Thursday, 29 June 2017

How To Grow Great Peppers

Chinese Five Colour Peppers start off purple, 
then turn cream, yellow, orange, and red.

Peppers are considered to be one of the trickiest vegetables to grow successfully. Folks just seem to have a hard time getting them to grow well and, most importantly, to produce well.

As they pretty much thrive on neglect, requiring little more than time and patience, it may simply be a case of too much kindness or tlc ; )

Here's a few tips on how to keep your pepper plants thriving and producing...

Plant peppers in three gallon pots

Plant them in pots.

While you certainly can grow peppers in the garden, they produce more peppers per plant when grown in containers.

Grow in a three to five gallon container, ideally black or dark in colour, so that they really soak up the heat. I use simple, black, three gallon grower pots. 

Fill the pots with a good quality potting soil, never use garden soil in any container. Mix in some compost or manure. I use my magic mix of 5 parts potting soil to 2 parts composted chicken manure.

Tip the plant out of the small pot, loosen up the roots a titch, and plant into the bigger pot. Unlike tomatoes, you can happily grow two plants in the same container.

If you plant them in the garden, make sure the bed is well amended with manure or compost prior to planting. Plant them eighteen inches apart for good air flow, to prevent fungal issues.

 Peppers grow low and squat or tall and narrow

Though most peppers tend to say quite compact, anywhere from one foot tall to maybe three or feet, they do get top heavy with all those peppers, so you may need to stake them, or put a small tomato cage around them.

Peppers in the greenhouse - mid-summer evening shot. 

Location ...

Peppers like heat. They want to be grown in a very hot and very sunny location, a sheltered area with a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of sunshine.

I grow mine in a south facing greenhouse, so they receive tons of sunshine and heat all day long. However, you do not need a greenhouse to grow great peppers, you just need a spot with sun and heat.

I have grown peppers in pots on my deck, and one year I even had them all lined up on a concrete driveway pad that really soaked up the heat. Think outside the box, where is your best location? Lined up along the driveway, in the corners of your gravel garden paths, on your front porch...

Water pepper plants sparingly

Watering ...

Peppers do not like wet feet. Water approximately once a week. Yes, I only water once a week in my baking hot, south-facing greenhouse. I will water more often if they start to droop, of course, but is generally once every 5 to 7 days.

If you keep them consistently moist, they will not produce many peppers and the ones they do make will be bland, watery, and tasteless. So, stress them out a bit, let them go kinda dry, you will get loads of peppers. The hot peppers will be hot and the sweets will be wonderfully sweet!

When you do water though, you want to thoroughly soak them, whether garden grown or container grown.

For pots, water till the water is freely flowing from the bottom, then go to the next pot. Soak all pots really well, and then do it all over again. Maybe repeat one more time, just in case. You want to make sure that the soil is well soaked, through and through.

In the garden, water them slow and deep with drip hoses or drip tubes till the entire bed is really well watered. My beds take about 20 minutes to soak through, but it really depends on your beds and your set up. Do not water from above, wetting the foliage, or you may end up with fungal issues.
Apply Epsom salts to the top of your pepper pots once a month. 


Once a month, toss a tablespoon of Epsom salts on top of the soil. As you water, the salts will slowly dissolve to feed the root system with magnesium for dark green, healthy plants and better yields.

While peppers are not heavy feeders, they benefit from a feeding or two during their active growing and fruiting season.

Here are a few ideas of how and what to feed them. (Tip #3 is the one I use most often).

1. Top dress the containers with manure or compost (in the garden, place in a ring all around the drip line). As you water, the nutrients will filter through to the root system.

2. Give them some 'booster juice'. Make a manure or compost tea (see HERE! for the recipes) and feed every couple of weeks.

3. Buy a jug of tomato food, fish/kelp fertiliser, or liquid seaweed. Water with the tomato food every few weeks till end summer, as needed. With the liquid seaweed, you are best to apply it as a foliar feed and spray it directly onto the foliage.

4. Use a slow release, organic vegetable fertiliser, such as Gaia Green all Purpose. Lightly scratch it into the soil, around your plants once or twice during the growing season.

Distorted leaves on pepper plants usually means you have aphids.
Pic from 

Peppers are relatively pest free, rarely bothered by any bugs, but do occasionally get aphids. These guys are easily dealt with by using Safer's Soap. Spray the entire plant till dripping, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves. This should do it. If needed, spray again exactly one week later.  

For the best flavour, do not pick the peppers until they have fully matured and coloured up. 


Peppers, whether hot or sweet, can be picked at any colour, at any stage. If you want a green bell pepper, pick it while it is green and immature. For red or yellow bell peppers, wait till they have fully matured and coloured up for the sweetest peppers.      

For hot peppers, the more time they have had to fully ripen and colour up, the hotter they will be. While a Chinese Five Colour Pepper can be picked at any colour, any stage, the heat and flavour does not fully develop until the last stage, when they turn red. 
Please note that if you over water, you will have mild, bland tasting peppers.  

Peppers take a long time to mature, but are so worth the wait. The flavour is the last to develop, so for the best tasting peppers, the sweetest and juiciest, or the hottest and spiciest, leave till fully coloured up and mature before harvesting.  

Read more about pepper growing HERE!  

Holy Moly, lots of chili peppers!

Happy Growing!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Keep your Baskets Flowering and Thriving

As we start to get warmer temperatures, true summer weather, your hanging baskets may begin to look a little peaked.

How to keep them happy and thriving, blooming all summer long? Good watering, some feeding, and a bit of pinching, too. 

Water all hanging baskets (coir, poly, or moss) till the water flows freely from the bottom.

Go from basket to basket and then start all over again. 
Thoroughly soak each basket two or three times each time you water. 

I water my baskets every second day in spring, once a day in summer, 
twice a day in +30°C weather. 

After the watering, give them a really good shower. 

Spray baskets and planters from all sides each time you water.
This re-hydrates tired baskets, hoses off stray bits of dry foliage and spent blossoms, 
plus blasts away any bugs trying to take up residence. 

Feed them well! 

To keep baskets and planters looking amazing, lush and full of blooms, 
watering is not enough. 
Feed every week or two with a fertiliser that has a higher middle number, 
such as a 15-30-15.

Slow release fertilisers help forgetful feeders keep baskets looking pretty, 
especially if re-applied in mid-summer. 
However, if you want amazing baskets, you'll need to use a water soluble feed, as well.    

 Pinch and dead head. 

Remove spent blossoms (dead head) weekly to keep flowers blooming. 
If you leave the spent blossom on, they will form seeds pods instead of more blossoms.  

Pinch back leggy growth for bushy dense growth and full looking baskets.
Some flowers, like petunias, can start to get a bit lanky and scraggly in summer. 
Pinch them back for nice bushy baskets. 

Happy gardening! 
Enjoy the sunshine! 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Is Your Garlic Ready To Harvest?

The hardest thing about growing garlic is knowing when to lift it.

Planting is easy, growing is easy, care is easy ... but knowing exactly when to harvest can be kinda tricky.

Garlic harvest can also vary, depending on the area that you live in, when you planted, the weather, and the variety that you planted.

 Garlic growing in late spring

In general, for most of us here on the west coast, harvest will be in early to mid July.

Scapes ...

About a month before harvest, you will find scapes forming at the top of your hardneck garlic plants.

These yummy curlicues are super tasty greens that can be used in stir fries, made into pesto, grilled on the barbie, or chopped into your eggs/salads.

Scape season is relatively short, just a couple of weeks at the most. You want to harvest when they are young and tender, just as they have made one curl or are starting to do so. If you wait till they get older, they'll be tougher, a bit woody.

The scape is easy to harvest, no knives required. Go to the spot where the scape comes out of the topmost leaf and simply snap it off between your fingers. If it is bendy and does not snap easily, that means it is getting older and woodier, go up a little bit higher on the stalk and snap there instead.

Common lore tells us to remove the scape or the garlic will put it's energy into flowering rather than making a good sized bulb. I must admit that I have never noticed any size difference, whether I snap them off, or not. While not always the size of the monster garlic in the picture above, they seem to size up well regardless.


After scape time is finished, it's usually about three weeks till harvest. Stop watering now, let the garlic grow dry for the last few weeks before you lift the bulbs. The 'stress' of growing dry forces more growth into the bulb.

You also do not want wet bulbs or wet soil on your bulbs at harvest, as they tend not to cure as well. Last year was a prime example of that here on the island. We had too much rain, followed by too many days of grey skies and humidity. The soil was wet when we lifted our garlic, the bulbs were plump with moisture, and the days were neither hot nor dry enough for the garlic to cure well.  

Bottom 2 to 3 leaves are brown

Getting close.... 

The answer is all in the foliage. Each leaf on the garlic stalk is a skin/wrapper on your bulb. You want to keep an eye on those bottom leaves. When the leaves look as they do in the picture above, you are getting close, only a week or so to go.

Do not pick yet at this stage, is just a titch too early, the bulbs are still growing. Wait until the foliage has dried half way up the stalk, so the bottom 4 or 5 leaves are yellow/brown and the top 4 or 5 are still green. The waiting is the hardest part!

This artichoke variety (softneck) of garlic was left in the ground too long 
so has split it's wrapper. 

If you leave them in too long, they will lose their protective skin/wrapping. Do not let too many of those leaves turn brown.

The split bulbs are edible, but they will not cure or keep. Take split ones inside, wash them up, use for cooking, mince into oil (use up in two weeks), or freeze for use at a later date.

When ready, gently lift your garlic from the soil. Do not pull on the stalk unless you have really, really soft and friable soil, or you risk ripping the stalk right off of the bulb. Loosen with a garden fork or transplanting spade.

Brush the soil off with your fingers, do not wash or hose off with water. Do not remove the stalks, roots, or wrappings at this time.

Set out to cure on tables, or hang in bundles, in a shady, airy location. Average curing time is two to three weeks, though I tend to leave mine out for much longer than that.

When fully cured, remove the stalks, trim the roots, brush off the remaining soil from the bulbs. Store in a cool, dry spot.

For more in-depth information about how to harvest and cure, please see HERE!

Happy Harvesting! (just not quite yet!)

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Organic Pest Control

Insect pests can be one of the most frustrating gardening issues one has to deal with.

Which is why I am often asked what I use to fight bugs. If you mean, what kind of product do I use? Then the answer for the most part is ... nothing at all.   

Why not? The problem with any kind of insecticide or pesticide, even the organic earth friendly kinds, is that they do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs. All forms of sprays and powders will kill the good guys, too. Therefore, I try to use no product of any kind, not even soapy water.   

So... What to do about those bugs then? 

Add organic material to build up your soil

Grow healthy plants in healthy soil. Pests prefer stressed out, unhappy plants and rarely bother happy, healthy ones.

Invest in good soil and feed that soil annually with lots of organic matter. When you add manure, compost, leaf mould, and other organic matter to your beds, you are feeding the worms and the microbial life in the soil, which in turn work hard at keeping your plants nice and healthy.

Top dress around your plants with manure or compost during the growing season, or feed with teas to keep your plants (and soil) happy and healthy.  

Planting diversity means happy, healthy, pest-free gardens. 

Create diversity in your garden and yard. Companion planting with herbs and flowers is the single most important thing that you can for your garden annually to keep it happy, healthy, thriving, and pest free.

Companion planting is cost effective, adds colour and beauty to your beds, but most importantly, fights pests organically with no great effort required on your part.

Companion plant with herbs and flowers

Herbs are very attractive to pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects alike.

Birds will eat lots and lots of garden pests, plus mosquitoes, too, so you really do want to attract them to your organic garden. Sweet little hummingbirds eat bugs, their eggs and larvae, and pollinate your flowers. They like zinnias, sage, lantana, and even marigolds! Sunflowers are a bee and bird favourite.  

Companion plants cilantro, borage, and violas, plus hyssop in the background. 

Bees, hover flies, tachinid flies, lacewings, most all predatory insects and pollinators, tend to like high pollen flowers, such as the flat umbels of dill and cilantro gone to seed.

If you plant it, they will come : ) The more variety you have in your garden, the more beneficial insects and birds you will attract. Different plants attract different beneficials. 

Perennials to add to your garden beds, or in pots around the garden... roses, lilies, lavender, cone flowers, salvia, rudbeckia, asters.   

Bulbs... gladiolas, dahlias (especially the single ones, like Bishop's Children), cannas, anemones, tulips, daffodils. 

The best annuals to incorporate into your organic veggie bed are marigolds, calendula, sweet alyssum, and zinnias. For more information on companion planting with annuals, see HERE!

Pick and squish. Gross as it is, it is still one of the most effective ways of dealing with pests of all sorts.

Spray bugs off with a strong jet of water. I blast my roses with water, my hanging baskets, my cabbages and Brussels sprouts... anything that needs to be hosed off for bugs, gets a strong jet or spray of water. This super easy step helps to eradicate the majority of soft-bodied pests, like aphids.

Do a thorough garden clean up in the fall. Remove all old leaves, weeds, and spent plants, as they offer hibernation places for pests like stink bugs, cabbage worms, and grubs.

I had an issue with stink bugs a few years back, so now make sure to never leave any debris on top of the gardens for pests to over-winter in. I found that they really like to hide in the thick foliage of strawberries, so I moved the strawberries out of the potager and into another part of the yard. If they over-winter in my strawberries now, at least they are far away from my tomatoes, raspberries, sunflowers, and corn.

My onion bed is covered with bug netting to keep out the onion maggot fly

Cover the crops that tend to be the most buggy. Always get aphids on your brassicas? Have a problem with carrot rust flies? Onion maggots? Stink Bugs? Cover those crops with hoop frames, bug netting, or white fabric.

Ladybug attracting plants. Pic from

Do I use biological controls? Not much actually.

I sometimes buy nematodes for fungus gnats, a common greenhouse issue, but do not otherwise tend to use other bio-controls. I mostly rely on companion planting to attract native beneficial insects to my garden and into the greenhouse.

I no longer buy wild ladybugs, as I think that this practise causes more harm than good, or is at best, pointless. I do, however, do my very best to attract native ladybugs to my yard.

Put out water sources for them to safely drink from, saucers or birdbaths with flat stones or pebbles to land on (this is also important for the bees). Plant flowers that they find most attractive. They like yellow and white flowers best, and prefer flowers with a landing pad, like dill or cilantro, yarrow, calendula, marigolds...  

If I really have a problem that is not solved by the above remedies, I will resort to using a Safer's Soap Spray. This usually is only used in the greenhouse, on my seedlings, to fight aphids or white fly, and so does not affect the lovely beneficial insects out in the garden.

As mentioned at the very beginning, I do not like to use even these safe and organic sprays, unless absolutely necessary. Even organic solutions do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs, and will kill them all.

Bee on an artichoke

I once, years ago, watched a bee land on a rose that had recently been sprayed with this soap. The soap had already dried, so I thought it was safe... however, the bee died anyways, right before my eyes. Perhaps it was in the pollen? Since that day, I decided that squishing bugs or water spray is the safest and best solution. Simply not worth it. Besides, there may have been lady bug larva on the rose, that I could not see, or some other beneficials. How many times do we kill more of the good guys by trying to get rid of a few bad guys?

Luckily, because of these measures, I rarely have any big pest problems. The ones that do pop up, like the stink bugs and onions maggot flies, I combat using the remedies mentioned.

Flowering garlic chives. Pollinator heaven. 

I try to do no harm. The reason for growing organic food and flowers is to be healthy to our world, our environment, and our selves. So please, try to do no harm. Plant companion plants, squish or spray with water, do a good clean up and feed your soil. It works, I promise you.

Happy Gardening! 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

June Garden Ramblings

Long awaited spring weather has arrived on the island. Happy dance!

The thermometer still seems to struggle to get up into the teens on most days, and mornings can be a bit chilly... Hah, whatever, we are all simply thrilled that summer crop planting time is finally here!

Cool weather crops have really enjoyed this extended cool, rainy season, thriving rather than bolting. Broccoli, radishes, kale, spinach, and lettuces are flourishing. Have grown the best broccoli of my life this year : )

Enjoy your cool weather crops now, don't save them 'for later' or for 'when they get bigger'. Harvest regularly as they will soon bolt in this new found heat.

New pockets of planting space will open up for your summer vegetables as you harvest these crops or compost the bolting greens.

What to put in those spots?

What to plant this month?

Squash. Pumpkins, zucchini, pattypans, all sorts of squash can be planted into the warm garden beds now. Start them from seed or starter plants, it is not too late! They will quickly take off.

Beans ... Often accidentally lumped in with peas, they actually have very differing needs. Beans love warm soil and heat, while peas love cool temps and the rainy season! Plant your beans now. You can even plant them at the base of your peas so that they are well on their way when you eventually pull out your tired looking peas.

I love pole beans grown up spiral trellises or lattice fences, as they use less garden space, but they do have a longer growing season (about 80 to 90 days). Plant both bush and pole beans for a continuous crop.

Wondering what to plant in the garlic bed once you harvest it? Bush beans have a short growing season, just 50 days! Loads of time to crop up before you start prepping the beds to plant your fall garlic again.

Carrots can be sown throughout the month of June. Plant a row here, a row there, as the space becomes available.

Carrots can be notoriously difficult to start as they take 10 to 21 days to germinate and must be kept moist till you see the little sprouts growing.

Sow your seeds, water well, cover the seeded area with a burlap sack. This will help to keep the soil from drying out too quickly. Water through the burlap daily.  A week after sowing the seeds, start checking for sprouting. Remove burlap when you see little carrot seedlings popping up.

Tomatoes! If you have not yet transplanted the tomatoes, they can go in the ground now. Bury them deep for a better root system with stockier and sturdier, healthier plants.

Peppers and eggplants. They thrive in pots better than they do in the garden. Pot them up or plant them up anytime now! Never use garden soil in pots, always use bagged potting soil when growing food or flowers in pots. Garden soil or loam will get too compacted, your plants will not thrive.

Beets - seeds
Corn - seeds or starter plants
Cucumbers - seeds or starter plants

Cabbage - starter plants
Brussels sprouts - starter plants
Cauliflower - starter plants

What else to do this month? 

Water. Set up up drip tubes or weeping hoses to deep water your garden beds.

Do not hand water with a wand, save that for baskets, pots, planters, and keeping seeds moist till they germinate. Hand watering will make your garden less healthy with shallow rooted plants, more prone to bugs and disease. It will also take up so much of your time that you will come to hate growing by the middle of the season.

Do not use sprinklers for anything but lawns. They get your foliage wet, which spreads powdery mildew and blights!

Invest in drip tubes or weeping hoses, plus a timer, if you are so inclined. I do not use a timer, but I use these weeping hoses in all my beds. I turn them on for 20 minutes once or twice a week, depending.

What to deep water once a week? Root crops, potatoes, onions, herbs, peppers ...
What to deep water twice a week? Tomatoes, squash, corn, brassicas, celery...  

Feed - Any plants growing in pots will need a regular feed weekly or bi-weekly. Use manure/compost tea or an organic liquid fertiliser.

If you do not yet have fantastic soil, your garden veggies may also require a boost as the season wears on.

For tea recipes and organic fertiliser ideas, see HERE!

Weed - Run a hoe between the rows once a week. This will remove any weeds that you can see and knock down any just starting to germinate. You will  have lovely weed free beds all summer long.

This hoe is called the 'Winged Weeder' and is the best hoe that I have ever used in my many, many years of gardening.

My wee backyard greenhouse biz is now closed for the summer, so I am playing catch up, excited to be playing in my garden again.. planting and seeding, watering and weeding.

Before sowing and planting, I had to remove hundreds of little volunteer Johnny Jump-ups from the beds. So pretty, but need the space for food!

Plant lots of companion plants in the garden.
The more diversity you have, the healthier your garden beds will be.  
Companion flowers and herbs bring in bees, hover flies, parasitic wasps, 
hummingbirds, ladybugs and so much more. 
Plus, they make the gardens look great, too! 

Happy gardening!

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...