Monday, April 27, 2009

Rocoto Update

Just a quick note on my current holy grail, the Rocoto pepper.
The seeds arrived today.

Very exciting.

It's true, the seeds are black.

And the packet claims boldly to have a germination rate of 57.5%, not so great.

So the kind folks at Seed Savers Exchange sent twice the normal amount. Well, I love a challenge and it sounds like I found one. I will wait for my new germination heat mat before I attempt to germinate these. In the meantime I am reading up on all things peppery.

I also found a terrific website all about growing all kinds of chilies.

HOLY GRAIL posted on April 21, explains how this obsession began

And I'm getting very excited about the Master Gardeners Plant Sale coming up this weekend.

Not Literally in My Backyard...

...but pretty close. We went for a hike at Catherine Creek in the Columbia Gorge, and the wildflowers were beautiful. One more sure sign that summer can't be too far off can it?

In the past week I have planted some more greens, radishes, onions, chard, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes. How do the potatoes grow into potatoes and not just get turned into compost like potato scraps? Hmmm.

One more pretty flower.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gardener Exchange

Last Saturday my sister in law hosted an exchange for all her gardening friends. What a great idea. People brought plants, seeds, books, magazines, pots, snacks and lots of enthusiasm for growing stuff.

She invited lots of gardening friends to bring things to trade with other gardening nuts.

Everybody brought something different. Some of it was funny, some of it was scary. Like the lemonbalm someone brought. I have been battling lemonbalm in my garden for 3 years.

The plants were loosely grouped alphabetically by common name.
And for the adventurously minded there was a section of Mystery Plants

All in all it was a huge success and all who attended agreed it would be great to do this every year.

And there were seeds, lots and lots of seeds.

I came away happy, having scored some hops, crocosmia, thyme, large pots, books. But the best part was meeting new gardening friends and sharing our enthusiasm and excitement about the summer gardening season just around the corner. And mercifully it didn't rain.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heard Over the Fence

Now that the weather has warmed up everybody is out in their yards, where everybody can hear what you say.

I just heard an unidentified neighbor describe my chickens as LOUD.
And the neighbor behind me, who has 2 hens of his own agreed!

Of all the noive.

And then the first neighbor went back to rototilling, but quietly.

Holy Grail

What's more fun than hunting down something that has become an obsession?
For gardeners there are infinite, obscure plants to stalk. For me it started with a small article in Sunset magazine. I don't usually pay much attention to anything they say because it's all so predictable.

Easy entertaining, fast meals, and colorful pillows to brighten a room. And every issue seems to have an article titled something like Instant Patio, or Patio in a Weekend. Meh.

I just don't expect to find anything new or interesting. But this time I found a suggestion for a citrus tree and a pepper variety that should both do well in the Pacific Northwest. I take back all the unkind things I said.

The citrus is Yuzu, which I wrote about earlier this year, on March 26th. And I found the plant right away, without really trying. Hopefully it will live up to the hype.

The pepper though has become my current holy grail.

It goes by the name rocoto and is from Peru, Bolivia and Equador. It is the oldest known domesticated pepper. Thick flesh with black seeds. The fruit sounds delicious, very hot, but fragrant, like melon, but with heat. This sounds great, that is exactly what I love about habaneros, but I haven't had much luck growing them. I think our growing season is just too short and not hot enough for habaneros.

Here's the best part, this pepper is very cold tolerant. And it's a perennial, if protected from frost and pruned it can grow for many years and up to 6 feet.

Can you see now why I MUST have this plant? I can't believe it's not hugely popular here.

This pepper is a species, not a cultivar or a hybrid from Capsicum annum, like most other peppers.

Rocoto is also known as, or related to, these other peppers manzano, peron, caballo, ciruelo, jutiapa, llata, canario.

Of course I can't find it anywhere in town, but I do enjoy the blank stares I get from the besieged nursery folks I have spoken to. They are slammed this year as millions of people have decided to grow some food for the first time.

I have found some enthusiasts online and I ordered some seeds, I have begun to suspect that I may not find starts. It's a little late to start peppers for this summer. But no matter, if I start them now they will be great next year.

More to come as this story developes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jail Break

Last year, when I allowed the chickens to roam freely in the vegetable garden portion of the backyard. BIG mistake. I loved watching them, but they played havoc with the plants and made a huge mess of the gravel paths, scattering dirt everywhere. The chicken's main strategy is just to spread everything out all over the place, and keep spreading it out until they have eaten every bug, worm and spec of plant matter.

Once they had eaten all of the low hanging bean leaves they would leap to snatch bites if the higher leaves. Lettuces were defenseless, and cherry tomatoes were enjoyed like candy.

So this year I penned a 50 foot run along the back of the house for them to enjoy. The only plant they can get at is the Laurel hedge, and I'm secretly hoping they will eliminate it. They have plenty of room and I deliver regular shipments of sod, weeds, kitchen scraps and cracked corn for their enjoyment.

But last week Queenie and the Fonz managed to get into the Backyard Farm, where I had just planted chard starts and lettuce from seed. The lettuce had just started to sprout and the chard was still tender and delicious.

Not content just to celebrate their delicious, new found freedom with a leisurely, careful stroll amongst the tender chard starts and freshly sprouted lettuce seed, the monsters decimated the plants and left a huge mess to remind me who's in charge.

Luckily they didn't notice the peas, rapini and arugula, or maybe I just caught them before they had a chance to go to work on these plants.

Oh well. I've got more seed, so I'll start over and maybe fortify the fence between their side and mine.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hardy Plant Society

I am always looking to add plants that provide food and are not tender annuals that die off, leaving the yard a barren bog. And I especially love plants that are kind of automatic food producers, like the arugula, which happily and continuously reseeds itself, and the Jerusalem artichokes, which multiply like rabbits and have a pretty flower for the bees.

Here are some of the treasures I brought home from the Hardy Plant Society sale yesterday.

Society Garlic, Variegated
(Tulbaghia violacea variegatal)
It's a beautiful grass like plant, with striped leaves, light green and white. And the leaves can be used like chives, in soups or salads. So it fits all my criteria; interesting looking, fairly hardy and has culinary applications.

Licorice Sweet Flag
(Acorus gramineus)
Another grassy looking one, I must be on some kind of a jag. Good in moist soil, and I've got plenty of that. The entire plant is licorice scented and can be used in Asian cooking.

Hardy Kiwi (Assai)

My neighbors have the more familiar fuzzy kiwi, which are great, but I have been searching for the smaller, smooth skin kiwi that can be eaten like a grape. I thought that all kiwis needed male and female plants to fruit, but this dandy variety is self fruiting. I'm very excited about this addition.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Starting Seeds

At this time of year I try to keep the little green house full of sprouting seeds. So I will have a steady stream of plantlings ready to go out into the cold cruel world of the Oregon spring. This spring has been unusually cool and I am always anxious to get things going, so I usually start things too early. But the little greenhouse gets warm enough to prompt the seeds and then it protects them from the cold nights.

Because I am lazy and because I don't like to disturb the roots too much when transplanting, but mostly because I am lazy, I have devised a way of starting that cuts out a step that most reputable gardeners use. Whenever I eliminate unnecessary steps in any process I think of it in terms of streamlining and improvement. My husband calls it cutting corners and increasing probability of failure.

Most folks start everything in seed starting tray filled with seed starting mix, which is usually peat moss and vermiculite. The seed start mix is light and doesn't cake over, so the seeds don't have to struggle and spend energy trying break through.

But the seed start trays are small and the seedlings outgrow them quickly. So the tiny seedlings need to be transplanted into bigger pots, but they may not be big and sturdy enough to go outside. So they get put into slightly bigger quarters, usually 4 inch pots until they are ready for the real world.

Also the seed start mix doesn't have the same nutrients that soil or compost does. So the plants need to be moved very soon after they sprout.

So here's what I do. I fill 4 inch pots with very light, fine, compost. I place the seeds on top of this and then cover it with a layer of seed start mix. So the seeds are able to break through the seed start mix pretty easily and they are in compost, a perfect growing medium.

Best of all they don't need to be transplanted immediately. And they get a chance to get a little bigger and stronger without being disturbed.

The seeds I am waiting on right now are basil, cilantro, celery, and shiso. I usually start lots of these to trade with other gardening friends.

Time to go check what might be poking through the soil today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Although I Complain, I Love the Rain

As eager as I am for the weather to warm up and the rain to stop, I've got to count myself lucky to live in a place where water is not yet a problem. In a growing number of places in the world access to fresh water is a problem. And it may become the source of armed conflicts, and resource wars.

Tension is growing between India and Pakistan, over water, among other things. And the UN cites 46 countries where water and climate stresses my ignite wars and conflict.

Closer to home dry states are trying to figure out how to get water from wet states. California Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing drought and water rationing has been proposed. I used to live in San Diego, so I follow this issue with particular interest.

So spring will come when it's ready and I will stop grousing about the cool weather and the rain. Signs of spring abound and I have resolved to appreciate them as they appear. Here are a few.