Cinco de Mayo Has Me Dreaming of the Salsa Garden

It’s Cinco de Mayo and since we’ve been in quarantine we’ve gone through a lot of the salsa that I made last fall. I’m just itching to get out in to the garden and start planting up this season’s tomatoes and peppers, but it is still way too cold right now for those tender crops, especially up here 1,500ft up in zone 5.

Amazingly, our hot peppers did better than our bell peppers last season. And the hot peppers I had on the patio in containers did better than the hot peppers and bell peppers I had in the raised beds in the garden. The sunlight is the same, but I think that the deck may heat up more than the garden, despite being more exposed to the wind at times, although last year I had a lot of the peppers in containers that were on our steps which shielded them from all but southerly winds which usually come in before storms up here.

When I plan out our garden I always keep in mind what I can use for canning. During the quarantine we’ve been going through lots of the tomato sauces and salsas I’ve canned over the years. This season, I plan to put a lot more peppers in the garden and on the deck again this summer and I’m so excited I just looked at the list of what I have planned. I love using a variety of peppers in my salsa and every level of heat from sweet to very hot. On the very hot side, I have coming Barbados peppers which is a type of habanero, very hot with a medium thick flesh that matures pale green to red. Our family vacationed in Barbados once and Mark loved the local hot sauce which was made with a type of scotch bonnet if I recall correctly. But when I saw the name, I knew I had to add it to our garden. Another name I was drawn to and just love and is also very hot – Mark loves hot stuff – is BIlly Goat. A very late season (90+ days) pepper from Brazil that’s prolific and has a hint of cherry aroma to it. Up here on the mountain I tend to shy away from late season, let alone very late season growers since our growing seasons are much shorter than when we lived down at 300ft in zone 6 in Connecticut.

Ring of Fire Peppers

Afghan and Aji Cacho de Cabra are two more hot peppers that are midseason and late season respectively. Both have thin flesh and mature from green to red. Afghan peppers are slightly smaller than Aji Cacho de Cabra peppers which grow to as long as 4 inches. Another great name and hot pepper on the way is Ring of Fire, a hot cayenne which is an early season pepper (60-70 days) with thin flesh that matures green to red a good selection for drying, making salsas and powders. Knocking down the heat a little we are also waiting for some Dragon’s Claws, a medium cayenne midseason (70-80 days) which grows as long as 10″ maturing green to deep red. Dragon’s Claws are good for drying and work well for crafts, as well as making fresh salsas or powders, and they are great for roasting!

On the sweet side we are looking forward to the Candy Cane Red Hybrid which matures from green with yellow stripes to red. It’s a midseason pepper which gets to be 1.5″ to 2.5″ with a medium thick flesh. Sigaretto Di Bergamo is a sweet peperoncini that gets to be as long as 4.5″ marturing from green to a brownish color before turning red. Originally from Italy, also known as the “Cigarette Pepper”, it’s a good choice for include pickling, or having it fried/stir-fried. And finally two other sweet peppers, Yummy Orange and Yummy Red. These peppers sweet grow to be 2 to 2.5 inches long pendant shaped pods with medium thick flesh. Yummy Orange matures from green to orange and Yummy Red from green to red. They are both mid season peppers (70-80 days). Perfect for making fresh salsas or for stuffing, despite their small size.This is the sweet pepper found in the grocery that everyone talks about. They are extra sweet and practically seedless which makes them great for snacking.

I wish I could go out to the garden right now, pick a bunch of peppers and make up some salsa. I’ll have to head out to the kitchen and eat some instead.

Six on Saturday 5•2•2020

Life on the mountain in Zone 5 at 1486ft, we currently have 20+ mph winds with 30+mph gusts with beautiful blue skies and sunshine. The winds make being outside a little unpleasant since I still have to wear a jacket and gloves since it drops the temperature from 45ºF down to 30ºF. Brrr. But you do what you must when you have the sun out, especially after 3 days of straight rain totally close to 2 inches. But there are things that we do every year, after the snows all finally melt away and you don’t think you are going to get hit with another storm. This time last year there was still plenty of snow in the garden, so in a way we seem to be a little ahead of schedule somehow.

1. REMOVE THE MULCH: To get the garden started for the season the first order of business was to remove all the sterile hay/straw we had mulched the beds with in the fall. I always remove the thick layer we put down to protect the beds during our harsh winters, so that the soil will be exposed to the sun and warm up faster.

2. COLLECT AND CLEAN UP ALL GARBAGE LEFT OVER FROM LAST SEASON: I try not to do this but it happens, leftover bags from soil amendments, old rockwool with old roots still streaming on them left piled on the garden cart still in the garden that should have been removed at the end of last season. Out it all goes.

carrots have started to show their tops

3. PUT THE MARKERS IN THE GARDEN – I have a really bad habit on not marking what I plant. I used to take care of some many other people’s gardens and had to mark all their stuff by the time I got to label my own stuff I was too tired or out of markers. I keep a garden journal and usually write down the seeds I used, so I have some general idea of what’s planted. Something I can do inside and put out in the garden later when I’ve compared my pictures of what’s come up to my garden journal.

Under the cold frame things are growing along nicely

4. SPREAD COMPOST: Earlier this week we scattered our compost that we have been making in our FoodCycler for the last year. It worked out so well for us being able to finally compost our food scrap during the winter months which we have never been able to do before successfully up here on the mountain. We love our FoodCycler, particularly since not only do we get great compost for our garden but it has reduced the amount of garbage that we have to take to the dump so much that we don’t have to make weekly trips like we used to which these days the less times off the mountain, the better. If you aren’t familiar with the FoodCycler, check out our post review.

fresh compost in the 3’x 6′

Since the compost has been worked into the beds, we only let the dogs in when we are around. Kona, the blonde standard goldendoodle managed to sneak in to the closed gated garden by somehow slithering her body under the fence. It seems impossible that she could do this, but one night this week she was found stuck under the fence trying to come back out and then next night she spend a rain soaked night stuck in the garden while everyone slept. I wake up early and discovered her at 4:30am – she was okay, wet but okay. We have put some boards up where she is crawling through and at night no longer letting any of the dogs use the dog door – quarantining them in for the nights now.

The dogs take a look around

5. SET UP THE TOWER GARDENS: We pulled the Tower Garden’s out and set them up. We still need to get fill the reservoirs, check the the pH and get things going which will happen in the next couple of weeks.

Tower Gardens Out of the Shed and Back in the Garden

6. START SOME MORE SEEDS FOR THE TOWER GARDEN – I have to germinate some seeds inside and get them growing before putting them into the Tower Gardens outside. I’ll try to a better job of labelling my seeds so I remember what I planted, that is if I remember- LOL!

Happy gardening everyone!

Homegrown Harvest Photo Share – Mint

Welcome to this week’s Homegrown Harvest Photo Share! This week we are sharing photos of our mint plants. If you are unfamiliar with our HHPS take a look a the link which explains things more in full, but basically we just love seeing people’s gardens and sharing our photos. So if you have any pictures of mint, make a post and share it with us and leave a link in the comments! We look forward to seeing everyone photos!

Mint is one of my favorite herbs to grow but I’ve learned the hard way just how invasive this herb can be when it’s planted in the garden. Mint is an easy herb to grow but you have to be able to rein it in by keeping it in a container.

peppermint
mint in container
Mint taking over one of the bed

The mint we planted in one of our 4′ x 4′ raised beds took over and then jumped the garden bed and came up in the gravel pathway outside the bed. It did this in one of our containers too. The way mint grows with underground runners diverting off is what makes mint so invasive.

Thanks for checking our this week’s Homegrown Harvest Photo Share of Mint, we hope to see your photos soon.

Spotlight on Thyme

Just as bees make honey from thyme, the strongest and driest of herbs, so do the wise profit from the most difficult experiences.

Plato

Thymus vulgaris, also known as common thyme is one of the ancient herbs. Popular since classical times because of its versatility, it has a number of important uses which extended beyond the kitchen. A hardy herb, thyme is an aromatic perennial evergreen shrub with gnarled thin, square stems that’s woody at the base. Varieties grow either as ground cover (prostrate) or mounding (upright) standing as high as a foot. The leaves are small, elliptical in shape, gray-green in color with the undersides slightly paler. The fragrant flowers are small lilac or white which bloom during the summer attracting a slew of pollinators to the garden.

not the prettiest picture of my thyme, but it’s early spring and I just took the hay off of it

To the ancients and other herbalists, thyme was considered a powerful antiseptic and preservative. Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming and today it is still used by some to protect important papers from mold. The ancient Greeks and Romans also considered it an aphrodisiac. They used the leaves to make a tonic and stimulation tea to also help digestive issues and respiratory disorders, particularly to loosen mucus. It has since been proven that thyme can dislodge the mucus coating of the intestinal tract. Polish researchers have found that thyme oil is very effective against bacterial strains of Staphyloccus, Enteroccus, Esherichia and Psudomas genera. Thyme is one of a naturally occurring class of compounds called biocides, compounds which can destroy harmful microbes. The primary fragrant oil in thyme is thymol, a powerful antiseptic. You may have noticed this ingredient listed on your Listerine bottle. Thymol is a wonderful antioxidant and antiinflammatory agent, it’s also considered good for the digestion. You may also see thymol listed in the ingredients for vapor rub cough drops and natural toothpastes.

In the kitchen, thyme is an herb which benefits from time. Best when used in soups and stews slow cooked to mellow out its assertive flavors. Thyme is also good to use in stuffings, savory dishes, bouquets and garnis in many dishes, particularly with poultry.

In the garden, plant thyme alongside strawberries, cabbages, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These are great companion plants with thyme. Also it should be replaced every 4-5 years and should be protected in the colder zones. We live in zone 5 and throw down a thick layer of sterilized hay/straw mix which works great, but you can also throw a cold frame over it too if you have one. There are many varieties of thyme to choose from so depending on whether you are looking for a nice ground cover or would like to plant some in a container, there is a thyme for every place.

Some species you may come across include Thymus serpyllum, wild thyme or mother of thyme. This type of thyme is a very hardy mat forming species with red-purple flowers and a mild flavor. It’s perfect for an herbal ground cover. Thymus x citrioolora, more commonly known s lemon thyme is light green with pink flower and has a strong lemon scent is very popular and can be found at nurseries and garden centers . We have some lemon thyme that we keep in a container up on our deck and our common thyme is one of our raised beds in the garden. At the end of the season I usually clip my thyme back and bring inside to dry and I grind it up and have fresh dried thyme to use in our spice cabinet.

Happy gardening!

Nature has not changed. The night i still unsullied, the stars still twinkle, and the wild thyme smells as sweetly now as it did then…We may be afflicted and unhappy, but no one can take from us the sweet delight which is nature’s gift to those who love her and her poetry.

George Sand

Sources:

The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden

The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler

The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Andi Clevely, Katherine Richmond, Sallie Morris and Lesley Mackley

Eggplant Flower & Bumblebee

There is an exciting feeling I get when I see one of our garden in bloom for it means that soon the fruit will develop from that bloom. When we first started to help people learn about vegetable gardening I was amazed how many people had no idea that vegetable plants flowered and from that flower came the delicious produce we all strive to harvest. I don’t remember when I first learned this, I believe I was a young girl working in my mother’s garden in Connecticut with my Nana when I first realized this phenomenon. I believe though it was a strawberry plant that I made the discovery though.

This is my post for Cee’s Flower of the Day (FOTD).

Flower of the Day: Pea Flower

Pea flowers

We started the peas from seed on March 6th in the rockwool and about a week later we were able to put them into our indoor Tower Garden HOME unit. Six weeks later and they have just begun to flower. We will be eating fresh grown peas soon!

This is our FLower of the Day post for Cee’s Flower of the Day Photo Challenge.

Homegrown Harvest Photo Share- Cabbage

Our spotlight vegetable cabbage is this week’s photo share topic. Share with us photos of your cabbage you proudly grew and leave a link with your photos in the comment section.

For more information about our Homegrown Harvest Photo Share page for more information about future topics.

Earth Day 2020

Earth Day 2020 – Right now it’s cold and windy outside here in central New Hampshire. The temperature is struggling to get beyond freezing – its 33.5º outside but with the windchill it feels like 25ºF! Happy Earth Day. I think Mother Earth is trying to send us a message…I’m in charge here and I don’t care what your manmade calendars say. I will snow when I want to snow. It was snowing this morning when we woke – enough to cover the driveway but thankfully not enough to stay around all day.

Celebrating Earth Day 2020, our quarantine has 2.6 billion people in 185 nations and regions of the world on lockdown or a “time out” as I like to think of it has given the earth a chance to heal itself a bit, catch its breath so to speak – while we hold ours.

The reduction in traffic – air, auto, ships and trains has quieted the world, literally. Seismologists worldwide have seen the quieting of the earth like never before. Seismologists able to now see 5.5 earthquakes register on their seismographs a half a world away, when in pre-quarantine our daily noise would normally drown that out. Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels saw the drop in the activity immediately. He can usually see the ebbs and flows of the city and right now during the lockdown levels are resembling Christmas Day levels.

Erica Walker, a public health researcher at Boston University usually measures the noise pollution on her walks through the Kenmore Square-Fenway Park area of Boston. A normal conversation measures around 60-70 decibels and on a normal day on her walk through the Kenmore Square the area measures 90 decibels, 95 decibels when the T rumbles by, a level that chronic exposure can impair hearing. Her walks during the lockdown have quieted down to 30 decibels. People living in cities like Wuhan, New York and Rome are hearing birds for the first time. One of the more searched phrases recently has been “birds are louder”. The reduction in noise pollution is a welcome reminder to older generations of the quieter days while stressing out others who aren’t used to the noise and it’s causing them to be anxious.

The oceans are quieter as well with the reduced traffic. Marine ecologists at Cornell, Michelle Fournet says they are “experiencing an unprecedented pause in ocean noise” not experienced in decades. The ambient noise from ships and other marine traffic can increase stress hormone levels in marine life affecting their reproduction. The North Pacific humpback whales that started swimming to the southeast Alaska waters with their newborn calves are swimming in some of the quietest waters in decades.

Scientists are seeing evidence via satellite of reduced levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, dramatically improving air quality in places like China, Italy, and India. The Himalayas can now be seen from parts of India for the first time in decades.

There are reports from all over the world about how wildlife is being affected by the pandemic. Some are taking advantage of the situation like the rare reptiles nesting on the beaches in Thailand. Reduced marine traffic have allowed the water in the canals around Venice, Italy to clear so jellyfish and other fish can now be seen. However, empty streets and restaurant have left some animals without a source of food. Deer in Japan’s Nara Park have become so dependent on tourists feeding them, they’ve taken to the streets in search of food. The monkeys in Lopburi, Thailand also dependent on tourists for food are mobbing the town in search of food – even turning on one another. Rats in New York City dependent on the restaurants for their food are cannibalizing each other even eating their young.

Hungry monkeys

But despite the lockdown and the billions of people who are staying at home. There is garbage that is showing up unfortunately – medical masks and rubber gloves being left behind in parking lots and in grocery carts, even washing up on the beaches in Hong Kong.

This Earth Day I have been inside – the wind still making it a brisk 23ºF – too cold for April 22nd. I plan to get more seeds started inside today to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Planting something on Earth Day always a tradition. The quarantine has probably, hopefully, made it one of the cleanest Earth Days ever. At the very least it has given the earth a chance to catch her breath and take a break to self-heal. Hopefully mankind too can do the same.

Sources include:

Coronavirus Pandemic Earth Pollution Noise – The Atlantic

Coronavirus is Having Major Impact Environment – Newsweek

Coronavirus Shutdown are Gift to the Environment – CNET

Making the Best of Earth Day 2020 – Thurston Talks

Starving Rats Resort to War – NY Post

Dramatic Fall in China Pollution – The Guardian

Spotlight on Cabbage

I once grew one of the nicest heads of cabbage accidently. I had bought a 6 pack of cauliflower starts and one was actually cabbage. I thought one was forming a nice tight ball – really nicely and you can imagine how we laughed when we sliced it open and found it was a beautiful head of cabbage instead! Cabbage also reminds me of the old wartime victory gardens with rows of cabbage and other vegetables in a classic vegetable patch.

A member of the Brassica family it’s therefore a relative of broccoli, cauliflower, mustard and kale, no wonder I confused my maturing cabbage for cauliflower. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that comes in many forms. B.oleracea capitata group is what we refer to as traditional head cabbage with smooth green and red varieties and crinkly-leaved savoys. Head sizes can range fro mini-cabbages about 1lb to Alaska-grown kraut up to 65 lbs or more! Chinese cabbage comes in two form: B. rapa pekinensis group also know as Pe-tsai is either cylindrical or barrel-shaped in head formation. The other Chinese cabbage, Pak-choi, B. rapa chinensis group is a non-heading type of cabbage with loose leaves clustered around succulent stems. Finally, there are ornamental cabbages B.oleracea acephala group mainly grown for decoration and to add color to the garden.

B. Oleracea Capitata Group

Head cabbage originated in the Mediterranean region and was known to the ancients of both Greece and Rome, it was hailed for its medicinal purposes by both Cato and Elder. Ancient Egyptians and Romans ate large amounts of cabbage the night before drinking which allowed them to drink more. Celtic wanderers were responsible for its introduction to Europe. In the late 16th and 17th centuries Turks introduced pickled cabbage to Poland and Hungary and it was a stable of German diets by the early 1700’s.

In the East, Chinese cabbage most likely originated in North China some 4,000 years ago. China is the world’s largest producer, but Russia is the number one consumer. Despite centuries long tradition in chinese cuisine, cabbage was not introduced to Japan until the 18th century.

Jacques Cartier is responsible for cabbage coming to America on his third voyage in 1541-1542. Cabbage was considered important for long journey across the ocean since it stored well and contains high amounts of vitamin C to help scurvy. The doctor on Captain Cook’s ship that sailed in 1769 used sauerkraut to treat the wounds of sailors and to prevent gangrene. Today research shows cabbage has significant cardiovascular health benefits as well as anti-inflammatory properties. It also helped to fight off certain types of cancer.

Pak Choi

To grow cabbage start spring crops early outdoors from well-hardened transplants. Cabbage like cool weather and will withstand light frosts with some varieties sweetening in flavor. Harvest the spring crops before the hot summer temperature set in. Fall and winter crops should be direct seed in late summer. Fast maturing varieties are good for spring and look for later maturing varieties for fall crops. Just be sure to harvest these late crops before the first hard frost. It’s good to plant 2 or 3 varieties that mature in sequence to ensure prolonged harvests. But be careful not to plant too much!

Red Cabbage

Cabbage likes organically rich, well-draining soil. Seeds will germinate at 55º-75º and only needs to 1/4″ deep and about 4′-6′ apart and then thinned to 18′-24′. There are early varieties like Golden Acre and Darkri which is well rated for its flavor. Midseason vtypes like hybrid Blue Ribbon, King Cole and Greenback. For a quick growing variety there is Katarina Baby cabbage’s dense round smooth heads are mild and sweet. Purple hybrid Pak Choi is a beautiful and delicious variety which deepens in tones and flavors as the temperatures drop. Late Flat Dutch Storage, a hefty heirloom cabbage is a long-season variety (100-110 days). Its smooth oval rock hard heads of 12″ and 15 lbs. in size. I is the world’s premiere storage cabbage being able to keep for months. It’s perfect for roll-ups, sauerkraut, kimchee, winter slaws, soups and stir fries. Cabbage’s culinary versatility is also one of the things that makes it such a popular choice for the garden.

On the Lighter Side

Merlot Lettuce

A few year ago I came across one of the most beautiful red heirloom lettuce called Merlot. True to its name the lettuce is wine red in color and rich in flavor. A quick growing lettuce (60days) which holds up well in the summer heat.