Even though I see it happen every single year, it always surprises me to see how fast things grow and change in the garden at this time of year.
This is also the time of year we typically experience a change in the weather from cool, moist spring to hotter summer temps. That tends to push our summer veggies into overdrive of growth and our spring veggies to finish up. I think the theme of this week’s post is Growing Like Crazy vs Done and Almost Done.
The tomatoes are growing like weeds. An interesting observation currently is that the non-grafted plants may be slightly ahead of the grafted in flowering. The grafted plants are putting on a lot more vigorous sucker growth. Many trials have found that grafted plants may tend to fruit slightly later and have more foliage, so what we are seeing would seem to track with those results.
The ‘Peas-in-a-Pot’ that were covered in pea pods a week ago are now bare of flowers and pods. They are not bare of powdery mildew however. The yellowing and disease, coupled with the lack of production is a really good indicator that this variety has run its course and it is time to remove it. It will soon be too hot for the plants and it is done producing.
Back on the growing fast side of the equation, the cantaloupes, watermelons, cucumbers, and other melons that we have planted have germinated and are growing well. They seem small right now, but I can guarantee you that they will double, triple, or quadruple in size over the next week or two.
In contrast, the garlic is quickly approaching the end of its growing life. Typically it should be harvested and cured when about 5 leaves have died. As you can see, this variety is going to be ready to harvest soon.
This last picture is in the “FINALLY” category. We had planned to plant Aji Amarillo peppers in the Peruvian Garden, because they are the most popular pepper in Peruvian cuisine. However, the seeds we ordered never germinated, despite being planted twice. We finally gave in and ordered seeds from another source and planted them last week. Happily, we have gotten several seedlings from this batch. So this variety will be late in the garden, but hopefully we will get something.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I finally had time to try a few recipes using some of our less common peppers in the Demo Garden. I still have a few other recipes I want to try as well.
I may have to plant hot paprika peppers myself, just so I can make this recipe every week. I adapted a straight red pepper cream sauce to the paprika sauce. A lot of sauces call for powdered paprika, but I wanted to try using the peppers fresh.
This was pretty much the easiest recipe that I never knew I was missing out on. You put two cups of cream and the chopped peppers in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the cream is reduced by half and the peppers are soft (about 30 minutes). If you want something that is lower fat, you can use fat free half and half. (I checked with our foods agent. She also said you could use cream and just use it sparingly to accent your food, rather than drowning your food in the cream sauce.)
Then I took a stick blender and blended it until smooth. Then I added a little salt and pepper. I served it with pasta and chicken. The hot paprikas added just the right hint of flavor and spiciness. I also tried this recipe at home with plain colored, sweet peppers. It was also tasty, but not with the same depth of flavor.
I had been looking for some good recipes to try with the Aji Limon (Lemon Drop) hot pepper all summer. A Peruvian friend said that for a true Peruvian experience, I needed to use these peppers to make ceviche. While I like fish, I’m not confident in my ability to purchase good enough quality fish in a landlocked state to make fresh ceviche. So I settled for this salsa recipe. (I also have a hot sauce recipe to try out another time.)
This recipe called for 8 oz. of the fresh Aji Limon peppers, 8 oz. of yellow bell pepper, 2 mangoes, brown sugar, and a bunch of vinegar and lime juice. I’ll be honest…I was afraid of how hot it might be.
At that point, I brought back the stick blender to smooth out the lumps.
After tasting, I would characterize this as a “hot” salsa. In other words, comparable to the heat level you might find if you buy a salsa labeled “hot.” If you regularly eat or enjoy spicy foods, this will be a nice salsa for you. If you are not into spicy foods, you will probably want to steer clear. That said, as with any salsa that contains a lot of brown sugar and mango, it is very tasty.
To use some of the Tabasco peppers, I was tempted to try making homemade tabasco sauce, but I decided to be kinder than that to my office mates. I settled for making a southern-style vinegar sauce.
Then all I did was heat a cup and a half of white wine vinegar and pour it over the peppers in a jar. You could add garlic or peppercorns, but I decided to stay simple. I’ll give it a couple weeks to “steep” before trying the flavored vinegar.
Still to come in another post: the Espelette peppers, the Fushimi peppers, and dehydrating peppers.
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.
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.
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.
I’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.
I 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
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
The 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.
Another 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
This 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.
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
The 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!
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.
‘Goddess’ Sweet Banana Pepper.
This 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!
‘Tangerine Dream’ snack pepper
This 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
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
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
This 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?