, and goodies that catch my eye throughout the summer. The green shelving was the inside of one of those little inexpensive, pop up  style greenhouses. Surprisingly, <wink> it did not last the winter before being blown about with the topper torn up. Thereafter it  became the holder for all my treasures, aka The Stash!

The Stash of plants

Black gold, compost for the raised beds.

We live on beautiful Vancouver Island, which is essentially a big rock. As one cannot garden into the rock, The Mister built 23 lovely raised beds. Eight of them are long rectangles for strawberries  potatoes, rhubarb... while the rest are 6'x6' squares good for all sorts of vegetables, annuals and perennials, a real, traditional potager.
Top the beds with manure, compost and leaves. Sadly, I have very few deciduous trees of a good size, as of yet, in the yard, but as they grow, I will be harvesting their leaves for home-grown leaf mould. Ideally, one should add 3 to 4 inches of weed free, organic material to the garden yearly. I break this into two stages, adding half in spring and half in fall.

Winter onions are in after beds are cleaned up. In back is the fall crop of beans, rutabagas and carrots with two beds dedicated just to garlic. I leave a few Dukat Dill plants in to self-seed, and, as the parsley is perennial, it stays, as well.    

The herb bed has been cut back and topped up. This year I added Lemon Grass to the bed to see if it overwinters, however, I have a back up plant in the greenhouse, just in case.

Sunflowers are looking a bit tattered and soggy from the rains, but as they are still humming and buzzing, I decided to bundle them up to prevent breakage. Will leave them up as long as I can, to feed my little pollinator and bird friends.

Five days later, the compost bin is full to the brim with the remains of summer while all 23 beds are cleaned up, top dressed, and and ready to roll through the winter.
The Stash has been cleaned out with all plants happily in the ground, ready for the winter rains.  

Friday, 14 October 2011

Garlic, plant it now. Really.

Although I have been gardening for 20 years, give or take, last year was the first time I ever really planted garlic. Sure, over the years, being big on companion planting and organic pest control, I occasionally threw a few cloves around the rose bushes to repel pests, but I never actually harvested those bulbs. I just left them there all summer and then whacked them down in fall.

Follow these incredibly easy instructions to great garlic at home...
Break apart the bulbs of garlic into cloves.
Soak them in warm water, a teaspoon of baking soda, and a tablespoon of liquid seaweed, for two hours.
Plant 6 inches apart, 3 inches deep, with the pointy end up into a bed of rich soil, top with compost.
Cover with up to 8 inches of straw. Last year I had no straw and therefore left them as they were, they all did beautifully well anyway. This year I will try the straw to see if it makes a difference.

These are the two varieties that I planted up this year. Three packages of each, so about 90 cloves in total. Am actually wondering whether I shouldn't plant up yet one more raised bed of them?

Last year, I grew Music and Gabriola and both varieties were so successful that I became totally hooked on growing garlic.

The garlic bed in early spring, shortly before the tops begin to curl into lovely and delicious scapes.

Garlic scapes are the curls at the tops of the green stalks in spring. They are fabulous in stir fries or simply oven roasted with sea salt and olive oil.

It stands to reason, though it took me this many years to catch on, that fresh garlic is much tastier, fresher, more pungent, more flavourful than anything store bought can possible be. Amazing!

After the green stems have yellowed about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the stalk, the garlic is ready to be lifted. Lay them out to cure in a shady spot with good air flow for a few weeks. 

Then, simply brush off the dirt, trim off the stalks and roots. Your garlic is now ready to store till eaten or to be planted up again in October.

Of course, they can be eaten immediately after picking, no need to wait. In fact, there is nothing better than really fresh garlic cloves, the flavour is absolutely amazing, unlike any that you have ever tasted from the shops.

Plant your garlic now, really, so easy to grow, more tasty than you can imagine, you won't be sorry that you did. I promise! 

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...