Posts Tagged ‘peppers’

After years of envying other gardeners’ bounty, I finally got my wish for a little more spice in my summer.  Year after year, despite my best effort, the garden lacked a little zest until Bill Renner, a friendly Colorado Master Gardener, gave me his secret:  all I had to do was let things heat up and Mother Nature does the rest.

The result is a harvest of peppers bigger and bolder than any I’ve ever had – so full of chiles, belles, and jalapenos that I fear for my family’s stomachs this winter.  After a weekend spent harvesting, roasting, and peeling, 16 bags are nestled in the freezer just waiting to warm cold evenings with a hot, sweet meal.

His secret?  Peppers love the heat, and I was cooling them off with a blanket of mulch too early in the summer.  Keeping roots cool is a core tenet of gardening in a hot, arid land, but not every plant likes to be coddled.

Peppers are tough plants that like their soil a tad dry and plenty warm, so I didn’t mulch until well into July, when soaring temperatures baked the earth.  The peppers loved it, setting fruit and growing large until they produced so many pods just looking at them made me sweat.

Sure, there were a couple of blemishes, but with this primer, you’ll learn to ignore a few spots and get rid of the problems:

What:  Light colored, thin-skinned spots on the fruit, becoming sunken, bleached, and papery. 

Cause:  Sunscald.  Skin crisps under the baking glare of our high altitude sun.

Cure:  Select cultivars with good leaf coverage.  Because our wind can push leaves off of the fruit, provide wind buffers if you live in a windy spot (essentially the entire state of Colorado).  Cut off affected area and enjoy the rest.

What: Ends of the peppers are rotten, look water-soaked, then dry out.

Cause:  Blossom end rot, caused by poor uptake of calcium.  Though calcium is plentiful in our soil, irregular watering and excessive heat prevent the plant from using it.

Cure:  Use a timer to automatically turn on and off the irrigation, and mulch plants to keep the soil from drying out too rapidly. 

What: Peppers are malformed, with yellowing, concentric rings around spots.

Cause:  Cucumber mosaic virus. Viruses can cause odd-looking problems. 

Cure:  Spread by aphids and occasionally by gardeners, once virus has gotten into the plant, pull it.  There is no cure; the plant just becomes the mothership for the disease.  

What:  Plants are wilting, leaves have brown spots and the fruit develops large, rotten spots, often bordered by white mold.

Cause:  Phytophthora, a soil borne fungus that is a problem in chronically moist ground.

Cure:  Provide good drainage, and later your irrigation.

What:  Leaf spirals, cupping or distortion.

Cause:  Peppers are sensitive to herbicides. Many gardeners don’t spray their food plants; instead, the damage is from drift.  Drift can occur from applying weed killer on windy days. 

Cure:  Limit applications of weed killer to cool times of the day when wind is calm.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

September is my favorite month because I get to spend all of my spare time in my two favorite places – the kitchen and garden. All of the season’s toil and sweat comes down to this month, the one where the harvest takes center stage.

If you’re new to gardening, learning when to harvest is trial and error; in eagerness, you pluck a tomato too soon, or in anxiety, leave it too long on the vine. Either way, your harvest isn’t rewarding – pick too soon and the flavor doesn’t develop, too late and the fruit is mushy and not as sweet.

When the garden is packed with roots, leaves, fruits and flowers, how to tell if one pepper is better than another or when a ripe-to-the-point-of-sinful cantaloupe is ready?

Taste and color are big clues in the maturity of what you’re picking, but all of your senses should be used when gauging ripeness, so feel the vegetable for signs it’s ready to harvest. Cucumbers may look green and pretty, but if their middles are soft and spongy, or the rind is hard, they’re overripe.

Whether slender or globe-like, eggplants should be shiny, uniformly deep in color with a bright green cap. Avoid those with dull color, a green tinge or brown discolorations; all of these are signs of bitter or old fruit. Eggplant becomes bitter if stored too long, so harvest it just before you need it or store it in the fridge for up to a week.

Sweet corn is a darling of the season, and fans love the creamy yellow, pearly white or bicolor ears of this hallmark of the summer. Watch your ears for the silk to turn dark brown and the ears filled to the tip with tightly packed, plump kernels. When lightly pressed, the kernels should ooze a milky juice. Corn with dry brown husks and indentations on the kernels are likely to be past their prime and the sugars have turned to starch. Super sweets, especially, lose sugar quickly. If you’re looking to freeze some, go with bi-colors or yellows.

Heirloom tomatoes pack plenty of taste in funky colors like striped, purple, pink, orange or white. Usually we can tell when they’re ready, but try growing a green tomato – one that never really colors up, and you’re reduced to tasting the tomato to learn when it’s ripe. Most of the time, those green tomatoes will blush slightly, so look for a color change and firm, glossy skin before tasting it.

Once you’ve mastered the tricks to telling ripeness, it’s easy to spot cantaloupes ready with melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. Look for well-defined grey-yellow netting over tan skin and a crack developing around the stem where it connects to the melon. Cantaloupes slip from the vine when ripe, and when this crack is two-thirds of the way around the fruit, your melon is perfect. At the store, follow your nose when choosing cantaloupe. Ripe ones smell like melon.

While bells are the best known sweet peppers, sweet bananas and Italian bull’s horn types add thrill to the grill and fresh salads. Long and lean, these may look like their chili cousins, but don’t have the spice. Pick peppers with deep, rich color that feel heavy for their size, and compost those with thin walls that give when pressed. But know what you’re growing before following my advice – some bull’s horn types have thinner walls that give when you press them. When harvesting those, keep the ones that are wrinkle-free and sleek.

Green beans are best when picked young, then cooled quickly to store in the refrigerator. The best snap beans are harvested slim while the seeds are small and not swelling. Clip your pods – don’t yank them – from the plant when they’re less than one-quarter to one eighth inch around and have bright color. Discard those that are spindly, blemished or limp or those that are stringy when snapped.

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  After reading the post about catalog shopping, reader Martha S. asked which tomatoes and peppers I’ll be growing this year.  The list is a little long so I decided to put it here instead of in comments.  Feel free to debate with me on which tomatoes everyone should try – I love to try new varieties, especially if they are highly recommended. 

Here’s my list, so far, of the tomatoes:

Cherry tomatoes:   SungoldGreen Doctors 

Salad slicers:  Jaune Flamme 

Paste:   Amish Paste

Oxheart:   Orange Russian 117

 Beefsteaks:  Great White ,  Brandywine (Sudduth’s strain) *,  Gold Medal,   Stump of the World,  Tajik giant tomato,  Aunt Ruby’s German Green*

  Sweet Peppers:     Shishito Pepper , Wisconsin Lakes

  Hot peppers:   Shishito Pepper ,  Red Peter (no link to photo because this novelty pepper looks like its name),  Mucho Nacho,  Anaheims,  Ancho Gigantea

This is the short list I’ve come up with, but I know there will be more to add once I’ve finished swapping seeds with a few folks.  Chan, the globe-trotting gardener who gave me the Tajik giant tomato plant last year (fruits weighed 1.8 pounds each), is at it again, talking me into giving the Shishito Peppers a try.  You’ll notice they’re listed under both “sweet” and “hot” because Chan tells me that you never know what you’re going to get from your plant – one pepper will be mild, another will flame your eyeballs out.  Sounds fun.

 Stuart has promised to send me seed of his favorite tomatoes, Creole, Old Brook, Gail’s Sweet Plum, and Demidov, which he says were both tasty and productive in his Colorado garden.  As a dwarf plant, Demidov did well in containers, but if you can’t find it, give Super Bush a try.

I admit, I don’t grow vegetables in pots – I’m fortunate to have enough space for a good-sized garden.  To be honest, I have a little problem called “forgetting to water” that I’m guilty of with my containerized plants.  This is never bad enough to kill them off, but they seesaw between drought and drowning, which is a recipe for blossom end rot in tomatoes.

When choosing your tomatoes, try to plan for early, mid-, and late season fruit, to ensure that you have love apples throughout the season.  We have a short growing season, due to snow squalls that pop up to surprise us in late May or mid-September.

Any variety that sets fruit at higher temperatures is also a plus, since our summers can be scorching hot.  One of the more common causes of blossom drop – where the tomato doesn’t set fruit and the flower fades – is daytime temperature above 85-degrees F plus nights that remain above 70.  Black From Tula is one type that likes the warmth, or if you prefer a hybrid, look for Heat Wave.

*Denotes tomatoes listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

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If you, like me, were gullible enough to believe the weather prediction that snow was on the way, you might have a lot of produce sitting on the counter.  In a panic to save the harvest, stripping the plants seemed like a good idea at the time.

But the snow never came to the lower elevations and now, working around the heaped piles of produce on the counter, you can’t help but feel a little silly for panicking. 

First you try nonchalance, acting as if you never see your counter anyway.  You make coffee, build a sandwich, and rattle about the kitchen without really making eye contact with the mountain of fruit.

Then you pull one or two items from the mound, feeling good about using them in dinner.  “I’m making progress!” you think, blithely ignoring the avalanche of food cascading across the kitchen.

Finally you face the harvest, overwhelmed by the thought that if you don’t spend the next few days preserving that bounty, you – not the snow – will be the downfall of the season.  Approach that pile with a plan, and you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor all winter long.

flame roasting Roast, then freeze those peppers.  If you have a lot of peppers, consider taking them to a farm stand where they have a roaster.  For a small fee many places will give your peppers a spin.  True, cooking shows may demonstrate the technique of laying a giant pepper on a gas stove top burner, crisping the skin one side at a time.  But there isn’t one pepper in the pile, there are 30, and you’d like to have a life at some point during the weekend.

If you’d like to do it yourself, fire up the grill, wash the peppers and pat them dry.  Put as many on the grill as it will hold, set the heat up medium high, and watch those peppers.  Turn them every minute or so until the skin is mostly charred.  Pull the peppers from the grill with tongs and pop them in a paper bag, curling the top over to let them steam.  blackened peppers

Let the peppers sit for 15 minutes, then pull them from the bag (use plastic food gloves to protect your hands), separate the chilies into individual freezer bags in the amount you use for recipes, and freeze.  When you thaw the chilies, the skin can be removed at that time.

Ripe melons can be diced and frozen.  Cut open and remove seeds, cut off the rind, then slice the melon meat into one-inch chunks.  Lay the chunks in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze.  Once frozen, put the melon pieces into a freezer bag for storage.

Dehydrate summer squash for use in stews during winter.  Wash and pat dry the squash, cut into one-quarter inch thick slices.  Follow directions on the dehydrator for drying.

Eggplant can be frozen if you peel, slice and blanch it in boiling water with ½ cup of lemon juice to one gallon of water.  After the slices cool you can pop them in the freezer, but the texture may be a bit soft when you thaw it.  I’m not sure eggplant can stand to be more slimy – I think I’ll just roast mine, scoop it out and make baba ghanoush out of it.

This delightful middle eastern-style dip is perfect with pita slices; Tyler Florence and JoAnn Cianciulli of the Food Network have a recipe that sounds worth the time, garnished with pistachios for extra flavor.

Time to get in the kitchen.

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