Garlic Shown: Stiff-neck which tends to be hardy and stores well over the long term.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
Earlier this Fall I wrote about bringing your hot pepper plants indoors for overwintering. I’ve put together a short 2 minute clip showing how I dug up a ‘Variegata’ hot pepper plant from my community garden plot and transplanted it into a pot to spend the next 7 or so months indoors.
There are lots of different ways to over-winter peppers — some take space into consideration and involve pruning the entire plant back and storing in a cooler location, while the method I am using is about enjoying attractive plants as houseplants until they can be put back outdoors in the late spring to begin a new season of pepper production. By my method your plant isn’t likely to produce fruit during the cold months but should produce lots of pretty foliage to look at.
Here are a few extra tips:
- Soil: When transplanting from and in-ground garden gently remove as much soil from around the roots as possible and transplant into a container of potting soil. The soil from your garden will become compacted in a pot, eventually smothering the roots and preventing drainage and air circulation.
- Fertilizing: Peppers do not require much in the way of fertilizing. Be very sparing and apply fertilizers that are slightly higher in nitrogen keeping in mind that the goal is to produce healthy leaves, not bare fruit. I think a sprinkling of vermicompost at transplant time is just enough. Anything too high in nitrogen will enourage a lot of leggy, tender growth, just the kind of foliage aphids are most attracted to.
- Pests: And while we’re on the subject of aphids, chances are you will get a few or a lot this winter. A good spray in the shower or kitchen sink is the best chemical-free way to get them off your plant for good. So is keeping your plant as healthy as possible.
- Peppers like sun and warmth: Keep your plant in the sunniest window you’ve got. If the windowsill gets too cold and drafty move your plant as far away as possible while still providing optimum light. If that’s not enough try setting them underneath grow lights. You can also try setting your pepper’s pot on a crocheted windowsill cozy or pot coaster. Heating mats are great too but I usually wait to bust mine out until closer to the start of the growing season, otherwise the warmth prompts the plant to get active before the light is bright enough to sustain that level of activity.
- Peppers Prefer a Bit of Drought: Water less often then you would outdoors — with less drying heat and light your plant will require less moisture. Peppers like a bit of drought so test the soil with your finger first to see that it has dried out slightly before giving it a drink.
- Shock: Some leaves will turn yellow and drop off shortly after transplanting or bringing indoors. This is quite normal. If this continues, prune back bare branches and remove any remaining fruit and flowers so your plant can concentrate on producing foliage, not reproducing. You should see some fresh leaves spring up in the coming weeks. I’ve had peppers that looked to be on their last legs come back strong as soon as the warmth and sun came back in the spring. Give your plants some time, it will be worth it for that early season bumper crop. Of course some plants just don’t overwinter well, period. Give it a go, if it doesn’t work out chalk it up to experimentation and move on.
Readers of the You Grow Girl book might recall that I love a little milk mixed with water as a tomato disease preventative. Okay, I probably didn’t go so far as to indicate a “love” for the concoction but I will say it here: the tomato plants on my rooftop garden benefit from regular applications throughout the growing season and have been disease-free since I began this experiment a number of years ago. You can’t not LOVE those results. I’d cuddle a milk and water concoction on the couch while sharing a bowl of popcorn and a movie with results like that. After the movie we’d play some non-competitive board games and catch The Colbert Report before settling into our communal sleeping bag for the night. I LOVE these results.
Here’s what I do. Organic milk tends to go bad in the fridge faster than non-organic. I only drink milk in my cappuccinos so I often have lots of spoiled milk in the fridge. I dilute the milk with water to a minimum 50:50 ratio (I often dilute much further than this) and either pour it directly over the plant leaves or pour it onto the soil at the roots. I used to put it into a spray bottle first but am too lazy to take that extra step now-a-days.
I should add that this is the only time I water tomato leaves directly. I am careful to water the soil only on all other occasions. This is because tomatoes do not like wet leaves and can develop fungal diseases as the result of too much humidity and moisture sitting on the leaves for long periods of time.
One of my favourite things about gardening is experimenting and trying to improve on old ideas. Last year I figured I might as well mix up my milk remedy with my fertilizer routine. My thought process is that perhaps it all works better when it’s mixed together. I mix the same water and milk solution and add a splash of sea kelp and a dash of fish emulsion to the mix then pour the whole thing onto the soil.
It doesn’t smell great but the plants like it. And I like tomatoes. If it means more tomatoes come fall then I’m all for it.
Hint: If you’re not a milk drinker you can make up the same mix using powdered milk. In fact many people swear by dry powdered milk mixed directly into the soil.
If you’re looking for a hardy herb that will produce a harvest all season-long, and can withstand just about anything you can throw at it then look no further than chives. I’ve been growing this wash basin of chives for so many years I can’t for the life of me recall where I got the tub or the plant. All I know is that it is one of the few perennial herbs that I can count on to withstand an inconsistent and sometimes bitter winter in a container and additionally be the first plant up and providing garnishes for early spring soups.
Every spring I try and find a new way to fill in the gaps left by the plants that don’t have the fortitude of chives and give the planter a place of prominence as the first pretty thing to look at out on the rooftop deck. This particular planting received a lot of positive attention this spring so I thought I’d share it with you.
I use just about ever part of the plant. The early buds and fully open chive blossoms taste great in salads or steeped in vinegar to make a salad dressing.
I’ve been receiving requests for information on starting a community garden since posting about my experience working with the H.O.P.E Community Garden Group here in Toronto. Starting a community garden is an awesome experience but it is also quite an undertaking. Starting a garden is as much about the physical labor involved in building the garden space as it is about building community and working co-operatively with a sense of commitment and purpose. My experiences with The H.O.P.E Garden have been so positive because of the efforts of project organizer Shannon Thompson of Greenest City, a Toronto based non-profit that has gone above and beyond in organizing one of the most well-functioning teams I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside.
Of course most of us don’t have the benefit of a team experienced in community building and the practical ins-and-outs of community garden organizating. In that case I would recommend that anyone looking to start a community garden in their area pick up a copy of “How Does Our Garden Grow?: A Guide to Community Garden Success” published by FoodShare and written by Laura Berman. This is an excellent and comprehensive resource that outlines many of the issues that you will face when starting a garden from leadership, site design and selection, to raising money and establishing gardener expectations. There is even a practical gardening section for beginners covering topics such as companion planting and composting.