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!

Bush Beans

My plan was to complain about how many sour cherries I had and all the work I put into picking, freezing, canning and baking them. But then this morning I decided I would head on over to the community garden and harvest the first of the bush beans. Good idea. I’ll come back to the sour cherries later on, I still have a bit of resentment towards them if you hadn’t picked up on that. 

I’ve almost always had great luck with bush beans, except once. Beans need to be planted after all danger of frost has passed and when the soil has warmed up a bit – they do not like cold and damp weather. So I’ve learned that planting them in May is pretty much out of the question, so I usually end up putting mine in the first week of June. The reason why they failed that one year is because I planted them the May long weekend with everything else. That was also the year it snowed the first week of June. So the moral of the story is wait until June to plant them, but be prepared for disappointment because it might snow in June anyway. 

So here is the haul from this morning – a 4L pail full of bush beans, every color of the rainbow. 

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Almost half of my plot this year at the community garden was bush beans – about 15 or so plants. I usually disregard the rules and sow the seeds closer than the packages instruct – real estate is valuable when you garden in small spaces! It doesn’t seem to affect the harvest though because I always get more beans than I know what to do with. For some reason no one has ever tried to steal my beans from the community garden – maybe it is because they are a little bit hidden underneath the leaves, or maybe because the unusual colors weird people out. My sister and I used to add food coloring to pancakes when we were younger and left to our own cooking devices and I remember once a family friend being completely turned off by eating green and purple pancakes upon offering, even though they still tasted exactly the same. Maybe it’s like that. Regardless, I am pretty attracted to vegetables that are not “normal” colors. Unfortunately all the colored beans, except the yellow ones, turn green upon cooking. 

The other great thing to point out about beans is that while most other vegetables suck the nutrients out of the soil like little green vampires, beans enrich the soil with nitrogen. It is debatable how much nitrogen they actually add back into the soil – I’m not a scientist and I’ve never bother to do soil testing before and after planting beans. But if there is even a slight chance that they are good for the soil, it’s an added bonus in my books. I am really good about amending my soil at home with compost and manure, but at the community garden I am a horrible, neglectful gardener who fails to amend my soil. Shame on me. But if the beans help in any way, thank you little friends. 

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Here is a list of all the bush beans I planted and where they were purchased incase you were interested:

Blue Lake 274 (green) – Botanical Interests
Pencil Pod (yellow) – Botanical Interests
Royal Burgundy (dark purple) – Botanical Interests
Red Swan (red/light purple) – Seed Savers Exchange
Tongue of Fire (green/red striped) – Urban Harvest

So what did I end up doing with this haul? I made a few cans of mustardy bean pickles (photo below) using a recipe from my Mom. And I saved the rest for eating fresh this week. I expect to have another significant harvest next week so I’ll be making some more (different) pickles from a recipe made up by myself, although not completely original (I had a habit last year buying expensive jars of pickled beans, cauliflower and carrots on a weekly basis from the local farmer’s market and ended up forcing myself to figure out how to replicate the recipe). I will share that recipe at a later date so that you too can become addicted to what I refer to as “crack pickles”. 

IMG_3464Mustardy pickled beans featuring onions, green peppers and turmeric

I don’t think that there will ever be a year that I do not plant bush beans. They are one of the easiest crops to grow anywhere (even in containers), don’t mind neglect and a little bit of drought, and are always prolific producers. Plus you can pick them, steam them, and be eating them in 10 minutes. What’s not to love? 

 

Saskatoon Berries

It’s finally saskatoon season here in Alberta! I usually don’t expect it to be saskatoon season until around the August long weekend but it seemed to be slightly early this year – I have no explanation for this since everything else seems to be two weeks behind this year. I curse Facebook all the time, but had it not been for an update from The Saskatoon Farm, I wouldn’t have known the berries were ready for picking. So I woke up early on Tuesday morning and made my way to the farm for picking. 

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Picking berries is something that I love. I remember going out with my Mom and siblings when we were younger and picking wild berries – none of this u-pick business. I liked it as a youngster but soon became a cynical teenager who hated everything, including picking berries. Once I got over that horrible phase, I was an adult who loved picking berries. My husband on the other hand hates picking berries, so I don’t drag him out with me anymore – of course this puts a little damper on my dream of owning my own u-pick, but I’ve suggested that he can just ride his bike around the farm selling water and ice cream. 

The Saskatoon Farm. I love this place. It is a u-pick farm, but they also have a restaurant, a gift shop, a garden centre, a animals running around, and sell vegetables grown right on their property (I always buy a few bunches of beets and a ton of fresh picked garlic). This place can get insanely busy, which is good for them, but not so good for someone like me who loathes crowds. So I try to go as early as I can to avoid people but to also get my picking in before the day gets too hot. The later of the two was a little harder to avoid – I arrived at 9AM when they opened and by 10AM I was dying of heat. I soldiered on and just dealt with it. 

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About three years ago I discovered that they also have u-pick sour cherries. So that first year, I picked a bucket and brought them home and made the best cheesecake in the world. I make this cheesecake once a year because A) I am not a huge baker. B) It has like a million calories. C) It has a truck load worth of cream cheese and therefore costs a pretty penny to make. Last year I was really excited to go back and pick two buckets of cherries. Unfortunately they had a crappy season or something because the cherries were dreadful looking – I came home with no cherries. So this year I asked before I went out if the cherries were ready yet. The lady I spoke to said not quite yet but she’d seen other people out there picking them. So I went out and got my bucket of saskatoon berries and was about to leave but decided to stop to check the cherries first. To my excitement they were ready – I ate like 5 of them to make sure. I quickly powered through and picked a bucket, all while dripping with sweat (yes, I’m sure you wanted to hear about my bodily functions – it was like 30 degrees outside already!). I actually wanted to pick another bucket, but I was dehydrated and dying, so I decided to just leave. Plus, by this point it was 11:30AM and the place was insanely busy. I will probably go back next week and pick some more cherries. Sour cherries are definitely for baking or preserving – they are extremely tart. I wouldn’t say they are unpalatable without being covered in sugar – I actually really like eating them raw, but they are nothing like the sweet BC cherries were eat throughout July. 

So what do I do with the saskatoon berries? Well, I eat a bunch of them raw – they have a really delicious nutty flavor. Then I preserve or freeze the bulk of them, which is what I did this morning. Freezing is easy – I don’t bother freezing them on cookie sheets before I put them into freezer bags because I’m lazy, but you can do this if you want. I pull them out during the winter to add to yogurt or baking. And sometimes I make little hand pies using the best pie crust in the entire world (I’ll have this for another post!). But my favorite way to eat saskatoons is just plain old canned. You’ll need to have basic knowledge of the hot water bath canning method, but it is so easy that you can just look it up online or consult a canning book. And my favorite part about canning? Hearing the popping of the lids sealing. Yeah, I’m weird. 

Quick Canned Saskatoon Berries

Ingredients:
– 2 litres fresh saskatoon berries
– 1 tbsp lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
– 1 cup white sugar
– 3 cups water

Instructions:
– Prepare berries by removing stems and washing in cold water
– Prepare hot water bath and sterilize jars and lids (I used 250ml jars and was able to get 7 jars in total)
– Prepare syrup by stirring together water, sugar and lemon juice until it boils
– Cold pack berries into jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space
– Ladle in syrup, leaving 1/2 inch head space
– Wipe rims, add lids and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes
– Remove from bath and sit on dishtowel on counter – listen for popping! Check to ensure all lids have sealed after a couple of hours (if they have not, you can put them in the fridge and eat them in the next couple of weeks). Do not disturb the jars for 24 hours. 

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The Saskatoon Farm is located an extremely short drive south of Calgary off of Highway 2. This year they introduced a “grazing fee”, which means you can pay $2 to get into the u-pick and just eat to your heart’s content without feeling obligated to pick an entire bucket. They also sell pre-picked buckets if you hate picking berries but want an entire bucket to take home. Or if you’d like to buy your own saskatoon bush to plant at home, they also sell those! And people say Disney is the happiest place on earth – I call BS. 

 

Strawberries

Yesterday was the first strawberry harvest. I wasn’t planning on harvesting the strawberries yesterday morning until I saw a squirrel reach through the chicken wire fence I put up earlier in the season and help itself to a nice bright red berry. After witnessing that, I went outside with my bowl and picked all of the ripe strawberries (throwing away some half-eaten ones the squirrel had already half-dined on). The good news is that the squirrel hasn’t figured out how to get into the raised bed surrounded by the chicken wire fence, but he has figured out how to reach through and pull off ripe strawberries. I suspect I will have a few more harvests as there was tons of unripe berries.

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I’ve long since lost all of the tags that went along with my strawberry plants, but there is a mixture of everbearing plants that I bought at the greenhouse and alpine varieties that I started from seed – including mignonette and a white alpine variety. My favorite are the alpine varieties because they remind me of the wild strawberries that I used to pick when I was a youngster.

This year is the best strawberry harvest so far as I moved some of the plants around this past spring to give them all more room to grow. I would recommend giving new plants about a foot of space around one another – planting them too closely prevents airflow and creates shade under the berries, so sometimes they can go moldy in those conditions. In past years, I’ve just had enough strawberries to snack on as I putter about in the garden but I filled a small bowl yesterday, which was enough to put on top of gelato for three people. I bought a container of the bourbon vanilla bean gelato from Fiasco Gelato here in Calgary and it was perfect with the fresh strawberries.

I also decided early on in the season, after being frustrated by the price of annual hanging baskets, that I would fill all of my hanging baskets with strawberry plants this year. I am really happy with this spur of the moment decision because I’m going to get a ton of berries from these plants, not to mention that the hanging baskets cost me about $8 each in plants and soil to put together – yay frugality!