Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 Pepper Reviews

I've had bad luck with peppers for the last few years, but not this year! I feel I have enough data this year to do a post entirely about peppers.

Source: Seed Trade
Transplanted: March 27
First Harvest: July 29

Growth: These were my last peppers to harvest. The plants are pretty tall, coming up past my waist, with small leaves. The yield didn't seem that great, though I only got 3 plants, so I didn't get that many peppers in total.

Appearance: Looks a lot like the "cherry" peppers I get in my CSA, but these have the thin walls of a drying pepper. Bright red. They turned out a bit smaller than the cascabels I've bought from the store.

Flavor: These are mildly hot peppers used for drying and grinding into chili powder. Their name means "rattle" in Spanish, because the pods don't wrinkle up when dry like some peppers, allowing the seeds to rattle around in the hollow interior. I'm quite familiar with these, since they're a main pepper in Mexican cuisine and are easily obtainable at the store, but this is the first time I've grown them myself.

Grow Again?: Yes, I went ahead and saved seeds for them, though they didn't seem to do as well as the Negro peppers, which have the same basic culinary use. I'm going to give them another chance, though I might discontinue them in the future if it turns out other drying peppers do much better.

Emerald Giant
Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Transplant Date: March 16
First Harvest: June 18

Growth: Shorter plants with much bigger leaves than most of the hot peppers. Not as heat tolerant as the hot peppers, but still very good yields. I got a nice big batch of peppers off of them.

Appearance: Nice big bell peppers, somewhat elongated. I often have trouble growing large bell peppers like they have in the store. These weren't quite as big as the ones in the store, but were close, and much bigger than the ones I get from my CSA.

Flavor: The flesh was nice and thick, unlike some sweet peppers I've grown. I usually let my sweet peppers completely ripen before eating them, because they're sweeter that way. These were nice and sweet and crispy. Good for any bell pepper application.

Grow Again?: Yes, I plan on growing these again, though I'm going to keep trying some other bell pepper varieties just in case there are some out there that are even better. But these seem quite promising.

Lemon Drop
Source: Seed Trade
Transplant Date: March 16
First Harvest: June 3

Growth: Short, stocky plants, with broad leaves. Very healthy plants and big yields. These are a different species than most peppers. Most peppers are Capsicum annum, while Lemon Drops are Capsicum baccatum, a species more common in South America than up here. I've never grown this species before, so I wonder if the differently-shaped leaves is typical of the species. Also, the pods stick up when they are first growing on the plant, and then hang down as they get bigger. Most C. annum I've grown stick down from the beginning.

Appearance: These are some of the prettiest peppers I've seen. They're lemon yellow and sort of wrinkled, even when fresh. Always perfectly shaped, though they started getting smaller as the weather got hotter, but all peppers seem to do that.

Flavor: I'd call these medium-hot, or maybe medium-high hot. Hotter than a jalapeno, maybe close to a serrano, not as hot as a habanero. I chomped one by itself just to see, and it burned pretty hot but died out quickly. They do have a bright, citrus-like flavor. Not the sort of pepper you'd put in red chili, for that you want earthy-tasting peppers, these are bright and acidic. Like I posted about before, I made hot sauce with some, and dried the rest. It would probably be good to add one or two fresh ones to a stir-fry to give it a little kick. They're a bit juicier than the other hot peppers I grew, suggesting they aren't primarily a drying pepper, and are more for using fresh. I wish I knew more about Peruvian cuisine so I could try it in an authentic dish from its native homeland.

Grow Again?: Yes, the plants grew great, and the peppers taste great. There was a bit of a Lemon Drop craze on the gardening forums a few years ago, but it seems to have died down as people move on to the next fad (yes, gardening has fads just like anything else). I like how they have a bit of a different hot flavors than the hot peppers I'm used to (which are mostly of Mexican or Southwestern origin). It adds variety, and maybe I should look up some Peruvian recipes to try.

Source: Native Seeds/SEARCH
Transplant Date: March 31
First Harvest: June 30

Growth: Not as tall as the Cascabels, but otherwise similar. Small leaves, heat and drought tolerant. I only got 5 plants, but they did well and produced a good amount of peppers, despite being overrun and squished a bit by some of the tomatoes next to them.

Appearance: Their name means "black" in Spanish, though they're also known as Pasilla ("raisin") or Pasilla Negro. They're an interesting purplish-brown color when fresh and ripe, conical in shape.

Flavor: This is another drying pepper to use for chili powder, moles, etc. Same culinary niche as the Cascabel peppers, with very thin walls to facilitate drying and mild heat. They seem a lot like a miniature Ancho pepper to me, and smell very similar, this nice, rich, sweet smell. Rick Bayless describes peppers like these as tasting like a "spicy raisin" and I agree. Very tasty.

Grow Again?: Yes. I think I like these better than the Cascabels, but I'm giving both a second chance just to make sure. I ended up drying all of mine, and I love taking the top off the jar they're in and inhaling the fragrance. This is gonna make some goooood chili! I'm also tempted to try making some turkey mole some day, though that's a complicated dish with a long list of ingredients that takes hours to make. But for a special occasion it might be worth it, and I have a copy of Mexico: One Plate at a Time that has an authentic recipe for it.

So those are all the peppers I grew on purpose, but like I mentioned before, I also got a couple of mystery peppers mixed in. I think I know what one of them is, but the other one has me stumped.

This is the larger mystery pepper that I have no idea what it is. They're bright red and medium-hot with thin walls, that seem like they're meant to be a drying pepper, which is what I ended up doing with them. They're not as sweet or earthy tasting as the Negro or Cascabel peppers. They seem too narrow to be an Anaheim or New Mexico chile. Any ideas? I guess I'll use them for chili powder, unless I find out what they are and if they're really supposed to be used for something else.

I'm pretty sure the other mystery pepper is a Cayenne. They're long and skinny and very hot, with very thin walls. They were practically self-drying. They dried up just sitting on the counter without needing to be put in the food dehydrator. I think I'll use them for Italian-style hot pepper flakes.

To sum it up, all the peppers did well this year. My least favorite may have been the Cascabels, mainly because there are other peppers that fill the same culinary niche that might do better for me. But I'm still going to grow them again just in case. The Lemon Drops were very interesting, and I'd like to find out more things I can do with them. The Emerald Giants did a great job as a bell pepper, and the Negros look like they'll make some excellent chili powder and maybe even some enchilada sauce or mole.

Now I have a huge supply of dried peppers! I filled up two quart mason jars with dried Lemon Drops, another couple of jars with the mystery peppers, and another of Negro chilies. I'm pretty much all set for dried peppers for a while. I'm even considering giving some away.

Not only that, but all my pepper plants are still alive, though they quit setting fruit in the heat. But this means that they'll probably survive the summer and start producing again once it cools down a bit.

Friday, August 10, 2012

2012 Tomato Reviews

This year was so much better than last year weather-wise! We actually got rain! The main problem I had with the tomatoes was because I didn't bother to cage them, and they got enough rain to grow into a jungle of vines. This caused a lot of loss due to tomatoes lying on the ground and getting rotten or eaten up by bugs. I picked up a lot of good looking tomatoes only to have earwigs and ants pouring out holes in the bottom. Last year it was so hot and dry that the tomato plants didn't grow big enough to need cages, so this year I didn't bother with it. I won't make that mistake again.

Also, in general, everything was late this year, not just the tomatoes, because this spring I moved and also at around the same time got married. So that didn't leave a lot of time for planting or tending the garden. With that in consideration, the tomatoes did quite well.

Arkansas Traveler
Transplant Date: March 31
First Harvest: July 3

Looks: Good sized, round, pink globe tomatoes. Occasional slight ribbing on the top. Good looking tomato.

Taste: Very tomato-y. Not particularly sweet, but good rich flavor.

Growth: They were a bit late to harvest. They were the last tomato I harvested from, even though they were planted at the same time as my other tomatoes. However, after that they turned out to be the most heat-tolerant tomato this year. I was still harvesting some into August, though the fruit got much smaller, to about the size of a golf ball.

Grow Again?: Yes, this one performed well. It lived up to its reputation as a heat-tolerant variety. Seems like a good, all-purpose, reliable tomato with good yields. I planed some more for a fall crop this year. I haven't successfully grown fall tomatoes yet, but maybe it'll work this year.

Big Beef X Eva Purple Ball
Transplant Date: March 31
First Harvest: June 30

Looks: More pink globes. Very similar to Arkansas Traveler. In fact, it was nearly impossible for me to tell them apart. They were pretty much identical in size, shape, and color.

Taste: Maybe a little sweeter than Arkansas Traveler?

Growth: I got these as a bonus in a seed trade. I didn't ask for them. They were sent with some other seeds I did request. They're supposed to be a stable cross between Big Beef and Eva Purple Ball. I haven't grown either of those varieties before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I ended up with two plants that grew tomatoes like this, which I think is what they were supposed to look like, but then I got another plant that grew these pink Roma-looking tomatoes, like a pink paste tomato, and another plant grew very sweet little pink grape tomatoes. So I don't know if the seeds were mixed up or the cross isn't as stable as they thought.

Grow Again?: No, I used up my seeds and didn't save more. Too confusing. I'm not even sure what these tomatoes are supposed to be like, so I think I'll just try to get some Eva Purple Ball instead. I did save seed from the mystery pink grape tomatoes that I got, because they had such good flavor even my veggie-hating husband liked them. I'm going to grow the seed some time and see if I get more tomatoes like that. Maybe I'll have a whole new variety on my hands!

Big Month
Transplant Date: March 31
First Harvest: June 11

Looks: This was this year's paste tomato, and it did well. I had never heard of this variety before I saw it in the catalog for Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. If I recall correctly, it's an Italian variety. The fruits were almost rectangular in shape, a good size, bright red, and dry and meaty inside like a good cooking tomato should be.

Taste: Was just fine for a cooking tomato. I ended up drying a lot of them, because I was very busy this summer and didn't have time to do a lot of canning.

Growth: I planted four plants, which gave pretty good yields. Like most paste tomatoes they're determinate and give their crop mostly all at once. Next time I'm going to try growing more and canning some.

Grow Again?: Yes, this seems like a pretty decent paste tomato. No problems with Blossom End Rot, which a lot of paste tomatoes are prone to. I saved seeds and will grow again.

Spear's Tennessee Green
Transplant Date: March 27
First Harvest: June 11

Looks: I got this in a trade, and it was the first green-when-ripe tomato I ever grew. I got beefsteak tomatoes with cracks and ribbing on top, grassy green on top, with yellower colors on the bottom. Here's what it looked like sliced open:

As you can see, inside it would turn sort of pinkish, almost a watermelon-like color. Very strange looking tomato, but that's what I was expecting.

Taste: Sadly, the LOOKS of this tomato was much more interesting than its taste. At best they were bland like store tomatoes, but at worst, they actually tasted bad. I've never had a tomato that tasted bad before, but sometimes I'd get some that had this bitter aftertaste. I thought maybe it was because they weren't ripe enough. It is hard to tell when green-when-ripes are ripe, but even after leaving them on the counter until they just about rotted, they never tasted any better. It's a big disappointment because I've heard so many good things about green-when-ripes.

Growth: The plants themselves were vigorous and healthy, but the fruits got terrible Blossom End Rot. I think I lost more fruits to rot than I actually got to eat, which turned out to not be such a big loss. But I would say that the huge, sprawling plants turned out to be a bit of a waste of space in the garden.

Grow Again?: Obviously not, though I feel bad about complaining about this tomato so much. Please keep in mind that just because a variety does badly for me (or well, for that matter) doesn't mean it will do the same for you, especially if you live in a different climate than I do. Remember, heirloom tomatoes are not one-size-fits-all. That said, I've already ripped my STG tomato plants out to make way for a fall planting of Arkansas Traveler and Cherokee Purple. I cut back the other Arkansas Traveler and Big Month plants in hope of them giving a second harvest when it cools down. I do plan on giving some other green-when-ripe varieties a try some day.

So there's Tomato Class of 2012. To recap, Arkansas Traveler was my favorite. Big Month also did admirably. Spear's Tennessee Green was maybe the worst batch of tomatoes I've ever grown. Reports of this year's garlic and peppers will be coming soon!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Dog Moon and Lammas

This past week was Lammas on Wednesday, which is traditionally the first harvest in Europe, but here it's the height of summer heat. My local full moon names calls August's moon the Dog Moon, for the dog days of summer, and after a nicely rainy July, we've fallen into more typical summer weather of 100 degrees every day. Time to lay low and wait for cooler weather to return.

The squash vines are all dead, mostly from the squash vine borers who finally showed up. The Rattlesnake pole beans here are starting to dry out as well, though I did get a nice crop from them while they lasted.

The Pinkeye Purple Hull cowpeas are finishing up as well, still throwing out a few pods, but probably not for long. The okra I planted next to them late in the season are struggling to hold on.

The tomatoes are still hanging on, though for the most part they've stopped setting fruit, so I pulled out the varieties I didn't like, and I cut back the ones I did like. I cut them back leaving only a stump and maybe a branch or two, to see if that will help them make it through the summer and re-grow once it cools off.

The Luffa gourds don't seem to mind the heat at all! They've started growing up the Ashe juniper tree that hangs over the fence from the neighbor's yard behind us. Don't know how I'm going to get the gourds down once they start setting fruit.

The peppers have slowed down growth but are still doing pretty good, and will probably make it through the summer.
Surprisingly, the leeks are still around too. I would have thought they'd have bolted by now. I'm curious what might happen if I left them longer. I've gone ahead and dug up all the garlic. The ones that hadn't made bulbs yet probably never would.

The San Juan honeydew melons are still doing fine. They haven't put out any more fruit, but the one that is growing is getting to be a good size, and doesn't appear to be ripe yet, though it's kind of hard to tell. It doesn't smell sweet yet and hasn't slipped from the vine, so I'm giving it more time.

Where the garlic was growing I planted various sorts of basil: Lemon, Thai, Cinnamon, and Napoletano.

And in place of the tomatoes that I pulled up I planted the fall tomatoes. They've been growing in pots on the porch this whole time, so I hope that toughened them up so being planted out in the hot sun in the garden isn't too much of a shock for them. I planted two varieties for fall: Arkansas Traveler and Cherokee Purple.

I also just planted flats of fall vegetables: broccoli raabe, collards, kale, mustard greens, fennel, dill, parsley, and chard. They'll be planted in the garden as soon as it cools down, because it will cool down eventually!

Finally, I'll leave you with a few pictures of the Black-and-White Warbler that showed up to play in the sprinkler when I was watering the newly planted tomatoes and basil. I've never seen one in my own yard before! He was enjoying the sprinkler so much he gave me plenty of time to go get my camera and come back and take several pictures of him splashing around.