Hot peppers

This ones for all you fire eaters on this list (you know who you are). Peppers are said to prevent heart disease, blood clots and to raise your metabolism and help you lose weight. When Columbus reached the Caribbean, he tasted a vegetable being grown by the Indians. Its sharp taste reminded him of the familiar black pepper from the East Indies and so he called this vegetable "pepper," as we do to this day. The English call the plant, the fruit, and the food made with hot peppers "chilli". In the USA, the plant and the fruit are called "chiles", the food featuring the fruit (and meat) "chili", and the ground dried fruits "chilli powder". However, in the area of origin of the chilli, in Mexico and central America-and in southwest USA-the fruit and plants are called "chilli". Peppers are part of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family which contains over 2000 species of ornamental, medicinal and poisonous plants. This makes the pepper a close cousin to tomato, potato, tobacco, eggplant and petunia.

Aficionados detect different flavors in the various chillies. The rest of us just detect heat. A compound called capsaicin gives chilies their fire. Most of this substance is located in the “placenta”-the light colored (sometimes almost white) ribs on the inside of the pepper where the bulk of the fruits vitamin content is also concentrated. The accepted measure of heat is the 'Scoville unit'-. 250-600 scovilles is pretty mild (for most of us pleasantly hot to just quite hot), 4,000-8,000 units is medium hot (for most of us, equivalent to very hot), 200,000 to 350,000 units are the hottest chillies rate (which for most of us is extremely/painfully hot). Unless you live in a very warm country, you should try for a mid season variety, so that the chillies mature fully. Temperate regions probably need as short a season variety as possible, or grow them in a greenhouse. A tiny chillie on a tiny plant that can be grown in a pot and brought inside, such as 'Thai hot', is ideal for solving the short season AND the restricted space problem The trick to growing hot peppers is getting them to germinate. I have heard of soaking the seeds in water with a little salt added. I have not had much luck with this method. What I have found is that soil temperature of your starter flats seem to cause the seeds to germinate so much better. 80° F to 85° F (27° C to 29° C ) is optimal. 70° F (21° C) will work it just takes them longer. At cooler temperatures the seeds may rot before they germinate. Places such as the top of a refrigerator or water heater may be warmer than most of your house. Light is not needed until the seedlings first appear. After the first leaves appear move them to a sunny spot.

Give them a drink of manure tea, or weak fish emulsion once a week. Plant roots need air as much as they need water, choose a light, well drained soil to be sure they get both. Gradually expose the seedlings to the outside environment, starting in a shaded environment and slowly exposing them to more sunshine. Don't let them dry out or burn. After a few days to a week they will be ready to transplant 10-15" apart. Wait until daytime temperatures average 70°F (21°C), and nighttime temperatures are above 55°F (12°C) to transplant. Peppers hate cold feet, and will just sit and sulk if the soil is not warm. One trick to heat your soil for peppers is to thoroughly prepare the soil for planting, then cover the soil with clear plastic. This will allow sunlight to reach the soil, and trap the heat. You can start this very early in the spring. A bonus to this is that the warmth will cause weed seeds to germinate, and then the intense heat will kill the weeds. Two or three weeks after the last frost, remove the plastic, and set in your pepper plants without disturbing the soil any more than necessary to avoid turning up new weed seeds.

Peppers do well without much added nitrogen, but they need a good supply of magnesium. When I plant out my seedlings I put a couple of tablespoons of Epsom salts in the planting hole. When the plants start to blossom, spray them with a weak solution of epsom salts. This provides magnesium which will help the plants produce dark green leaves and an abundance of peppers. Water them well in hot dry weather. Some say that allowing the plants to dry to almost wilting will increase the heat of the fruit, do not try this unless you can track the condition of your plants very carefully, peppers will not survive bone dry soil for very long. Avoid watering in the late evening hours. The foliage should be kept as dry as possible. If you notice blossoms dropping of your pepper plant, temperature may be the reason. The pepper is a warm season vegetable. It grows and produces fruit when the soil and air temperatures are warm. The temperature range for fruit set is quite narrow. When nighttime temperatures fall below 60° F (15°C) or above 75° F (23°C), blossoms are likely to drop and fruit will not set. Daytime temperatures above 90° F (32°C), will also inhibit fruit set, but fruits will again begin to form when cooler daytime temperatures appear.

Protect them from cut worms by taking a small plastic soda bottle and cutting the top and bottom off. Push the plastic ring down into the soil around the plant. These can be washed in a mild bleach solution and re-used every year. Avoid planting peppers where related plants-tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes have grown in the last three years. Peppers shouldn’t follow soybeans or peanuts either. Don’t let tobacco users handle your pepper plants without washing their hands first. The virus that causes tobacco mosaic, which affects peppers, survives the cigarette manufacturing process. A lot of pepper diseases are fungal and most are seed borne. If you can’t  purchase certified seed, then you can sterilize seeds by soaking in a weak bleach solution prior to planting. If you are susceptible to soil borne diseases like southern blight, try turning your soil very deeply to bury old crop residue that may contain disease-causing organisms. All peppers are perennials and can be grown in containers and brought indoors when frost threatens. Or dug and potted up for the winter.

If you live in a dry climate you can preserve your peppers by air drying them. Leave them on the plant and hang the whole she-bang upside down until dry. If you live in a humid climate, you’ll need a dehydrator. You can use your oven too, on very low setting. Be careful to wear gloves when handling, chopping, peeling, etc. If you grind up the dried peppers, the dust can be an irritant as well. You can freeze peppers, although the texture is not the same, they will retain their heat and flavor.

A ristra is a long strings of chiles. They're pretty easy to make and several hanging around the house will definitely mark you as a true chile-head. You will need about four pounds of fresh red (or just starting to turn red) chiles; New Mexico type pods are the easiest, but you can also use poblano, cayenne, tabasco or even serrano for a midget ristra. Don't use green chiles; they are too immature. A ball of light cotton string and some heavier wire or twine. Tie clusters of 3 pods together with the cotton string by holding them by the stems and wrapping the string around 2 or three times. Loop the string under one of the chile pods and bring it up between the peppers (back to the stems). Make a half-hitch and place it over the stems and pull snugly. Continue along the string tying sets of three peppers (space them as 3-4" apart if you can, but further is ok). If the string gets too heavy or unwieldy then break it and start again. Now attach the twine or wire to a rafter, door top or whatever. Make a loop in the end to keep the chiles from sliding off, then, starting at the bottom, braid the chiles around the twine. Use the twine as one strand, and braid two of the chiles around it. Keep pushing the center down to insure a tight fit and spread the chiles evenly around the center. You can make a wreath from smaller pods by braiding around a straight coat hanger, then bending it in a circle. If possible hang the ristra in direct sun where there is good air circulation. . You may have to bring them in at night or if the weather gets damp. The chiles will mold or rot if it's too damp, or if they don't dry evenly or fast enough. Peppers may be harvested and enjoyed when immature or mature. There is not a "best" time to harvest, let personal taste preference be the guide. Remember that as they mature and hot peppers come hotter. To harvest, do not pull or tear a pepper from a plant. Peppers have shallow root systems and it doesn't take too forceful a pull to dislodge the entire plant from the ground. Fruits of many varieties will easily snap off at the stem. With some varieties you will need to use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the fruit stem from the plant. Harvesting regularly will encourage the plant to keep blossoming and setting fruit, especially early in the growing season.

If the temperature just drops below 32° F (0°C). For a short time, covering the pepper plants will protect them from damage. Peppers that are allowed to mature and ripen entirely, from green to yellow to red, are higher in vitamin content, especially vitamin A. There is little difference in taste although there is a considerable difference in texture caused by the ripening process. You can pickle peppers as well, but remember to poke a small hole or cut a couple small slits in whole peppers before starting. Making hot pepper jelly or salsa, is another way to preserve your harvest. Or if your really adventurous, try preserving in alcohol. A dry sherry or Chinese rice wine work really well. The liquid is great to cook with, some folks use vodka or gin, or brandy works too. Chile pepper brandy is supposed to cure the common cold. Just be sure and store your alcoholic peppers in the refrigerator. Or you can smoke them, I understand pecan wood is the best. You might try this; carefully wash whole  pods after checking a few for mold on the inside. Submerge in honey. The honey prevents spoilage, and the peppers add heat and a nice flavor to the honey. Thepods stay fresh and firm, and, when needed, are removed, washed and used just like fresh peppers. They don't pick up much sweetness from the honey. Hot peppers also makes a pretty good spray to keep bugs and foraging critters away. Use it for everything from aphids to deer. If you want to save your seed, you’ll want to separate different varieties by at least 50 feet. The seeds are ripe when the fruit is red. If you live where summers are too short for peppers to turn red. You can pick them before frost and let them ripen in a warm room indoors. To save the seed cut off the top of the pepper and tap the fruit to dislodge the seeds, or spoon them out.  They seldom need washing. Dry them for about two weeks before storing

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Onions and peppers are good companion plants, as are peppers and basil. Weeds harbor insects and serve as hosts for many virus diseases. For most viruses to survive they must remain in a living organism whether it be a host plant or insect. Destroying weeds in and around the garden may eliminate potential overwintering host plants.

Some people think that marigolds secrete a toxic substance into the soil that kills nematodes and that planting a few marigolds around annual plants in infested soil will prevent infection. This is not true. Marigolds primarily act as a trap crop. Nematodes are able to enter their roots but are unable to complete their life cycle. The trapped nematodes die without reproducing.

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Herbs

(Wild) Strawberry

plant young runners in spring of autumn, or sow seeds under plastic in spring (keep moist, germination may be erratic). Plant in sun or light shade in any soil except clay. Also called wood strawberry.

(Sweet) Woodruff

divide roots at any time, or sow ripe seeds in late summer directly in the garden. Grow in rich, alkaline soil in shade and harvest from second year onwards. Also called kiss-me-quick and master of the woods

(Waldmeister)

Wintergreen

excellent ground cover plant for moist, acid soils and rock gardens. Plant in autumn or spring in peaty soils in full sun or light shade.  Propagate by seeds sown in a seedbed outdoors in autumn, or from rooted prostate stems in spring. Also called partridge berry, tea berry and chequerberry.

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Brandie

“When at last I took the time to look into the heart of a flower, it opened up a whole new world; a world where every country walk would be an adventure, where every garden would become an enchanted one.”

 

 

 
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