Thursday, September 22, 2016

PNW Pepper Profile: Chiltepin

You may be surprised to learn that the chiltepin is actually a pepper native to North America. Chiles grow wild in the southwest and Mexico, and are thought to be one of the oldest species of Capsicum peppers. The small round "berries" are slightly larger than peppercorns and are bright red or green in color.  The plants are easy to grow, they are airy plants with spreading branches and tiny leaves.

My parents used to grow this pepper on Guam and when I saw this plant at the Master Gardener Plant Sale, I snatched up the very last one.  The food memory of this pepper is so strong I just had to grow it even though it is much too spicy for me.  We used to pop the little pepper in bottles of vinegar then splash the spicy vinegar onto fried fish and meats.  Nostalgia got the best of me with this impulse buy.  

Scoville heat units: 50,000 – 100,000.  OUCH!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PNW Pepper Profiles: Cayenne

The cayenne pepper is a hot pepper.  It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.  There are many types of super hot chilies such as Thai chilis, Tabasco style chilis, the are all similar to the cayenne.

It is a thin walled pepper with many seeds and is easy to dry. I personally freeze these peppers and take out scissors to snip small bits into the dishes I cook all winter long.  I prefer to freeze them vs. drying them.

Plants get 24-36 inches tall. I grew two plants this year and each plant has close to 100 peppers on them.  The plant is such a heavy producer than I recommend a tomato cage for support as well as keeping it well watered or mulched in the heat of the summer.  Very easy to grow.

Did you know that cayenne stimulates the production of saliva, an important key to excellent digestion and maintaining optimal oral health.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings.  

PNW Pepper Profiles: Fish

I saw this pepper plant at the Master Gardener Plant Sale in May of 2016 and had to try it.  It was a rare plant to the PNW and I had never heard of it before.  I really enjoy growing new things so I picked one up.  

The plant is said to have a recessive gene for albinism and that is what causes the green and white striped leaves as well as the striped fruit. It is a gorgeous plant to look at, very ornamental and it does well in pots.  The suggested use is in seafood dishes and it can be up to 10 times hotter than a jalapeno. 

Read more about the history of this pepper here.

I have yet to try this unique pepper.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings.  

PNW Pepper Profiles: Serrano

  • The serrano pepper is similar to the jalapeno in it look (albeit thinner) but this pepper is much hotter. On the Scoville heat index, the serrano pepper can be between 10,000 and 25,000 heat units.  Serrano peppers are perfect for salsas, sauces, relishes, garnishes and more.  They are usually best when roasted.  Split them open to remove the veins and the seeds if you want their flavor but not too much heat.  (Remember when handling hot chilis to wear gloves and not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth afterwards.)

  • Easy to grow, it is a tall plant about 24-36 inches tall and produces a very abundant crop.

 I ate the red pepper in the photo with my dinner, I got through about 3/4 of it before it got too hot for me.  It has a nice floral aroma and is lightly sweet too.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings. 

PNW Pepper Profiles: Shishito

I first tried these peppers at a local sushi place in downtown Kirkland called Sushi Joa.  They were roasted or grilled and slathered with a sauce that was sweet and savory.  Since then I have gone back three times to eat the same dish.  This is a trendy gourmet pepper that is popular with chefs.

Shishito peppers have thin walls and it is reputed that 1 out of 10 is spicy.  The rest of the 9 tend to be very mild. They are usually harvested when they are green and grilled or roasted but they also make a great pepper tempura.  I found several recipes here.

The pepper plant itself is small (about 12 inches or so tall, although I have heard of them growing taller) and yields a medium-heavy crop of peppers, I planted 3 plants because I wanted tons of them.   I harvested once a week and usually ended up with 2-3 dozen peppers per week.  These plants are remarkably drought tolerant (I only watered them once a week) and disease free.  They were super easy to grow and I recommend growing them in a large pot or in a raised bed.

Pepper are 2-4 inches long, Don't mind the stunted red one, it was probably not fully pollinated.

* Note:  With all peppers, plant outside when the weather is warm.  55 F in the evenings. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Extending Your Garden Season in Fall and Winter

Most gardeners put their gardens to bed in the fall/winter but there is a small group who brave all sorts of conditions and garden all winter long.  Maybe it's the thrill of seeing little green leaves in a sea of grey and brown that excites them or the peace and tranquility of a less busy garden and the opportunity to commune with nature; whatever the reason if there is a will, there is a way.  

Here in the PNW, we have had relatively mild winter the past 2-3 years.  Artichoke, kale, cabbage, arugula and dahlias have overwintered in my garden 3 years in a row.  I personally do not garden after October 31st because it is too cold for my fingers to operate effectively.  

Fall gardening poses several challenges.  The water at MCGA is turned off in October so if you want water, you have to collect it at the garden via rain or lug it from home.  The sun is low in the sky and we just do not get many hours of light.  The weather turns cold and most plants do not tolerate the cold well at all.  There are some that like cooler weather such as greens like lettuce, spinach and arugula.  Plant these seeds in mid-August to early September and you will likely get a nice crop before the frost hits.  

If you want to garden past the frost date you will have to take extra precautions to make sure your plants do not freeze.  See below for some examples as well as their pros and cons.

Cold frames are the best at keeping the cold out.  They keep your plants very cozy and are easy to open when you need to water.  When made of glass they can get very warm so it is best to purchase a venting mechanism to open and close the lid/top when the temperature rises and falls (yes, there is such a thing.)  They are heavy and usually live in one place in the garden.  You can buy pre-fab kits or you can make one yourself.  They are not cheap and take a bit of know how to build although I have seen some clever recycled versions.

 (This cold frame is made from bricks and old windows.)

 (This cold frame is made from straw bales and old windows.)

This is a hoop house,  Plastic PVC pipes are bent and place in the ground then plastic or Reemay types of garden fabrics are placed over the hoops and pinned down.  This is a super easy and cheap way to trap heat for your plants.  Make sure you use the thickest plastic and fabric you can afford, the thicker the better.  Plastic can heat up quickly so you have to watch out for scorching and they do not let water in.  You will have to open up the hoop house to water every time.  Fabrics are better, they let water and air in so problem of overheating is minimized.

(This is a Reemay hoop house)

(Here is another style of hoop house, when made small and light enough, the entire top can be lifted to water and harvest.  When a big wind comes however they may blow away.)

(I do not recommend using gallon jugs are they are too small and may blow away, It is also hard to water into those tiny openings at the top of the jug.  The space is often too small for many plants.)

Whatever method you plan to use for gardening in fall/winter remember these important points:

When selecting a winterizing covering consider is how airtight it is. The less permeable it is, the warmer the trapped air remains on cold nights. On the other hand, airtight cloches demand more attention to prevent overheating and possible death to your plants. Air tight coverings also do not let water in.

If you live in snow country also consider how well it will stand up under the weight of snow. ( We don't get much snow but you never know.)

Consider also the material from which the covering is made and its durability. Lightweight plastics may last only a year or two but thicker plastics, especially if the plastic has been treated with ultraviolet light inhibitors, might last 5 years or more.  Glass lasts forever if it doesn't crack first.

Finally, consider what you'll do with the coverings when they're not in use.  Do you have the room to store everything when summer hits? Ponder these thoughts as you plan your next season, see you next spring.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How to Put Your Garden to Bed for the Winter

It's fall, you've turned the furnace on, you've started a fire in your fireplace or wood stove; it's time to think about shutting your garden down for winter.  (I am sure there are other things to think of like winterizing your car but this IS a gardening blog.)

Step 1: Start putting your garden to bed by harvesting your ripe produce.  Many "hot" plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants will continue to produce fruits until frost.  Pinch off new growth and flowers because at this point they will not end up forming fruits, you want to concentrate the energy the plant has into ripening what is already growing.

(Frost damage on grapes)

(Frost on cabbage)

Step 2:  Pull all weeds, grass and clean up garden debris.  This helps to reduce pathogens and pests in your garden.  If you had blight, powdery mildew or any other issues in your garden this year, remove all infected plants from your garden ASAP.  Don't put your garden to bed looking like this!

Step 3:  When your crops have stopped producing, pull them up and put them in the clean green pile.  No wire, plastic or string in the clean green please.

Step 4:  Next, mulch your empty garden bed/plot with some nice organic matter.  Leaves, straw, cardboard, newspaper, compost or burlap will do nicely.  Lay the mulch on as thickly as you can 2-6 inches is ideal.

(We do not recommend wood chips, as they decompose they strip nitrogen from the soil.) Thick black plastic will do as well, although it is not organic and when it heats up, it will kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

(burlap mulch)

(straw mulch)

(compost mulch)

(leaf mulch)

Step 5:  Relax and enjoy your winter.  Spend your cozy nights browsing through seed catalogs and the like. When the spring comes, all you have to do is remove the mulch (I NEVER get rid of any organic mulch, I simply push the stuff into my paths) and plant.  Your soil will be weed free and ready to receive your starts or seeds.  We hope you have had a fruitful and "vegetative-ful" year gardening with MCGA, see you next spring!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Meet the Bees at MCGA

In Spring 2014 honey bees came to the garden.  Two bee hives were established in a small apiary just behind the gate at the back of the garden area.  It was a difficult first year for them.  Both of the hives re-queened themselves.  This means that they decided their queen was not up to snuff and they replaced her on their own.  This gave the hives a slow start but they did finish the season with enough honey stored to survive the winter.  Through the winter bees cluster around their queen and generate heat by shivering and moving their wings in small rapid movements.  This cluster moves through the hive consuming stored honey and pollen.  Sadly these two hives did not make it into the spring.  Going into the winter slightly weak in population combined with other stresses to the colonies (natural predators such as hornets, yellow jackets, etc and mites) proved too great a challenge for them.  

In April, 2015 two hives were relocated to the garden apiary from local backyard locations.  These are hives which not only survived the winter but came through it quite strong.  This put us off to a strong start at the very beginning of the gardening season.

This season has been an exciting and productive one for our bees at the garden.  Early warm weather and blooms made a fabulous spring for the bees.  In mid-April you may have been one of the lucky to catch a rare sight – a bee swarm.  Yes, the bees swarmed out of the hive.  This is a sign of fast early growth in population and the hive community divides in half.  One group stays in the hive rearing a new queen and the other half leaves to find a new home.  Luck was with us and we drove up to do some hive management just as one hive’s swarm was  gathering in a tree.  We brought them a new hive box to move into so they were successfully re-hived.  The second hive was bearding on the front of its hive in preparation of swarming.  That population was split into three separate hives due to its size.  For the past three months there have been five happy hives pollinating the abundant blackberries throughout the park and all the fruits and vegetables and flowers in the garden.  The new hive colonies that resulted from the swarm and splits were left in place until their newly raised  queens were proved to be strong layers and the hives were well established.  Earlier this month, the extra hives were relocated, bringing the number of resident hives at the park back to two.  The bee populations are strong and have been very busy this summer. 

The majority of the bees in the hives are a small mostly black bee.  This breed of bee originated in the mountainous region of Slovenia and are known as Carniolan bees.  They are good pollinators.  Given their origin, they are well adapted to the typical PacNW weather – cool and wet.  This summer the bees are finding abundant sources of pollen and nectar and producing both greater population and honey stores.

Note:  Ken and Maryanne have been donating honey from these bees to our FB coolers to be given to HopeLink!  What a wonderful addition to MCGA these bees are.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

MCGA Approved Products and Prohibited Products

We have been getting a lot of emails and questions about what products are acceptable to use at MCGA.  Since we are an organic garden, we would like products that have been stamped with OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) to be our first choice.  Take a look at the products shown below, they all have the OMRI symbol on their labels.  Read all labels carefully and use discretion when applying any insecticide, some kill indiscriminately and thus kill good bugs as well as the bad ones.  If you have questions about acceptable products, feel free to email us at

Organic fertilizers are often made with animal and plant products and smell rather strong.  More is not better, follow the application rates and directions on the package or box.  Some examples are:

Manure is a natural product but if the animals do not eat organic feed and are given antibiotics then their manure may not be organic.  Be very careful when applying manure, make sure it is well rotted.  Raw manure is 'hot" can burn plants.  All manures should be used sparingly.  Steer and horse manure can contain a lot of salts and can also burn plants so apply wisely.

Here is a short list of prohibited products: