Monday, May 18, 2009

Capers in Pots (Mostly)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been experimenting with caper bushes for a few years. My best results so far have been with growing them in pots. There's one of the best looking shown above growing in an 18-inch diameter terra cotta pot. Below is a photo of my very first plants, purchased mail order from Richters Herbs at least 7 or 8 years ago. There are 2 plants in that pot. My first successful experiments at growing capers from seed were done with seeds from these plants. Since then I have grown plants from seeds from Tuscany and Croatia as well.



The plant above wasn't trimmed back this winter so it is rather funky looking. The next photos are of plants that I trimmed back and moved into larger (18-inch) pots this past winter. These are plants grown from the Tuscan seeds, as is the plant in the first photo. There is a fair amount of variation in the Tuscan source plants.


The next plant is one of my more successful attempts at growing capers in the ground. It is growing atop the wall that retains the slope below the house. The wall is south-southwest facing. These bushes are a different strain of caper (Croatian), being more prostrate than the plants shown growing in the pots.

Here's a newly opened flower. Caper blossoms open in the late afternoon or early evening and only last a day or two. They have a fragrance that reminds me of the scent used in Johnson's Baby Powder.

Here's another shot of the plants atop the wall. These were planted 2 years ago from 4-inch pots. I hope that they will cascade down the wall someday.

And over here is one of my less successful attempts at growing a bush in the ground. This one has been in this spot for almost 2 years, transplanted from a gallon pot. It has shrunk, but I haven't given up yet.

The collage shown below is of my most recent attempt at putting plants in the ground. These were planted on the slope below the vegetable garden last fall. What a mess, one is definitely dead, trampled by the foraging deer. Another one looks completely dead except for the hint of a shoot coming up from the crown. The rest were doing ok until they dried out in a heat wave last month but now they look like they may be coming back. Well, I'm not going to take them out, but I am going to plant rosemary on that slope too. May the strongest plants win!

Here's a couple of plants in smaller pots that I did not get around to moving into larger pots this winter. It's interesting how they will grow to a size that the pot can accomodate and then stop. Capers don't really like having their roots disturbed so I prefer to transplant my most valuable plants (to me) when they are dormant. Although I have found that I can pot up from 4-inch or gallon pots at any time. Pot grown capers need regular watering and food to look good and produce flowers. When the weather is hot I water the plants almost every day and feed them once a week with a water soluble fertilizer through the summer and early fall. I stop feeding them around October to allow them to harden off and go dormant for the winter.

In the same area there is a volunteer coming up through a crack in the wall!


The deer did nibble at the plant shown above while they were looking for tastier treats such as the Boston ivy that is growing on the nearby wall...

It's time to start spraying the ivy with Liquid Fence. The stuff really works and since we don't get summer rains to wash it off, I only have to reapply if the plants put out significant new growth.

Now here's the ultimate goal... Caper buds ready to be picked and preserved in salt.

23 comments:

  1. Wow growing your own capers. I never would have even thought of that. Do you ever let them bloom or do yo always pick off the buds?

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  2. Daphne, I like to let some of them bloom. The flowers are too pretty to pass up and the caper berry is tasty when pickled.

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  3. They look great and the flowers are beautiful. I think I'll try some in pots and some on the wall.

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  4. What an unexpected and wonderful tutorial on another plant I probably can't grow! I love the leaf shapes. Capers are my favorite, but it never occurred to me to investigate how they grow. Do you harvest them just by picking the buds one by one? No wonder they are expensive at the store! Kind of like saffron - do you grow your own crocus for that too?

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  5. Chaiselongue, good luck! Will you grow them from seed or can you get plants?

    Karen, I read somewhere that a general rule of thumb for growing capers is that if you can grow olive trees that you should be able to grow capers as well. They are supposed to be able to tolerate cold snaps down to 18F. The caper buds are harvested one by one... I did try growing saffron once, but only one plant escaped the gophers and I haven't tried again. At least the one plant bloomed!

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  6. I think these are a must just for their lovely-looking blooms. The fact that it is fragrant makes it ultrasuper! I'd love to grow them too!

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  7. I've never used capers when cooking but then again I do most of my shopping at Food Lion. :( I hear about them all of the time on the Food Network though. I had no idea the plants and flowers were so beautiful.

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  8. I too have attempted saffron but not capers! I do not know if I could bring myself to harvest those buds when they bring such beautiful and exotic looking flowers. A few years ago I worked at an herb nursery and we raised capers but I never picked one up for myself. After reading this post I certainly wish I had. Great post. :)

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  9. Cynthia, I've saved lots of seeds from my bushes if you're interested... There are a few tricks to growing them from seed but it's not too difficult if you know what they need.

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  10. What an inspiration you are! Plant/flower/berry/pot are all delightful!

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  11. This is a fantastic idea! Can you leave them in pots and bring them in for the winter? I live on the edge of zones 6-7 and would really love to try this! Also, I have read about pickling them, but can you give some more info on preserving in salt?

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  12. cleverbean, I imagine that you could bring them inside for the winter, a cool place like an unheated garage would probably be best since the plants should be allowed to go dormant in the winter.

    I've talked about brining and salting capers on my Caper Harvests post, but basically what I've worked out is that I put the fresh buds in a brine of 1.25 ounces kosher salt and 1 cup water for 2 to 4 ounces of buds, keep them in a cool place (55F) for 4 weeks, change the brine weekly and at the end of the four weeks, drain them and pack them in pure coarse sea salt and keep them in the fridge where they will keep for a long time. I've got a couple of batches from last year that are still perfectly good. I also like to air dry some of the buds after brining them.

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  13. I transplanted a caper plant from a near by rocky hill and the leaves have sommehow lost vigor after 1 day. Can you please help! I live in the mediterenean

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    1. I hope that by now your caper plant has recovered. But I'm not sure if it is possible to transplant a caper plant from the wild. The young plants do not like to have their roots disturbed, it kills them. Older plants have very extensive root systems and transplanting would sever many of them making it difficult for the plant to take up water and nutrients. The plant would wilt to begin with but perhaps in time put out new roots and reestablish itself. I think it would help if you could dig the plant out with as large an intact rootball as possible, try not to shake off any soil, wrap up the root ball in a biodegradable fabric or paper that can be kept on the rootball when you plant it. It would probably help the plant to make the transition if you kept it shaded for at least a few days after moving it. Please let us know if you had success moving the plant, I'm sure other would-be home caper growers would like to know,

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    2. I should add that transplanting a caper is probably best done in the winter when the plant is dormant.

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  14. Graet info, thanks. When is the best time to sow?

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    1. The best time to sow caper seeds is in the fall, let them overwinter outdoors in the cold and with luck they will germinate in the spring. I've written more about this on my post about growing capers from seed.

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  15. This is great info. I've got a caper plant, the only one that has survived from many attempts, now about 6 years old in a pot. I know it needs feeding, but what should i feed it with? Would it like the same liquid feed I make up for my tomatoes? Or something different? Thanks for any suggestions!

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    1. Hmm, I do think I should update this post for info like this. I've been experimenting with different feeding regimens over the years. Lately I've been giving my caper plants a mix of liquid fish fertilizer (4-1-1) and a liquid bloom fertilizer (2-8-4), a tablespoon of each in 2 gallons of water. The 2 gallons of solution are enough to feed 6 large pots (18 inch). I feed them once a week through the growing season which is about April through September for me. This seems to work quite well. I also top dressed the pots this spring with some very well aged compost. In the past I've used a fertilizer that you dissolve in water (Maxsea), again, a similar mix of half regular and half bloom formulas at half strength once a week. That worked well also but I prefer the ease of using a liquid fertilizer that mixes instantly.

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    2. Thanks Michelle! I'm in SoCal, so a similar growing season. I'm going to start feeding my plant this weekend! I agree with you about the convenience of liquid fertilizers - that's what I generally use.
      Frankie

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  16. EXCELLENT info!!, i'm living in tuscany and wondered if you know whether i can transplant a wild caper plant from a wall into a pot or any other place for me to cultivate my own capers, many thanks chris

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  17. Hello! This is the best informational article about capers I've come across- and I've looked! How many plants do you think it would take to produce enough capers to fill an 8 oz jar? That's probably the most I'd use in a year... Can't wait to find some seeds :)

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    1. That's really hard to say. It depends on how successful you are at getting your plants to grow. Over the course of a season a mature happy plant in a big pot might be able to produce that, but I've found that all my plants are variable, some might produce only about an ounce of buds and others more and others almost none. I've had a difficult time getting them established in the ground, killing most of them, but found a spot on top of a wall where a couple of plants are very happy - those have produced a few pounds of buds this year after growing there for about 8 years, this has been the best year ever. You can see a recent photo of those on my Instagram feed @cvveggie. Good luck. If you can't find seeds (try Seeds From Italy) check back with me, I'll probably have some fresh ones this fall.

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