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peppers

basil blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Opening once again with basil blossoms! My porch basil started flowering over two months ago. This is a small habit plant intended for container gardening, and I’m done with it. The plants were tiny, the leaves ridiculously small, and I’ve had way more satisfying results planting regular old basil plants in containers. Even a standard-sized plant, stunted, provides a better yield than the container basil did. Still… pretty flowers.

Yikes! Summer blew through my home kitchen garden while I was writing a book about preserving produce. The book is on its way to the printer, and I’m still getting a grip on the blogging I failed to do.

Here it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in October, and I’ve been preparing blog posts about what went on in April and May. Despite the book-writing distraction, I did plant a kitchen garden—in fact, I expanded my garden this year. And, while we had our first frost two nights ago, even the basil survived in relatively decent shape; much still grows out there, and there are flowers… though my photos for this bloom day show little different from the past two Bloom Days.

It doesn’t matter! There are flowers in my home kitchen garden, they’re beautiful, and I shot them. Please enjoy.

 

late season broccoli in a home kitchen garden

The broccoli I started from seed indoors last February produced poorly at first, but it eventually put up side shoots and other growth that extended some plants as tall as eight feet. The floret production was too sporadic to keep my interest, so I’ll be trying a new variety of broccoli next season. Flowers from the unharvested side shoots attracted all kinds of interesting insects from July through today (notice the cluster of insects on the left side of the main stalk; I don’t know what they are, but they weren’t particularly energetic on this 48 degree day.)

 

cilantro blossoms in a home kitchen garden

A small stand of cilantro has just started flowering, so it’s not likely to produce seeds before cold stops it. I’ll be curious to see whether the plants overwinter and try to produce seeds next spring; I’ve had younger plants over winter very well, but I’ve never had mature and growing cilantro plants at the start of winter.

 

dill blossoms in a home kitchen garden

There’s dill in every stage of growth in my home kitchen garden. The stems, leaves, and flowers look exotic to me, but having such fine-textured leaves and flowers, they are challenging to capture well in photographs. Several giant dill heads already dumped thousands of seeds in the garden, so I doubt I’ll need to plant this herb in the spring.

 

neck pumpkin blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Several overly-optimistic plants simply don’t understand what all the recent cold means. The neck pumpkin plants put on a secondary growth spurt, and there have been nearly a dozen new fruiting flowers. This one almost certainly wasn’t pollinated: no insects flitted about in the cold as I was taking pictures today. It seems pointless for me to pollinate the flower manually as any fruit that sets now will just freeze and die within three weeks.

 

chili pepper blossom in a home kitchen garden

Many of my pepper plants continue to flower, and examining them reminded me that I need to harvest the ripe peppers before we get serious frost. I’ve delayed because peppers keep very well on the plants; they may be full-sized and ready to eat green in July or August, but they can continue to ripen for months until you’re ready to use them.

 

tomato blossom in a home kitchen garden

Even the tomatoes continue to try to make fruit. I’m guessing, but I believe I’ve handled over 400 pounds of tomatoes this season. At peak, I harvested an average of 15 pounds per day. Even now I’ve 30 pounds of ripe tomatoes awaiting attention on my dining room table, and there may be 15 to 20 pounds still on the vines. Thank goodness today’s flowers have no chance of producing viable fruit before a killing frost shuts them down.

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basil blossoms in a home kitchen garden

The basil plants growing in a pot on my deck have flowered. OK, herbs. Herbs flower too.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day today, was very wet in my home kitchen garden. That’s a good thing for the garden, but not so much for the photographer. Thankfully, for the first time ever, I shot my Bloom Day photos a day early. It was heavily overcast yesterday, so there wasn’t a lot of contrast, but the photos reveal a garden very much trying to produce more food before the season ends.

What is Bloom Day? Carol over at May Dreams Gardens started this monthly celebration of flowers. Garden bloggers the world over participate by posting photos of whatever’s abloom in their gardens. I manage a home kitchen garden with the philosophy that I don’t want to expend energy planting stuff I’m not going to eat. So, my focus is food, but happily, fruits and vegetables start out as flowers. Here are the August babies in my home kitchen garden:

dill blossoms in a home kitchen garden

So… I have a bunch of dill blossoms in my garden. I didn’t plant dill this year, but last year’s volunteer dill plants seeded themselves aggressively, and I’ve had three or four plants in bloom at any given time for the past six weeks or so. It’s reassuring to know that several large seed heads have already produced hundreds of seeds which now wait on the soil to sprout new dill plants next spring.

 

tomato blossoms in a home kitchen garden

If things are abloom in my garden, at least some of them are probably tomato plants. I’ve more than 80 tomato plants in the garden this year, and have canned 45 pints of tomato products. There are about 100 pounds of tomatoes on my dining room table, and the plants hold, perhaps, another 100 pounds. These pretty flowers may produce fruit, but it won’t have time to ripen before this autumn’s first frost.

 

bean blossoms in a home kitchen garden

I grew climbing beans for my first time last year and enjoyed their behavior so much that they have become “must haves” in my home kitchen garden. This spring, a woodchuck munched a lot of my plants, but what’s left is producing enough for my family of five to have about four servings a week.

 

lima blossoms in a home kitchen garden

My lima beans are two experiments in one: 1. I’ve never grown lima beans because I’m the only person in my family who likes them. 2. I’m growing eight plants in a single windowsill planter… way too little root space. So far, the plants are flowering abundantly, and there are dozens of bean pods. The pods are just starting to fatten up, so I have some hope of gathering enough lima beans for at least a few servings.

 

cuke blossom in a home kitchen garden

Yet another first for me: I’m growing cucumbers. I planted two varieties, and nearly all the plants have been destroyed by vine borers. Still, I’ve harvested three cucumbers, and there are many more at various stages of near-readiness.

 

squash blossom in a home kitchen garden

Closely related to cucumbers, my winter squash plants are crazy in bloom. Vine borers have killed or weakened nearly all my blue hubbard plants, but neck pumpkins and butternut squash are growing strong. Oh, and it looks as though kobocha squash don’t know how to make female flowers; my plants have grown many dozens of male flowers, but not a single fruiting blossom.

 

broccoli blossom in a home kitchen garden

My broccoli didn’t produce well this year, and I’m shopping for better varieties for next year. If you have a favorite that produces large heads, please leave a comment to tell me about it. I’m still harvesting small broccoli florets from the side shoots, but I think I enjoy the flowers more than I enjoy the tiny servings of broccoli.

 

pepper blossom in a home kitchen garden

While I’ve more than 80 tomato plants in my home kitchen garden, I also have about 60 chili pepper plants. This one’s visitor, I think, is confused. These bugs usually stuff themselves into squash blossoms; this may be the first time I’ve seen one on a pepper plant.

 

 

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These pepper plants started from seeds some six weeks ago. However, for nearly three weeks they’ve lived outdoors where cool spring days have slowed their growth.

In the 14 years I’ve grown my own home kitchen garden, I had never started seeds indoors. It’s so convenient to buy plants that someone else has started from seeds and set them in the garden the day the frost stops. For most kitchen gardeners, this is an excellent approach. Who has the time, space, and appropriate gear to plant seeds and maintain them for four-to-six weeks before finally setting them in a garden bed?

The down-side of buying flats (packages of four or six seedlings) is that you have a very limited selection. Most local garden stores offer excellent plants but of no more than five to ten varieties. When it comes to tomatoes, you’re likely to find several of the beefsteak plants. Things labeled Big Boy, Better Boy, Bigger Better Boy (I made up that one), Better Girl, Early Girl, Beefsteak, Beefsteak Hybrid, and Big Steak are common. You might find Roma, and some type of cherry tomato… and maybe one uncommon heirloom variety such as Dwarf Grandma Black Vein Pall-Bearer (I made that up as well).

For broccoli and cauliflower, good luck finding more than one variety of each. And, if you want winter squash other than butternut and acorn, you’re simply out of luck.

So… if you want to choose what you plant from a broad selection of varieties, you need to buy seeds and start them yourself. For many plants in many hardiness zones, it’s best to start indoors four-to-six weeks before your last frost. This head start extends the growing season so you can harvest a bigger crop from your home kitchen garden.

My Indoor Starts

I decided to start my own seeds this year. For me it’s not about variety. We’re broke. OK, we’re not broke, but we’re trying to be financially conservative and seeds cost way less than flats of growing plants. There’s that, and I started writing lots of how-to articles about gardening; I coudn’t write about starting seeds without providing at least one example. No wait. There’s one more reason: a neighbor gave me tomatoes of a variety I’ve never seen anywhere else; I wanted to grow them, and that meant starting the seeds myself.

These pepper plants started indoors six weeks ago, but remained there until yesterday. They are many times the size of the outdoor plants, and already have flower buds about to open. The plants that remained inside are weeks ahead of their wilderness survival counterparts. Don’t rush to get your seedlings planted in the garden.

So, I set up low-hanging lights, bought peat pellets and planting soil, and bought seeds months earlier than ever before. I’ve had reasonable success, though some seeds started way faster than I expected while other seeds have taken as many as twenty days to send sprouts above the soil. The most interesting of these (to me) have been the pepper seeds.

A Tale of Two Peppers

I hate that subthitle; please forgive me for it. I filled a windowsill planter and two sawed-off gallon milk jugs with potting soil. I planted bell pepper seeds in both containers indoors under lights. After sprouts emerged, I moved the milk jugs outside to get the plants used to wind and changes in temperature. The window planter stayed inside under lights because some seeds in it didn’t sprout and I wanted to start more (peppers sprout best when the temperature is above 70F degrees).

For the three weeks I’ve had the milk jug peppers outdoors, it has been cold and rainy. The peppers have acclimated, but they’ve nearly stopped growing. In contrast the windowsill planter peppers have charged ahead. There are multiple branches on these plants, and flower buds have formed.

This brings me back to an observation I’ve offered repeatedly: Don’t hurry your garden in the spring. You can plant cold weather crops when the soil thaws, but if the temperature remains low, seeds you plant three weeks later may catch up quickly. Also, no matter how warm it gets in March and April, you could still have frost in mid May. Don’t risk your plant babies by getting started too early.

 

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A platter of crackers and cream cheese topped with a half cup of red pepper relish makes an attractive presentation on an hors d’oeuvres table.

If you grow bell peppers in your home kitchen garden, please try this; it’s astonishingly simple, and crazy delicious: Make and preserve red pepper relish to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at dinners throughout the coming year.

My garden is long abed, but I scored some inexpensive red peppers at the local Mennonite grocery store, so I just made up a batch of red pepper relish. While it takes about six hours from start to finish, your actual involvement will be closer to one hour: 30 minutes to prepare the peppers and start them cooking, and 30 minutes to prepare canning jars and can the finished relish.

Red Peppers in a Home Kitchen Garden

From what you see in a grocery store, you’d think there are bell peppers, and red bell peppers: two varieties. Truth is, a bell pepper is a bell pepper, and red ones have simply remained on the plant longer than the green ones have. If your growing season doesn’t provide three and a half months of consecutive warm days, start plants indoors and transplant them when your garden’s soil warms up past 65 degrees… green bell peppers want to be red, but they need a lot of time to get there.

Ingredients for red pepper relish are few: 12 large red peppers (I used 14 cuz mine were small), a tablespoon of salt, 3 cups of sugar, and a pint of cider vinegar.

A Bit More About the Relish

Red pepper relish is a mash of ground-up, sweet, sticky, pickled red peppers. The uninitiated may wonder: how can that be tasty? If you’re skeptical, please take my word for it and make one batch. When you decide you don’t like it, send me your spare inventory and I’ll reimburse you for the shipping cost. Better still, serve it at a dinner party, watch who hangs around the relish tray, and give a jar to that person as a house gift the next time you visit them.

My mother-in-law introduced me to this delicacy, and the recipe I’m sharing here is the one she gave me; I don’t know where she got it, but I’m glad she did. Here’s how to use your red pepper relish:

You’ll need 4oz canning jars… 8-to-12 of them along with canning lids and the screw-on rings that hold the lids on. You can’t be certain how much relish your peppers will produce, so have extra jars on hand.

You’ll need an 8oz block of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese and a box of savory crackers such as Ritz, Club Crackers, Triscuit, or something hoity-toity (involving crackers, I’m a simple man). An hour or so before you plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, set the block of cream cheese on a serving plate large enough that you can later surround the cheese with a ring or two of crackers. Open a four-ounce jar of red pepper relish, and scoop its contents onto the cream cheese, distributing it evenly on the top. Some relish may drip down the sides of the cheese onto the plate.

When your guests arrive, surround the cream cheese and relish with crackers, add a table knife or a butter knife, and set the plate out with your other hors d’oeuvres. A guest can cut off a chunk of cream cheese with its associated patch of relish, and scrape it off the knife onto a cracker.

Wash the peppers, remove their stems and seeds, and cut them into 2-inch pieces.

Chop the peppers up fine—each piece should be roughly the size of a thick piece of dry oatmeal. You can use a knife to do the chopping, but it goes a lot faster if you use a food processor. Mine held half the peppers. I used 2-second pulses totaling 20 seconds of run-time, scraped down the sides of the bowl, and then did 20 more seconds of 2-second pulses.

In a cooking pot, mix one tablespoon of salt through the ground peppers and let them sit for two hours. Then put a strainer over a pot or bowl, and dump the ground up peppers into the strainer. Let them sit for at least a half hour… more then three cups of liquid will drain out of them. (My mother-in-law tosses the liquid; I’m going to use it to make jelly… I’ll let you know how that works out.)

Return the ground up peppers to the cooking pot, add 2 cups of cider vinegar and 3 cups of sugar, and stir it together. Simmer the mixture uncovered for three hours, stirring periodically. For the first 2.5 hours, you don’t need to stir often, but in the last half hour, make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot (also, heat your canning jars—see below). I start my relish on high heat for about seven minutes, and then set the temperature to low for the remainder of the cooking time.

The cooked relish is thick, sticky, dark, and delicious.

With a half hour of cooking to go, make sure the canning jars are clean and put them in a large pot (a canning pot, if you have one) to heat on the stove. I used a 4-gallon stock pot with enough water that the tops of the jars would be two inches beneath the surface. I put two cloth napkins in the pot, and placed the canning jars bottoms down on the napkins… the water is going to boil, and the napkins protect the jars from jostling against the metal (you can use a dish towel instead of napkins). Also, put the canning lids in a sauce pot of water and set it on low heat; the water should get very hot without boiling. When the relish is ready, fill jars as follows:

  • Remove one from the boiling water (I use tongs for this) and empty the water back into the canning pot.
  • Spoon relish into the jar, leaving a half inch of clearance from the top of the relish to the top of the jar.
  • If you’ve splashed relish on the threads or top of the jar, wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Fish a canning lid from the hot water and place it on the jar.

  • Screw a band snuggly onto the jar. Don’t bust your gut tightening it, but neither should you be gentle.
  • Lower the jar back into the canning pot, making sure it comes to rest lid-side-up on the cloth napkin or towel.

Boil the jars for fifteen minutes, take the jars out of the canning pot, and set them on a dry dish towel to cool. My batch produced exactly 10 jars of relish.

Red Pepper Relish Recipe:

12 large red peppers

1 TBS salt

1 pint cider vinegar

3 Cups sugar

Core, de-seed, and chop up peppers into meal-sized pieces

Stir in salt and let stand for 2 hours

Strain off liquid for about a half hour

Put peppers in sauce pot along with vinegar and sugar; simmer for 3 hours.

Spoon into hot canning jars leaving a half inch of head space. Process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Yield: 5-6 Cups (10-12 half-cup jars)

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