Category Archives: Garden Planning

Pepper Sauce To Soothe An Angry Planet

Scotch Bonnets (upper left) and Hot Chocolates belowWe were blessed here at the One-Acre Ranch with an abundance of Scotch Bonnet, Jamaican Hot Chocolate and various other hot chillies, so much so that 2014 has become the year of the pepper sauce.

It turns out that the most limiting factor in your ability to produce new hot sauce varieties lies in your ability to think up new names for the stuff. So far this year I’ve bottled and labeled 10 batches: Bottle Rocket Pepper Sauce, Pineapple Pepper Sauce, St. X, Trade Winds, Bob’s Atomic Banana, Scotch Bonnet Blaster Sauce, Tropical Hot BobSauce, Tropical Bob’s Flaming Fig Sauce, Happy Dragon Pepper Sauce and Chocolate Jerk Sauce. The pepper plants out back are busy making a second crop, so now I have to come up with more names.

The sauces vary from tangy, fruity types to mustard-based, curry types and one Jamaican jerk-type sauce. The Bottle Rocket is my first attempt at a fermented pepper sauce (the process used to produce most Louisiana-style hot sauces). The rest are mixed “fresh” and then sterilized via a canning process.

A few of this year's hot concoctionsIn some cases I may have paid too much attention to the hotter-is-better crowd. Bottle Rocket, for instance, is so hot that just a few drops would season a whole pot of gumbo. My latter sauces, and those yet to come, will include less heat, so that the excellent flavor of the peppers themselves can more easily shine through. A pepper sauce can’t be that successful if it’s uncomfortably hot for 80% of the potential “audience.”

I think the perfect pepper sauce, applied in moderation to almost anything, creates a warm glow, a kind of whole-body warmth that brings on a sense of well-being. I think that if rival warriors could sit down over platters of jerked chicken and rice and just the right pepper sauce, it’s possible they might never get back up and fire RPGs at each other any more.

It’s worth a try, right?

Also posted in Food, Food Preservation

Back Around The Sun Again

Last week, winter’s last grasp finally loosened to the point that I planted a couple of gardens, tomatoes on Wednesday followed by eggplants, hot and sweet peppers and basil on Friday.

The First TomatoI grow everything from seed beginning in mid-January, and the ‘mater plants were big, a little too tall and impatient to climb out of their cramped pots into the Earth.

One handy fact about tomato plants is that they will grow roots from any part of their stem that you bury in dirt. So by planting these too-tall plants deep in their holes, I’ll have helped them build a strong base of roots the better (I hope) to put out a lot of great fruit.

I’d used a newly purchased Mantis tiller to fix the soil in a narrow new 35-foot-long space made free by last summer’s garage fire, which also wiped out some huge and unruly vines and an old rosemary, leaving the dirt empty and ready for tilling.

Each year it seems I set up a slightly different arrangement to support the big tomato vines that will burst forth. This time I gave each plant its own metal fence post (until I ran out of fence posts, and the rest got their own plastic-coated piece of rebar). I didn’t have any good homemade tomato cages around, but slipped old store-bought cages over each post or rebar, and then fit the cages down around each plant. I know these tomatoes, and they will grow up and out of the cages, and up above the tops of the posts. By then I expect to have sturdy wooden trellises in place behind them, and I may just run twine from their cages to the trellises and let them grow along like that.

The peppers, meanwhile, have been growing kind of sadly in plastic cups with drainage holes I punched in the bottoms but which, unfortunately, were not draining adequately. Most of the little plants were waterlogged when I set them free. But their root systems still seemed in good shape, and I have hot expectations for all of them – Scotch Bonnets, Jamaican Hot Chocolates, Aji Limons, Serranos and a row of seedlings from an odd hot red pepper that appeared last year and which I have termed Devil Dik.

Now I wait for this the coldest winter in years to huff and blow and go away and leave my vegetables to grow in a little warm sunshine.

Also posted in Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

Sprinter

That’s what we’re experiencing right now in semi-South Texas, my least favorite season. Not quite spring, not quite winter: sprinter. It’s also what I become this time of year, sprinting up and down steps, carrying plants outside in the warm sunshine and back in during night freezes.

Instant Vegetable Garden - Just Add Warm WeatherI keep a lot of plants that would be easier to deal with if we lived in South Florida, or Mexico. They all have temperature points at which they will die without human help.

The plumeria become dormant and are impervious in that they require no water or light. But they do need temperatures above 32 degrees F. The hibiscus and the epiphytic cacti don’t really go dormant here, and they really don’t like it when the temps fall below 40. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants I sprout from seed every year don’t do well when it gets below 50.

Given the above various temperature needs, and given variation in February and March from the 20s to the 70s, sometimes within a matter of two days, and one becomes something of a sprinter.

Some day I hope to have huge rolling greenhouse carts that will allow me to move dozens of plants at a time in and out of a heated barn. But that day is not now.

I have been developing my own strain (lets call them Brazos Beefsteak) of open-pollinated tomato for six years now. I’ve been selecting seeds from plants that, No. 1, produce great-tasting fruit, No. 2, produce a lot of it per plant, No. 3, produce said fruit quickly, No. 4, keep setting fruit on into the heat of summer, No. 5, produce large fruit with small seed cavities and, No. 6, show resistance to nematodes and tomato viruses.

two-pounderIn this part of the country it’s important that a tomato produce fruit early because there aren’t many days from the time it’s warm enough to plant tomatoes in the ground until the mercury begins to climb into the 90s. Most tomatoes stop setting fruit at about 90 degrees, which is why it’s also important to me to develop a tomato that can set fruit at an even higher temperature.

I think my Brazos Beefsteak plants are well on their way to achieving most of my goals. They really are delicious, large and prolific, quick-producing for a beefsteak type, and pretty good about setting fruit even in the heat. They are not, however, as resistant to Verticillium wilt or similar maladies as are some hybrid tomatoes. But I keep plodding along with my open-pollinated breeding program nonetheless – because I’ve found the hybrids just don’t taste as good as these. And good taste is almost the whole point, right?

As always, I’ll just be glad when sprinter is over and I can put all of these plants back in their almost-permanent outdoor homes and give my knees and shoulders a rest.

Also posted in Garden, Nature, Texas, Vegetables

Born By The River In A Little Tent

That semi-major river event when the Brazos was, according to the National Weather Service, going to rise from 9 to 44 feet in depth, engulfing the back portion of my land and turning neighboring lawns into temporary catfishing holes? Never happened.

The Muddy BrazosThe weather service overestimated the Central Texas storm run-off, and the river “only” rose to 35 feet here. That used to be enough to breach the upper riverbanks, but past mini-floods have dumped many tons of mud and clay onto the banks for the last few years, and I learned a few days ago (and you can see from the photo) that 35 feet of water is not enough to come up and inconvenience those of us who live along the Brazos.

The water did rise high enough to cover most of the ragweed growing along its banks with mud, thus allowing hay fever sufferers such as me to again be able to enjoy the benefits of fully functional nostrils. So there’s that.

Aside from keeping an eye on the muddy water, I’ve been busy with the fall harvest – pecans, persimmons, satsumas, hot peppers. Lots and lots of hot peppers, of several varieties. Some year I’ll find a way to get hot peppers and garden tomatoes to ripen at the same time for some salsa magic. But not this year. This year dealing with the aftermath of the fire (cleanup, insurance companies, contractors, repairs) and the initial fruit-tree planting out at the Polka Farm kept me too busy to plant and tend a proper garden.

When you have surplus crops, you preserve them for later use in leaner times. So I’ve learned to make a fair hot sauce out of my Peruvian lemon drop peppers, and pickled a jar of them just the other day. I’ll probably take most of the rest, cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and then flash freeze them spread apart on cookie sheets, then later put them in plastic bags and freeze them to go with tomatoes the next time I have some in the garden. You flash-freeze the pepper halves first, so that they don’t stick together in a frozen gob in the plastic bag.

Meanwhile, we have not started rebuilding the garage we lost in the fire. I only obtained a building permit from the city yesterday, and my contractor is in the midst of a big commercial job. So I’m thinking January before it’s done, maybe later.

This Greenhouse Is WhiteThat means, among other things, that I won’t have much space to keep my tropical plants alive during the occasional brief freezes we normally get in the winter. To take up some of the slack, I just “built” a greenhouse in the back yard. The frame is an old metal swing set that no longer even has any swings, just a non-functioning glider and a little bar on chains. Some might say that the “swing set” should’ve been dismantled and carted off years ago. But I say this is just one of several examples of the benefits of strategic inaction.

I covered the “swing set” frame with thick white greenhouse plastic I’d bought for the farm, and secured the walls at the bottom by using landscape timbers as anchors. On really cold nights, I can hook up old Christmas lights, shop lights or even an electric heater if need be. The inside space should be enough to store a lot of plumeria, once they lose their leaves and go into dormancy for the year.

Until next time, remember not to throw anything away until you’re *really* sure it’s absolute junk.

Also posted in Brazos River, Garden