Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ornamental solanums
Mag spoiler*

For most of you this word will bring to mind various edibles such as peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. You probably also know that deadly nightshade belongs to this genus, and is part of the reason why some early Europes did not dare eat the love apple, a.k.a. the tomato, which they considered strictly ornamental.

But what you may have thought was only your personal observation - that solanums can be quite attractive - is shared by many. It was hard for me not to snap this picture my potato 'banana fingerling' in flower.

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Banana fingerling potato plant grown in a tire stack 2006

Beyond the natural beauty of some of these edibles, there are varities grown just for their good looks. In some cases, they don't leave any non-toxic bits for us to nibble on. (Maybe they'll act as trap crops and leave the real prize alone. That's what my chinese lantern seems to do with the Colorado Potato Beetle. It loves my physalias but has yet to ravage my crops.)

You've probably come across varities of hot pepper and eggplant that are touted more for their appearance than their taste such as:

Black Pearl Hot Pepper

Chilly Chili Hot Pepper

Easter Egg Plant

Fairytale Eggplant

But did you know that the following plants also belonged to this illustrous club? (Fellow Ottawanians... not frost hardy)

Potato Vine (Solanum jasminoides) - okay the name is a bit of a give-away.

Blue Potato Vine / Climbing Chilean Potato Tree (Solanum crispum)

Divorce Vine (Solanum wendlandii) - intriguing name

Seaforth (Solanum seaforthianum) - Here it is competing with wisteria.

Some bush specimens with attractive or just plain weird fruit:

Jerusalum Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) - grown as a houseplant.

Nipple Fruit (Solanum mammosum) - you have GOT to check out the picture, fruit not edible.

Kangaroo Apple (Solanum laciniatum) - beautiful flowers

Copper Firethorn / Porcupine Tomato (Solanum pyracanthum) - this one's fun, lots of spikes!

The tomato has a lot of cousins, such as the Pepino, Narajilla, tomatillo, ground cherry, wonderberry, and current tomato all of which are tasty in their own delectable ways. So while, I appreciate that there are strictly ornamental solanums out there, I have no great desire to grow them (except maybe for that porcupine tomato if only to give the squirrels a fright).

Here's my pick for a very attractive solanum with great taste:

Fish Hot Pepper - a varigated hot pepper used as a traditional condiment with seafood.


Wiki Entry of the Tomato
Wiki Entry on Solanums
Dave Entry on varigated tomato

*The magazine plot spoiler will become a regular on this blog. I will take a title from a popular gardening magazine and use it as inspiration (no copyright infringement here) for a post. This post will not (unless blind luck intervenes) replicate what would be found in the magazine but you also won't have to fight through advertisement or intentionally confusing indices to find the information. Enjoy!

Winter gardening fun
in pictures

The two pathes of winter gardening:

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The left goes to the coldframe, and the right heads to the compost pile.

Winter sown flowers getting iced

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Raised beds in the snow:

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Snow stick says '15cm' (down from 20cm)

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The lawn's a yawn - part II
alternative ground covers in Ottawa

It’s an invasion!

Ground covers, by their very nature, are invasive. In fact, what you want is to cover ground as quickly as possible. As any gardener knows, grass seems to grow best in your garden bed… One of the jobs I do NOT look forward to every year is re-cutting the edges of my garden to dig out any grass rhizomes that may have wandered in. How invasive a ground cover is will depend on happy it is in the spot you have picked for it (and the species of course). So we want our ground covers to take over, but not necessarily to spread outside our yard and take over the entire world, or at least nearby wilderness.

Therefore, to start, here is a list of common ground covers that are on the ‘bad plant list’ according to Ontario Nature:

Sweet woodruff / sweet scented bedstraw (Galium odoratum)
Crown Vetch (Securigera varia or Coronilla varia L.)
Bugleweed / carpetweed (Ajuga reptans)
English Ivy (Hendera helix)
Moneywort / Creeping Jenny / Creeping Charlie (Lysimachia nummularia)
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula)
Goutweed / bishop's weed / snow on the mountain (Aegopodium podagraria L)

Did I just name everything that you have? Yeah, I had the same feeling. We got rid of our lily of the valley a couple years back because my daughter was attracted to the poisoness red berries, and I have been attacking the pretty but spready creeping jenny for some time now.

May I suggest the smother and bake approach if you want to get rid of a ground cover but don't want to use the herbicides of mass destruction (ie. round-up). In other words, water then cover with several layers of clear plastic with the ends firmly fastened and then bake the ground for several weeks (also known as soil solarization), followed by covering in several layers of newspaper, overlain with black plastic, and if you want some clear plastic for good measure. Leave this on the whole season if you can. Next, dig the soil to remove any roots, taking care with species that propogate by root division not to 'till' the ground. Finally, plant several successions of cover crop to out compete anything that remains, or mulch heavily. If that didn't work, try again. And yes, I know it is hard to get creeping jenny roots out of a rock garden - I have the callouses to prove it.

Go wild, don't water, do both

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Artist's** impression of Wild Ginger in flower

Getting around the constant concern of whether your ground cover will cover the wrong ground, you can plant native species. What follows is a list of plants that are suited to different growing conditions and are either native, or are good for xeriscaping (gardening with low water requirements).

By no means is this a complete list but it's somewhere to get started. Also, I chose these sites in the links mostly for the pictures of each sites, please double-check all cultivation information.

* native plants
(x) xeriscaping

Dry shade (under a tree, north side of house)

Foamflower (prefers some moisture)*
Barren Strawberry (will also take more sun)*
Periwinkle (real spreader, beware)(x)
Virginia Creeper (prefers some moisture)*

Spring Sun (deciduous trees)
All of the above category plus:

Trout lily* - spring cover
Trillium* - spring cover
Wild Ginger*
Mayflower / False Lily of the Valley (moist soil)*
Mayapple (according to Gardening with Wild Flowers by Frances Tenebaum 1973, combines well with spring flowers, hiding yellowing foliage late in the season)*

All sorts of native ephemerals would do well here. Keep in mind that ephemerals die back in the summer so then a leaf mold mulch would take over, or combine with other groundcover. They will, of course, have different tolerances to road side living, especially with all the salting they do here in the winter time.

Filtered Shade / part sun (light deciduous trees, less than 6 hours sun)
All of the above two categories plus:

Mountain Bluet / perennial bachelor buttons(x)
Snow in summer (aggressive but pretty)(x)
Violets (give it some moisture, some sun and it’ll give you a show)*
Canadian Anemome*
Wild Geranium

Moist shade (where moss grows)
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Virginia Creeper*

Acidic, heavy shade (under conifers)

Bloodroot* - spring cover
Solomon’s seal*

Some people give up and use mulch. Also, you may consider pruning out some of the lower branches to allow in some more light, but I’d go with mulch…

Full sun, dry (often sharply drained)

Thyme (mother of thyme)(x)
Moss Pink / Creeping Phlox(x)
Barren/mock strawberry*(x)
Creeping juniper (prefers acidic soil)*(not sure exactly its distribution)(x)

Soggy Areas

Blue eyed grass*
Blue Flag Iris*

Heavy Traffic Areas

Why do we love grass? It isn’t exactly low work but few of us organically inclined folk do much in the way of weeding so it might get fed, watered, mowed, and raked, maybe even aerated if you are an energetic lawn care person. Yes this does take up quite a few Saturdays but there is an appeal to the lawn… it takes a lot of foot abuse.

So if you have a really high traffic area, hardy grass is still the way to go. To cut down on fertilizing or top dressing , mix in at least 20% white clover, more is okay.

If the area just needs a path, look around for materials that you could use. In Ottawa:

  • mulch - free cedar mulch in Ottawa
  • leaf mulch - make leaf mold
  • tree rounds - cut a large tree trunk into rounds
  • flat blasted quarry stones.

Neat ‘to eat’ ideas:

Patchwork Thyme quilt

Do you have a place with thin, dry soil? Consider replacing it with different thyme species such as wooly thyme, variegated thyme, mother-of-thyme, etc… You can make undulating waves, divide up a large circle or some other patch work design. There is a house nearby who uses this idea around their rock path toward their house to great effect.

Edible Ground Covers

I grow self seeding sweet cicely (an anise tasting sugar substitute that likes partial sun) for its cheery white flowers and lacey foliage. Claytonia perfoliata is a hardy salad green that grows wild in western north america. I hear it does well under trees (we'll see) and sometimes I selectively weed around purslane which makes a nice mat. There must be others that would work well also. The mint family, for example, is agressive and tasty - try lemon balm, various mints, or the native bergamont.


Take some, I insist

Remember how I said that groundcovers are by their nature invasive? Find someone with an overgrown yard (or just a whole lot of periwinkle) and ask for some. Groundcovers often spread by underground rhizome, root where stems touch the ground, or expand quickly so they are likely to share. In Ottawa, go to plantcycle if you have extra or would like to see if someone else does.

Waves of colour and texture

Plant large areas with the same ground cover for best effect. If you just have a small area that you want to convert consider a perennial bed or a rock garden with low growing plants that don’t require much (if any) supplemental watering. This is especially good for those areas that are dusty dry with brown grass by mid-summer.

Gardening in the drizzle

The best time to transplant is when you can expect some reliably cool weather, without frost - such as in late spring or early fall in Ottawa - for at least a couple weeks so that plants can establish good root systems before they are assaulted by severe weather. Cloudy days and evenings are the best time to actually put the plants in the ground.

Use staggered rows to put in clumps of ground cover, except for clumping grasses, which look nice in geometrical patterns (so I’ve been told). Weed well first, especially perennial weeds such as dandelion. Remember to mulch around area that they are to spread to keep down weed competition. Even better, use ‘weed fabric’, newspaper or cardboard first, plant into slits, and then mulch.

Ground cover means no weeds right?
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Trillium - very pretty ephemeral groundcover that dies back in summer.

Not exactly...

You will need to water and weed frequently when just transplanted to allow the plants to establish well. Then taper off the watering to normal levels which ideally for native or xeriscaped plants will be not at all.

In the spring, and early summer, weed well and often so you won’t have to do as much later on. Though, in my experience, groundcovers don’t need much weeding, they do need some.

In fall, put down your shredded or whole leaves on woodland gardens to act as mulch and soil conditioner.

Oh and send me your alternative groundcover pictures!

My experiences:

The lowest care groundcovers in my garden are phlox, mother-of-time, euonymus, pussytoes, beebalm (monarda), ox-eye daisy, violets (want some?) and creeping jenny (though I am trying to eradicate this). I have also had luck with the self seeding annuals alyssum, german chamomile and sweet cicely.

By the way, the ox-eye daisy is from my lawn. I noticed the tell tale leaves when I was keeping the dandelion population low so my neighbours wouldn't look sideways too often, and transplanted it on a whim into my garden proper. It grew thick, lush and spread well. This lawn-evolved variety keeps its leaves low, not more than 3-4 inches (under the mower blades) and throws up 6-10 inch flower spikes. It is beautiful. If you're feeling brave, or just have an affection for weeds, try it!

Last year, I planted many more groundcovers, and I will let you know how they do over the years.

Stay tuned for more on turfing the turf!

1. Add Edibles
2. Go Wild

Go to part 1


Plant Conservation Alliance (US based but relevant to Canada)

great post on Dougs Green Gardening about nurseries selling 'thug' plants

Environment Canada's site on invasive plants

Canada Botanical Conservation Network - invasive plants

Ottawa National Forest noxious plants

Native plant supplier - Evergreen

Plant supplier - Gardensnorth

Ontario Wildflower Site - Andy's northern Ontario Wildflowers

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Common Violet

** I haven't been in the habit of taking pictures of groundcover so I sketched a couple for you!

My favourite wild landscaping book (out of the 8 or so that I have) is Gardening with Wild Flowers by Frances Tenebaum 1973. It is information dense though, of course, all information has to be cross-checked to make sure that it is up to date. I often find that older gardening books are dense in information whereas newer books keep information more neatly contained in tables etc... but lack those little details that make the difference.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The snow is melting! The snow is melting!

The temperatures may be low but the sun is high in the sky, and the snow has started to recede. I have evidence.

Gutter Streams:

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Trunk Hollows with a bare patch of GROUND:

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Steamy Warmframes:

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The snow stick confirms it - there is now less than 20cm of snow in this spot.

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I am waiting for lawn lakes and icicle precussion. Spring's not in the air (biting wind today!) but it's just around the corner.

Links - a homage to snow, other blogs (more to come)

If you have snow pictures, let me know - I'll add them.
poor little gnome:
Aways good for a snow pic or two:
Now that's a lot of snow: - snow at the manor house

I need more, more snow pics!

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Looking out of the spaceship

The Snow Stick
Gardening in Ottawa

I would like to introduce you to my friend, the snow stick. I use it yearly as diversion while the snow melts away, sometimes slowly and sometimes in a sudden slushy flood.

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Snow stick in front of winter sown flowers.

This year started off as an El Nino year meaning less percipitation and higher temperatures so we got less snow than usual. Therefore I could only jam it 20cm into the ground:

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The snow may be higher, we'll see. The fun really starts when you lose support near the end but by then I am usually doing the happy spring dance (on the pavement so as not to damage the soil...) so it doesn't matter.


El Nino and Canada

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Last big snowfall of the year?
Gardening in Ottawa

A bad poem to winter garden by:
(My kids are 1 and 3 - that's my excuse)

Cold coldframe

Where oh where did my coldframe go?

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Here it is, under the snow.

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What's inside? Soon to be seen.

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Is there something actually green?

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Mizuna you actually survived!

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Swiss chard, you too are alive.

Next year, I must start more under glass.

If only I had weeded out all the grass...

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U-hmmm.... the end.

Right, if you look closely you may be able to see that a chunk of sod that I must have carelessly tossed aside is growing quite well in my coldframe. Which makes me wonder again why we bother growing grass in hot, dry climes when clearly it is a cool weather crop. Really coool weather.

Update on season extension - year 1

The ground is still frozen in all but the center of the 6 mil 'spaceship'. I have sown some chicory and lettuce for a lark. I figure if it works for mini-greenhouse, such as in winter sowing, maybe it will work for big ones too. We'll see. I also threw in some snap peas in the centre of the spaceship too - just a few as an experiment.

Double wrapped inside the spaceship, under glass swiss chard has been biding its time and has started to grow again. Parsley in the coldframe is unhappy but I have faith that it will resurrect soon. Welcome longer days. Welcome warmer weather.

So far, I like season extension. It's heart warming to see something green surrounded by snow.


Long term weather forcast for Ottawa calls for warmer temps
Snow cover statistics can be found on this weather page. Notice how in April it says 0 days... only a month and a half away!
Complicated Stats from Environment Canada including average soil temps for the year.

Good books from the Ottawa public library:

  1. The four season harvest by Coleman
  2. The 12 month gardener
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Monday, February 12, 2007

The lawn's a yawn

Lawns are a YAWN is my motto. Parterre raised bed in the rain, dizzies my head like champagne.

Taken from CONFESSIONS OF A BOTTOM FEEDER an how-to essay on how to life on the fat of our oversized society. I can't say that I fall in line with everything that's said but I love the radical recycling aspect.

Who needs a lawn? The rant part:

It requires too much nitrogen and water, looks crappy if there's a drought, or too much shade, and isn't a particularly effective weed barrier (chortle, chortle). You could go for the low weed meadow look but then your neighbours (read mine) might give you annoying advice to which you have to smile, act stupid as if you didn't realize that you had to 'water' the grass, and back slowly away to plan your next assault on the turf.

My yard pre-garden was pretty much all the big mean green. The previous owners had a 'company' that came over regularly to give it an 'organic' program of native plant annilation (chemical weeding), baby beetle destruction (japanese beetle grub prevention) and growth exagerators (fertilizers). We also have an irrigation system that had been put in. Let me tell you - if the deluge that we get in Ottawa is insufficient to grow good grass then grass should not grow here.

My yard:

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The green bits are the lawn which has been reduced by more than half (the rest just masquarades as lawn if you don't look too close).

Reasons for having a lawn:

When I started to get rid of the lawn, I thought we should keep some for the kids to play on. But thinking back to when I was a kid, I always gravitated to the edges of a garden, the places where there were overhanging trees, secret hollows in hedge rows or wild meadows. If I happened to be stuck with only grass, I hunted for the daisy or dandelion in the monotonous green. Lawns did not inspire me. The only activity that I can think of that needs a lawn is some sort of organized sport and there are other venues for that sort of thing. Sure it's nice for kids to have a running-around-crazy-place but exactly how much space do they realistically need? As my husband puts it, 'he had a concrete stoop'. Mind you, when I met him he couldn't identify a thistle... so perhaps he lacked something.

The only other reason I can think of for this lawn thing is that it is like a living patio, a blank space that highlights the taller aspects of the garden. There are great alternatives to low growing groundcovers, or the extremely low water and nutrient requirements of real bona fide patio stones if you can afford those.

Alternatives to lawn - go native:

Add some low care perrenials. In Ottawa, Fletcher's Wildlife Garden demonstrates how to use native plants in many types of landscape plans including sunny borders, rock gardens and shade places. Remember, native plants like it here and require very little care to give spectacular results. Native wildlife appreciates them too! Fletcher's Wildlife garden has a plant sale every year, so contact them for details. Or you could winter sow some wildflower seeds if you have them. I suggest winter sowing because in Ottawa, most plants require a cold dormant period to germinate. If it is fall when you are reading this just toss the seeds in the area where you want them to grow. You may want to mark a spot where you put the seeds so you can compare seedlings for weeding - I write from experience.

Kindly reminder: when collecting wild flower seeds make sure they are not in any way endangered and don't collect all of them from one plant.

Stay tuned on more alterantives to the lawn...

  1. Add edibles
  2. Alternative Ground Covers
  3. Grow wild - the mini-forest


Landscaping with native plants, Ottawa:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hot peppers are budding again

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It wasn't so long ago that I was worried about the demise of my overwintering hot peppers. Well, low and behold, much to my amazement (can I think of any more cliches?), I see buds. The long cayenne has been steadily producing flower buds which I have been plucking off. However, worried that this may be hurting rather than helping (what do I know), I stopped and the healthiest parts are producing thick buds again.

But the big news is that my Fatali - a.k.a. four leaf fatali - (as that is all it had all last season) has flower buds. They are small. The kind of thing that I wouldn't force my non gardening obsessed friends to find, but they are there!

Self Seeding Salsify, a plan

What kind of plant is that?

Salsify is a root crop which some say tastes of oysters. It is seeded in the spring much the same way as parsnips and harvested after a few frosts. It can also be left to overwinter like parsnips for an early spring harvast. Like many root crops, it is a biennual (beets, turnips, onions, parsnips, carrots are also biennuals) so that it goes to seed in the next year of growth. This also means that it can be kept in a root cellar for winter use when the ground is frozen. A bonus is that if left to seed, it has a beautiful blue flower.

My crazy plan

I have heard of people allowing salsify to become semi-cultivated, in other words to establish a permanent bed for it. I have interest in doing this for parsnip as well - see overwintering parsnips post for my concerns about this method.

Optimistic Gardener Warning

I love the idea of low input gardening, allowing plants to do their thing. I find that volunteer plants are stronger, for the most part, than transplants.To this end, I have devised a plan:
  1. Work in lots of organic matter into bed.
  2. Plant and thin widely to allow for second year planting
  3. Harvest all weak or off-type plants
  4. Mix in a little compost in the spots just harvested
  5. Leave enough roots to maintain genetic diversity plus some for spring harvest
  6. Next year, seed again (they are biennuals)
  7. Thin new seedlings to permenant spacing
  8. Allow older plants to go to seed and admire flowers
  9. Collect some seeds for insurance purposes and seed sharing
  10. Thin any seedlings that come up
  11. With second year plants, harvest for winter storage and fresh use
  12. In fall, lay down organic mulch to ammend beds
  13. Leave enough roots to maintain genetic diversity plus some for spring harvest
  14. Repeat from step 6.
  15. Seed if not enough volunteers

I hope that doesn't sound too complicated! It is not supposed to be. Keep in mind this is a garden experiment.

And now just for fun, some more unusual root crops which can be stored in a root cellar (from the 1999 version of The 4 Season Harvest. )

  1. scorzonera
  2. root chevril
  3. hamburg parsley
  4. rampion
  5. skirret
I would love pictures of the above unusual root crops from people's own gardens!


That wasn't enough for you? Well the site plants for the future has a list of alternative root crops.

Jackpot -

The Organic Garden seed catalogue (very nicely organized).

A good site on growing salsify

And of course, wikipedia

Friday, February 9, 2007

Winter Sowing - the booty (in the boot)

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(Boot is a trunk in UK English - blaim my dad)

I have returned triumphant from a prowl around town on plastics pickup day. Right away, I took a bottle out and prepared it for use not thinking too much about the best technique. Here is the series for your amusement:

I decided on some tomatoes (for the challenge) and Kholrabi to start. More to come.

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Out to the snow with you!

Better techniques can be found in the following posts:

Looking forward to seeing how this experiment turns out.

For Part 1 on Winter Sowing

Official Wintersown Website

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A pepper by any other name...

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Foreground: Fatali
Background: Two long cayenne (loosing leaves) and a rosemary plant

First, more fun and games with latin names.

On a previous post, I was hesitant about calling sweet peppers perennials even though I was pretty sure that they were because a 'internet person' had stated that they are called Capsicum annuum. In other words as close to annual as you could get without being so. His reasoning concluded that since they were probably spent by their first year of growth, it didn't matter that they could live another year, or more.

I knew that this wasn't true of hot peppers whose spectacular pictures I had seen, but I wanted to do some more investigation before I made any proclamations about sweet peppers.

Well, my research has lead me to believe that peppers are (most if not all) short-lived semi-woody sub-shrubs. The most commonly grown species is Capsicum annuum which includes many hot and all? sweet peppers (see list below for more details). There are some other Capsicum species from which we get hot peppers such as Capsicum frutescens. I mention this other species in particular because it may explain a mystery of overwintering my own peppers.

Update - Overwintering Peppers

I brought in one overcrowded pot of hot peppers to try an overwintering experiment. They were doing really well. I have not had the bug problems experienced by many other growers and after the initial shock, the plants had all grown a new flush of leaves and blossoms.

Now the embarrassing part. I told you that they were overcrowded right? Yup. Three hot pepper plants had been stuffed into a medium sized pot. It originally was supposed to contain one fatali pepper but my seeds germinated poorly, only one made it to transplating age and then it just sat there with a couple leaves all season. So when someone offered me a couple of long cayenne plants I said sure and threw them in the pot with the fatali. (By the way, the long cayenne produced like champs even in those crowded conditions).

My overwintering project was a bit impulsive too. I just brought a pot in at random, which happened to be the one with the plants mentioned above. About two weeks ago, the largest of the long cayenne plants began to drop leaves again. So I decided in my... what to call it?... desperation to transplant the poor dears. Surprisingly this hasn't seemed to phase them at all and now they all have a lot more foot room.

The long cayenne's are dropping less leaves but don't look so happy. However, the fatali immediately sprouted when I brought it inside. It has been growing steadily and happily ever since. Could this be because it is a different species? Could it be because it was less grown up? I don't know.

I suspect that the long cayenne peppers took a turn for the worst when the temperatures plummetted several weeks back. They are facing a southern window with lots of light but of course they are also more exposed to cold temperatures so close to the glass. I must remember to draw the curtain at night to see if that helps.

Read: Overwintering Peppers

Common Garden Peppers (taken mainly from Pepper Mania):

  1. Capsicum annuum:

    • Bells
    • Poblano
    • Cayenne
    • Cheese
    • Cherry
    • De Arbol
    • Frying Italian Types
    • Jalapeno
    • Ornamentals
    • New Mexican
    • Paprika
    • Pequins
    • Tepins
    • Wax
    • Serrano

  2. Capsicum baccatum:

    • Aji

  3. Capsicum frutescens (according to seed to seed by Ashcroft, the species formally known as chinense are now included here):

    • Tabasco
    • Scotch Bonnet
    • Habanero
    • Fatali

  4. Capsicum pubescens:

    • Rocoto
    • Manzano.

Some references/links:

Great Pictures:

Fantastic Site for hot pepper info:

Lots 'o' latin names:

Floridata's pepper page:

Another overwintered pepper (scroll to the bottom):

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Dried long cayenne chilis

Monday, February 5, 2007

The organic, heritage trend, or in search of the striped tomato

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Cherokee Trail of Tears bean, saved from my garden
First supplied by a local seed company

Mackenzie’s starbucks technique –

Okay, so I said that this blog was not political unless you count every action
as being political as I do… I lied. Or perhaps I should say that this blog will
occasionally contain a direct political post which relates to gardening.

- a.k.a. cornering the market. Clearly all the press put out by the organic and small seed companies that they offer safer seed which better meets the need of the backyard gardener, or small market grower, has been successful. Or perhaps it’s just that people want the same diversity in their veggies that they have in their flowers. More cynically, perhaps the seed companies are hoping that buyers will impulsively buy the purple carrot or the black leafed kale out of novelty just as they buy the orange coneflower. Big seed companies, such as Mackenzie, are starting to offer organic seed and heritage varieties. Should I be happy? At least it isn’t all about monocropping. Is monopoly better than monocropping?

I highly doubt that one company offering a half dozen open pollinated vegetables will offer more diversity than a half a dozen small seed suppliers offering a catalogue each of different varieties grown and adapted to different locations in Canada.

The cherry red pear tomato is a nice example of marketing in action.
"Organic", they assure you, "an heirloom classic."

“Fertilize with natural resources such as compost, manure, lime or phosphate. No
herbicides, pesticides or man made fertilizers were used in the production of
these seeds.”

Notice how it picks up on the creed of the conscientious grower – no man made fertilizers, it assures, and recommends that you use ‘natural’ resources as your fertilizer. Feel a little bit interested?

Wait, there’s more. This variety is intermediate – that’s code in organic world for, wasn’t bred for that annoying characteristic of determinism which makes all tomatoes develop at the same time, and can be trained upward for small spaces. In other words, was made for you and your summer salads not the food machine. Oh and the best part, it is ‘new’ for 2007 – new classic heirlooms, I love it! Of course, they mean new for them.

Now, I would hate to accidentally advertise for them but here is another stroke of genius offered by small seed suppliers for some time now: variety packs. Oh and fear not this ‘rainbow of tomatoes’ is all heirloom, all the time.

Other trends that Mackenzie’s has picked up on are the interest in Asian and Italian veggies offered through their Mackenzie Chinese and Gusto Italiano lines.

If you are interested in supporting both diversity of seed and seed suppliers then you might like the following sites:


An interesting site for Ottawa and the valley:


Italian: Berton Seeds (website isn't working)

Berton Seeds Co. Ltd., of Weston, Ont., Tel. 416-745-5655

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Bush bean variety that cross-pollinated in my garden in 2004

Saturday, February 3, 2007

This way points to winter

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I have no excuse, just like a picture at the top of my page.

Radicchio is perrenial - take two

Late last night, I was overcome by the desire to again tackle the untangling of chicory names in order to determine just which ones exactly are perrenial. Well, I think I may have cracked it (feel free to disagree). In fact, I feel so confident, I am going to write it as a fact.

Hortiphilia Fact:

For gardeners the chicory family is broken into two sections
Endives which are annual/biennual &
Chicories, which includes radicchio which are perrenial

Your really that sure? It turns out that I needed to look into the latin. To repeat the above in scientific sounding terms: The chicory relatives that we commonly consume in our salads are broken into two names:

  1. Cichorium endivia - endive, escarole types
  2. Cichorium intybus - radicchio, sugarloaf, root chicory and forcing chicory otherwise known as belgian endive/witoof, cutting chicory, italian dandelion, asparagus chicory, others known as 'chicory'

So if you want to try and make a perrenial bed of chicories, then you would choose from the second category. I have yet to research how well the 'endivia' group self-seeds.

By the way, I did read on a seed company webpage that they suggest reseeding radicchio every year for better quality (or more sales?). We shall see.

Once again, stay tuned to see how my chicory bed turns out...

Go to Radicchio is Perrenial? - take one

Links (only the most succinct of the webpages I was dredging...)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Leaf Mold-ing away

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I hate to admit that this is a 'some people' story.

Anyhow, it occurred to me an embarrassingly short time ago that it was silly to send off my compostable leaves with the yard leaf truck every fall. Instead, I should make leaf mold with them, or use them as brown matter in my compost pile. On my perrenial beds, I just leave them there. They are especially good for woodland style gardens.

Hortiphilia Fact:

Leaf Mold is made by letting tree leaves (usually deciduous) breakdown
It is a great soil conditioner, and mulch

How do you do it? Unlike other forms of composting, this is really really easy. Just pile them up. You don't have to pile them up to make leaf mold but it is more convinient to keep them in one spot. Some suggest that you should turn this occasionally. You can build a cage for them, like the one in the picture. It is plastic trellis held in place with rebar. Also unlike regular compost, you don't need to worry about making sure it is loose and airy. You can squish the leaves as much as you like, and the container can handle, to get more in. It may take several years for the leaves to break down but the wait is worth it.

But what about the 'some people' story. My neighbour who thinks I'm a crazy gardener noticed me stuffing oak leaves this fall into the above contraption. He asked me what I was up to. I told him enthusiastically that I was making leaf mold to add to the soil.

He said, 'Won't that make it too acidic?'

I said, still happily, 'Well the blueberries won't mind.'

'But people are allergic to mold.'

Incredulously, 'Some people are allergic to leaf mold?'

'Everyone is.'

Uh-huh. Yup. Some people are just easily freaked out. He was probably wondering why I had to be all organic and not just put my leaves out like the rest of them. Some people.

Anyhow, if you can walk through a deciduous forest in early spring, your not allergic. I'm okay.


The seeds keep coming in...

To add since last count:

  1. mache/corn salad
  2. marconi frying pepper
  3. aurora orach - multiple coloured orach, being phased out for lack of interest
  4. Principe Borghese tomato
  5. golden sunray tomato
  6. tatsoi
  7. radicchio triestina da taglio
  8. radicchio variegato di lusia

PS. Has anyone noticed how Mackenzie Seeds are offering more heirlooms? This seems like a starbucks strategy if I ever saw one.


My seed list