Tag Archives: peppers

Visiting the Early February Garden

In the wintertime, I rarely take the opportunity to visit my Northeastern Ohio vegetable garden. This is doubly true in February, as this month is when I often forget I even have a garden. So on a cold, partly cloudy, early February Sunday afternoon, I breached my protocol and took a backyard tour.

Early February 2017 Garden
Early February 2017 Garden

Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, which I have to admit is mild for this time of year. I’d actually been out digging in the dirt a few weeks ago when we got up into the 60s. Why would one be working a shovel during a notoriously slow garden period? To dig up some food, silly. I purposely left potatoes, turnips and Jerusalem artichokes underground to store them. The earth is a much better place to keep these root vegetables from going bad than the refrigerator or the basement. Looking around, those uncovered places were now a dark rich brown. Everywhere else I inspected, the ground was covered with plants or other mulch, just as I planned it.

Garlic Under Straw
Garlic Under Straw

My garden design employs a blanket of organic material, whether it is fall leaves or common weeds. Covered soil is happy soil. Even in this bleak winterscape, the soil is alive with activity, albeit slowed down by the cold. I observed green even underneath the blobs of snow that dotted my raised beds and garden paths. Of course this green was not the bright vivid green of spring, but a dull representative of a future only a month or two away. After closer examination, I discovered some living leaves to sample. The citrus taste of lemon balm, the bitter garlic of garlic mustard, the spinach tang of Swiss chard, and the distinct flavor of oregano all reminded me that warmer weather was around the corner. The straw-mulched garlic peeked out from its blanket, becoming greener by the day.

Garlic Peeking Out
Garlic Peeking Out

Gazing around my semi-frozen field, I realized I had left plenty of untouched vegetable remains as tributes to fall’s frosts. Dead pepper plants stood blackened, as they can’t withstand even a touch of cold. Lamb’s quarters branch towards the sky, spreading their millions of tiny seeds with every winter blast. Tomato vines, long dead, twine through my fencing, reminding me to start their seeds soon for summer planting. Again, leaving these all here was done intentionally, as overwintering “good guy” insects need spaces to hide and survive.

As I returned to my house with numb hands and eyes squinting from the unusual bright sun, my thoughts turned to my perennials, as those need less care and return year after year. Strawberries were visible, even now, though it would be April or May before I’d see flowers. My Egyptian walking onions, so named because they spread themselves around the garden, were weak but present. The sage sat with a few leftover leaves on top like helicopter blades. Twelve-foot high Jerusalem artichoke stalks whipped in the winds, each one marking a treasure trove of calories and fiber we will enjoy this spring. Even the infant trees (maples, walnut, and honey locust) which coexist with my annuals made their presence known, though they all were still hibernating. I guess it takes a gardener to truly see what the future holds for this mostly brown dull rectangle of possibilities.

The Snarky Gardener’s Expansion Plans for 2015

The Snarky Gardener is expanding his food production area in 2015.
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The Snarky Gardener will be a broadforking fool in 2015

The Snarky Gardener is expanding his growing space by 100% in 2015. He has plenty of room east of his current fenced in primary 50 ft X 30 ft garden. The new area will be approximately 60 ft X 20 ft (1,200 square feet). It won’t be fenced in but instead will be planted with vegetables that groundhogs and rabbits find less desirable (see Groundhog Love for the complete list).  Garlic was already planted outside this fence during the fall.   The Snarky Gardener doesn’t usually believe in rototilling as it damages the soil so he will be strategically broadforking just what he needs and when he needs it.  He might also schedule a “broadforking class” a la Tom Sawyer through Kent Food Not Lawns or the Kent Community Time Bank to get additional assistance.

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Unfenced Backyard Garden plan for 2015. The trees are actually pine trees.

Potatoes will be planted next to the garlic in April or so. Since potatoes are in the nightshade family, animals normally leave them alone (unless they are really hungry deer). Tomatoes will be planted along 2 fences (50 foot long and 5 foot tall) running east to west.  These steel fences will be reused to fence in and protect other crops in future seasons. Added in between these tomato rows will be onions, leeks, peppers, and bush zucchini. Members of the Allium family (onions, garlic, chives, leeks) are generally avoided by animals, especially deer and rabbits. Some gardeners will specifically plant garlic around areas they want protected from unauthorized munching. The bush zucchini will be protected with fencing and/or cover until big enough to have protective spines. Years of groundhog intrusions (and watching the neighbor’s unprotected garden) have taught the Snarky Gardener that they won’t seem to mess with the spinier vegetables. Turnips, mustard, and clover will cover any other bare soil as living mulch. Turnips and mustard have been outside the fence for the years now at Snarky Acres without so much as a bite. Clover could be eaten by herbivores, but there’s plenty already out in the yard, so the SG is not concerned.

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Steel fencing used as tomato cages

 

The Snarky Gardener will also be adding more hugelkultur mounds to his property. Last fall, there were 4 raised beds built with much sweat and cursing. At least two more will added to the south of these in the spring. The six plus will be filled with plenty of annuals, including tomatoes, peppers, beans, and greens. There are additional plans to build hugelkultur beds north of the garden where big, giant pine logs (2 feet in diameter) have been attracting groundhogs, poison ivy, and brambles. These logs will be cut up and used to create perennial herb, onion, turnip, and rhubarb beds. All these can handle a little shade as this area is in the 4 to 6 hour daily sunlight realm and should be left alone by the aforementioned plant-eating wild animals.

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Those logs are where the new hugelkultur beds are going in
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Fenced Backyard Garden plan for 2015. The brown rectangles indicate the raised hugelkultur beds.

One more thing: the Snarky Gardener may be adding second-hand vegetables (aka livestock) to Snarky Acres in 2015 and will be writing about it in the spring.

How to Succeed with Your First Garden

Want to garden but don’t know where to start?

The Snarky Gardener is here to help!

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A nice sunny spot with just a little afternoon shade and lots of leaf mulch

1.  Chose a nice sunny spot

Spend some time to observe your chosen spot.   You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred.  If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens.  Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.

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Next to the house, a small shade herb garden (mint, chives, etc)  which only receives a few hours of direct sunlight a day.

2.  Start small

Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out.  Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort.  Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.

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Zucchini, corn, and beans (around the corn) – three of my favorites to eat
3.  Grow what you like to eat

Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes).  If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.

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Easy peasy peas

4.  Grow easy stuff

Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin.  Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area.  For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble.  Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.

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The lawn sweeper makes gathering leaf mulch simple

5.  Mulch a bunch

Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants.  Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch.  You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will.  Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)

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Snarky Acres in the fall

6.  Visit often

Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else.  Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food.  Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do.  I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all.  Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).

7.  Learn about food seasons

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Turnips love the cold.
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Turnips at Christmas in Northeastern Ohio

Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather.  It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started).  Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times.  They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped.  Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.

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The wild and allusive Toy Fox Terrier digging up my garden
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Groundhog making a run for it.

8.  Watch out for critters

If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal.  A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space.  There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some.  Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea.  Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.

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Cherry tomatoes inside the house – 12/22/2013

9.  Think outside the box

There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”.   Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc).  If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching.  And don’t be limited to your backyard.  Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).

Good luck and happy gardening!

Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.

How to Save Pepper Seeds

Think saving pepper seed is difficult? Think again.

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Green jalapeno – not ready for saving seed from
Fully ripe Jalapeno Pepper
Fully ripe Jalapeno Pepper

Saving pepper seed is really easy. The most important step is the first – leave the pepper on the plant until it gets very ripe. This will mean the pepper will turn color from the standard green to its final hue, either red (like the above jalapeno) or yellow or orange or whatever. The fruit will feel a little soft when squeezed.

Important note:  If the pepper plant is a hybrid (aka F1),  it was a cross between 2 different varieties and your saved seed may not produce the same fruit as its parent.  Also, there is a small chance your pepper was cross pollinated with other nearby peppers, so again, your results may vary.  Ah, plant sex.

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Once it’s ready, pick your pepper Peter Piper style and cut it up.  You will want to have something the seeds can be stored in for drying, like this medicine bottle cap.  Be careful not to slice through the center as that’s where all the seedy goodness is. If you cut up peppers on a regular basis for cooking, it’s the same, except you keep the seeds instead of tossing them. Remove all the seeds from the pepper and membrane, and put them in your drying vessel. Then cut up the pepper for use now or bag it up and freeze for later (they freeze really well).

Warning:  If you are saving hot pepper seeds, be careful with burning your skin.  You will want to wear gloves if you can.  And if you’re like the Snarky Gardener, you won’t and then you’ll need to use dish soap, rubbing alcohol, milk, or yogurt to wash away the hot irritating oil.

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Leave the seeds out to dry for about a week or two, shaking them back and forth every couple of days. Now they will be ready for storing or planting.

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Pepper Seed – the final dried product
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Snarky Jalapeno Peppers – the next generation

Good luck and happy gardening

Oh the Plantmanity!

Note – “plantmanity” is like humanity but with plants.

May and June have been tough on my gardening nerves.  May gave us several frosty low temperature nights (including a hard freeze on 5/24/2013).  The pots and leaf mulch came out to cover tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.  Unfortunately, the coverings weren’t enough for some and those plants didn’t make it (cue the violin music).  I lost 5 or 6 tomato plants plus 3 eggplants.  A few of my potatoes also got frozen but they have grown back since.  Fortunately, I hadn’t planted my peppers yet, since they seem to do better when planted after the weather has warmed up (think June).  Also, the Snarky Gardener has been overzealous this season with plant starts, so replacements have readily available.  All in all, not a complete disaster but I will consider this next spring when starting and planting my tender little friends.

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Frosted Tomatoes (how sad) – 5/25/2013

On May 31st, my dog River and I discovered some furry friends in the garden.  I had this issue last year, but it took me a week or two before figuring out that I had a groundhog.  Half my corn crop, not to mention my spinach, my carrots, my cucumber vines, and various other tasty treats were lost before trapping the little basta . . . .  critter (aka Woody).  This year, I noticed some of my carrots had been nibbled down (both inside and outside my fence), but I really knew I had a problem when I saw the tiniest little guy scurrying from the garden into the stacked up logs behind the garden.  Bucky (yes, I named him Bucky) was so small he could run straight through my 2″ X 4″ fencing without skipping a beat.  A few days later, we noticed a second, much bigger groundhog (I named her Mamma), who had dug under the fence to get in for the free buffet.  I currently have a trap set up inside the fence near that opening with delicious apples and corn as bait.  So far I’ve lost a little spinach, all my broccoli, all my Tuscan kale, some carrot tops, and lots of peas plants.  On 6/4/2013, I picked all the spinach just to be safe.  It was starting to bolt anyways, so I’d rather eat it then have fuzzy little creatures make a salad with it.

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Broccoli after groundhogs got done with it – 6/5/2013
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Here piggy piggy – 6/4/2013. (That’s comfrey in the foreground.)
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Woody the Groundhog – captured 7/15/2012.   He’s in a better place now.