Posts Tagged ‘peppers’

Awaiting Autumn

Florida gardeners look forward to fall with as much anticipation as gardeners farther north look forward to spring. With the exception of a few tropical species such as okra and cowpeas, not much grows in Florida gardens during the long, hot summer. By the time August rolls around, the limitations on what can be planted have begun to loosen up, and by September, we will be able to plant pretty much anything.

Although this region theoretically has a year-round growing season, fall is really the time of peak gardening. By way of comparison with northern gardens, August is akin to that period in late winter when the ground has thawed, but frosts are still frequent. September brings the first hint of cooler weather, with the kind of long warm days and mild nights that make garden vegetables thrive. One significant difference that remains, though, is that here the days start out long and then get shorter as the season comes to a close. Because of this, the growth slows down as the season progresses, rather than accelerate.

Against the backdrop of this calendar, I have spent these first few days of August clearing out old growth, preparing the ground where I have spaces available, tending to the young plants previously started, and planting more seeds. The first two pictures below show the oldest of my fall plants, an assortment of tomatoes and peppers as detailed in this post.

I would like to draw your attention to the two peppers on the far right of the tray in the foreground of the first picture below. Those are Black Hungarian peppers, which produce tasty, medium-to-hot peppers and can be used as ornamental plants. Notice the dark coloration? According to the description when I bought them, they are supposed to have deep purple veins and emerald green leaves. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears the reverse is true. Either way, as they mature, they should produce purple flowers, followed by pepper pods that start out green, turn solid black, and then ripen to red. This is my first time growing any, so I’m looking forward whatever colorful display they offer.


I’m somewhat concerned with the discoloration on several of the tomato plants. I have compared them with tomato disease pictures found in databases, and as best I can tell, these leaves do not match any of the leaves illustrating identified diseases. As such, I will not panic just yet. What I will do is trim them up and move them out of the screened enclosure to expose them to full strength sunlight on a full time basis. I will also be transplanting them to their permanent homes within the next couple weeks. I am hopeful that this will address the problem.


The next picture shows the second and third waves of tomato and pepper plants. The second wave is discussed in detail here, and the third in this post. Careful readers or keen observers might notice that there are a couple extra pots in the right-hand picture. Those are both a type of ornamental tree known as a Jerusalem Thorn. Only one of them has sprouted thus far, and it has been almost long enough to conclude that the second one failed to germinate. Needless to say, these are not intended for the vegetable garden!


The next picture marks this fall’s first departure from the Solenacea family, more commonly known as nightshade. The plants in this tray are members of the Brassicacea family, more commonly known as the cabbage family. In fact, they are all members of a single species, Brassica oleracea. This species has a surprisingly diverse array of cultivars, one of which is cabbage, and within those cultivars, one finds an assortment of varieties.

In is tray I have planted one variety each of two cultivars, neither of which happens to be cabbage. Instead, I have broccoli (the DiCiccio variety) and collard greens (the Georgia variety). The nine on the left are broccoli and the six on the right are collard greens. If you look closely, you will notice that they are indistinguishable from one another at this stage.


Last, but not least, I have planted a whole lot of herbs. Many of these will end up in containers that we keep within easy reach of the kitchen; others will find their way into the butterfly garden, either because of their nectar-producing flowers or their use as caterpillar food. Others still will be tucked away in various niches in the yard to add a particular ornamental characteristic or two, and some will be used as companion plants where beneficial relationships exist. Most of them are the types of herb commonly used in cooking, but some are used for other purposes. Here’s the full list:

  • Basil
  • Chives (Common)
  • Chives (Garlic)
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Fennel (Bronze)
  • Fennel (Florence)
  • German Chamomile
  • Hyssop
  • Marjoram
  • Mustard
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Rue
  • Sage
  • Summer Savory
  • Thyme


Wordless Wednesday – August Heat





Sixty-Four Promises


This morning I planted the second wave of tomatoes and peppers for my fall garden. The first wave was planted in early June, and those plants have all been moved from their starter tray into medium-sized pots filled with nutritious Mel’s Mix. They’re spending all day in the filtered sunlight of our screened-in pool enclosure now. They’re still small enough to where I pull them in under a shelter if it looks like we’ll get a heavy downpour. Soon, I will start exposing them a few hours at a time to full-strength sunlight in the yard. Before you know it, they will be out there full time.


This morning’s planting is part of my continuing quest to find the best time of year to start fall plantings. As I reported previously, last year I started my tomatoes and peppers in early August, but didn’t see the first ripe fruits until New Year’s Day. Is it asking too much to harvest my fall garden during the fall?

Logic suggests that the first wave should be ready around the October/November timeframe, and that today’s plants should start to yield fruit in the November/December range. But then, I have been gardening long enough to know that gardens follow their own logic and do not always conform themselves to the human perspective. The bottom line is that these plants will be ready when they’re ready, assuming I do my part and Mother Nature doesn’t come up with any unwelcome surprises.

Today’s planting very nearly duplicates the first wave planting, as described in my earlier blog post, Seasons in the Sunshine State. In that wave, I planted two each of six varieties of pepper and 10 varieties of tomato, each of which is described in detail in that earlier post. Today I changed up the mixture a bit (three of some varieties, two of others, and some with only one), plus I added an eleventh tomato variety:

  • Virginia’s Yellow Tommy Toe — Although most written accounts credit their origin to the Ozarks, Tommy Toe tomatoes are frequently found growing as volunteers along the periphery or even outside of gardens throughout southern Appalachia. Given the patterns of human migration in recent centuries, I can’t help but give more credence to the oral history version that places the origin farther east. Unlike their more refined cherry and grape tomato cousins, Tommy Toes have not been selected for their sweetness. Instead, they tend to have more of the tangy flavor characteristic of full sized tomato varieties. They also tend to be disease resistant and to continue yielding fruit late into the fall, both of which are attractive qualities to me here in Central Florida. Tommy Toes are also commonly saved as heirlooms and passed down from one generation to the next. This particular variety is from Lee County, Virginia, which is the westernmost county in the state, bordering on both Kentucky and Tennessee where the three states meet at the Cumberland Gap. Although I don’t have any childhood memories of that region, many of my ancestors just a few generations back either lived in or near Lee County or passed through the region while migrating to Kentucky. I purchased these seeds from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center.

The full list of varieties for today is as follows:

  • Peppers
    • Black Hungarian (2)
    • California Wonder Sweet (2)
    • Fish (2)
    • Jalapeño M (1)
    • Jalapeño Traveler (1)
    • Long Red Cayenne (1)
  • Tomatoes
    • Amish Paste (3)
    • Brandywine (1)
    • Brandywine Suddath’s Strain (1)
    • Cherokee Purple (3)
    • Large Red Cherry (2)
    • Lemon Drop (2)
    • Riesentraube (2)
    • Super Sioux 2011 (2)
    • Super Sioux 2012 (2)
    • Vinson Watts (2)
    • Virginia’s Tommy Toe (3)

Taken together, this adds up to 32 starter tray compartments. Each compartment holds the promise of a season’s worth of growth, leading to whatever yield is within that plant’s potential. In turn, as I dropped the seeds into each compartment, I made a promise to nurture the tender seedlings and to tend to the plants as best I can throughout their lives in my garden. This seasonal ritual represents an interspecies pact as old as civilization itself. Yet, for me it’s as fresh as this morning’s planting.

Happy gardening!


After the Storm

Tropical Storm Debby pulled away on Wednesday after dropping a total of about 7 or 8 inches of rain on the area. As the skies cleared and the sun started to dry things out, I was able to return once again to my garden and make an inspection tour. I was actually very pleasantly surprised to find that nearly everything had not only come through unscathed, but seemed to have been relishing the deep, soaking rain. I will use the pictures I took during that tour to give you a quick guided tour.

The pictures below provide an overview of my vegetable garden. The first one shows two of my 4×4 raised beds in the foreground, with my cowpea patch just beyond. Although they’re hard to make out in this picture, I also have a row of green beans (White Half Runner) planted along the fence in the background. Those beans were planted in March and have about run their course, so I will be taking them out in the next day or two.


The next picture shows my SFG bed, a 4×4 raised bed which is the only bed I currently have planted in strict accordance with Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Garden specifications. As you can see, the plants in this bed are thriving, so thus far I give a big, green thumbs-up sign regarding this approach.


My fourth and final raised bed is the 3×6 bed shown below. Its primary purpose is to be a blueberry bed, but from this angle the two blueberry bushes are hard to discern. One is located just to the right of and slightly behind the bean tower in this picture; the other is in the mirror-image location on the left. The beans you see growing up past the top of the picture are Kentucky Wonder beans, all growing from a single square foot.


You may notice above that the square just to the left of the beans is empty. I had to remove the cucumbers previously growing there, because sometime during the storm, they succumbed to what I presume was a squash vine borer attack. Here is what they looked like when I found them.


Moving on to happier thoughts, the next two pictures show some bell peppers (Sweet California Wonder) and the first okra pod (Clemson Spineless) of the season.



The next two pictures show varieties I have never grown before, and which I am anxious to see on my dinner table. First, you can see a close-up of Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg beans. The pods become streaked with purple shortly before ripening. They are then allowed to dry on the vine before harvesting. The shelled beans themselves are very pretty little dried beans with a white or cream color, mottled with purple. Second, you can see a Fish pepper plant. It is now blooming quite a bit, and although I couldn’t get a good picture showing one, it has some little tiny pepper pods beginning to grow. Like the plant, the pods should be streaked with white.



I also noticed during this tour that the first of my cowpeas are developing pods. The picture below shows some California 46 Blackeyed peas on their way to becoming harvest-ready.


As you can see in this next picture, the marigolds are really beginning to come into bloom now.


And the rose bush I just planted the other day made it through the storm okay, even though it needed to be staked to stabilize it.


In my butterfly garden, several of the nectar sources are really popping out in blossoms. This picture shows some Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea).


Next is one of only three species of lantana native to Florida, Lantana depressa, so named because it stays low to the ground, rarely exceeding a foot in height.


Towering above the other plants in the area is this rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). This is the same blossom that I showed being weighed down by the rain in my Wordless Wednesday Walkaround blog post earlier this week.

As an aside in case you are wondering, I do have other tall varieties planted nearby; they just haven’t grown yet. I am hoping they will catch up by late summer.


Since the storm left, I have noticed an incredible number of butterflies hanging around, but I have yet to get a picture worth posting. So far, I have seen several Zebra Longwings (Florida’s state butterfly), a couple Giant Swallowtails, a Black Swallowtail, and numerous Gulf Fritillaries. Speaking of Gulf Fritillaries, I found several Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on my passion vine, including the one in the next picture.


Before signing off, to keep from leaving you with the false impression that everything made it through the storm without problems, I’ll show a couple examples of things that didn’t fare quite so well. First, before the storm I had quite a display of tithonia torch (Tithonia rotundiflora) blossoms here and there around the yard. They are supposed to look like this:


Unfortunately, most of them now look like this:


I also have a couple hills of young, still rather tender pigeon pea bushes. The sandy soil nearby must have taken quite a pounding with the rain, as the plants now look like those below. Although they are still standing upright, I am concerned about the sand filtering too much light, inhibiting photosynthesis. For that reason, I will try to gently wash the sand off the leaves tomorrow. However, anyone who has tried to wash sand off themselves or anything else following a visit to the beach will recall that sand doesn’t loosen its grip easily, especially with just a gentle washing.


I will leave you with that for now. I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour around my garden!

Happy Gardening!

An Unexpected Visitor


I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw this little fellow appearing to stake a claim on my bell pepper!

As a practical matter, I’m sure his (or her) presence there will help keep the insect population in check.

Seasons in the Sunshine State

The calendar still says “Spring” for a few more hours, but that hasn’t stopped me from starting my fall garden. In fact, I started it a couple weeks ago by planting some tomato seeds and pepper seeds in a starter tray. All of them have sprouted now, with the exception of one variety which I ordered later than the others and only planted this morning. Assuming they do well, the tomato and pepper section of my garden will resemble a sampler platter this fall; I have two plants each of ten tomato varieties and six pepper varieties, each of which has its own story. To be precise, I might only have nine varieties of tomatoes, in which case I will have four plants of one kind, as you will understand shortly.

I describe each of these varieties below, and indicate where I got each one. To assist any interested readers in obtaining the same varieties, where links are available, I link the respective organization names below to the pages where these seeds can be ordered.

Pepper Varieties:

    • Black Hungarian — I have not yet found a good source of history for this pepper, but I have found lots of descriptive information. It seems this variety is planted as much for its ornamental characteristics as for its flavor, which has a wide range of Scoville (hotness) ratings — anywhere from 2500 at the low end to about 50,000. The plant is supposed to be very pretty, with emerald leaves accented by purple veins. The flowers are a deep purple, and the peppers, which are shaped like a jalapeño, start out green, turn black, and then ripen to red. This is my first time growing this variety. I bought the seeds from
      Seed Savers Exchange.
    • Fish — This variety has a very interesting heritage involving fish houses, bee stings, and African American history. The fish pepper carries the same recessive gene that causes albinism in other species, and produces an assortment of red, white, and red and white striped pods. The seeds for this variety were donated to Seed Savers Exchange by William Woys Weaver, who got the seeds from his grandfather. His grandfather had received them from a black folk painter by the name of Horace Pippin. According to Mr. Pippin, these peppers were a secret heirloom variety used by the black caterers in Baltimore fish houses, where the white pods were used to make white paprika that went into cream sauces and soups. A good article by Mr. Weaver about the fish pepper can be found at this link in the Mother Earth News. This article also includes a recipe for White Hot Fish Pepper Salsa. I bought mine from Seed Savers Exchange.
    • Jalapeño M — Jalapeño peppers are well known and widely grown, though the history is somewhat obscure. They are a moderate to hot type of pepper, with Scoville ratings anywhere from 5,000 to about 30,000 units. The Jalapeño M variety is on the hotter side, and are often used in making nachos. I purchased mine from a farmers cooperative called Southern States.
    • Jalapeño Traveler’s Strain — This variety of jalapeño was donated to Seed Savers Exchange by an SSE member by the name of Larry Pierce. He called them a traveler’s strain because he carried the seeds with him on several moves around the country, including Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Missouri.
    • Long Red Cayenne — Cayenne is another well-known hot pepper. This variety has long, slender pods (about 5 inches long and a quarter inch across). Their Scoville rating is in the 30K to 50K range. I obtained these from Southern States.
    • Sweet California Wonder — This is a classic heirloom bell pepper, introduced in 1928. It can be eaten green or allowed to ripen to red. The peppers are typically 3 to 4 inches each. I also have some growing in my spring/summer garden; they are days away from being ready to pick. I purchased them from Burpee.


Tomato Varieties:

  • Amish Paste — This variety was first obtained from the Amish near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and was then commercialized by Tom Hauch. I obtained mine from Seed Savers Exchange. The fruits are good for eating or making sauce. The bright red fruits weigh in at 8 to 12 ounces and can be oxheart-shaped or more like a rounded plum. This tomato is included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.
  • Brandywine — Yet another Seed Savers Exchange purchase for me, this variety is the one that SSE calls a Brandywine or Red Brandywine. There seem to be as many varieties called Brandywine as there are purported histories. A common theme is that they came from the general region of Ohio or Pennsylvania. Regardless which might be the “real” Brandywine, the Brandywines are very popular and highly regarded for their flavor. This one, according to SSE, produces 1 pound red beefsteak fruits. I have some of these in my spring/summer garden as well.
  • Brandywine (Suddath’s Strain) — This strain, also from Seed Savers Exchange, produces 1 to 2 pound pink beefsteaks. According to SSE, this variety was grown for over 100 years as a Brandywine by a family named Suddath, hence the name. This variety is currently growing in my spring/summer garden and is also included in the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Cherokee Purple — This variety has only been available to the general public for about twenty years, but it has quickly gained in popularity because of its exceptional taste. It is believed to have been grown by the Cherokee people over a hundred years ago. The fruits average about a pound and have the typical shape of a beefsteak. Their color pattern sets them apart; they have red skin with green shoulders and a deep purple hue to the meat. When sliced, the purple is emphasized by the green gel that usually surrounds the seeds. I bought mine from the Victory Seed Company.
  • Large Red Cherry — The name pretty much says it all. This is an old variety that produces a prolific harvest of red fruits measuring 1-1/2 to 2 inches each. I obtained mine as a “thank you” gift from Seed Savers Exchange when I became a member of the organization.
  • Lemon Drop — This variety was discovered by J. T. Sessions of Florida, when he found it growing among a crop of white cherry plants. It produces a lot of 1/2 to 3/4 inch translucent yellow-green tomatoes, and is said to keep producing even in cold, wet weather. It won the 2010 SSE Tomato Tasting award. I obtained mine from Seed Savers Exchange.
  • Riesentraube — The name of this German variety translates roughly as “giant bunches of grapes.” The fruits are red and about an inch each. I have some of these growing in my spring/summer garden as well. As with many others, I got them from Seed Savers Exchange.
  • Super Sioux — The Sioux tomato was released by the University of Nebraska in 1944. The Super Sioux was developed from that strain to increase the size of the fruits and to improve disease resistance. It is known for its ability to produce in a wide range of weather conditions, including hot and dry weather. Once it starts producing, it continues until the first frost. This was my best producer last season. The fruits were red and very tasty, although highly variable in size. I obtained these seeds by saving the seeds from some tomatoes grown by my stepson in Tallahassee, who was growing this variety exclusively last summer.
  • Super Sioux 2012 — Because I had such a good harvest last season, I decided to save some of the seeds from that harvest. However, since I did not take any precautions to isolate them from the other two varieties I grew at that time, I cannot be sure that the seeds are pure until I see how they produce. For ow, I’m referring to these seeds as Super Sioux 2012, just to keep them apart from the previous year’s seeds, which I know to be true representatives of that variety.
  • Vinson Watts — The last variety in this alphabetical list was also the last variety that I planted for this round, but is at the top of my “I can hardly wait” list. Vinson Watts, an Associate Dean at Berea College, was known to his friends and neighbors as the “Mater Man” because of his expertise and tirelessness at growing tomatoes. In 1956, his supervisor at Berea gave him some tomato seeds from some stock originally from Lee County, Virginia, the westernmost county in Virginia, wedged in between Kentucky and Tennessee. For the next 52 years, Watts selected the best tomatoes from this strain and saved the seeds. Over the years, a new variety emerged, which now bears his name. In 2007, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Sustainable Agriculture from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, also of Berea. He passed away in 2008. The seeds I have are from a special order stock available from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center. These seeds are from plants grown from original seeds grown and gathered by Mr. Watts himself before his death.
    Note: for those who are interested, this is the same organization from which I bought my Nickell Beans, as discussed in my recent blog posting, Carrying Moonbeans Home in a Jar.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I am still learning how best to garden in Zone 9. I find it quite remarkable how little information there is regarding when to start fall plantings in this region. Last year I started my tomatoes and peppers the first week of August and found that to be somewhat late. My first tomatoes ripened around New Year’s Day, and my peppers did not make it at all. If we had had an early frost, I probably would not have gotten tomatoes either. On the other hand, we enjoyed a steady supply of tomatoes well into spring. For this year, my reasoning is that an early June start should yield tomatoes in the October/November timeframe.

Here’s hoping!20120620-090111.jpg