Peppers come in every size, color and flavor.

Photo by William Stadler

Photo by William Stadler

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?

Most of us have either quoted this little riddle or have had it told to us by a parent or grandparent, but do you really know how much a peck is?

Peppers come in all sizes, colors, and flavors, and don’t forget heat units.  Yes, heat units.  You might think of heat units for your oven or wood burning stove, but in the case of peppers there is a scale to grade the intensity of “heat” that a pepper produces from the oils of capsaicin found within a certain pepper:  This is called the Scoville Scale.  The Scoville scale ranges from zero, Bell Peppers, which contain no capsaicin, to the world’s hottest pepper recorded, the Bhut Jolokia, originating from Assam, India with a rating of just over 1,000,000 heat units on the scale. Now that is hot.  Your hottest Habanero pepper has a rating of 580,000 heat units, and your standard Jalapeno only has a range of 2,500 to 8,000 units. Does anyone want to try a Bhut Jolokia?

Just like with the tomatoes I planted, I have planted peppers by the masses too.  I don’t know what I was thinking when I ordered and then planted all of the varieties that I did. Curse those seed catalogs!

However, I have to reassure myself that I had a purpose for each variety, though my wife has told me that hottest peppers are NOT going in her salsa. Maybe I will have to put up a sign asking for volunteers to take away the hot ones or better yet sell them at the local Farmers Market.

Remember that when starting peppers from seeds, you want to start those seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost of the spring and before you are ready to plant them outdoors. So what have I planted or started for my garden? Let me share my “peck” of peppers with you.

Sweet Peppers: I am most excited about a variety called YUM YUM GOLD, a miniature sweet pepper that I found from Territorial Seed Company. FLAVORBURST is another sweet or bell pepper that says that it offers a citrusy flavor in every bite. This sounded interesting; I will have to report on its true flavor later. COLOSSAL Hybrid is reported to grow as large as or even larger than a softball and is great for stuffing, can you imagine a stuffed pepper that size; a summer meal to share for sure.  Yes I am even trying a pickling type pepper called SWEET PICKLE.  These varieties I found in the Park’s Seed catalog.

Mildly Hot Peppers: ANAHEIM, HUNGARIAN WAX, and JALAPENO are standards in our garden and used specifically for homemade salsa. Don’t forget that these varieties are also used in making stuffed chili “poppers” and are also used in making Chili Rellenos. You shouldn’t have any problem finding these varieties at your local greenhouse/garden center.

Hot Peppers: SERRANO’S add just enough kick for us to enjoy in our homemade salsa, however this year I am trying KUNG PAO and HOT LEMON, which I ordered from the Burpee seed catalog, to try in cooking various culinary dishes. However, I didn’t plant any Hababero’s. They are just too hot for my taste and liking.

All right, I might be a wimp when it comes to hot and spicy foods; I just don’t feel like I have to try and impress anyone at how spicy my food is, and then have to suffer from the consequences later. However, I am willing to try new dishes and I am eager to explore their flavors; that is why I am trying some new and different peppers this year.

Just as an added note, if you find your mouth on fire due to the heat of peppers, try drinking milk and/or eating some bread or crackers, or just more chips without the salsa. These items help counteract or neutralize the oils of the peppers that are causing the burning in your mouth. Just remember that water and oil don’t mix and that is why drinking water after something spicy just doesn’t offer a true soothing effect for the palate.

Photo by Jessica Brockardt

Photo by Jessica Brockardt

If Peter did pick a peck of pickled peppers, he only got about 2 gallons or a ¼ bushel of peppers. A peck was once used to measure both liquid and dry volumes of an item; however now it is used to measure mostly dry goods. In a garden, a peck could easily be the amount of peppers you would pick from one or two plants, depending on what variety you planted and were harvesting. I just can’t imagine what I was thinking when I ordered and have planted over fifteen different types of peppers. I know I will be picking more than a peck of peppers.  I just don’t know how to pickle them yet.

What are you planting in your garden this year?  Are you trying anything new and exciting? Please share with us something from your garden.

Totally Tomatoes

Photo by Darko Skender

Photo by Darko Skender

It has happened again!  The seed catalogs came to my house and I couldn’t resist looking at everything that was new and wondering if some of my favorites were still around.  Well, maybe I looked a little too hard and a little too long.  I started thinking of all the things I could do with the tomatoes, and other vegetables, I wanted to grow.

I couldn’t help myself; I might have gone a bit overboard. However, I will share with you five (how can I pick just five?) of my most favorite tomatoes:

  • Fourth of July– This is a Burpee exclusive.  It is true to its name. Some growers swear that they pick their first tomato on the 4th of July.  I won’t say I do that every time I’ve grown this tomato, but it is the earliest tomato that I pick and it has more flavor than any other early tomato.
  • Oregon Spring– This is a variety introduced by Oregon State University and is great for cooler summer temperatures. Even though we have hot days, our nights can be cooler and most tomatoes and other vegetables like warm nights.  Great flavor and taste.
  • DX-52 (Hamson DX-52-12) This is an introduction from Utah State University and should be a staple for the northern climate and area. I grew this tomato when I was in Idaho and had great success.  Good for canning.  This year I had to get my seed from a garden center in Utah. The name doesn’t offer much insight, but the real treasure is the fruit itself.
  • Delicious-This is an older beefsteak variety.  It truly offers a one slice tomato sandwich option. However, I never could stop at just one sandwich though.  Wonderful flavor, great size and about a week to ten days earlier than other beefsteak varieties.  Funny thing about this variety, was the deer decided they like this variety too, it was the only one they would eat off of the vine.
  • Sweet Million-This too is an older cherry variety, but still my favorite.  Even though it is prone to cracking, if not picked quickly, I find that it has better flavor than the Sweet 100 variety.  However, if you see me trying to give cherry tomatoes away on the street corner, I am planning on growing 4 different varieties of cherry tomatoes.
  • (bonus) Big Mamma-This variety is again a Burpee exclusive.  It is a Roma variety, great for salsas, very meaty, and not a lot of juice compared to others. And the name is very fitting, twice the size of your regular Roma varieties.
  • Others not to be forgotten: Celebrity, Fantastic.

Most gardeners would probably stop at fewer tomatoes than this in their gardens… Not me.  In fact this is just the beginning. I will be growing about 8 more varieties to see how they perform in our climate. That is just what I will be starting from seed.  Who knows what other varieties might find their way into my garden from some garden center I happen to stop by.

I don’t know what it is about tomatoes, but I have always enjoyed a good tomato.  As a child, it seemed that we were planting, growing, and covering a hundred tomatoes each year.  Funny thing is I have vivid nightmares of growing up and having to help my father cover (and then uncover) the tomato crop that was in the family garden, protecting them from the pending frosts of fall.  He was determined to keep tomatoes on the vine as late into September and even into October as he could.  Now it seems that I possess the same tomato gene as he does.  I even found one of his old favorites and planted it last year.

I realize that tomatoes aren’t for everyone, and not everyone might be as crazy as I in growing so many different varieties. Oh but the rewards of a wonderful tomato sandwich, cucumber and tomato salads, homemade salsas, and of course a slice of tomato on a hamburger right off the grill.

With the news reports indicating that the current tomato crop has been damaged, due to the weird and abnormal weather and temperatures, summer can’t come quick enough bringing the wonderful flavors of the harvest.

Photo by Arcelia Vanasse

Photo by Arcelia Vanasse

I have started my seeds (tomatoes and peppers) growing, pretty soon I will actually start working the soil out in my garden preparing it for an early crop of peas.  Yes, we have had a cold hard winter, not a lot of snow in my area unlike others across the country, but the cold that chilled us to the bone.  As the days are getting longer and warmer, it brings comfort to know that Spring is around the corner.

What are some of the Tomato varieties you like to grow?  Please feel free to leave what you like so others can share.

Does Hydroponic Mean Organic?

When planning an organic garden, many people will ask about hydroponic gardening. It is often perceived that if the plants are not being grown in soil, that they must be grown organically. This is a misconception. Organic gardening and hydroponics really are not the same, although you can grow your vegetables hydroponically and organically. Just be aware that the vegetables you buy in the store may say they are hydroponic, but that doesn’t mean that organic principles were used to grow them.

Today’s video will get to the bottom of the hydroponic/organic myth and help you to understand what makes them different.

Remember that if you choose to grow your tomatoes and other vegetables hydroponically, you can still use organic methods in your greenhouse. You can use organic pest control and fertilizers to help your plants grow. You do not have to choose to use any non-organic pesticides to have a successful garden.

What are your thoughts on organic gardening and hydroponics? I’d love to hear them.