Five Fiery Fall Favorites for Pepper Perfection


Heirloom ‘Matchbox’ Peppers Grown from Hudson Valley Seed Library Seeds

It’s almost the end of October, so that must mean I finally have peppers! And this year has been extremely satisfying in the pepper department. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t actually know how to measure a “peck of peppers” but I am willing to bet I have a least one.

Along with the several sweet peppers that were kind enough to perennial-ize themselves from last year, and our usual ‘Ancho-Poblano’ and ‘Spanish Spice’ varieties, this year we added several new additions to the pepper patch. This ‘Matchbox’ pepper was started from Hudson Valley Seed Library seed on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t notice fruit setting until seven months later in September. Today, October 23rd, the first pepper is finally ripe. I was so happy to see it that only its Scoville Unit rating of over 30,000 saved me from popping it straight into my mouth. It may not be a Habanero, but I’ll still be wearing gloves when I pick and cook with these little beauties.

Ethiopian Brown Berbere Pepper

I’m also looking forward to the ‘Ethiopian Brown Berbere’ peppers. I plan to start drying them in the next few days to make the Ethiopian spice paste called “Berbere” for a nut and seed mix recipe that I like. These peppers are a beautiful chocolaty brown, though I have heard their final ripened coloring is a brighter red. Since the plant has been prolific, I plan to harvest some of the peppers brown and dry them now, then if the rest ripen to red, I will dry those and we’ll be able to compare the flavor. I expect these peppers to be pretty hot, in the 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Unit range.

These Berbere peppers are also said to have a rich, smokey flavor that’s good for making chili powder as well as rubs and BBQ sauces. I may have to fight my husband for them to get enough for the nut mix.

‘Red Cherry Bomb’ Pepper

One pepper we will certainly have plenty of is the ‘Red Cherry Bomb.’ This was the first of our hot peppers to produce fruit and here in late October it is still covered in deliciously bite-size bright red peppers. It’s on the milder side, good for fresh salsa, diced on pizza, or tossed into omelettes to get you going for the day.

This variety is definitely a keeper–maybe. It was sold to me as an open-pollinated heirloom. But I have seen other posts around the garden blogs saying that it does not grow true-to-type. If you have more information on this pepper, please share in the Comments!

‘Manzano Orange’ Pepper

Another mystery for us this year is the ‘Manzano Orange’ Pepper. Still no fruit set, but look carefully. I am pretty sure we’re about to see what it will make.

This pepper is intended as a perennial. Trade Winds Fruit calls this pepper, “a rocoto tree pepper relative” and says it, “is noted for its cold hardiness, as it naturally grows on Andean mountain slopes, this pepper will survive several degrees below freezing. Plants grow to 2-6ft, can live for many years.” At the end of next month I plan to surround the roots with a layer of compost and then mulch heavily with rice straw and hope for the best. It’s very unusual for us to have freezing temperatures but anything can happen with the weather these days!

Heirloom ‘Fish’ Pepper Plant
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No post on our favorite peppers would be complete without the African-American heirloom ‘Fish’ pepper. Great for seafood and gumbo, I also dry the light-colored peppers to make “white” pepper for added heat in cream dishes where I don’t want the red coloring that usually accompanies this spiciness. (Think Chicken a la King, for instance.) The red and mixed-color peppers that aren’t eaten fresh are dried for pepper flakes and get added to everything from pasta sauce to bacon frittata.

Color Variation in ‘Fish’ Pepper Fruits

The colorful variety on this plant is also a fun surprise in the garden. I have gotten ‘Fish’ peppers in green, yellow, white, red and even some with stripes. And the plant itself has beautiful two-toned leaves with bold white splashes across whole sections of the plant.

How did your peppers do this year? If you have a favorite, please share it with us in the Comments.

Don’t Read This – Go Read “The Seed Underground”


To say that I was inspired by Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, would exceed my understatement limit for the week. Before I even finished it, I purchased three more copies to increase my chances of still having one after I start giving it to friends who are on the verge of grasping where our food system is currently heading. I told my husband that when he was finished reading this book, he would better understand his wife, his yard, and his dinner.

Ray weaves her own story of coming to understand food in a deep and fundamental way with many stories of seed savers around the United States and the why, if not so much the exact details of how, they do what they do. It’s not an instruction manual. It’s more a “This I Believe” manifesto of seed saving.

If I could have put the book down, I would have done it in order to plant, collect, or share seeds of the nearest vegetable at hand. The book makes you want to DO something. It lifts you past the doom and gloom of species and varieties disappearing or being forever fouled by the poison of corporate gene manipulation to the beautiful simplicity of action you can take right now to be part of the solution.

You finish the book with the knowledge that seed savers are out there. Seed savers are messy and neat, healthy and sick, on small lots and vast acreage, saving a single variety or dozens at once. Seed savers are people saving food. And maybe seed savers are just like you.

So, don’t read this. Get out there and save some seeds. And take The Seed Underground with you to keep you in good company along the way.

Beaning In the New Year

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Home grown dried beansIt’s done! In honor of the New Year I have finally shelled, frozen, sorted and stored all the beans from the 2011 growing season. Well, all the ones we didn’t eat, that is. We’ve already made chili with 2 cups of the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ beans and had baked beans out of another cup of the ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ beans.

We grew a mix of pole and bush drying beans, runner beans and garbanzo beans. What you see here is ‘White Emergo’ at twelve o’clock, with cut-short greasy beans to their right. The top right corner are ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ pole black beans and below them are the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans we like so much. The big pile in the center is ‘Yellow Indian Woman’ bush beans. I want to try them in this soup recipe. The black beans on the left are ‘Black Coco’ bush beans from Bountiful Gardens. I wanted to try them because Carol Deppe talks about them in the Resilient Gardener. I’m planning to eat half of them and save the other half for seed, unless we don’t like them that is.

I also managed to save a few of lots of other kinds of beans, though it took me a while to sort them all. I’ve been trying to see which types would do best in our climate–whatever that is these days! The ‘Cannelini’ did well, though I’ll have to plant a lot more of them to have enough for dinner. This year I didn’t have much luck with ‘California’ black-eyed peas, ‘Hutterite’ soup beans, or the ‘Borlotti’ beans I wanted for a family recipe.

Here they are matched up with the rest of the harvest. Let me know if you have a favorite drying beans that grows well for you.

Dried Bean Varieties

Winter Solstice, 2011

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While I was working in the garden this afternoon, I unearthed some gorgeous, purple-skinned, ‘Caribe’ potatoes–the second or third generation of them we’ve grown. Even this late in the year, grown in a small bag, I was still able to pull out three large potatoes, a couple smaller ones, and four mini-tubers I’m hoping to use as seed for this spring. (Since we’ve already mashed and eaten the larger potatoes!)

Other known varieties of potatoes currently in the ground in the garden include ‘Amey Russet’, ‘Rose Gold’, ‘Red Thumb’ and ‘Harlequin’. I’m also nursing along four different potato seedlings grown with TPS from a ‘Toro Dude’ mother. We’ll see if any of them make it through to tuber production. I started with ten seedlings and I’m already down to 40%. They are growing in pots that I set outside during the day and bring inside at night. If any of these tiny plants produce a tiny tuber, I’ll try growing it out this spring to produce enough tubers for tasting. If one of them does well and tastes good, we’ll have a whole new variety to propagate.

TPS Potato PlantsOn this Solstice, I also harvested a handful of yams (the sweet potatoes were all eaten up several weeks ago) and a couple of carrots from a bed I was preparing for the new potato varieties I just ordered from I’m going to try their ‘Lehmi Russet’ which is supposed to yield better than the ‘Russet Burbank’. I’ll see how it compares with our ‘Amey Russets’ which the TaterMater boards say is a better yielder than ‘Russet Burbank’. (Poor ‘Russet Burbank’, why does everyone pick on that variety?) I’ll also be growing ‘Crackled Butterball’ to compare with the ‘German Butterball’ potatoes that have been very popular with us. I chose ‘Mountain Rose’ to expand my reds, since ‘Red Thumb’ is the only red that has done much of anything in the Dirt to Dinner garden so far. And ‘Purple Peruvian’ is a blue fingerling I’ll be trying to expand on the blues. There are still ‘All Blue’ potatoes popping up here and there around the garden, but the straggly volunteers have never really produced much of anything. I gave their mini-progeny a bed of their own for this year to see what we can do to revive them.

Two different types of spinach, many colors of chard, two kinds of kale, several lettuces, arugula, collards, carrots, mustard and turnips are all coming up in nursery beds or flats or volunteering in odd corners of the garden. There’s a whole patch of arugula seedlings in the middle of one of the paths that I’ve been trying to transplant as space opens up. And yesterday I started a big patch of ‘Sugar Snap’ peas. I started them under a trellis just in case they really do grow on 6′-8′ vines like the seed package said.

Just 80 Pounds of Potatoes to Go

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20 Lb Box of PotatoesThere was certainly no danger of me winning the 99 Pound Potato Challenge with this year’s ‘Rose Gold’ crop even though it is a new Personal Best for us here in the Dirt to Dinner garden. In 2010, we harvested 20 lbs of potatoes from a fifteen square foot raised bed and this year we managed the same weight of harvest in only nine square feet. That’s almost an extra pound of potatoes harvested per square foot in 2011. And this patch of potatoes also produced flowers and potato berries that were harvested so that we can experiment with growing from seed.

The ‘Rose Gold’ potatoes were planted March 29th and harvested July 19th, 112 days later. They were planted in new ground that started out as a compost pile and was covered in a layer of rice straw and top soil. Potatoes were hilled to just over 24″ with alternating layers of straw and potting mix. They could have been hilled much deeper. Vines were over four feet tall and some stolons grew at least two feet long. With their excellent taste and this respectable harvest, ‘Rose Gold’ potatoes will probably gain a spot in our deep hilling trials this fall or next spring.

Rodent Teeth Marks?Unfortunately, I was not the first one to harvest the ‘Rose Gold’ patch. Just the other day the dog was chasing something and digging along the edge of the patch. I shooed her away and went back to watering the tomatillos. But today in that corner, I found at least six potatoes that were very strangely shaped and clearly no longer at their full weight when it came time for the count. Do squirrels eat raw potatoes? Who eats raw potatoes, can climb the fence into the yard and is faster than a streaking Labradoodle? Those potatoes started fist-sized, if you have small hands like me, and a good chunk of them has definitely been chewed off!

Potato vines starting to die backThe ‘Rose Gold’ potato vines were brown and fallen over and mostly dried up so I knew they were ready to harvest. I might have liked to allow the potatoes a few weeks undisturbed in the soil to harden their skins for storage but I pulled the patch before any more unauthorized feasting took place. I have two more patches and several potatoes in bags growing in that area. The patch shown here was planted April 6th and contains a broad mix of varieties for the Great Potato Grow Out Project.  The bulk of the varieties still have lots of mostly upright, green vines. They wilt in hot weather but with water and evening cool they stand most of the way back up again.  Except for the plant in the bottom right corner.

Potato vine finished dryingPotato varieties grow for a unique number of days before they finish setting tubers and the vines die back. Some early varieties are ready in as few as 75 days. The ‘Red Thumb’ potatoes have been the first in this trial to be ready for harvest at about 90 days. This vine is a ‘Caribe’ potato that is done growing and I plan to pull these potatoes very soon before anyone else starts to harvest them for me!