I desperately need to clean up my rooftop garden. Desperately. Double desperately. It’s horrible how long I’ve let it got this year really. The warmer Fall temperatures were wonderfully evil and I just went with it pretending that Fall would continue forever. I rewarded myself for cleaning up at the community garden so early this year. I can put it off a little longer, I said. It will be just like last year, I said. There will not be snow until January and by then everyone will be freaking out and talking about the blooming crocus and dandelion flowers and how the end of the world is neigh and it won’t matter that some of the pots weren’t empty or that the strawberries never did get replanted from the big pot into the ground.
And now I am in this dilemma. It has already snowed. The ground is probably frozen. I say probably because I haven’t had the courage to check. I would take a picture and post it here for you to see what I am talking about but that would mean having to look and I can’t bear it. I avoid looking out there entirely preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist. From memory and the occasional tiny peek I do seem to recall an assortment of clay pots that are usually emptied, washed and put away by this time every year prior to this one. I’m pretty sure that tender Echeveria I’ve been over-wintering indoors for years is now dead. The shiso was never harvested. Lifeless bean stalks cling to string and a few remaining lantern-like tomatillos hang from leafless branches.
Today would be the perfect day to get out there and do it already. The sun is shining, the temperatures are above zero, and anything that was recently frozen is probably melted after yesterday’s torrential downpours. I could cut back the plants, remove and wash the terra cotta and be done with it. And I would be totally on it too, I really would, except that I have come down with a terrible cold complete with body aches and a nose that runs like a faucet. So instead I will go back to bed with a pile of hankies and a warm tea, putting those self-preserving powers of denial to work for one more day.
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.
The plants were so lovely in the window today on a sunny November afternoon. I could not help but grab a camera to capture the moment.
This is ‘Variegata’ hot pepper, a gorgeous and edible heirloom variety that has got a lot of play on the site recently. I grew it from seed for the first time back in the spring and it has become an unexpected favourite this year. The colours and shapes are so gorgeous, I find myself pointing the camera in its direction time and again. I brought it indoors before the frost kicked in and it has since continued to put out fruit. These will turn bright red when mature.
These are the flowering stems of two sundews: One the left Drosera aliciae and on the right, Drosera capensis.
This is one of two pencil cacti (aka Mistletoe Cactus) I have hanging in a window with indirect light. They are epiphytic jungle cacti which means they need a lot more water and richer soil than the desert cacti most of us are familiar with. This one is a member of the Rhipsalis genus although I have never been able to confirm the species.
Proudly cradling the basil harvested from my community garden plot. Varieties include: ‘African Blue’, ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Sweet Basil’, ‘Genovese’, ‘Columnar’, ‘Spicy Globe’, ‘Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil’, ‘Dark Opal’, and ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ (a variegated variety).
I reluctantly harvested the remaining basil plants from my community garden plot last weekend. With the temperatures dipping low it was time to take the plunge or risk losing all that lovely fresh basil to the frost. I am yet to harvest the remaining plants growing in containers on my rooftop deck but we are enjoying nipping out for fresh leaves to put on sandwiches and in salads so late into the fall season. Really with such a mild fall I am shocked that we have been able to hold out for so long. Basil is notorious for hating cold, wet weather and has never made it this far into the Fall (in my memory) before turning black and flopping over in defeat.
Between last weekend’s mad pesto/pisto making operation, and the basil I have been drying in bunches since mid-summer, I’d say we’re pretty well stocked until the first plants are ready to be pinched back next summer. I think this may be the first time that I’ve been able to look into the freezer and say with a sense of authority that the bounty is good.
The following is a very short clip revealing how frugal I can be about the basil. What can I say, each leaf is like a tiny nugget of gold!
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.