Holy mole(y)!

A big basket of peppers picked from just seven plants.

After a few nights of dutifully covering my raised beds, I threw in the towel (or tarp) and picked my peppers, eggplants, basil and zucchini. I left the tomatoes covered since they were still the color of tennis balls.

I had a bumper crop of hot peppers, as you can see my basket was full enough that I didn’t even chase the dog when he stole one. Well, that was a Hungarian Hot Wax, so the joke was on him. The long, almost-black ones are Holy Mole (forgive my lack of acento); these mildly hot peppers are great for grilling and add a little bite to your meal without making your lips sweat. I add them to my salsa, but I still rely on jalapenos for heat. The plants bear prolifically, even at a mile high, which wins them high marks in my book.

The yellow peppers are not banana peppers but hotter Hungarian Wax (ask the dog, he’ll tell you). These babies do have some heat and also bear well in our short season. I also got a few anchos, but unfortunately they were still green; these peppers really shine when allowed to redden on the vine.

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Farmers’ market finds

Fresh from the market

The Custer Farmers’ Market was jumping this morning; in fact, I was so anxious to get there that I forgot my camera. At least I took pictures when I got home. Tomatoes are just starting to make an appearance; several producers mentioned having a good crop, but that they’re just beginning to ripen. I scored a few ripe ones for fresh salsa, but serious salsa-making will have to wait a couple more weeks. I also bought a fresh cranberry-orange scone, but it didn’t last long enough for its close-up. It was delicious though.

Zucchini bandits

Around this time of year, folks who never lock their homes or cars carefully lock up because of the zucchini bandits. You know who you are. They’re more like bandits in reverse since they don’t steal summer’s most prolific vegetable, they deliver it. If people don’t lock their cars or houses, they’re bound to come home to a bag of green baseball bats.

All joking aside, August brings a bounty from the garden that can be shared with friends and neighbors without gardens. With the profusion of severe weather we’ve had, sharing your surplus with someone whose garden was lost to hail would make their day. My garden delivers an abundance of lettuce, spinach and chard which I share with my neighbors. Our weather is normally too cool to allow the zucchini to reach herioc proportions, so my neighbors are usually safe.

One suggestion for those bat-sized squash, give them to someone with chickens; they’ll devour them, and maybe you can get some eggs in return.

Take your greens for a spin

A pile of freshly washed and spun spinach sits next to the salad spinner.If you have ever thought homegrown lettuce was yucky because it seemed wet, raise your hand. Dressing wouldn’t stick to it; it left a little puddle on your plate. Definitely yucky.

Buy a salad spinner, which is not the same thing as the 70s “salad shooter.” I can still whistle the jingle, but I digress. I didn’t know what a salad spinner was until I started reading cookbooks that called for greens or herbs “spun dry.” Huh? Salad spinners spin water out of leaves like a washing machine spins it out of laundry, so I bought one and never looked back.

I now have clean and dry lettuce, spinach, chard, and herbs. Salad spinners even make washing basil easy, that primadonna of herbs that turns black if left damp. I eat more of my greens and have less spoilage; it’s well worth the investment.

Salad spinners come in many models and price ranges. Mine is on the small side, but since I’m short on storage space, that’s fine. It also has an opening at the top to allow water to flow through if you want to rinse and spin. It cost a whopping $10, less than three bags of salad at the grocery store. There are upgraded versions, of course, so you can pick one that works for you.

Say goodbye to soggy lettuce and take it for a spin.

How does your garden grow?

Now that the cool weather has passed, with the exception of the last couple of days, how is the garden coming? My plants still look pretty young, having not been planted until June, but they’re making headway. Happily, the peppers are blooming and setting on baby peppers; once again, the holy moles are the first ones to produce. The tomatoes are a bit slower, but have grown tremendously and should be blooming within the week. After weeks of seemingly being frozen in time, the eggplants show new growth. I’ll be picking baby spinach and lettuce this week, finally.

How are your plants growing? Was your corn knee-high by the 4th of July? Trouble with grasshoppers or other pests? Let’s hear how everyone’s gardens are growing!

Milk jug hot-caps

Milk jugs work well as hot-caps

This is a very low-cost, low-tech way to protect tender vegetable plants early in the season. Just cut off the bottoms and push the jugs into the soil around the plant. Leave the caps off for air circulation, unless a frost is threatening, then screw the caps on for more protection. As the plants grow, cut the jugs back until they’re superfluous, then just slice them down the side and pull away from the plant. Not only do the jugs protect plants from frost, but also help retain heat, making the plants warmer at night, which helps them grow. This is especially beneficial at higher elevations where evenings are cool; we routinely drop into the 40s at night.

I was short a couple jugs short for my tomatoes. Turns out puppies like chewing on milk jugs, and since they’re cheaper than a couch, for example, I decided to sacrifice a couple. A few more bowls of cereal and those plants will have jugs too.

All the way from…Pukwana?

These hydroponically grown tomatoes hail from Pukwana, SD

Usually the tomatoes we find sitting docilely in our grocery store’s produce section hail from Southern California, Mexico and occasionally Canada (no, I don’t know why we import tomatoes from latitudes higher than our own). But these red orbs were grown just a couple hours east of here, in Pukwana, South Dakota. I stumbled across them yesterday in Lynn’s Dakotamart in Custer.

These pesticide-free, hydroponically grown tomatoes are the product of Happy Hydros LLC, owners Mark and Teal Scholl. Unlike tomaotes grown 1500+ miles away, which are usually picked green to help them withstand shipping, these are vine-ripened and picked three times per week. You can tell the difference in the flavor; they actually taste like tomatoes and lack that mealy grocery-store texture.

So the next time you’re shopping, check your produce section for Happy Hydros; these are tomatoes you can feel good about buying.

Squash trial

Anyone living in the upper elevations of the Black Hills probably has written off winter squash as a viable crop. I’ll admit, I had as well until I decided to try to grow it in a container this year. Maybe it’s a harebrained idea, but I felt it’s worth a shot.

So I bought a couple butternut squash bedding plants down at Dakota Greens, stuck ’em in a pot, and placed it on my south-facing deck. The deck is high, frosts later than the raised beds and gets several hours of sun each day. I figured the conditions would be more conducive to fruit production. If it doesn’t work, I’m not out much and have learned something in the process. I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, Mother Earth News has an article on growing winter squash in their latest issue, read it at Growing Winter Squash.

Grocery Lists

In Amy Colter’s The Locavore Way, she breaks down local eating into steps, lists and activities, making it fun and approachable. She put together a list of crops to grow yourself in order to save money. And who doesn’t want to save money?

Grow to Save $$: artichokes, berries of all kinds, edible flowers (nasturtium, calendula, pansies), fingerling potatoes, garlic, heirloom or any unusual cultivar, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, leeks, melons, mesclun, perennial herbs, and shallots.

I don’t know anyone personally who has grown artichokes in this region, but for folks with a greenhouse, it might be worth trying.

Dithering

Confession: I haven’t ordered my seeds yet. Why? I’m dithering.

It would be grand to grow two chard varieties, Five-Color Silverbeet and Fordhook, but the beds have room for only one. Furthermore, I really can’t justify eight lettuce varieties; I really need to weed out that list (no pun intended). Last year Yugoslavian Red did very well, but I haven’t grown Green Deer Tongue for a couple of years and miss it. A red lettuce would be nice, too, like Red Velvet. The Seeds Savers Lettuce Mixture is a must-have; some of the best lettuce I have ever grown. I’m not really making any headway.

Beets are problematic as well, as beets are wont to be. I successfully grew Bull’s Blood last year, but they do get pretty big and should be harvested as summer rolls along. Good for summer meals but bad for a big harvest in the fall. I left quite a few until fall and dug them up; they were tasty but huge. So I’m contemplating Chioggia, an Italian heirloom.

Last on the undecided ballot is spinach. Bloomsdale has provided me with many salads and wilted spinach-and-egg dinners, but I’d like to try Viroflay, a French heirloom.

Though I was tempted, I opted not to start my own tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds. I really don’t have a spot to place the trays, and our local greenhouse, Dakota Greens, and Jolly Lane Greenhouse in Rapid City both carry good selections. Jolly Lane expands the number of heirloom offerings every year, even Japanese eggplant.

So back to my catalogues.

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