At a Toronto area You Grow Girl meet up last week we discussed our gardening successes and disappointments of the last year. Beth, a rooftop container gardener mentioned that she was most disappointed by her container-grown ‘Chinese Five Colour’ (or color for the Americans) Hot Pepper plant, stating that the plant was boring and the peppers bland, and tasteless. I was surprised since my experience with this variety has placed it onto my list of current favourites and a plant that I will definitely grow again if not promote to other gardeners, especially container gardeners. This is one of those discussions that reminds me how varied our gardening experiences can be, even with the same varieties and seemingly similar growing conditions. I sometimes forget in my enthusiasm when reviewing a plant that my outcome isn’t universal. I am reminded that what works for me might not work for someone else, and vice-versa.
And knowing this I still feel an irrational obligation to defend the plant like I’m defending my taste for souvenir picture trays or cheesy poutine. “You don’t know!”
And so, I give you:
In Defense of ‘Chinese Five Colour’ Hot Peppers
- I grew this plant as an experimental comparison to last year’s favourite, “New Mex Twilight’ hot pepper. The plants are very similar in that they are both produce gorgeous green foliage with purple stems and veins, with small hot peppers that start out light purple and evolve into a rainbow ending in bright red when fully mature. In comparison, the plants were very similar but the ‘Chinese Five Colour’ produces larger fruit. The larger fruit stood out sharply in contrast to the leaves. It was really stunning!
- I will say it again: gorgeous green foliage with purple stems and veins that produced an abundance of rainbow-coloured fruit.
- My peppers are indeed HOT!
- One plant produced enough fruit to braid an attractive string of drying peppers. Everyone I know will be in hot peppers for eternity.
- Grew easily into a large plant in a medium-sized container.
- Colette of Urban Harvest (whom I purchased the plant from) informed me that this variety is rare while ‘New Mex Twilight’ is not. I am a sucker for a good back story and admit to being completely duped by the term “rare.”
With Kitty aka “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” who comes running whenever the camera is out.
My passionflower vine grew a passionfruit! This may seem like small hat (or other small things) to those of you living in the warm, Southern regions of the world, but it’s a BIG deal to a Northern gardener like me. I have grown passionflower vine many times in the past. In fact I grew one plant for many years, cutting it back and bringing it inside every winter until I grew tired of tripping over it in the hallway and let it succumb to the cold outdoors one fall. That vine grew large and abundant with flowers every summer but it NEVER once even toyed with the idea of making fruit.
I first discovered the tiny passionfruit back in July and watched it eagerly for about a month hoping against hope that it would grow into a brag-worthy fruit. Today, on my daily plant inspection I noticed that the tiny fruit — a fruit that has not grown a millimeter since July — has changed colour from dark green to light green. I cut it open to find that it is mostly hollow inside with six, small but mature seeds. I ate two of the seeds. They are completely tasteless.
But so what. I successfully nurtured a tiny, tasteless, passionfruit. My garden kicks boatloads of ass-kicking ass!
Passionflower. Grown in a container I garbage picked in one of Toronto’s “finer” neighbourhoods.
Update: The first of the next batch has ripened. I had both my neighbour and my spouse do a taste test and we all agree that while it is tasty, it doesn’t stand up to the black indeterminates like ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Black Plum’. My final verdict is that it’s a great mid-sized determinate perfect for small spaces like fire escapes, but if you want the real thing get a HUGE plastic garbage can and grow an indeterminate variety.
I’ve been waiting anxiously for the first ‘Black Seaman’ tomato to ripen. From the looks of things I was certain this would be my new #1 determinate but I was hesitant to even go there in my mind without tasting one first. I watched everyday with bated breath as a large crop of good-sized green tomatoes blushed with color. The first was eaten by a large raccoon (The largest I have ever seen! A film crew could use this deck as a location for Wild Kingdom). And then over the weekend we caught the tail end of hurricane Ernesto and the bulk of the nearly ripe ‘Black Seamans’ burst open as a result of torrential downpours and had to be quickly, and prematurely plucked from the vine. We tasted a few with salt and I will say that they were rich and flavorful with a hint of tang, even when under-ripe. Some were on the mealy side but that was likely caused by the splitting. I will provide a more thorough update on taste when the next batch ripen but in the meantime here’s why this variety has been given a tentative spot in my top 5:
- It’s a determinate mid-sized plant with medium-sized fruit.
- The fruit is a lot larger than expected. It’s hard to find a variety that is small and compact with reasonably-sized fruit. My long-standing #1 fave was ‘Silver Fir Tree’ but I am almost certain ‘Black Seaman’ will replace it.
- My test plant has done exceptionally well in a pot size normally reserved for small, bushing tomatoes. In fact I usually grow ‘Sunrise III’ in this container as I assumed the plant size was similar. I was shocked when ‘Black Seaman’ grew both upwards and bushy and even more astounded by how healthy it has been in such a small container. The container is terra cotta no less!
- It is prolific. It’s sad that I lost so many to splitting but there are still plenty more queuing up. In mid-sized containers my ‘Silver Fir Tree’ plants generally produce an absolute maximum of 10 mid-sized tomatoes. The lone ‘Black Seaman’ stands to produce around 20.
- The fruit is colorful both inside and out with a dense centre that makes it perfect for slicing and eating on sandwiches.
- Flavor: This is yet to be determined since the first batch were under-ripe. I will guess that they will not measure up to other black varieties like ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Black Pear‘ but you can’t grow either of those in a mid-sized terra cotta container on a blazing hot rooftop in the city.
I would love to bring you more hard-core gardening experience type information but I am completely emersed in the harvest season and relishing the fruits of my labour. I just ate lunch — a fried egg sandwich on spelt toast with a slice of garden tomato, fresh basil, mayo, and oyster mushrooms — and I couldn’t wait to get back to my computer to tell you about the delicious black pear tomato. Perhaps I am glorifying it because it’s the first large tomato of the season and the first tomato is always THE BEST TOMATO THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN! However, this tomato was juicy, sweet, and rich tasting. It cut easily into a perfect sandwich slice packed with dense meatiness in the centre and fresh and juicy towards the edges; not at all mushy or mealy. Don’t you think the shape looks like a cute little hobo sack?
I’m definitely adding this one to my list of new faves.
A few tips for container growing:
- Grow it in the largest container you can find – This variety is an indeterminant which means the plant itself grows quite tall, requiring a lot of root space. I used a plastic garbage can and drilled holes into the bottom for drainage.
- Grow one plant per container – Do not be tempted to shove a couple of transplants into the same container. That little plant is going to grow up fast. Competition for space in the container will result in a reduced yield.
- Don’t let the soil dry out completely – Water consistently and give your plant a lot of water each time. I give mine about 4L of water daily! Plants that aren’t watered enough are prone to Blossom End Rot which shows as a mushy black spot on the bottom of the tomato.
- Fertilize – I fertilize my plants regularly with sea kelp throughout the growing season. You can get it as a liquid concentrate or store up batches of “tea” made by steeping dried kelp meal in mason jars. Kelp meal is high in potassium which is a good plant stress reliever. This will sustain your plant through the odd day of drought and neglect. But of course there are no miracle potions for utter delinquency!
I have been in love with my rooftop garden this past month. Every meal includes something picked fresh from the garden that morning – there’s a bowl of fresh produce on the counter everyday! This is what I love about the harvest season (besides all of the eating). No matter how hard the growing season has been, no matter how many buckets of sloshing water have been hauled, and squirrels have been reckoned with, it is all erased by the joy and thrill of eating meals grown and prepared with my hands, brains, and skill.
I’ll be heading over to my community garden this afternoon to check up on progress there. I’m sure I’ll come home with a bag of food, but there’s just something extra special about stepping out the door, picking something fresh off the plant and stepping back into the kitchen again to prepare it.