Pasilla Bajio Pepper

I had thought that in September I would be writing about and posting pictures of my green and lush garden winding down. But I was wrong. Instead, I’m talking about snow and freezing temperatures. Calgary was hit with a winter storm in the summer. It sounds ridiculous saying it, but snow is not unheard of at this time of year in Alberta, but a storm like this is fairly uncommon. The snow started falling in parts of the city on Monday morning but didn’t hit my area until early Monday afternoon. And it wasn’t bad – there were a few moans around the office about snowflakes but nothing was sticking. Then Monday night things started to stick. See my last post here. On Tuesday morning there was a bit of snow on the ground, but it wasn’t piling up on the roads or sidewalks. But it didn’t stop and by Wednesday morning, it was wet and heavy and still coming down. On my drive to work, I saw large mature trees splitting down the middle and limbs falling off from the weight of the snow and landing on the sidewalks and streets. Several street lights were out and many people were without power and/or water. We were fortunate that we only lost power for a couple of brief periods at home and we don’t have any mature leafy trees on or near our property (there are some old spruce trees on the street but those were not affected). Apparently the total snowfall tally in the city over the last few days was 35cm. It was the perfect weather to start knitting again and we did pull out the wool blankets which I love so so much. And apparently the weather is supposed to go back to normal September weather starting this weekend and early next week, so I’ll be able to not complain about snow for hopefully a few weeks.

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The aftermath in my garden, September 11, 2014 – snow has already fallen from my neighbor’s tree and melted off the shed roof and fence

And now to pretend that the snow didn’t happen and I’m happily harvesting vegetables from the garden.

I don’t remember what the deciding factors of purchasing pepper seeds were for me a few years ago (I’ve said it before – goldfish brain). Now that I have a few varieties of peppers under my belt I know it will be heat. But I’m not so convinced that this was a factor before. Looking back on my old stash of seeds, it seems the hottest seeds I’d purchased were jalapeno – weaklings in the hot pepper world. I’m going to assume that I chose the pasilla bajio based on the look of it on the package because I certainly didn’t buy it for the heat. The pasilla bajio is a really beautiful pepper – about 6 or so inches long and very dark green/slightly brown. I would be interested in drying some of these because they are supposed to be a lovely dark brown when dried and apparently make a really tasty powder, which is typically used for mole sauce.

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And it was one of the earlier peppers to appear in my greenhouse, which is a plus in my books. I started all of my pepper plants inside the house in February. I’m actually thinking I will start them earlier this coming year. They seemed to do really well under the lights indoors and did not grow big or leggy like a lot of other plants do when started indoors. The only reason for starting them earlier than February would be to get peppers harvested sooner. Some of my peppers were ready in early August, but most have been ripening late August and into September. And I even have a feeling that some varieties may even hold out until later, like my habanero.

The taste was very mild and flavorful with a hint of smokiness. I would actually argue that I didn’t find there to be any heat at all and that makes sense since this pepper is rated 1,000 – 2,000 on the scoville scale. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good though – you just need to know going in that it isn’t a pepper you grow for heat. Since I only had 3 peppers, I made spiced chicken and pepper rajas, recipe from Bon Appetit. It was good, but next time I would actually add in a little hot pepper for some heat and serve it with some sour cream and shredded cheese (basically just a fajita without the soft tortilla). The recipe calls for pablano peppers but they are on the same level heat-wise as the pasillo bajio so I didn’t think the recipe police would mind too much.

Because I would like to experiment with making my own powdered spices, I will grow this pepper again. Plus, it is just so pretty.

Seeds purchased from Botanical Interests.

 

 

The September 2014 Garden

I have tried to find a way to start this post that wasn’t “Oh for God’s sake, it’s snowing”. But I can’t. It’s September 8th and it’s snowing. What the hell.

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Those little white specks – snow. My neighbor’s sunflowers look so lovely! And then an hour later…

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Let’s start this story about a week ago. I knew that the nights were starting to cool down a lot so I kept my eye on the weather forecast for frost warnings. And by “kept my eye on”, I mean checked obsessively every five minutes. I’m ashamed to admit that I learned the hard lesson last year on screwing around with frost warnings (yes, I am human, I make mistakes) – actually, not frost warnings because there wasn’t actually a frost warning. I saw the temperature was going to be borderline and I didn’t do anything. I should have gone out and covered things, but I didn’t. Stupid. So this year, not wanting all of my months-long efforts to go to waste, I watched the forecast carefully. On Wednesday night I checked the forecast a million times before bed and saw that it was only supposed to dip down to about 7 degrees celsius. Safe. Thursday morning I woke up, got ready for work, stepped outside my front door and it was COLD. I quickly touched the foliage of the closest plant. Wet (it had rained the night before) and cold, but not frosty. I scanned the rest of the front yard and it appeared alright. I got into my car and the windshield was COVERED IN ICE. Oh god. What about the tomatoes in the back yard?! What if they are covered in frost and ice? Were they dead?!

The tomatoes were fine. Everything else was fine too. Calm down woman.

Later that day, I got an email from the coordinator at our community garden saying the garden had been vandalized the night previous. Oh great, fantastic. As soon as I got home, I ventured across the street to survey the damage. Our plot was fine. I guess no one wants a bunch of crappy kale and beets. Our plot neighbor lost some squash though – I saw the evidence smashed against the nearby building wall. And some other people lost a few things as well, but gardeners have a pretty thick skin and are used to a bit of disappointment. My husband and I went ahead and harvested the last of the beans and beets. The bean harvest was great this summer, producing about 9 litres of beans from about 12 square feet of space, but the beet harvest was pathetic. Most beets were about golf ball sized, so we only really got about 4 litres of beets from that space. Luckily I’d also planted beets at home which turned out much nicer and significantly larger. We left the kale and leeks in place for now – we have more kale than we know what to do with, so if someone wants to help themselves I will not be sad. Go ahead hooligans, steal my kale.

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And then our fridge decided to start dying. It hasn’t completely died, but it is happening soon. I’ve been feeling like it has been on its way out for awhile now but it has started randomly spilling out a lot of water ON MY NEW FLOOR. This isn’t the happiest news, especially at harvest time when one requires a fridge to store vegetables. We could get someone in to look at and repair the fridge, but frankly it is old and an energy suck and we’d just prefer to bite the bullet and purchase a new fridge. Now here’s the catch: Megan is extremely picky about everything that she buys, especially when it has a significant price tag attached. She does not want to go out and buy the cheapest replacement fridge and then have to look at it and secretly resent it for the next 20 years. Megan wants a really pretty and good quality fridge. Therefore we have come to the decision to purchase a mini-fridge as a placeholder until we can save up some money over the next couple of months and buy something really nice.¬† The cost of the mini fridge would be around the same as getting a professional to come in just to look at the dying fridge, plus we have a friend who is in the market for a mini-fridge and has offered to buy the mini-fridge from us when we are done with it. My brother is excited because he basically gets all the food that will not fit into the mini-fridge. Everyone wins. Except the old fridge – you lose. Oh and the microwave died too but we’re not too sad about that – we are going to try going microwave-less. If the oven dies I’m going to absolutely lose it.

Okay back to the tomatoes. After my little scare on Thursday morning and after the drama of the community garden, I went home and covered my tomatoes for the night. I wrapped them up in any spare sheets and fleece blankets that I could round up, then secured the covers with clothespins. It didn’t freeze that night, but at least I had peace of mind. Things started to warm up on Friday so the chance of frost was lifted and the forecast for the weekend was decent. But there was talk of snow early in the week. Seriously?! On Saturday I went out and picked all of the green indeterminate tomatoes. I didn’t really want to so early – I thought I had a few more weeks to allow ripening on the vines. And really, although I live in Alberta and know in the back of my mind that we could get snow any time, I still like to believe that we shouldn’t get snow until at least October. Sigh.

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Now on to the rest of September. This afternoon I harvested the corn (we have corn!), one last zucchini, two green pumpkins and a handful of cherry tomatoes. And I brought some of the herb pots indoors just in case. I also had 3 pots of cherry tomatoes growing on my deck so I moved those pots into the greenhouse where it is a bit warmer.

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Once the weather warms up again and it stops raining/snowing, we’ll clean up the yard a bit and harvest some of the other things like the remaining beets and carrots. The composts will be turned, rain barrels emptied, and raised beds and pots cleaned out and stored for winter. I can’t believe we’re at this time of year already – it honestly seems like yesterday that I was rushing around in a panic to get everything planted and now everything is covered in a layer of white snow.

 

Filius Blue Hot Pepper

I used to be a picky eater. I used to hate peppers. I used to carefully extract peppers, mushrooms and onions from dishes and throw them in the garbage. I feel ashamed to admit this.

I don’t know exactly when I started eating the things I used to hate. I don’t know exactly when I started loving the things I used to hate eating. But it happened. I know it definitely happened some time in my early adult life. I don’t know how it happened – did I all of a sudden just shove these things into my mouth and declare them amazing? Or did it happen gradually over time? I have no idea. I have goldfish brain.

I know that hot peppers were a more recent addition to my life and I think it was inspired a lot by my love of East Indian and Mexican food, as well as my somewhat recent introduction to Sriracha and other hot sauces (I don’t mean recent as in yesterday, but like the last 5 or so years). Hot peppers intrigue me and I want to grow and eat them all.

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I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of a weakling when it comes to heat. I can handle a bit, but nothing extreme. I like to burn my face off just a little bit, mainly in the privacy of my own home. The filius blue is pretty mild when it comes to hot peppers. It has a little bit of heat, but not much. Dare I say, not enough heat for me. I had some pretty high expectations for it as it is rated the same heat level on the scoville scale (30,000 – 50,000) as the Chinese 5 Color that I wrote about last time. For me, this had about half of that amount of heat. Eating them whole raw (seeds and all) and in multiples was no problem.IMG_3548

I think the best part of the filius blue is the plant itself. It is extremely compact, growing about 6 inches tall and about 8 inches wide in a terra cotta pot. The leaves are a lovely green with a purple tinge on the edges and purple veining. The flowers are white and purple. And the peppers themselves are very small, medium/dark purple and ripening to a bright red. Unlike the Chinese 5 Color, these peppers start out purple, turn a little orange and then directly ripen to red. And the peppers are abundant. I threw them into tacos (it should be mentioned that they lost any traces of heat after being cooked) and into fresh salsa.

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I grew two of these plants this year but next year I will limit it to one plant – greenhouse space is valuable real estate! I liked the mild heat of the fresh peppers, but I wasn’t entirely blown away. If you’re looking for a really compact mild hot pepper that easily grows in a pot and looks beautiful, this is the one for you. If you want something really unpleasant and face burn-y, stayed tuned for next year’s harvest.

 Filius Blue Pepper seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Harvesting Garlic

Garlic, delicious garlic. It is amazing to think that only a few years ago I didn’t even know what garlic was, except something that you used to keep the vampires away. My first memory of good, fresh, potent garlic was when I was about 19 years old and we lived within walking distance to a farmer’s market. They had these beautiful huge purple heads of garlic and they smelled amazing. The taste was like nothing I’d ever had before. I was hooked.

And I’m a bit embarrassed to say this but I didn’t know you could grow garlic in Calgary until about 6 years ago. Silly me.

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The great thing about garlic is you really don’t need a lot of room to grow it – you can literally just stick it in wherever you have little blank spot. It needs full sun and well drained soil, but I have grown it in a part-sun location before (the bulbs were not as big as in previous years, but it works if you literally have no other option). Plant it in the late autumn, water it and leave it. Little green spikes will start to appear in the early spring and you pretty much don’t need to do anything to it until the scapes appear late June/early July. The scapes are the shoot that a flower will eventually appear on and go to seed, but I always cut my scapes off in order for the plant to focus its energy on producing bigger bulbs. The scapes are edible and have a milder garlic taste – I make mine into pesto or pickle them.

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The bulbs will be ready near the end of the summer in Calgary. You’ll be tempted to pull them out all summer just to see how they look but you must resist! You’ll know the bulbs are ready to come out when a few of the leaves start to turn yellow and dry out.

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Be very gentle when harvesting the garlic. The more aggressive you are, the more likely you will damage your garlic or peel off the skins. The idea is to loosen the soil around the plants with a pitch fork or a shovel and then gentle pull them out one-by-one with your hand. Lightly brush the soil off of the roots and bulbs, being careful not to pull off the skins. Do not clean the bulbs with water.

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Next you’ll want to cure your garlic in a dark and dry location (if you want to eat a bulb right away, go ahead! Curing it just makes it keep longer). I use my basement and then keep them stored there until I am ready to use them. I have a very expensive and highly technical set up that consists of two screws in the ceiling with a piece of string tied between them and clothespins as the garlic attaching devices. Make sure to keep the drying garlic high in an area that is not accessible to pets because some pets (mainly a white cat called Bear) enjoy eating garlic leaves, breaking out in hives, and getting dragged to the vet. Your garlic will be completely dry in about 4-8 weeks and you can give them a brushing off to get rid of any remaining dirt and remove and discard the dried leaves.

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This year’s garlic was Red Russian, which is a hardneck variety, ordered from West Coast Seeds. I’ve grown a few different types before but Red Russian seems to give me the biggest and healthiest bulbs, so it is my go-to variety. This reminds me, I need to go order my bulbs for planting this fall!