Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pepper Progress Report

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 28) I am joining some chile heads who volunteer with the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners for 3 hours of chile talk on KKUP radio FM 91.5 (not a Master Gardener event) from 10 am to 1 pm Pacific Daylight Time. You can listen live online here. So in the spirit of the event I think it's appropriate to do a progress report on the chiles/peppers in my garden.

Peppers (and Tomatoes) on July 27
 The pepper plants are growing quite well and almost all of them have peppers of some size although nothing is near ripe yet. The leaves, as usual, are somewhat wrinkled and distorted, I still don't know for sure why that happens but it doesn't seem to affect the fruits in any way so I've stopped fretting about it.

I'll do a survey of the all the peppers...

Pimento (Turkey)
Pimento (Turkey) is one of the experimental peppers that I got from Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm. SSE offers seeds through the annual yearbook that are available only to members. Pimento Turkey should be sweet with little to no heat and have thick flesh. It was originally collected in Irelize, Turkey in the 1970's, grown in Alabama, and subsequently donated to SSE.

IPK P 262 (Turkey)
 SSE Heritage Farm offers a lot of peppers that have no description, just an ascension number from the seed bank that they got their original seeds from and where the seeds were originally collected, and for most of them whether they are sweet or hot. I chose a few of those to try just to see what I might get. IPK P 262 (Turkey) was listed as "Unsorted" so I don't know yet whether it should be sweet or hot. It's looking like a stereotypical hot pepper, but I've grown long slim peppers like this that are entirely sweet.

IPK P 557 (Italy) is described as having "pendant fruits 4" long... and mature from green to orange. It's a sweet pepper and looks like it might end up being a bell type.

IPK P 632 (Italy)
IPK P 632 (Italy) is another "Unsorted" pepper with no description. So far it has fairly good sized pods that are standing upright. One of my favorite sweet peppers, shown further along, starts the same way. Again, I don't know if this will be sweet or hot.

IPK P 633 (Italy) is supposed to be sweet.  

IPK P 557 (Italy)
I put this one in again because it was a blunder on my part. Dang it, this should be IPK P 852 (Italy), but somehow it got left out and a duplicate 557 went into its place. I've got a couple of 852's in 4" pots and they look pretty good so I am going to pot them up into bigger containers and give them a chance.

Aji Amarillo blossom

There's 2 baccatum type pepper varieties in the garden, Aji Amarillo is returning for a second year, I loved it last year, it makes The Best Pepper Jam. It's just starting to bloom and this looks like the first pepper.
Rat Gnawed Aji Amarillo
The Damn Rabbit isn't the only critter causing problems in the garden, no sooner than I had replaced one Aji Amarillo that had died than the new plant started to get trimmed. So I slipped a water bottle that had the top and bottom cut off over the plant to keep the Damn Rat from gnawing any more shoots and leaves off the plant. At some point I'll have to cut the bottle away, but not yet, the plant is still too small.

First Buds on Aji Amarillo Grande
Aji Amarillo was great so Aji Amarillo Grande must be even more great, or at least as good. It's a larger plant with larger peppers but the same great flavor. It's slower to bloom than it's baby brother, that's the first flower buds starting to show up.

Chile Negro should be a "black" or dark brown pepper with medium heat, although Native Seeds/SEARCH says an occasional plant will bear red fruit. I hope I didn't get that occasional oddball.

Craig's Grande Jalapeno
Craig's Grande Jalapeno is also returning after a successful run last year. It's a good sized jalapeno and in my garden it came out with very little heat, but it's supposed to be medium hot. It made great dried Chipotles last year and that's what I want to do with them again this year.

 Ometepe is a sweet pepper from Nicaragua. William Woys Weaver wrote about this type of pepper (Chiltome Grande) in his book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From.

Rosso Dolce da Appendere
Another returnee from last year. Rosso Dolce da Appendere is a large sweet thick fleshed pepper that is perfect for roasting. I love roasted peppers and try to grow plenty of them so we can enjoy them in some preserve form through the year.

Etiuda is new in the pepper patch this year, it is a large thick walled orange bell pepper. I'm still searching for a great yellow or orange bell pepper. I grew Giallo di Cuneo for a few years and while it is a good pepper I was looking for one with thicker flesh that will stand up better to being roasted. Etiuda is looking good so far.

Florina is back again! I loved this pepper last year. It produces large red thick fleshed pods that are great roasted. It has a very distinctive sweet spicy flavor.

Lady Bell
 Lady Bell has been my go to red bell pepper for 4 or 5 years now. It is dependable, productive, delicious, and great roasted.

Shepherd's Ramshorn
 Shepherd's Ramshorn is another favorite sweet red roasting pepper that I've grown as long as I have grown Lady Bell. They both got trialed the same year with a bunch of other sweet peppers and are two of the few that have stayed in the lineup.

Petite Marseillaise
 Here's a new pepper to me but an old pepper from the South of France. It is sweet, wrinkled, and ripens to yellow and is supposed to be good for stuffing or pickles.

Violet Sparkle
Yet another new pepper, Violet Sparkle goes through a few color changes, starting yellow green, then developing purple streaks, progressing to purple with yellow streaks, and finally ripening red. It is supposed to be sweet, crisp, and thick-fleshed.

Yummy Belle
Yummy Belles are back again. These small sweet peppers ripen to yellow. They are very sweet and crisp. My favorite way to eat them is raw in salads or just cut into strips for snacking or to put on a crudite plate. They are also very prolific!

 A new favorite last year. Gogosar is a cheese type pimento, very sweet and very thick fleshed. I couldn't get enough of them. One of my favorite ways to use them was to cut the tops off, stuff them, and bake them. They are great roasted also.

Odessa Market
Odessa Market is one of the few that stayed in the lineup after my big sweet pepper trial a few years ago. It's a beautiful pepper, starting a lime green and ripening to a bright red. It's one of very few sweet peppers that I like to eat when it is still green. It is very prolific but I'm afraid that my crop will be curtailed this year because the Damn Rats have been gnawing on the plants and I only have 2 plants because of difficulties with germination.

Mirasol is yet another new pepper (I'm always trying new peppers, very few return after a year or two). When dried this pepper is called Guajillo, which is how I intend to use it. It has mild to medium heat.

Mareko Fana
Mareko Fana turned out to be one of my favorites last year. It makes the most fantastic pepper flakes, which I make without seeds.

Natural Smoke Flavor from The Soberanes Fire
The Soberanes Fire is still burning out of control and is getting closer. The plume of smoke has been flowing straight this way for days now. At this rate my peppers are going to get smoked before I can even harvest them. Joking aside, this is a bad one. It's burning in very rugged terrain, I've hiked in a number of places that it has now scorched or is threatening and I know how difficult it is to get around there. The fire fighters have an incredibly difficult job with this one and so far the fire is winning - almost 24,000 acres burned, 22 structures destroyed, and most sad a fatality. They keep putting the projected containment date off, from July 31 to August 5 and now to August 31. It's only 10% contained now so they have a long way to go.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Harvest Monday - July 25, 2016

The harvests were pretty light last week, but I did harvest the first big head of summer broccoli.

Batavia Broccoli

This head has already starred in 2 meals, the first one was a salad of blanched broccoli, tomato (not mine yet), shallots, feta, basil, and pine nuts, with a dressing of red wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, and olive oil. That turned out to be really tasty, tomato and broccoli are surprisingly good flavor companions. Meal number 2 was a stir fry of broccoli, green beans, onion, garlic, and ground veal with oyster sauce - another tasty combo. And there's still a chunk of the head left.

Green Fingers cucumbers, Mouse Melons, and Romanesco zucchini

The cucumbers, mouse melons, and zucchini are coming in at a pretty good pace now, not a glut, but not too little either. 

Romanesco Zucchini

Assorted Beans and Apollo Brokali
But the bush snap beans have slowed to a trickle. They might be able to produce a second round, but I may not give them a chance because the pole beans have really started to climb their trellis and should be producing before the bush beans even have a chance of producing a second round. I think I can make better use of the space where the bush beans are growing with a planting of something else. The spring planting of broccoli produced a few more shoots after I put up a barrier around the plants to keep the Damn Rabbit out. I actually haven't seen the DR in a few days so I'm hoping it either left the area or perhaps got nabbed by one of the many raptors that hunt here.

I lifted a few of the varieties of onions last week and one of them got used right away so it is in the tally but the rest won't be weighed until they've been cured or used.

On a more depressing note, that ominous cloud is smoke. That's the view from the top of the ridge across the valley looking toward the coast. The Soberanes Fire is an out of control wildfire burning about 8 miles away that has scorched about 11,000 acres and 6 homes so far and is only 5% contained. It's been burning for 3 days and is likely to continue on for days more (hopefully only days). Fortunately for me it's burning away from here and the prevailing winds will probably keep it going that way. But it truly is a depressing sight and I feel awful for the people whose homes are in its path. Wildfires are one of the perils that we face in most of California where summer rain is a rare event and the natural landscape becomes a tinderbox. I haven't seen this much smoke since a large swath of Big Sur and the Ventana Wilderness burned back in 2008 - that fire started in July and burned through October. 

Back to the harvests, here's the details of what the garden produced last week:

Red Swan beans - .5 oz.
Roc d'Or beans - .5 oz.
Rolande Filet beans - 4.1 oz.
Royalty Purple Pod beans - .5 oz.
Slenderette beans - .3 oz.
Batavia broccoli - 2.7 lb.
Apollo brokali - 6.1 oz.
Green Fingers cucumbers - 2 lb.
Mouse Melons - 2.8 oz.
Rossa Piatta d'Italia onions - 1.1 lb.
Romanesco zucchini - 2.3 lb.

Total harvests for the past week - 9.1 pounds (4.1 kg.)
2016 YTD - 278.2 lb. (171.6 kg.)

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Onion Update

Here's what the onions looked like the other day. The greens on a few of the varieties had toppled over, a sign that they have matured enough to lift and cure.

Di Maggio Cippollini
The first to come out were the so called cippollini  onions. They didn't do very well, most of them split and they are just not cippollini sized. It occurred to me today that I've probably got my timing wrong. I sowed the seeds last fall along with the rest of the onions so they had all winter and spring to grow and they got to be too big. I'm going to try again next year but I'll hold off sowing the seeds until January or February and set them out in early spring. Perhaps I'll try a few sowings staggered over a few weeks and then perhaps I can figure out the proper timing to get those lovely little flat onions. A few of them bolted but not too many and I suspect that bolting will be less of an issue with a later start.

Cippollini and Rossa Piatta d'Italia Onions

There was a lot of soil clinging to the roots so I gave them a quick rinse and set them out on the garden path to dry a bit.

L to R: Rossa Piatta d'Italia, Di Maggio Cippollini, Tropea Rossa Tonda

I improvised a drying rack made from a length of old wire fencing set up under the dappled shade of an oak tree. I pull the tops through the fencing and let it hang below. There's plenty of air circulation around the onions and other than foggy nights the humidity here is very low. Rain is definitely not an issue so I can just leave them uncovered until the tops and outer layers dry out and they develop a protective skin. Then I'll trim the tops back, not all the way, I like to leave a good 6 inches of the tops which seems to help prevent pathogens from getting into the bulbs. This is the setup and method that I used last year and it worked great.

After I lifted the three varieties that had flopped over I went through the patch and bent the necks on the rest of the onions to help them along. I need this space to plant out some Romanesco broccoli and cauliflower seedlings that I've already got growing for the fall/winter garden.

So here's a few observations about the varieties I grew this year:

Rossa Piatta d'Italia - this variety resisted bolting, not one of them produced a flower stalk. However, a few of them did split. Splitting isn't ideal but it's better than bolting. I love that intense color so I will probably try these again next year. I also like that they matured fairly early. I'm going to have to do some research about splitting to see if there's something I my try to prevent it.

Tropea Rossa Tonda - This one matured early as well and it resisted splitting, but there were a couple of bolters. I can put up with a small portion of the onions bolting since I can use those right away. You can see in the photo of them on the rack that they produced some nice sized well shaped bulbs so I'm probably going to try them again next year.

Rossa Savonese - This one won't be returning next year because at least half of them bolted.

Rossa Lunga di Firenze - I grew this one last year and I was quite happy with it. There were a few bolters last year but this year all of them resisted. It's a torpedo shaped sweet onion, not a storage onion, but they will store for at least a couple of months if cured properly. I'll be growing it again next year. You can see them in that last photo, they are standing fairly tall on the left.

Exhibition - This is an extra-large sweet yellow onion, not a keeper. My biggest complaint is that the seeds didn't germinate very well. I ended up setting out only 8 or 9 seedlings. But they've grown well and they are about ready to lift. None of them bolted but a couple split. I might be trying them again next year.

Yellow Sweet Spanish Utah - Another large sweet yellow onion. Just about every one of these bolted. They won't be back.

Ramata di Milano - Another yellow onion, supposedly a good storage onion. They all bolted as well. Bye bye!

That's all the varieties that I tried other than I'Itoi which I wrote a bit about on my July 11 Harvest Monday post. I'm still searching for a yellow or white storage onion and have already ordered seeds for a few varieties that Territorial Seed Company is offering. They have 3 yellow intermediate day length onions that are supposed to be good for overwintering. Gate Keeper, Top Keeper, and Keepsake onions each sound promising. I also added Desert Sunrise, a red cippollini type, to the order. And Zoey, a sweet yellow onion that is supposed to keep up to 4 months somehow found its way into the shopping cart as well.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Harvest Monday - July 18, 2016

It's interesting how so many garden bloggers have been mentioning the weather lately - too hot, too wet, too dry, or some combination thereof, and I'll chime in with it's been too foggy and cool (dry is the norm here in the summer so I can't really complain about that).

Fog Foggy Fog!

The marine layer (the layer of cold air that sits over the water along the coast) is about 2000 feet thick at the moment and the fog that it generates gets sucked inland at the end of the day. The ridge across the valley is about 1800 feet high so the fog comes rolling over the ridge (the coast is only a few miles away as the crow flies) and sucked up the valley at the same time. During the day the fog gets pushed back to the coast which is only 10 miles down the valley and we have a persistent breeze from the coast that keeps things cool. The high temperatures for the past week have been from the low to mid 70ºF's for a few hours in the afternoon and down to the mid to low 50ºF's at night and well into the morning. The summer veggies have responded by slowing down.

Bush Snap Beans

Fortunately the bush snap beans aren't too sensitive to the chill, but that is the last big harvest from the spring sown beans. I think they have done quite well, I've harvested over 9 pounds of beans from about 20 plants.

Green Fingers Cucumber and Mouse Melons

The cucumbers on the other hand have been slow to produce. I noticed the date on the tag the other day and couldn't believe that I sowed the seeds on March 23 - 4 months ago! I've harvested just over 2 pounds of the Green Fingers cucumbers and the Gagon plants haven't produced one single fruit yet.

Pink Plume Celery

It's a good thing I took a chance on spring sown celery, it's quite happy with the cool weather. I've been harvesting 3 to 6 stalks every few days and the plants just keep getting bigger.

I'm not sure if it's the more consistent (cool) weather or if the new varieties of onions I'm trying are more bolt resistant, but there seems to be less of a problem with bolting onions this year. Although, as I mentioned in a previous post, two of the yellow onion varieties I'm trying are not very resistant. Those two onions above were bolting, but at least they had started to bulb and there was lots of good onion to use, even the greens were still good.

Even the usually hyper-productive Romanesco zucchini is slow to produce lately, just 2 zucchinis in the past week. The little Mouse Melons are coming in now, I've really been enjoying their crisp texture and slightly tart cucumber flavor in salads. The strawberry plants that I have growing in pots are doing ok, the biggest problem is having to share with the critters - sow bugs, birds, and rats, and maybe the Damn Rabbit too. There aren't very many beans left on the plants after that harvest shown above and the pole beans are just starting to climb their trellis, so there will be a gap in the bean harvests for a while.

And of course more celery, eat what's producing!

Here's the details of the harvests for the past week:

Red Swan beans - 5.9 oz.
Roc d'Or beans - 8.3 oz.
Rolande Filet beans - 1.7 lb.
Royalty Purple Pod beans - 5.2 oz.
Slenderette beans - 3.7 oz.
Capers - 6.1 oz.
Pink Plume celery - 2.1 lb.
Green Fingers cucumbers - 9 oz.
Mouse Melons - 5.7 oz.
Ramata di Milano onion - 1.3 lb.
Rossa Savonese onion - 1.2 lb.
Romanesco zucchini - 1.2 lb.

Total harvests for the past week - 10.2 pounds (4.6 kg.)
2016 YTD - 369.2 pounds (167.5 kg.)

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

P.S. Don't forget a warm sweater if you are visiting coastal California in the summer!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Between Seasons

It has become mostly a waiting game in my garden, the spring veggies are gone and the summer veggies are growing but for the most part are not yet producing.

Early Morning Fog Shrouded Garden

The fog descended last night, as is typical in the summer here, but it will have retreated down the valley by mid morning. On cooler days it will hang about just a few miles away, as it has done for most of the past 2 weeks and on warmer days it will retreat nearly all of the 10 miles to the coast. This morning it was only 46ºF (7.8ºC), which is not unusual, nighttime and early morning temperatures typically stay on the cool in not downright cold side through July. That's why I don't rush to get my summer vegetables going, especially solanums which resent those cold nights.

So now I'm waiting for the Tromba d'Albenga squash vines to start climbing their trellis. One seedling is still sitting under a water bottle cloche, it's a replacement for a seed that didn't germinate. The cloches help to protect the young plants from the birds and they help to keep the small plants a bit warmer at night. It's been cool enough lately that I've kept them covered 24/7. The next trellis is planted with a couple of Kiwano Melon seedlings and a Vine Peach seedling, all of which are under cloches. And the far trellis is planted with Honey Nut Butternut and Candystick Dessert Delicata squashes, which got to be too large for their cloches just a few days ago. Off to the right are a couple of Discus Buttercup plants, a bush type. Those are the happiest of the winter squash plants so far, they outgrew their cloches almost a couple of weeks ago. I left space in the far corner of the bed for melons, which I'm now waiting upon to germinate in some pots that are sharing space on a heat mat with a couple of my cats.

I'm waiting upon the tomatoes and peppers. They are growing quickly, the cool nights don't seem to slow down their vegetative growth. Tomatoes blossoms don't pollinate when temperatures dip below 50ºF (10ºC). I used to get my tomatoes into the garden as early as possible (I used to sow tomato seeds in February and this year I waited until April 6). The early start used to make for some huge tomato plants that didn't set fruit until late June or July because the nights are just too cold. I finally wised up a few years ago and held off on the solanums which has allowed me to expand the spring vegetables.

The pepper plants didn't like the early start either, the cold seemed to stunt their growth. I think the later start is producing happier and healthier plants and isn't delaying the harvests at all. Tomatoes and peppers are ripening at the same time as they used to when they had an extra month to 6 weeks to grow. The later start has also allowed me to grow a cover crop/green manure in the solanum bed and get it dug in and thoroughly incorporated into the soil before the tomato and pepper seedlings get planted, so the soil is happier and healthier too.

Here's a task that I can't wait any longer to get to, the tomatoes need some trimming and training to get them up the trellis and out of the path.

It's still mostly a waiting game with the beans and corn. I'm waiting for the climbers to scramble up their trellises. The Black Coco bush beans have set a lot of pods, now I'm waiting for them to dry. The one thing I'm not waiting on is the bush snap beans, they are waiting for me to get around to harvesting them again!

The corn is growing quickly, but it will be a long wait until they produce any ears. And then a further wait for them to dry on the stalks.

I'm waiting for the poppy seed pods to all dry and then I can uncover them and gather the seeds. They had to be shrouded because the rats know a good thing and they climb the stalks and eat the seeds. I'm also waiting for the snap beans to get to be large enough to withstand the birds so that I can remove the barrier around them.

The onions and shallots are making me wait until they finish flopping over and then I'll be able to lift them and cure them.

Brussels Sprouts Seedling

It will be a very long wait for the Brussels sprouts to grow up and start producing sprouts. They are doubly protected with a sleeve made from an old gallon water bottle, top and bottom removed, and a mesh tunnel which is what is making the photo so hazy. I started them a month earlier this year so I'm hoping for fresh sprouts for Thanksgiving.

Yay, not much more waiting for the first of the summer Batavia broccoli! I'm so glad it's producing because the rabbit made a mess of the winter sown broccolis. I just wrapped them up in whatever came to hand until I can get around to erecting a barrier around them. The Damn Rabbit really cut into the sprout production. I guess it's really just time to pull these poor things and put a barrier around the newer plants instead.

I had to put a barrier around the eggplants after the Damn Rabbit found the leaves and flowers to be tasty. It will be a little longer wait for the first eggplant now...

More waiting for the next round of lettuce. Thank goodness I got some extra protection up around the tunnel before the DR could do any more damage after finding its way in.

Still waiting for the DR to discover the apple slices in the trap... Then it's bye bye bunnie, welcome to your new home in the park.