Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Bad Boys

The glut has begun. I'm already giving tomatoes away, and the biggest producers are, of course, my two most frustrating plants: Matt's Wild Cherry and Black Krim.

Let's start with Matt. He's a crazily vining plant that wants to grow everywhere but up, and since my garden is on the small side and up is where he has to grow, we're constantly battling it out over garden twine and green stained hands. Also, he appears to be disease-prone, and has a case of something that causes the bottom leaves to yellow and fall off. I've done my research, and it doesn't look like an attack of mites, or fusarium or verticillium wilt, but Matt is sick even if it is a mystery-illness. Since the fruit ripens from bottom up and the leaf-drop doesn't seem to be faster than fruit set and ripening, the mystery-illness isn't a real problem yet. It makes me angry to see a sick plant in my otherwise very green garden, and I keep wondering if perhaps next year, Matt won't be welcome back to the octagon.

Then I remember the little dime-sized bright red fruit that hang in long clusters all over the plant. They're sweet and intensely tomato-y, as if all the flavor of a regular sized tomato has been concentrated down to fit into the fruit's small proportions. Adding to the excellent quality of the fruit is the fact that there are loads of it. I bring a brown bag of fruit from Matt's Wild Cherry home each day. I eat them like grapes, toss them into salads, add a handful to homemade creamed corn for zip and color, and still, I have more left over. So what do I do with the rest? I make cherry tomato raisins. Yup, "tomaisins."


I rinse off the fruit, remove them from their little stems, and cut them in half. I've found that it is best to cut them in half vertically, starting at the stem end. I place them cut side up in a parchment-paper lined pan, sprinkle them with salt, and then put them on the table on my west balcony, where they get about six hours of intense sun in the course of a day. To keep the bugs from getting to them, I place an umbrella-style picnic screen over them.


The "tomaisins" take between one to two days to dry, depending on how hot it is and how high the humidity. Determining whether they're dry enough or not is easy: I touch the fruit and see if it is still sticky or squishy anywhere. If they're not, they're done and feel like dried cranberries. These little morsels of summer get tossed in a sturdy ziplock bag where they join their peers (I've been making a batch of these almost every other day for the last couple weeks) and go into the freezer. They'll come of use when fresh tomatoes are no longer available. I'll toss them in pastas, sauces, and savory quick breads. I'm sure that when I enjoy them over the winter, I'll spend no time remembering the plant's sick leaves. I'll just remember the branches covered with sweet, happy berries.

My other current heavy producer is Black Krim. This is the plant that has the oddly rolled leaves that have persisted through its life, but have seemed to cause no real problem. Like its temperamental friend Matt's Wild Cherry, Black Krim is not fond of growing vertically. The fact that the branches are loaded with fruit, each weighing approximately three-quarters of a pound, doesn't help the vertical-challenge issue. This is the shortest tomato in the garden, but also the one with the most fruit, and the largest fruit to boot.

The fruits of Black Krim remind me of David Bowie, Giovanni Ribisi, and Alan Rickman. These fruit are ugly/sexy. They're malformed with scars and pits and seams. Their flesh is a little off-colored and in fact looks sickly--certainly not the usual coloring that one finds attractive. But still, one wants to continue looking at them for those scars, seams, and colors somehow work together to create a beautiful that defies expectations.

But Black Krim isn't for looking at alone. No, this is one of the richest tomatoes that I've ever consumed, tasting as if it were already cooked halfway into sauce. Its flavor is almost salty and layered with a smoky funk that gives it character and depth. Yes, Black Krim is good in salads and cooked into sauces, but where I think it really shines is in a sandwich. BLTs? This is the best T for the combination. Leftover grilled steak? Slice up a Black Krim and slather good bread with mayo and spicy brown mustard, layer it with beef slices and tomato, sprinkle with a leafy green, and smash the bread together. Oh heavenly summer-meal goodness!

I remember watching Reality Bites with my parents while I was in college and home for a holiday. Despite Ethan Hawke's character's moodiness and shenanigans (singing the Violent Femmes' "Add It Up" quite pointedly aimed at her), Winona Ryder's character still decides that he is the man she really wants. After the movie, my mom pointed out that Winona Ryder's character had to make that decision. She said that every woman loves a challenge, and that Ethan Hawke's character was frustrating and complicated, and those are actually good things. This conversation made me laugh back then, but now I think that her words apply very aptly in this case, not to men, but to tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Henry Eckford Sweet Pea

A single stem of Henry Eckford on a trellis. Here, you can see the intense color, but you can also see some of the sunburn that happens on hot days.

In the first third of the 20th century, the agricultural valleys of California were full of sweet peas grown for seed, and even though Morse (of Ferry-Morse) grew his seeds a little further south on the peninsula, he maintained his business in San Francisco (1). This very land where my house now stands used to be covered in greenhouses for flower production. Maybe, in the early 20th century, like in other parts of California, sweet peas grew plentifully here. And perhaps, in the spring, the whole hill was fragrant with flowers. I like to picture it so.

Whether or not sweet peas grew here in the past, they grow here now. But the single variety that I choose to grow dates back to 1904, so it could have been here 100 years ago.

Sweet peas are among my favorite cut flowers to grow, especially the old varieties that were bred as much for fragrance as for other characteristics. Modern sweet peas have relatively large, ruffly flowers, with many per stem. But, so often, they lack the scent that gives them their name. Older varieties may or may not be ruffly (depending on whether they are pre or post the development of ruffly Spencer varieties), but they're dependebly fragrant. However, it's getting harder and harder to find single named heritage varieties in the United States. Seed companies occasionally sell heirloom mixes, but only a few sources provide named heritage varietes.

The best way to keep a historic variety alive is to grow it and share it. That's how another seedsaver and I kept afloat a breadseed poppy that enslaved people grew at Jefferson’s Monticello. When I first received seeds for that plant from Seed Savers Exchange member Patrick Holland, he included this letter:

"These seeds come from the poppy original [sic] grown by Thomas Jefferson on his estate in Virginia. It is called "Monticello." I first obtained this seed from a member some years back who, herself, obtained it from Monticello. For some years now the operators of the estate have discontinued its sale. For approximately 5 years, as far as I know, I am one of the only persons (or the only) who possess this seed. It represents an unbroken chain of seed transmission that extends back for over two hundred years. No one should be burdened with bearing that responsibility alone. [. . .] As of this year, there will be only 4 people left with this seed including yourself as one of them. 200 years of living history in 4 [sic] hands." 
I grew these poppies and shared the seed through Seed Savers and my local community, and I bragged about the plants' beauty until it was picked up by fellow gardeners, then by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and now a few other commercial sources, too. The sources have renamed the variety to "Charlottesville Old," but it is the same plant. Holland's effort of maintaing the plant, sharing the seeds with me, and the both of us sharing it and telling other people about it means now lots of people have access to its beauty when it had been almost extinct.

So, since named heirloom sweet peas are harder and harder to find in the US, and because this general area of the country was once a hotbed of sweet pea happiness, I've decided to adopt a variety. I chose Henry Eckford.

I chose this variety because it is orange and I love orange things. It's just a slice more orange than runner bean blossoms but a lot more red than the color of orange fruits. I chose this variety because it is ridiculously fragrant, so much so that I can smell it in my whole garden when it blooms. And I also chose it because the "father of sweet peas," Henry Eckford, felt so connected to this variety that he named it after himself. Eckford released this variety in 1904, so it appears to be one of the last varieties that he developed before he died in 1905. 

I also chose it because there is something about Eckford's story that appeals to me. He started out, like many plantspeople do, by working for other plant geeks before ending up in charge of other plant geeks. He had a two-decade long gig at an estate as a head gardener. But, he still hadn't started developing sweet peas. He didn't start his sweet pea experiments until after his first wife died in childbirth, until he remarried, until after he left a long-held and stable job. He didn't start sweet peas until his world shifted entirely, and he took a job I wonder if he previously had ever imagined:

"In 1878 Eckford was invited to work in the gardens of the lunatic asylum at Sandywell Park, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, run by the physician William Henry Octavius Sankey (1814–1889). Sankey was a keen amateur hybridist himself and together they raised seedlings of florist's flowers at Sandywell and then, from 1882, at Boreatton Park, Shropshire, where Sankey moved his asylum." (Urquhart)

He begin his exploration of sweet peas in 1879 (Urquhart). He started the sweet pea developments for which he became famous (2) while he worked with and for a doctor at the "lunatic asylum." There is so much more I want to know about that story.

Eckford's variety "Bronze Prince" was the first to catch the attention of the garden world of the time, and for it, he won a Royal Horticulture Society award in 1882. "Bronze Prince" has disappeared through time and history. There aren't even any images of it ("The Sweet Pea and its King"). By its name alone, "Bronze Prince" sounds like a flower I wish I could have met.

I didn't get to meet "Bronze Prince," but I am lucky to know Henry Eckford's self-named variety. I think I might also know a little something about the man from the plant he chose to name after himself. It's a loud, funny color. It gets sunburned easily. For a sweet pea, it is pretty darn tough, rolling with drought and brushing off the dreaded powdery mildew. It doesn't hide its fragrance, and even though it works well in a vase all by itself, it gets along with others beautifully.

Henry Eckford and white nigella in my grandmother's vase.

Henry Eckford pods, almost dry.


Addendums and Digressions:

1) Ferry-Morse now lists only three sweet peas in its entire catalog, and none of them are either single varieties or heritage varieties. Each is a modern mix. This is particularly sad, especially since the son of Morse (of Ferry Morse), Lester Morse, in 1917 wrote a book detailing the world's varieties of sweet peas, titled Field Notes on Sweet Peas (Taylor). The fact that the company isn't working harder to maintain its own history is such a loss. I don't bemoan the creation of new varieties—that is necessary and important. Instead, the loss of old varieties is what worries me. Old varieties of any plant contains genetic material that we may someday need. And, very important to me, varieties also carry with them stories, and when we lose the variety, we lose the story.

2) Yes, Henry Eckford was relatively famous. It still happens occasionally. Consider Floyd Zaiger, the developer of so many of our modern stone fruits. He said about his releases: “It gives me great satisfaction, far greater than any return on investment, to create something new that gives so many people so much pleasure.” If we lose some of Zaiger's varieties through time, just as we've lost Eckford's, we will similarly lose so much pleasure.


Sources:

Holland, Patrick. Personal letter. 27 March 2008.

“The Sweet Pea and Its King….” The Gardens Trust, 26 Sept. 2015, https://thegardenstrust.blog/2015/09/26/the-sweet-pea-and-its-king/.

Taylor, Judith. “Sweet Peas in California: A Fragrant but Fading Memory.” Pacific Horticulture, https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/sweet-peas-in-california-a-fragrant-but-fading-memory/. Accessed 30 June 2022.

Urquhart, Suki. “Eckford, Henry.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew et al., Oxford University Press, 2004, p. ref:odnb/96775. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/96775.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Clarence and Easter Morn

My bearded iris began blooming yesterday, Easter Sunday. 

Their bloom date reminded me of another iris that belonged to another woman in another part of the state. I knew this woman in the early 2000s. and she was in her 80s, quick with a smile and to share an opinion. She was mad about iris. Beds and beds of bearded iris filled her front yard. While she had so many iris of so many colors, she had a favorite: Easter Morn. It's a simple iris, mostly white with a little gold veining near the gold beards. Its fragrance is spicy and sweet. I looked it up and discovered that Edward Essig patented it in 1931. Even though it's considered a historic iris, it was younger than my elderly friend. She claimed that no matter how early or late Easter fell in the spring, Easter Morn would always bloom on Easter Sunday. 

My iris is not Easter Morn. I'm pretty sure the variety I have here in San Francisco is the tall bearded "Clarence," patented in 1990. There's no storied history I know of attached to this particular variety. However, to me, it has a sweet provenance. I received the rhizomes as a passalong plant a few years ago from another elderly friend whose garden is full of color. She's in love with flowers, and each spring starts loads of blooming annuals from seed to go along with her flowery perennials. When I met this friend a few years ago, she had red colored hair, but she stopped dying her hair during the pandemic and it is now the shiniest, most incredible silver. Most of the time when I see her, she's wearing a pink jacket, red lipstick and her silver hair glows. She's beautiful.

I planted the rhizomes she gave me a few years ago in the late summer, and they promptly bloomed that fall. The standards are silvery almost white gradually darkening to a pale lavender. The white falls darken to a watery blue-lavender towards the edges. While the beards are white, the tiniest hint of yellow emerges from the center of the blossom. The individual cell walls are translucent enough to catch the light and each cell sparkles, as if the blossom is crusted with tiny gems. Amazingly, though the heaviest bloom is in the spring, it reliably reblooms in the autumn. In a previous garden, I've grown more unique and more colorful bearded iris, but I've never grown an iris as floriferous as this variety.

Last year, I divided the part of the patch that had grown dense and started a new stand. This morning, I counted 16 spikes in the original stand and 6 in the new clump. Clarence is indefatigable. I'll need to divide part of the origianl clump again this summer, and I hope to share rhizomes with my friends and neighbors.

Somewhere, in another garden sometime in the future, Clarence will bloom wildly for its new host, and that person will smile over the unstoppable nature of hope.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Sage

I stuck my hand in my pocket and found a loose piece of purple sprouting broccoli that I had harvested earlier, but that didn't make it to our dinner. I popped it in my mouth.

"Did you just pull a vegetable out of your pocket and eat it?" Scott raised his eyebrows at me.

Yes. This isn't an unusual experience. I live and eat and create in this space because of what grows in the back yard.


My garden drives my kitchen and much of my free time and it informs what I build at the pottery studio. What I build at the studio pottery shapes what I cook. It's all a tangle. I can't think of living in a home without also thinking about feeding the home and creating tools for the home. Because I once had an overabundant lemon tree, I began making preserved lemons, and now that funky salty flavor is often central to my greeen vegetable dishes. And since that flavor is central to my cooking, a lemon tree was one of the first fruit trees I planted here in San Francisco. Because Scott and I drink pourover coffee, I made us a pourover set that makes us the perfect amount for what we need each day: two cups for me and three for him. 


In no previous garden has sage grown as abundantly as it does here in San Francisco. I grow the Berggarten selection of culinary sage, which has broad silvery leaves and stays relatively low and dense. The gophers leave it alone. Light brown apple moths have annoyed it in the past, but it recovers quickly and seems to grow even better after an attack. I planted two plants that over the years have spread into dense 2'x2' patches of fragrant foliage. And, sometimes, the plants even bloom for me.

Because I have riches of sage, I have shared handfuls of it at each Seedheads meetup. I've also learned a few really good things to do with it:

1) Sage salsa verde: In a food processor, dump a handful of sage leaves, enough parsley leaves to equal triple the amount of sage leaves, grated lemon peel from at least one lemon, a garlic clove or two, a couple tablespoons of capers, a couple anchovies, salt, and pepper. Add a little red pepper if you feel like it. Start blitzing the mixture then drizzle in olive oil until it is the consistency you hope for. Sample it to see if it needs more salt or a squirt of lemon. It should be salty, sharp, and deeply umami-ish. Serve it with lamb or pork or even chicken. The next day, spread it on bread to make sandwiches with the leftover meat. You can also replace the sage with mint for a different flavor profile.

2) Sage bread crumbs: Grate frozen stale bread to make at least a third of a cup of bread crumbs. Grate the rind off half a lemon into the same bowl, and grate a garlic clove into it too. Finely mince 10-12 sage leaves and toss them in the bowl. In a frying pan over medium heat, add a glug of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the bread crumb mixture and begin frying the crumbs, stirring frequently. As they cook, sprinkle the pan generously with salt and pepper. Cook until the breadcrumbs are evenly brown and crunchy. Taste for salt and season as necessary. Use them instead of parmesan over simple spaghetti dishes or over vegetables or fish. They add not only flavor but also texture.

3) Brown butter fried sage leaves and walnuts: Each autumn, I make as many winter squash tortellini as I can manage in one day. The filling is simple: mashed roasted winter squash, parmesan, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper. I freeze it on trays, then bag it to keeep in the freezer for Scott and I to eat during the winter. When I cook a batch for the two of us, I get the pasta water going. When it is boiling, in a different pan—a frying pan, I begin melting a big knob butter. As it just starts to brown, I add sage leaves and chopped walnuts to sizzle in the butter and flavor it as it browns. This is about the perfect time to add the pasta to the boiling water; it doesn't take but a few mintues to cook. The browning butter infuses the sage leaves, which become crunchy and savory and release their oils into the butter. The same happens to the walnuts. I scoop the just-cooked tortellini from the boiling water into the frying pan, tossing everything around, and the tortellini fry together with the flavorful brown butter, some even gaining a browned, delicious crusty side. Just before serving, I taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly. The brown butter fried sage and walnuts are also good with other pastas and over cauliflower.

The three recipes above are staples in my cooking now that I have befriended sage. But, I have so much that I want more ideas. Anyone have a good sage cocktail idea? What about using it with vinegar? I think there is an idea to suss out there that I haven't yet explored. Any preserving ideas beyond drying? Ideas to use sage with fruit? Bread? What about how it might appear in pottery? 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Garden Report: January of 2022

The oxalis comes in fast and green in January, especially when we've had rain like we had this autumn. I pull it out of the gravel paved stairs, from behind the compost bins, through winter-sad lavender branches. If I don't catch it in time, it starts to bloom, and even though Oxalis pes-caprae doesn't set seed, it sets corms along the root as the plant reaches bloom size. The more corms it sets, the more of it I'll have to pull out next year. 

On the other side of the oxalis spectrum, sweet candy-cane blossoms of Oxalis versicolor are blooming in the alpine tub right now. Also in the alpine tub, Iris reticulata spreads its blue carpet. First, a single spectacular blossom, as January progresses, the blue gets bigger.

Oxalis versicolor.
Iris reticulata blooming in the alpine tub.

Also blooming are narcissus, a single-out of season Anastasia passion flower, and a surprise Cyclamen coum. I have several patches of Cyclamen hederifolium that bloom in the fall and put up their tapestry of intracately patterned leaves in the winter to stand through the spring and early summer. Since they had grown well for me, I wanted to try another species cyclamen, so three years ago, I planted Cyclamen coum corms—fifteen of them, if I remember correctly. No leaves ever sprouted. Nothing happened until this week, when a single leaf and flower appeared where I had planted them so long ago.

Passiflora "Anastasia."
Cyclamen coum.

A few early honeywort have just started to curl upwards with their purple bells against glacous foliage.

Blue honeywort.

This January, like the last few Januaries, we have leafy greens, luxurious as green velvet. Miners lettuce is everywhere, so much so that if it isn't pretty enough to eat, I drop it in one of our composters rather than sifting through it. The bitter greens—escarole, frisée, sugarloaf chicory—that I planted in the fall are still coming in, the kale is sweet, chard at its best, and purple collards at their sweetest. It is a good time to be a salad eater. In this month, I try to clear out a lot of the greens before they bolt with spring weather, and I start prepping the veg beds for spring and summer vegetables. Where there was a line of frisee, I planted parsley and cilantro seeds mid-month. I also started my year's peppers.

Diva escarole.

Dazzling blue kale.

At the beginning of this month, I pruned my fruit trees. Mid-month, I sprayed them with horticultural oil and the tiniest bit of copper to gird them against pests and disease. It's the only spray they will get other than a little bit of soap for critters or diatomaceous earth for pear slugs later in the season.

For the first time in this San Francisco garden, I'm trying to grow bulb onions. Over the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday weekend, I planted the seedlings, Candy and Red Candy Apple, that I purchased from Dixondale. Though I've never grown bulb onions in San Francisco, I've had a lot of luck with green onions, and the best bulb onions I have ever grown were for a client in San Carlos, not too far away. In her garden, I planted a ton of Red Candy Apple onions from Dixondale, and they grew fat, sweet, and succulent. We grew so many onions, her husband asked what to do with them all. Make magic, I thought to myself. Magic is what happens when onions join heat and fat in a pan.

The largest bed of onions. The twigs are there to keep the cats and other critters from digging in the bed as the seedlings are getting established. Purple sprouting broccoli in the background.

At the very end of January, I planted a ring of Oregon Giant snow peas, using the circumference of a cylindrical trellis as a guide. I watered them in, sprinkled diatomaceous earth generously over the surface to provide a little protection against slugs and sowbugs, and wrapped the whole trellis with a layer of ag fabric to keep the birds from pulling up the seedlings as they sprout. I also threw some annual flower seed around in flower beds to see what takes.

First pea planting of the year.
Sweet Tsuki guards against rodents. Here, she sits on a composter. 

Working in January means harvesting in June.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

On Pruning

I love pruning. Scott asked me why I love it so much. I told him that it is very satisfying to cut out branches that weaken the tree. When I prune, I think about how each branch produced and where I saw signs of illness the previous season, and I cut according to the plant's history. I tried to explain that when I prune, I have the past picture of the tree, the current picture of the tree, and a beautiful, healthy, and fruitful picture of the tree that I want it to be in my head. And that future picture isn't just for the year, it is for years and years to come. I get to imagine the tree that will be for a lifetime. The cuts I make literally shape its future. This is even more fun with the apples and pears that I am growing as espaliers against our north fence. Those trees take strategy. 

The first tree I remember pruning was a young olive tree my parents asked me to prune in the front yard of our house in the central valley. I couldn't tell you how old I was, other than somewhere between ten and fifteen. Olive trees in all stages are beautiful. When they are young, their branches are smooth and pale gray, echoing the silver backs of their gray-green leaves. The young tips of branches are almost white. As they age, they bulk up and become wise in their dark bumps and burls. But I didn't understand the future tree when I pruned that tree. I could only see the tree of now, and I didn't do a good job. I just kept cutting. I kept looking at the pale gray branches and delighted in their lovely shape at that moment. I focused on the branches, not the tree. When I was done, the tree was naked and sad, and though my parents didn't complain, I could tell that they didn't love the job I did.

Pruning olive trees (pruning any trees, really) is so important that Italy holds olive tree pruning contests. Looking at this article about the winners of the 2016 contest makes me marvel at how young some of them were. How could they hold all those ages of the tree in their head as they pruned? A few years ago, I read an article about a man who prunes ancient olive trees on Lake Garda, and I've been thinking about it ever since. The article profiles Sergio Cozzaglio, an olive pruner and esteemed olive oil maker. In his work on the trees of Lake Garda among the 2000-year-old ruins of a Roman estate, he's discovered several scraggly plants that weren't originally identifiable. The article's author asked him if one of those trees could be as old as the ruins: 

“Not this exact tree,” he said. “There was a great frost here in the early 18th century. Even the lake froze. Everything died.” But the roots of olive trees, Cozzaglio pointed out, are extremely resistant to cold, which means they can send up new shoots even after the wood has died. It was well-known that the Romans kept olive trees on their rural estates, using the oil to fill lamps, soften their skin, and feed the household. The Villa Romana variety’s genetic profile suggested we were looking at a descendant of trees that stood here in the first century. [...]

Cozzaglio had turned his back to me, and was dreamily caressing the branch of a small tree with some tiny olives on its lower branches. “I don’t know what variety this is,” he said. “Six years ago, when I discovered it, it was a bush, it was nothing.” After several seasons of careful tending, it had started to flower and bear fruit. “Now it’s grown into a tree. This is the part of my work I love. To help give birth to a plant.” 

Cozzaglio is ensuring the past makes it to the future. 

I wonder who will someday place a hand on a sturdy horizontal branch of one of my pear trees. Will that person wonder about the gardener who chose to set that branch at that angle? Will that person wonder about the gardener who anticipated each blossom and hoped for each fruit? With that person prune for the future?

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Peppers in the City

People don't really think of San Francisco as a pepper growing paradise. Even in the sunny districts, it's not very hot for many days of the year. There are, however, some peppers that have grown really well for me and that prove the naysayers wrong. I love proving naysayers wrong.

Capsicum annuum: Chances are, when you think of a pepper, hot or sweet, you are thinking of a C. annuum. This is the species that contains red bell peppers and Aleppo peppers and jalapeños, serranos and New Mexico and pimentos. 

From this species, last year, I planted out four Liebesapfel plants. This year, I'll plant even more. Though the fruit was slow to ripen, the first coming in early October, it consistently produced all fall into December. Scott felt the fruit was a little too crisp, but I loved the scalloped red peppers, and they made it into my daily lunch salads at work. 

Liebesapfel in hand.

Liebesapfel in the garden.

I ordered my seed through Adaptive Seeds, but I saved a lot of seed last fall and am listing them currently through Seedsavers Exchange.

This year, I'm adding Gernika, a basque pepper, to my C. annum lineup.

Capsicum pubescens: C. pubescens live up to their name. They're hairy plants. They also have black seeds that are almost shocking if you aren't expecting them. While they're very hot, they also have thick flesh like a bell pepper, but the flesh isn't sweet, even when ripe. Instead, they have a rich, very spicy, very paprika-y flavor. In San Francisco, the plants are perennial bushes that I have written about before. I have a large fruited, deep red manzano and a smaller fruited, bright red rocoto. Both are plants that I purchased and are now well-established as bushes in my yard, and from which I've started seeds and shared the seedlings with others. In my yard, the fruit of this species begins ripening in the fall and continues through the winter. 

This year, for the first time, I'm trying my hand at using some of the fruit in a fermented hot sauce. The fruit mash is fermenting right now, with garlic and salt, in a pickling crock. Will it be a wash, or will it mean our days of buying hot sauce are over? 

A pile of rocotos.

An experiment: fermenting rocoto and manzano mash.

Capsicum baccatum: For flavor, this is my favorite species. They're the delicious, fruity and hot-sweet peppers that often have funny shapes like bishops' hats and starfish. When you hear a pepper referred to as an aji, it is usually referring to this species of pepper. In my current garden, a few of these have grown well for me, especially those with smaller fruit. Sometimes, they overwinter. I have a two-year-old Criolla Sella plant that produces spicy-citrusy yellow pinky fingers and another couple Aji Ecuador Orange plants that produce crisp, delicious top-shaped fruit that are very flavorful but not very hot. I hope to offer seed for both varieties in next year's Seedsavers Exchange listings.

Criolla Sella plus dog nose. 

Aji Ecuador Orange.

Getting my peppers growing: I used to start my peppers on a heat mat under lights, but I've found a mini-greenhouse method works best for the cool-weather adapted peppers I grow here. I use old milk and juice containers, punch some holes in the bottom with my trusty old awl, and cut them open along three sides to make fliptop greenhouses. I fill them with soil, place seeds on the soil surface, gently add another loose, very shallow layer of soil, water it all in with a gentle spray, then duct tape it shut and label it. I keep the lids on until the days start warming up, at which time I remove them to prevent overheating the seedlings. I keep peering in through the lid until I see true leaves; when I see those true leaves, I open up the cartons and pot up the seedlings. After putting them up, I use a very large tupperware placed upside down as a cold frame to help them along for a couple weeks until they're big enough and the weather is warm enough for them to harden off and go into the ground. I like this system better than grow lights, a heat lamp, and a fan: I end up with healthier plants and I don't have to use energy other than the sun.

Holes punched, three walls cut.


A sunny spot for my peppers to get started.

Today, I started Liebesapfel, Gernicka, and Criolla Sella. That means, this autumn, I'll be bringing in the red and gold.