Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Ay Caramba - It's Pepper Time

You may wonder why I always chat about peppers, Facebook about peppers, and blog about peppers in winter, since they are very much a heat loving summertime crop?


By mid January, peppers have already been on my mind for weeks and weeks as I began shopping for my annual seed order in December.

Peppers need to be started really early in the year, in February. One has a bit more leeway with the sweets as they germinate pretty quick, but the hots can be notoriously difficult to start. Some take many, many weeks to germinate.   

Greenhouse is full of pepper plants! 

I grow a huge variety of peppers, anywhere from 10 to 40 plants each year. When choosing which peppers to grow, consider first what you want to do with them.



Scoville Heat Unit Scale from Yakima magazine

Scoville Heat Units are used to rate the heat of peppers, ranging from zero to several million. At the bottom of the scale are the sweet peppers with zero heat units, and at the top are peppers with over a million SHU like the Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia) or the Carolina Reaper.


Chervena Chuska

SWEETS!

Are you a wimp like me, who tolerates no heat, and just wants sweet ones to stuff, eat out of hand, or chop into salads and stuff? I grow two types of sweets, tapers and bells, in a whole rainbow of colours...

Long tapered heirloom types are great for fresh eating, frying, stuffing or roasting. Most tapered ones have thinner walls than round or bell types do, and come in green, red, or yellow.

Corno di Toro (Bull's Horn) and Chervena Chuska are my favourite tapered sweets, but there are many others to choose from.

Looks like a rabbit got to it, but nope... it was me ; ) 

The ones that you are probably most familiar with are the bell peppers. Great for fresh eating, stuffing, and chopping into salads, salsas, or toppings, too.

Bells come in a huge variety of colours from the common green (which is how most all of them start out), to red, orange, yellow, purple, white, and mahogany.

I love to eat peppers fresh as I work in the garden, or even as I work on the computer ; ) Though I do use them in everything else, as well... marinated, roasted peppers in sandwiches are super delish, or stuffed with quinoa and all kinds of goodies.


SWEET WITH SPICE!

Nothing beats your own homegrown sweet paprika peppers. Eat them fresh, add to salads, stuff them, or dry and grind into powder.

Alma Paprika is an apple shaped pepper that goes from white to yellow to orange and then red. You can eat them at any stage/colour. It makes a fabulous paprika powder for your goulash, or for sprinkling on your macaroni salad.

Beaver Dam and Feher Ozon are tapered paprika peppers, fantastic heirlooms for fresh eating, cooking, or grinding into paprika powder. The tapered ones are most commonly recognized for paprika making, but all are equally delicious.

Pimentos are sweet with just a wee wee hint of spice, are often canned or ground into paprika powder. Mix into cheese or mayonnaise for a yummy spread for crackers, celery, and sandwiches.

Pickled Hungarian Yellow Wax Pepper Rings 

MILD!

Mildly hot peppers range from just a wee hint of heat to a good bite, generally from 500  to about 10,000 Scoville Heat Units is considered a mild heat.

The ones right at the bottom of the scale (about 500 SHU) are great for just about everything! They have a nice, mild hint of heat, are fantastic for soups, sauces, salsas, garnishes, sandwiches, and salads.

Sweet chili peppers fall into this catagory, like Poblano, Ancho, Anaheim and Pasilla Bajio. They make terrific mole sauces and are used in all sorts of ways in Mexican cooking.

You are probably used to seeing pickled whole Pepperoncini peppers on grocers shelves. They are mild and tasty. If you've ever had the salad at Olive Garden, you are familiar with this pepper ; )


The ones we like to grow for slicing and pickling are Beaver Dam, and Hungarian Yellow Hot Wax. They are all tapered (banana) peppers that change colours, so pick a few at all stages for a prettier peck of pickled peppers. We also pickle Black Hungarians, but leave them whole.


HOT! HOT! HOT!

These guys range from hot to flaming hot. On the lower end of the scale are the Chili and Thai peppers, and then they range right on up to the Habanero and Scotch Bonnets.

I, of course, do not eat any of these, at all! However, the rest of the family is crazy and loves them all.

These guys are often used for making hot sauces like Tabasco or Franks Red Hot. They also make a nice crushed pepper flake to add to dips, sauces, rubs, marinades for heat and flavour.

Spicy Mexican foods are made with Habanero peppers, while spicy Caribbean dishes like Jamaican jerk chicken or pork are made with Scotch Bonnets.

Cayenne and chili powder, of course, are the well known spices, but you can make all kinds of blends to change up the flavour. Try some Lemon Drop Aji peppers to make a fabulous citrus-y rub or sauce spice.

Trinidad Scorpions

AY CARAMBA! THE STINKING HOTS!

I like to call these the stinking hot peppers, they are crazy, insane sizzling hot. I grow these for hubby and his friends, but I will not even pick them! My job is to grow them, lol, the mister gets to deal with them.

Please be very careful when handling these peppers, and do NOT touch any sensitive body parts while prepping or cooking with them. Wear gloves!

They are sometimes nearly as hot coming out as they were going in, so do not plan any big road trips for the day after a hot pepper feast.

To make them a bit milder, you can remove the seeds and the membranes inside, as that is where most of the heat resides.

Apparently these peppers do have a good flavour, which is why the heat lovers eat them. Use them for hot sauces or for spicing up a bbq sauce or rub.
 

 Happy pepper growing! 

Friday, 6 January 2017

January Garden Ramblings

I started thinking about spring gardening as soon as the yuletide was over. Well, it was actually during the holidays, but let's leave that as our little secret ; )

What to do this month? 

For the wildlife...


Feed the birds. I am still making lovely bird seed wreaths for the birds, as food sources are pretty slim pickings right now, with this unusually wintry weather.

Besides, wreaths look great hanging from my tree, and I so enjoy watching the birds flit about.

For three birdseed wreath recipes, please see HERE!


I saw a hummingbird in the tree yesterday and so am now considering putting out the hummer feeder, too. We have the beautiful Anna's year round, here on the island. Think they must really be having a hard time getting enough food from our frozen landscape.

If you are going to feed them, the Wild Bird Shop recommends that you use a 3 to 1 water/sugar ratio in winter and have two feeders on the go. Keep rotating them so that they do not freeze through. Put a cozy over top of it to help keep it from freezing, or hang under a light bulb that emits heat. Change the sugar water every three to five days.

While we are on the subject of birds, this is also a great time to empty and clean out nesting boxes and houses for spring.

In the greenhouse

Use yellow sticky traps to monitor your pest population

Check for bugs. Keep an eye on things every week or so, to make sure that you do not end up with a huge explosion of bugs just as you fill the greenhouse with hundreds of little seedlings.

I put out yellow sticky traps and count the bugs on it every few days or so. If it remains pretty empty of bugs, all is well. If there are new ones, I spray with insecticidal soap once a week for three weeks. If you suddenly find that you have lots and lots of new ones, is time look into getting some kind of organic bio control, like nematodes or mites, depending on what the problem bug is.  

Continue to water frugally for another month yet. Remove any yellowing foliage or spent blossoms to prevent them from growing fuzz. Fuzz is not good.


Seeds that can be started this month. 
chives
leeks
onions
artichokes
--------------
calendula
echinacea
snapdragons
sweet peas

What to do outdoors... 

Not a whole lot of garden rambling going on at the potager right now, must admit. The snow that we had a few weeks back, has frozen into a slippery, icy mess, so is dangerous for walking on.

The potager and raised beds are ice covered and frozen solid 

When it melts or if you have better access...

Prune your fruit trees. This is a great time to prune back your apples, plums, and other fruit trees. Can be done this month or next, but March is too late.

Prune back roses, too. Cut back rose bushes to about 1.5 feet to let them branch out again in spring.

Prune fruiting and ornamental shrubs now, too. 

When the temps are a bit warmer, spray both roses and fruit trees with a dormant spray of horticultural oil and lime sulphur. This will take care of any over-wintering pests or fungal diseases. Read instructions for use on the box. 

Rake up and compost any soggy, spent perennials, like asters, mums, coneflowers and rudbeckias.

Remove and compost any soggy veggies destroyed by the hard frosts.

My seed cabinet
plus workshop planning and prepping clipboards... 

This cold and yucky winter weather is really great for getting in seed orders, organising the office, going through old seeds, and updating blogs and websites ; )  

I also love to go through previous years' journals and then make new plans for the year ahead.

What to do indoors... 

Go through your seeds and toss out any that are old and out of date. Most seeds are good for 3 to 4 years, some even longer, while anything in the allium family is only good for one year. Buy new dill and onion seeds annually.

Make a garden plan of what you would like to grow and and a list of the seeds you will need. Take the list with you when you go to Seedy Saturdays or garden centres.

Plot out seeding dates in your garden journal so that you know when to start what.

Read gardening books, plan something new and different for this year, book a workshop, attend a webinar. Read, learn, plan and enjoy!