Category Archives: Plant & Garden Reviews

What’s Up with the Gingers?

The raised bed that had the ginger family plants really did pretty well by the end of the season. They typically take longer than one growing season to produce mature rhizomes, so we decided to dig them up and save them for next year.

The plants all grew well this year, once they were established. The cardamom was by far the smallest, shown here in the very front. When the nights started getting down into the 40s, we decided to pot them up. We tried to dig up a large root area to keep them growing well. We moved them into my office under my light stand.

Unfortunately, I had to trim the three larger plants back a bit to fit them under my lights. I don’t think this will be an option next fall.

I did pull off a piece of each of the three edible rhizomes. (The cardamom has small rhizomes. The spice part is the seed pod. This takes about 3 years to develop.) The light pink rhizome on the left is the greater galangal. The center rhizome is turmeric, and the right rhizome is the ginger. Technically, all of the rhizomes could be used at this stage, before they develop the fibrousness and skin typical of the mature root. They are crispy, succulent, and fragrant at this stage. Of course, they wouldn’t last long without the skins.

You could also regenerate the plant from these pieces. Each of the little nodules or pointy nodes you can see on the rhizomes will grow a new shoot.

The plan for now is to keep the plants alive for the winter. Or, at a minimum, keep enough of the rhizomes alive to regrow next year!

Pepper-palooza: More Possibilities for Peppers

I shared a few pepper recipes using our garden peppers the other day, but I wanted to show some other options for using the peppers as well. 

Dehydrating Peppers

A lot of hot peppers are stored or used once they are dried. The most reliable way to dry peppers is using a dehydrator, although I’ve also had good luck (sometimes) using the oven or just letting peppers dry on the counter. The biggest issue with letting peppers dry on the counter is that if there is a chance the fruit have any fungal spores on them (or any blemishes), they can rot before they dry down sufficiently to store. 

On the recommendation of Denise, our Foods & Nutrition Agent, I used the dehydrator outside and set at 135 degrees. It took about 8 hours to dry the smaller, hot peppers. It took about 16-20 hours to dry the larger, thicker-walled peppers, like the paprikas and Aleppos. 

The dehydrator had several racks, so I was able to segregate the different peppers onto different racks. 

I dried some of the cayenne peppers, lemon drop peppers, hot paprika peppers, and Aleppo peppers. 

I don’t have specific plans for any of these at the moment, other than possibly grinding them into either pepper flakes or powder. 

Well…the Lemon Drop peppers I have a hot sauce recipe to try. Sometime. 

I did try to spread out the peppers to start, but they ended up towards the center anyway. These are the cayenne peppers. You can still see a little of the purple coloration despite the fact that they wee mostly red. 

Frying Peppers

The Espelette (Basque region) and Fushimi (Japan)  peppers, I tried with simple sautéing. The Espelette peppers probably should have been dried and ground instead…like a paprika pepper. Oh well. 

These are the Espelette peppers. I sautéed them in a little hot oil, then sprinkled them with salt. They were too spicy for me to enjoy in that way. Definitely would have been better as a spice.

I followed with a pan of the Fushimi peppers. Hot pan, hot oil, fresh peppers. 

After cooking, I sprinkled them with salt and let them cool enough to eat. This is one of the traditional ways to prepare these Fushimi peppers and the similar Shishito peppers. YUM! I am definitely regretting the bags of these peppers that I harvested and intended to sauté earlier in the season, but never got around to. 

These peppers were not all that exciting otherwise. The walls are thin, the flavor was a little “green” and the seeds were too prevalent. But you sauté them in hot oil, sprinkle with salt, and they are transformed into a delicious appetizer. 

Tomatoes: What Did Well, What Did Not

I’ve heard from a lot of gardeners this year that they had a poor tomato year. On one hand, I know that some of my tomato plants at home struggled as well. On the other hand, most of our plants in the Demo Garden did very well. My theory is that due to our rainfall this year, most average gardens were constantly losing nitrogen to leaching and the plants showed it. My plants at home were never as vigorous and lush as I would expect, and I blame it on lack of fertility.

Why did our Demo Garden tomatoes thrive? I think the fact that we incorporated 3-5″ of compost into the beds in the spring played an important role. We didn’t even add additional fertilizer, and the plants looked good all year long. I suspect that had we NOT had a rainy year, we would have had poor production due to excess nitrogen.

All that aside, we still had some obvious differences in our varieties this year.

Easy Winners

Esterina

29262598361_a797c5790aI know I’ve mentioned this variety multiple times over the summer, so it can’t be much of a surprise that it turns up as an easy winner. The flavor is like eating candy, the plants were vigorous and prolific, and the fruit didn’t crack no matter what the weather did. If you like sweet cherry tomatoes, I can’t recommend this variety highly enough. 

Good Performers

Beefy Boy

This is the second year that we had Beefy Boy in the garden. It performed well again this year. The fruit were good sized and the yield was also good. Again this year, there was some significant cracking. But…almost everything cracked this year, as most years. 

Tiren

The Tiren tomatoes are the ones that are in the front, slightly to the right of center. Overall, I really liked this tomato. For a large-fruited roma, it was quite prolific and, in fact, still had fruit on it until late this fall. The fruit had very little seed gel, and the flavor was very good for a modern, hybrid roma. (Believe me, many hybrid romas are not so tasty!) The fruit shape was a little odd. The biggest complaint I have with the variety is that almost all the fruit had a small spot of blossom end rot. Now, this could be largely related to this year’s weather. Or it could be a common, every year occurrence. I didn’t hold it against the variety this year, but if it were to be the same or worse in other seasons, I would probably become less keen on the variety. 

Orange Slice

This variety is another orange slicer, similar to the Chef’s Choice Orange that we grew last year. For whatever reason, I don’t have any good pictures of this variety. The tomato in the upper right corner of the above picture is one of the Orange Slice fruit, although not a fully ripe example. 

This picture from the tasting day shows the bright orange color much better. It was the clear winner in our tasting with the Master Gardeners. 

While it had good production, large fruit, and the same tendency to crack as most of the other varieties, I think I would probably prefer the Chef’s Choice Orange over this one. It’s hard to say when comparing one year to the next, but I think the Chef’s Choice was more prolific. Still, this was a good tomato. 

Goliath Original

This is one of the “Goliath” series tomatoes, the Original, as you may have guessed. It typically has large fruit, about 16 oz. I would say that it performed very comparably to Orange Slice and Beefy Boy. From a flavor standpoint, I thought it was a little sweeter and less acidic than some of the other red varieties. 

Worth Another Try, Sometime

Purple Bumblebee

This cherry tomato variety is part of the Artisan tomato series. It has a pink to maroon color with green stripes. For whatever reason, this plant was exceptionally vigorous (maybe too much compost?) and seemed to be not as productive for its size as you might wish. The flavor got mixed reviews. It was much more acidic and less sweet than others. I think the less-than-perfectly-ripe fruit were not as tasty, definitely. Still, it was a fun variety to try growing. 

Lucky Tiger Cherry

I had high hopes for this variety, another in the Artisan series. Naturally, it was a bit disappointing. The Lucky Tiger Cherry was green with a red blush when ripe. Unfortunately, the result was ugly rather than attractive. This variety also cracked terribly and the plants succumbed to disease when most of the others did not. The yield was pretty good, but the flavor also left something to be desired. Highly acidic flavor, but not much else. 

Verona

Verona was marketed as a tomato that was similar to Juliet but even tastier. Without having a true, side-by-side comparison, it is difficult to say for sure. However, Juliet rarely cracks. This variety cracked constantly. Not a good sign! The flavor was nice, but I would be hard pressed to say that it was better than a Juliet. The yield was good, but not the exceptional yield I expect from a Juliet. So…I wouldn’t call this variety the new, improved Juliet! 

Not Worth It

Black Beauty

The only picture I have of this plant is from when it was newly transplanted. This variety set almost no fruit, the fruit set was late, and what fruit it did set was cracked and rotten before we could harvest or taste it. There is the chance that the excess compost played a role in the lack of productivity, but I’m going to be hard pressed to want to try this one again. 

Early Doll

Another one with no pictures! This was supposed to be an improved variety of Early Girl, with an early days to maturity of 52 days. This plant didn’t have ripe fruit until well after most of the other varieties were producing. Could this have been a weather issue? Yes. So try it if you like, but I’m not overly keen to try it again. 

Those are my thoughts on our regular garden tomatoes for this year. I’ll have another post to discuss the container varieties. 

Hot Pepper Garden: What Did Well, What Did Not

I am finally returning to the task of reviewing our garden results this year. The next area is the hot pepper section of the garden. In general, I find that hot peppers do well here. However, because we had such a range of varieties, there are some differences in performance.

Easy Winners

Aji Amarillo

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This Peruvian pepper was a little slow to get started, but once it did, the plant was vigorous, healthy, and prolific. The peppers were good quality with minimal signs of sunscald and the flavor was nice, citrusy, and spicy. A great choice if you are looking for a hot pepper with a different flavor profile.

Tabasco

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The tabasco pepper plant enjoyed the hot summer and just kept on flowering, setting fruit, and ripening. I have to admit that we let way too many of these go to waste. However, if you want to make your own hot sauce, one of these plants should leave you well set. The plant got a little unruly and floppy late in the season, but that’s pretty normal.

Thai Chili

28742589595_ca69709c78I’ve never grown a Thai Chili that was not ridiculously productive, and this year was no exception. If you want hot peppers for cooking spicy Asian foods, you cannot go wrong with a single Thai Chili plant. The plant was quite compact compared to most of the other hot peppers, but still very productive.

Good Performers

‘Leutschauer’ Paprika

28830400612_919e28407cI was pleasantly surprised with how well this heirloom paprika pepper performed. This was a hot/spicy paprika. While the yield was not overwhelming, it did produce steadily. The fruit was nice sized and good quality. While the plant was taller and a bit leggy, it didn’t have any trouble with breakage or splitting that other plants had.

I did try one of these fresh the other day, and they have quite a kick. I have also dried some in the dehydrator and made a red pepper creams sauce with them. All those things are for another post, however. I’m definitely planning to find more opportunities to try paprika peppers.

‘Flaming Flare’ Fresno

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This pepper is an All America Selection and performed as expected. It had a good, consistent yield, nice fruit, relatively early fruiting, and a healthy, vigorous plant. It also didn’t experience any breakage, despite being relatively tall.

Hungarian Hot Wax

28389130484_42f986bb40The Hungarian Hot Wax wasn’t quite as prolific as the sweet banana peppers on the other end of the garden, but for the relatively compact plant, the yield was quite good. It was also an early and consistent producer.

Sweet Heat

29233384472_2eec8b3672Another All America Selection, this plant seemed quite out of place on the hot pepper end of the garden because the plant was so compact. It was also an early, consistent producer, but I think the yield was depressed somewhat because it was so shaded by all of its neighbors.

Worth Another Try, Sometime

Feher Ozon Paprika

28742598435_71d4cf0a7dThis pepper was rather interesting. It lost part of the plant early in the season and never really seemed to recover. It also set the first fruit extremely early, before the plant had gotten very big. Even though we picked off the first few fruit that set, it never got very big. So in comparison to the size of the plant and amount of foliage, the fruit set was quite impressive! Whether a variety problem or a weather problem, the small plant and heavy fruit set meant that it struggled to ripen the peppers. While we had a few turn red, many more stayed white. The white peppers were pretty much bland. This would be a good variety to try again another time.

Aleppo Pepper

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This pepper was a bit disappointing. It had a couple times that a branch broke due to wind or weather. The fruit, while of good number and size, seemed much more prone to sunscald or other rotten spots. I would like to try this one again sometime, using a cage to support the plant and hopefully having a season that is a bit less rainy.

Not Worth It

Espelette Pepper

29951792106_ec5af89a3aThe biggest challenge of this pepper was that it was so tall, leggy, and brittle that the branches kept breaking off. Granted, we had some spectacular storms. If you were to try it, I would definitely recommend caging or staking or tying of some sort for support. Because the plant was constantly trying to rejuvenate itself, the yield wasn’t all that much.

Those are my thoughts on the hot peppers this year!

Sweet Pepper Garden: What Did Well, What Did Not

While it will probably be at least 1 month (hopefully more!) before we get a killing freeze, we have a pretty good idea as to what has done well for most of the spring and summer vegetables in the garden. Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing what varieties I thought did particularly well, which varieties I would give another try, and which varieties I think are duds.

To start off, let’s take a look at the sweet pepper end of the Pepper Garden.

Easy Winner:

‘Goddess’ Sweet Banana Pepper.

28041839650_631a1733b2This variety had early and heavy yields of good quality, sweet banana peppers. All three plants were healthy, prolific, and continue to yield well now. They have slowed down some, but they are still setting more fruit. A great choice for your garden!

Good Performers: 

‘Tangerine Dream’ snack pepper

29347023095_4305709029This variety didn’t impress me early in the season, but it has come on strong late. It is a very compact plant and really is quite prolific. It would be a great choice for a container or small garden without much space. I find that it has a very slight bitter flavor to the skin, making it less tasty than the ‘Lunchbox Orange’ snack pepper. But, with compact plants and higher yields, it seems like a good alternate choice for a home gardener.

‘Escamillo’ yellow bullhorn pepper

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This colored sweet pepper had a very good yield as well, and the flavor was good. The plants were healthy, although weighed down by the fruit and got a bit tipsy in the wind. We harvested a big bunch of ripe peppers a couple weeks ago, but there are more set for later.

‘Great Stuff’ bell pepper

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This sweet pepper managed to avoid two of the biggest pitfalls that I see with bell peppers: fruit size and yield. The fruit size on this pepper was consistently larger to extra large. The yield has also been steady and ranged from acceptable to very good for a bell pepper. That means it wasn’t nearly as prolific as the banana peppers, but was definitely better than most bell peppers. It did have some trouble with falling over and getting sunscald, but we still got lots of good peppers.

Worth Another Try, Sometime: 

‘Red Knight’ bell pepper

I don’t even have a good picture of this one. That would be one sign that it wasn’t particularly spectacular. The plants weren’t as vigorous as some of the others, nor was the fruit very prolific. The fruit has nice thick walls, which is nice. But when there isn’t much of it, it’s a problem. Still, I know that some of the Master Gardeners have had really good results with this one, hence not bumping it further down the list.

‘Purple Star’ bell pepper

28637321782_9f63b3ec8eThis pepper has been a bit confounding. It has yielded relatively well, but the peppers take forever to reach full size, and a number of them stay fairly small. It’s such a neat color – purple first, then streaked with orange, before finally turning a dark orange-red color. Some of the peppers are nicely sized though. The plants again have been a bit leggy and floppy in the wind, but not more than any others. Again, lots of sunscald on this one, but it was probably more a factor of the plants falling over than lack of foliage cover.

Those are my thoughts on this year’s sweet pepper varieties. Have you grown any peppers this year that were really good?