June Vegetable Garden Update + Blackcaps

OMG where does the time go!? I’ve acquired a staggering number of new plants in the last month, and I’ve been working to get them all planted.  And of course this is prime time for the vegetable garden and things are really going well.  Here’s an update on some of that.

I seeded carrots and parsnips in here but as seems to be typical of the Apiaceae family in my garden, I got shit for germination.  So I gave up on most of them and set these starts in, which I sowed sometime in maybe April.   Round 2 of lettuce (round 1 is gone, round 3 is just emerging in seed trays in the house).

Chinese cabbage, lettuces, mustard flowering

I sowed these cabbage family babies three weeks ago and they really need to get in the ground, like now. We just harvested all the garlic, so there’s an entire bed awaiting them.  I will have to fence it or the ducks will eat these.

Brassicaceae for winter

The super-hot peppers are coming along really well – some are starting to get tall and branch out.  Basil barely visible behind it suffered a chicken attack when I forgot to close the birds in one night, but it’s mostly surviving.

Super-hot Capsicum chinense hybrids (and the two pimientos)

Tomatoes are, as usual, insane.  I can’t wait to compare the grafted ones to the non-grafted ones – I hope there is a noticeable difference (to justify the effort, mostly).

Ananas Noire

These melons look really good.  They really like the wood chip mulch!

Moon & Stars watermelon, other melons

I started several Tagetes lucida plants from seed last year and set them out here and there to trial them and see how they grow in different settings.  I didn’t expect them to make it through the winter, but OMG they all came through.  The “un-scientific” name is Mexican tarragon or Spanish tarragon, and it’s definitely easier to grow than French tarragon.  Of course it’s a completely different plant (same fam, tho), so the flavor is a bit different.  I would say sweeter and more anise-esque.  Mountain Valley Growers did some culinary comparisons you can read about here.

Tagetes lucida.  The owl was a gift from my brother

Now we’re in the front yard, where I have relegated eggplant because of verticillium in the back.  So far, they don’t get it at all out here.  If they do eventually, I’ll have to start grafting them (I got bigger grafting clips, too, because I’m probably going to do it next year regardless).

Leeks, eggplants, Tropaeolum because I object to using another genus as a common name, damn it

The taller eggplants in the back are Millionaire and the shorter ones in front should be Prosperosa.  And yeah, that’s Geranium ‘Rozanne’ doing her thing in the upper right.

I should probably make this next bit its own post but I’ve already done all this so, whatever.  Behold:

Rubus leucodermis

No sane gardener would ever grow our native blackcap in their backyard on purpose.  I swear.  What the hell am I thinking? Well, if you’re not familiar with it, let me tell you about this absolutely wonderful western native plant.  Bullet points for you speed-readers.

  • Doesn’t get those damned fruit flies (spotted-wing drosophila)
  • Fruits start ripening in early June and continue well into July
  • Fruits on old wood (floricane-fruiting)
  • Thorns are recurved, so they grab you a bit, not horribly
  • Gorgeous white bark, really cool looking in winter
  • Spreads by tip-layering, not by runners
  • Supremely climate-adapted and needs no supplemental water, ever
  • Vigorous to the point of OMGWTF if you don’t watch it
  • Fruit flavor is less tart. less bright, more complex, maybe sweeter? And they’re a bit seedier which I don’t mind.

So what I do, is I treat the thing just like a normal raspberry, except for the tip-layering bit (do not permit unless someone wants a plant).  And the watering (none).  When the floricanes are done, I’ll cut them out at ground level, and at the same time I’ll prune the primocanes back by about half – if I don’t do that they will eat things like my neighbor’s house, and pruning them encourages them to branch a lot, so then I get a more compact-shrubby plant instead of a 20′ long bramble.  Like any raspberry you absolutely cannot leave this plant alone and expect it to behave.  But aside from that, in my book it scores well above normal raspberries (which, as previously mentioned, are all coming out this year).

Here’s the whole plant – see the tall primocanes with the glorious white “skin”? On left, lower, are the floricanes which looked just like these primocanes last year at this time until I shortened them by about half. I’ll have to reduce the number of them this year, too.  Eventually this plant will get some form of support structure.

Evidence of house-eating potential

When/if these primocanes touch ground, they will root.  Right through grass and mulch and everything.  I’m helping this one so my friends Kate and Katie can have a plant.

tip-layering, with assistance (totally unnecessary but speeds the process)
Blackcaps are delicious

I don’t remember when I discovered these, as a kid, or who (Mom? probably, native Oregon kid that she is) turned me onto them.  But I do remember, every summer, going up into the woods and finding them at the edges of forests, and in clearings.  I had two particularly good patches and if I ended up encountering them unintentionally I’d have to use my shirt, or my hat, or whatever I could find (Acer macrophyllum leaf?) to hold them, because neither patch was particularly close to the house and, being a lazy-ass Taurus, I wasn’t about to actually go back and get some kind of bucket.  We made freezer jam with them whenever sis TJ and I would pick enough.  Rarely straight blackcap jam, though – the best was to mix them 50/50 with red raspberries from the garden. – that was everyone’s favorite.

Freezer jam is the best because, since it’s uncooked, the flavor is much more true to the berry.  I asked Mom about her recipe and what she said is that she generally followed whatever was on the Sure-Jell pectin box.  Pectin and pectin-type products vary a bit in terms of what’s in them, and how they recommend going about it, so the things to remember are (god I love bullet points):

  • Don’t use a sugar substitute, or try to use less sugar than the directions call for. This will invariably lead to disappointment.  If you want to preserve fruit but not with sugar, just freeze the fruit whole and you can make a simple compote in January with the frozen berries and little to no sugar.
  • If the recipe says to strain some or all of the fruit to reduce the seeds, it’s optional, and you should experiment to see what you like.  I would definitely strain a straight blackcap jam, but I might not strain it at all (or just strain the blackcaps) if it’s half and half.
  • Do not skimp or cut any corners with whatever the recipe says with regard to stirring and/or letting the fruit stand.  You want to make damn sure all the sugar gets dissolved completely and all the pectin does whatever it’s supposed to do.
  • If the recipe calls for lemon juice, know that it’s not like adding lemon juice or citric acid to a low-acid fruit for shelf-stable canning.  In other words, lemon juice is mostly for flavor, and may help with the jelling process, but it’s not needed for preservation.
  • Use whatever containers you want but again, since you’re just freezing, you don’t need actual canning jar lids and rings.  A good seal helps prevent freezer burn.  I like actual freezer jam jars with the colored plastic lids the best.

All right, now I feel weird because I’ve strayed dangerously close to the food-blog corner, so just to assure myself and you all that this is still really about plants, here’s another plant picture – The stems of R. leucodermis, as mentioned, look absolutely ghostly and really cool in winter.

 

Peppers, this year and last year.

Last year was a fantastic year for peppers and I think this year will be even better.  I got almost all the plants I am going to grow into the ground yesterday:

34 plants in this 4′ x 10′ bed

The one plant I overwintered went in as well.  This is a sweet pepper called ‘Yum Yum Gold’ from Territorial Seed.  It wasn’t my favorite variety of all we grew last year; it was just the one plant that was easiest to get at to dig out of the ground and transfer to a pot for the overwintering experiment.  It continued to flower and fruit throughout the winter.

Yum Yum Gold

It tended to go in batches.  Just finishing one up now:

Ripens brilliant orange.

Of GREAT INTEREST to me is that when I first set pepper plants out, ostensibly to harden off to both direct sun and cold, I usually have to be quite careful especially with direct sun or leaves will get sunscald.  The ONLY plant that experienced any scald at all was this one I overwintered.  And you know what? I barely protected them.  Their first day out was a mostly sunny day and all I did was throw some shade cloths (okay burlap sacks and old patio mats) over the hoop house for a few hours midday.  Their second day was all-out sun.  No scald.  Remarkable? I think so!

Eggplants, and peppers for distribution

The plants above are all 10 of my eggplants and all the peppers I’m hoping to find homes for.  Look, NO sunscald! I attribute this to my new T5 light in the garage. That thing is clearly as bright as the sun! Or damn close.  Also, when the light goes off in the garage at night it gets cold – almost as cold as outside.  So this year’s hardening off process was made much, much easier by that setup. The same thing happened with the tomatoes, by the way; I just didn’t document it.  I’m thrilled.

The one plant that did get sunscald is the overwintered one – it was in my office grow-closet under a (much further away and smaller) T5 and a red/blue LED.  That apparently didn’t prepare it as adequately for direct sun – here’s the result:

It’ll be fine – it’s a big plant and can afford to lose some leaf.  Those little guys just don’t possess the photosynthetic real estate for this.

Another fun happening is that ALL the peppers from the garage are flowering, and some are already fruiting.

BIG flowers on ‘La Bomba’ Jalapeño
Flowers and a tiny fruit! This is ‘Alma’ paprika – new one this year and I’m excited about it.
Unbelievably early fruit on ‘Sarit Gat’ which is one of my favorites. Ripens brilliant yellow and hot as hell.

Here’s where I was last year with this lovely family of plants – as you can see, things are ahead this year.  I sowed earlier this year and they grew much better under the garage T5.  On the far right, top, all those little peppers are the super-hots (Carolina Reapers and such).  I gave all those to my pepper-fiend friend shortly after this and he said he didn’t have much luck with them.  So this year, I’m growing them out…

Solanaceae and some melons, May 3 2017

And here are the super-hots this year:

L-R: Carolina Reaper, Trinidad Scorpion, Chocolate Bhutlah

Here’s what they looked like on April 9, less than a month ago; I was just up-potting them:

Lookit this gorgeous thing.  The leaves of these plants smell like Habanero pepper fruit!  Capsicum chinense hybrids are very different plants than the standard C. annuum we’re all familiar with.  This the first time I’ll be growing them all the way to fruiting…

Chocolate Bhutlah

I may grow the super-hot peppers in pots – or maybe some in pots and some in the ground.  If you caught my “almost all the plants” at the beginning of this post, these are what I was talking about.  Oh and these pimientos, most of which are for another friend.  I’ll give him the six big ones and keep the two smaller ones.

‘Ashe County Pimiento’, seed from Baker Creek

Peppers are almost entirely pest-free for me but interestingly, I have had to deal with aphids and slugs(!) already! These little green aphids have been increasingly problematic in the indoor grow areas.  A new one to me in the last couple years, these are foxglove aphids AKA glasshouse potato aphid. Here they are on this eggplant, which they really love. I’ve been simply washing the plants with water repeatedly, and hand-squishing.

They seem to appear in conjunction with some leaf curling and “savoy-ing” on peppers.  You can really see it here – savoyed/curled on left, mostly normal on right.

I expect the plants will grow out of this because these are foxglove aphids and high temps will kill them, HAHAHAAA! I’ll get this hoop house up to 100F easily and fry their asses.

After leaving the peppers in their pots over two or three nights, when I went to plant them in the ground yesterday I was surprised to find slug damage on ONLY Habanero plants!  What’s up with that? All the Habaneros had lots of slug damage while there was next to no damage on any other pepper.

WHAT.

As you can see I put some sluggo down just around these.  And these girls will help, too.

Ramona and Carmen on slug patrol right after I planted the peppers.

This week we have such fantastic weather, and I am so relieved because that means a) plants will finally actually grow and b) we can finish painting the house!  The house painting project has stalled out a lot of gardening plans, because I don’t want to plant things anywhere near where they would get power-washed or trampled or painted.  Bigger plants are easy enough to tie up and/or wrap in plastic, but new little plants are much harder to watch out for!  And I really can’t wait to get the patio finished so I can get all the patio furniture out of the dang garden where it’s sitting around being an obstacle course, and back to the patio.  And my patio plants, of course, which are all over on the north side of the house for the time being.

A list of all the pepper varieties for 2018:

  • Ashe County Pimiento – a small, heart-shaped pimiento (yeah like for stuffing olives)
  • Alma Paprika – round, thick-walled, no heat
  • Feher Ozon Paprika – longer tapered and ripens from sticky-note yellow to brilliant vermilion
  • Yum Yum Gold – small orange sweet pepper
  • Gatherer’s Gold – sweet banana type, ripens orange
  • Mellow Star Shisito – thin-walled, no heat, for frying
  • Carnival Bell – old seed from Burpee and they ALL came up!
  • Padron – thin-walled, definitely heat, for frying
  • Habanero – slug magnets apparently
  • Habanada – zero heat Habanero, also slug magnets
  • Early Jalapeño – small Jalapeño supposedly earlier than others, this is the only one I’ve grown until this year
  • Purple Jalapeño – which ripens red and has purple leaves, very pretty!
  • La Bomba Jalapeño – I hear it’s a taste-test winner among Jalapeños
  • Sarit Gat – bright yellow scimitars of pain
  • Hatch Valley Red – standard med-hot New Mexico type, seed from my friend in NM!
  • Guajillo – also from same friend, I’m not sure he labeled this right, we’ll see
  • Ancho/Poblano – yey rellenos!
  • Golden Ghost – brilliant yellow ghost pepper do NOT confuse this with shisito they look the EXACT SAME when green (ask me how I know this is a problem)

And from the inedible department:

  • Carolina Reaper
  • Trinidad Scorpion x Trinidad Douglah
  • Chocolate Bhutlah

We’ve decided we like to prioritize a wide variety over an abundance of a single type, so I’m really interested in trying even more new ones for next year. I’d love to hear what are your favorite pepper varieties!!

Tomatoes in the ground!

Back on April 9th I put the hoop house up, and I let it sit around with nothing in it until yesterday, April 19th, when I set most of the tomatoes into it for the WHOLE day which is a crazy thing to do (sunburn! cripsy!) but these plants are so hard already they’ll be fine even if they lose a leaf or two.

I brought them in for the night, and then brought them out again around noon today.

 

I decided to think about spacing and which ones should go in this bed (I have many more tomato plants than I’m actually going to grow here).

David happened by and took this picture. I don’t know how I would EVER get anything done around here if I didn’t have ducks to help me with planting.

Then I just decided to go for it.  Why the hell not?  With two exceptions I planted one grafted and one not-grafted specimen (heh) of each variety.  San Marzano got one extra grafted plant.  And I only planted one (not grafted) Sungold because omg you only need one.  For your whole block!

So here we are, right on time.  It *feels* really early to be putting tomatoes out but I always do it at the end of April.  So maybe it’s a week earlier than normal?  This is definitely the shortest-ever hardening-off period.  Two days.  I attribute that to two things: 1) they’ve been in the garage where night temps have been getting regularly into the low 50’s since I took the light off 24-hour and let the timer turn it off at night (it’s been about 2 weeks of that) and 2) they didn’t really get sunburn yesterday.  Must be the brightness of that T-5? I have the citrus out in direct sun as well, and they’re not burning either after life under T-5 all winter.

I do use wood chips in my vegetable garden, I know, isn’t that weird? No one does that.

The above pic illustrates how I deal with the wood chips.  The trowel marks the spot where I’m going to dig a hole for the plant.  The big cleared-off bare soil area is where I’m going to put the pile of soil from the hole.  Once the plant is in then I put the wood chips back over wherever there is bare soil.  Some people don’t like wood chips in vegetable beds because they don’t like having to move chips around to plant things, or they don’t like it when the chips inevitably mix with the soil, or whatever.  I don’t care about any of that because the chips are the best mulch I’ve ever found for vegetables.  The trickiest thing is when I have to pull a big plant up by the roots – that can certainly make chips and soil mix together more than I want.   But I just do it carefully and actually, most of the time I just cut the plant at soil level and leave the roots in place (really big cabbages may be an exception).

All done for now.

See how kind of dark and curled and hard those plants look? You can’t tell from the photo but these plants are STIFF.  This is all just because I changed everything up a lot this year in the indoor seed-starting area and I’m still getting the hang of it.  Different lights, different container medium, different fertilizer, and on top of that grafting tomatoes.  Talk about unscientific experiments!

Here’s the scraggly band of remaining tomato plants – and this is not all of them.  The spindly one with the yellow leaves is a rootstock plant.  I just want to see what that’s like so I’m going to let it flower and fruit for the hell of it.

And in addition to that I have about 8 more inside, which I’m only *just* starting to harden off – they are very soft plants so the hardening off needs to be really careful.   Of these remaining plants, 4 will go to Carol on Wichita Ave, 8 will go to my sister and hopefully the rest will find homes somewhere.

We have some exceptional weather coming up so I’m going to try to get as many plants in the ground as possible this weekend.  Wish me luck!