What is in a name? Peppers

It’s a cool rainy morning and not one to be out in the garden unless you want to get really wet. It is also almost mid July and the summer harvest in not far away. At least I hope!

It means I need to think about what I planted and how I will use or save the fruits of my labor. It also means I need to think about when to harvest what I planted. I realized it is important to know the names of each of my varieties. I have 16 different plants from the pepper family – 3 varieties and at the moment they all have green leaves and small white flowers that hang down from the stem.  So which is which?

Here is what I know about the pepper plant: the pepper is part of the Solanaceas (Nightshade family). There are no single characteristics that are common in the group. It includes ornamentals like Nicotiana (tobacco), Bella Donna (deadly nightshade) and food like potatoes, tomato and the peppers we like to eat. The pepper genus is Capsicum which produces capsaicin a chemical that can cause a strong burning sensation – the hot in hot peppers. There is one exception in the family which is the bell pepper. It does not produce capsaicin due to a recessive form of the gene that eliminates this chemical allowing this pepper to have a sweet taste.

Just so you know the term pepper is miss leading. It was giving to this genus when Christopher Columbus brought the plant back to Europe. At that time Black pepper from the plant Piper nigrum, that originated from India, was a highly sort after condiment. The Europeans applied the name to all know spices with a hot and pungent taste so they just extended it to this new genus Capsicum and we now use the common name for this plant as as the black pepper spice we put on our food. Who knew?!

IMG_6037.jpgSo what did I plant and which ones are going to be hot. Here is where both close observation and detail recording (taking good notes) comes into play in the garden. I stuck 16 plants in the ground with little marker at the end of the rows on May 27th. After days of heat, rain and watering those markers have faded and begun to disappear under the soil. I did find them, well at least two of the markers but my garden notes also help me sort out what plant was what. (I also realized that it would be good to draw out a picture of each garden bed and what is planted where since my old brain to not always holding all the details any more.) But here is what I pieced together –

I planted three types of peppers:

  • Hot Pepper Fish
  • Maule’s Red Hot
  •  Candy Apple

A quick walk between rain drops helped me begin to tell the different

Hot Fish Pepper – I can identify this plant quickly due to the variegated leaves. The pepIMG_6046.jpgper is also stripped with green and white. The fruit is a long narrow shape. This pepper connects back through the African American history. It has a great story that I wrote about here. This pepper gains heat like many others but letting it stay on the vine long into the season. It will become really hot if that is your taste. (Currently this one in my garden has no flowers or pepper yet.)   Garden Betty also wrote about this pepper in 2014 and she has some great photos: https://www.gardenbetty.com/fish-pepper-a-peculiar-pepper-with-deep-roots-in-african-american-history/

Candy Apple Pepper – This is a sweet pepper and is a larger bell shaped pepper that goes from IMG_6044.jpggreen to red. It is suppose to be an early maturing pepper arriving at 71 days. They went into the ground as small plants on May 27 (potted inside on March 11). As I count that has been about 113 days of growing, about 70 days outside. This plant is healthy with flowers but no sign of actual peppers yet.  Each year I try a sweet pepper of some kind and each year they look wonderful but taste awful. They are always bitter to the taste. It could be our Minnesota cool since I know that pepper like hot days. I am hoping this year might be different since we have had so many more hot days. We will have to wait and see.

Maule’s Red Pepper – This is a hot pepper by name. It’s history is connected to Philadelphia in 1903 when William Henry Maule introduced this plant from his seed company. It grows to a red cayenne-type pepper and is suppose to be good for hot sauce and dried red pepper flakes. It’s plant stem is dark purple and it is about 18 inches tall. It also says it is to be ready in 80 days from IMG_6040.jpgtransplant. This is 70 days out from transplant and indeed there are peppers growing – one nice long pepper – still very green but giving us a sense that it will indeed turn red in a few weeks and there are more to follow.


Peppers can prove to be very interesting if you stop and read up about them and look closely at the plant as it grows. It also is clear that names are important. They can give you all kinds of information but they can also be miss leading if we are not careful. Knowing the common name is not enough in our world of expanding varieties. It can be miss leading to say I planted 16 pepper plants and someone is hoping that they are all sweet pepper for cooking -when there are only 6 bell pepper out of the sixteen.

Here in Minnesota I am looking forward to having both hot and sweet peppers sometime in August?  How about you?

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Walking the Line

This is a phrase that might bring the likes of Johnny Cash to some peoples minds. Others images.jpgmay be thinking cowboys out riding their horses along the fence line but for me a city gardener, a want to be farmer, walking the line means walking the boundary of my land (the backyard).

I started this morning, mid-summer, walking the fence line between our neighbors to the south of us and working my way around to the north side where the fence ends. I was on the hunt for young trees, large weeds, unwanted vines and dead branches. This walking the property line needs to happen several times a year or the “forest” begins to take over.

The likes of Elms, Maples and the more invasive Buckthorn, Ash, Mulberry all grow to an amazing height each year. They are planted by squirrels, birds, chipmunks and the wind. They seem so cute and small growing along the fence. Who needs to worry about that little stick growing with a few leaves? Right?!

I have walked by those little guys for years and then one day go out to find I have a full size tree that needs an arborist to cut it down. There are three of those trees on my south side fence line. They are rooted into the neighbors yard so there they remain slowing  growing each year pushing the fence to one side.

download.jpgThe Buckthorn and Mulberry will take over in a year or two. These trees push out the lower level plants, and take the water supply from the trees or flowers you want to have growing. It is a battle happening right there in my backyard.

I learned my lesson years ago when I did not walk the line for a few years. I was surprised when I went out one winters day with bright pink ribbons to tag the trees that needed to go. Mind you I don’t have a huge backyard but there were 40 or more little trees (some not to little) that really could not continue to grow in the location that they were in. It was an expensive spring of tree cutting and then months of watching and dabbing growth retardant on the trunks to prevent regrowth.invasivespecies10-itok=GJsCBPiH.jpg

I have learned my lesson. I walk the line about four times a year. Once in the late winter (February or early March here in Minnesota) when the leaves and lower plants are not visible. It is a great time to tag trees or even cut them if it is not to cold.

I walk again in July during the full growing season. It is easier for me to see what plants are growing when their are leaves on them. I am not good at naming trees by bark. Trees in the fence just need to go no matter what but there are always a few lilacs that are growing that I would prefer to move than cut down. I am nursing three or four small volunteer lilacs knowing my old woody ones are losing vigor and will die one of these days.

I then walk again in the early fall during the garden clean up and again at the beginning of winter. This last walk is looking for branches that might fall in a heavy winter’s snow or one of the wild winter wind storms that surprise us once in awhile.

As I head out each time with garden gloves on, my small red hand clippers in my back left pocket and my larger orange and black tree trimming clippers in hand I can almost image myself a real farmer walking the fence line of my fields. The sun and a bit of wind in my face, the birds singing, blue sky and I am sure all is right with the world.

At least for the few hours I am walking the line.

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Chlorophyll, plants, art and 3rd graders

Sometime you just need to be outdoors and in the real world to make connections. When sitting with trees, and plants all around you it is easier to take in how much we are the same as the plant world and how different we are from all those growing green things.

Over a few weeks in May I spent time with a group of third graders. A class of kids who in their day to day life don’t spend a lot of time outdoors thinking about  plant and animal life.

They are a group of students who live in city poverty. Homes where parents work several jobs or no job at all. Homes where paying rent or finding or paying for food for the week is more important than names of trees or how a seed grows. Some are homes where guns and violence is more common that growing flowers or taking nature walks.

So taking time in the classroom to explore our natural world is important. If we want adults who care about and want to work towards (for vote) the protection of our natural environment we need to begin when they are young. ob. drawing.jpg

This group and I had already spent a day working on close observation and on drawing plants. We had begun our science journals with the date, location and weather. We looked closely at the leaves, stems and flowers. Then drew what we saw. Our drawings needed to be “real.”  We wanted to be able to name these plants and find them again if we returned later.  We were becoming naturalists.drawing 3.JPG

A few weeks later on a cool rainy morning I met these 3rd graders at the North Mississippi Regional Park here in Minneapolis, Mn. We planned to take another step closer to understanding our plants and being able to enjoy our world through drawing. The students had talked about chlorophyll and how plants make their own food. They knew the parts of a plant or tree – leaves, stems, trunks, roots, flowers, and seeds. Now we were going to “see” the chlorophyll and use it as our “ink” to draw.

We started by taking leaves and placing them between two sheets of white paper and them using a spoon to help us we rubbed hard for about 60 sections. Then we pealed back the top paper to find a leave print. The pressure of the rubbing had pushed the chlorophyll out into a print of the leaf.

The veins were clearly visible and the leaf structure was perfect. I have to say not all leaf printed were great so there is some trial and error but this gave us lots to talk about and wonder. Leaf print

After printing several different leaves we moved on to taking these smashed leaves and wading them up in our hands and using them to draw pictures of the trees and plants around us. Our pictures were simple since our leaf pencils had no pointed tips but the kids had fun.

Our conversations ranged from

  • are leaf veins like our veins?
  • we have mouths to eat with – oh so that is why trees make food they don’t have mouths like ours.
  • why do I get green when I draw with the deep red leaf?
  • that leaf is thicker – is that why I can’t get a good print?
  • What happens if I use grass? can I draw with grass?
  • Where does the chlorophyll go in the fall when the leaves turn colors?

This simple activity opened up so many questions as well as answers they did not know they already had in their heads. As well as the excitement to learn more about the natural world around them.

The lesson and activity was only about 25 minutes. It was just what was need to help this group of young explores to engage in the natural world, to understand just a little bit more and enjoy a morning outside.






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Signs of spring – outside in the snow

Minnesota is fighting to find spring. We are 65 degrees one day and snowing the next. It is now officially May and yes it snowed again today.  It did not snow enough to stay on the brilliant green grass but it swirled around me as I went to yoga.

While walking in the snow and rain I also found the outdoors spring – the cold has slowed things down but has not stopped it.

red and yellow tulips.JPGThe tulips that I thought I had moved popped up in the middle of yard right next to the raised garden beds. They are determined to bloom this week. The red and yellow colors are swirling around the flower as it begins to open.

In the garden bed I thought I had moved these to I found one red tulip looking a bit lost with the daffodils. red tulip in daffodils.JPG





As I approached the yoga studio there are the fruit trees that are in bloom as well. The apple tree blossoms are not fully out but the white plum tree flowers are glorious in the snow and rain today.

apple buds 2.JPG


plum tree 2.JPG










So although the air is cold and the rain is falling spring still shares the wonders of new growth.


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The Winter winds – February 1

imgres.jpgThe wind that we do not see is still here – we just feel the sharp cold seeping into our skin as we move down the path. It pushes us back to where we started. The wind we do not see but watch its affect as the top arch of winter trees move back and forth in the sky has not changed yet. The wind we do not see but can hear whistling through the cracks and the tiny crevices around the windows is still here.

It is February and the winter light is shifting. The days are getting longer and occasionally you can feel the warmth of sun as you walk or if you are standing by a window mid day (on the days the sun dares to show itself). Spring is coming.

But the wind is still pulling the winter cold with it as it moves west to east. We can’t see it but we feel, hear and watch it’s effect on the world around us. It is the winter trees that best show us the power of the wind.

The tall thick trunk of an elm or old winding limbs of a great oak show the mighty strength of these trees. Their roots deeply planted in the ground. They are not going anywhere we think and yet one glance up on this winters day and I have to wonder.

The wind takes the top arching branches and plays with them – moving them side to side. Each branch silhouetted against the bright winter sky. Each branch strong, and powerful in its own right yet so easily moved as the wind blows around the garden. The large branches swing in the clear blue sky.

The pine tree sits relatively still with a cap of pine cones on top while the bare hard woods bow and bop around. The wind blowing through the pines while the hard woods fight with it to show who is stronger.

It is February and winter is still here. The wind confirms it as it reddens my face, chills my fingers and plays with the branches of our trees.










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Peppers – learning history from my garden

Hot Fish PepperThis spring while planning the garden my daughter asked me to start some hot pepper seeds. I am not a person who loves hot food but why not. I also have not had the best of luck with peppers. They grow but I have never gotten a pepper off a plant that is worth eating – hot, middle or sweet. But what the hay – why not try.

We ordered seeds, I started them under the lights inside and planted them in mid May. It is now early August the tomatoes are ripening and I needed a hot pepper to add a bit of spice to the salsa that was bubbling on my stove. I marched out to the garden and checked the pepper plants – the one stuck in the middle of the patch, the one that is absolutely gorgeous and was titled Hot Fish.

I carefully navigated my way through the foliage to find lots of peppers – light green with white stripes. Cutting into them told me I had plenty of heat with using only one of them. All good in the kitchen with 3 pints of salsa and few smaller containers now frozen for winter use I begun to wonder when it is really best to pick these beauties? What I found was history growing right in my front garden.

The Hot Fish Pepper plant has a long history in African-American culinary culture that predates the 1870s. It is thought to have been brought to this country from the Caribbean by African slaves. It was used in the Chesapeake Bay area in fish sauce. The Fish Pepper was an ingredient that blended into the white sauce and was passed on by word of mouth through generations of cooks. It was seldom written into a recipe so it began to fade in the garden world here in the United States.

There is a great story about a Pennsylvanian named Horace Pippin. (The Horace Pippin – the famous artist. Mr. Pippin was looking for bees to use for an arthritis folk remedy and ended up exchanging a selection of seeds to a beekeeper name H. Ralph Weaver.Peppers 2 HF

In this group of seeds were the Fish Pepper seeds. They stayed in the Weaver private collection until H. Ralph passed down the seeds to his grandson William Woys Weaver. Nearly a century later in 1995 the fish pepper was reintroduced by William to the public.


Who knew that the seeds growing in my Minnesota front yard garden had such a wonderful history! It now has me curious about the history behind some of my other plants.

P.S. The answer to my question when to pick these peppers – is also interesting. They begin with this lovely light green with white and darken to an orange and finally end up red losing their stripes. I have read that they get hotter as they turn darker. I am excited to watch the color change as fall approaches. Although I must admit that the light green with white stripes is hot enough for me right now. My children who love hot food may be getting a great deal of peppers to cook with this fall!


(photo from http://www.pepperscale.com/fish-pepper/)


Story sources:

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Mid Summer Garden or following your cell phone screen

clematisIt is now the middle of July and we are approaching the hottest days of the year. I am hearing 100 with heat index of 110 degrees. There will be no gardening during the heat wave. I am hoping for gentle rains tonight so there is also no need to water during this crazy weather but we will see what the evening brings.

This summer in Minnesota has been great for gardens. It rains every few days, sunny with occasional cloudy days for weeding and gentle breezes. ( I know there has been some bad weather but over all this is a fair report of weather in Minneapolis.)

This sunny weather has brought forth tall growing tomato plants, tomatoes
lots of flowers, carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach and more kale than I can stand to eat. The beans are flowering and cucumber plants are thinking about it. The basil has been harvested twice for pesto and the garlic will be harvested by the end of July I am sure.

I know this sounds a bit like a farm but here I am in the middle of a large urban city with flowers and food right in the front yard. I have noticed more of my neighbors are spending time in their yards as well. A few have gone as far as raising chickens. It looks like great pepper and cabbagefun but I have not ventured that way.

What I miss in all this gardening excitement is I don’t see the children engaged. Maybe it is just where I live – there are old folks like myself with children grown and growing food on their own. Still I wonder are our children out in the soil, planting, weeding and harvesting food or flowers?

I know they are out following their smart phones around town I can see that and I appreciate the thoughts of using a game to push people out into the great outdoors but …garden overview

The learning, enjoyment and valve is in the doing of a task not in the looking at it through a screen. So next step is to find a way to put down the screen and plant a few seeds. Just think they could be eating beans and tomatoes from their yard as they read this.


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Spring begins with a chill – April’s First Blooms

It is April first, chilly (35 degrees), sunny, clear blue skies and super wet ground. It has been raining on and off for the last few days but the ground and the plants seem very happy to drink it all up. We did not have the heavy snow cover we often get in Minnesota this winter so spring rains are a good thing right now.

I am beginning my spring walks – watching for blooms. The growth has been very slow with our chilly weather but now as we hit April the length of day and the angle of the sun is making a bit difference.

In my yard there are many spring plants up and beginning to grow but only two blooming right now. The Crocus and the  Winter Aconite (Eranthis Cilicia).  CrocusAcrontie

If I look around I can see the first leaves of the Bleeding Hearts, the Rhubarb, Peonies and much more. Rhubarb

It is also opening day at Eloise Butler Wildflower garden so I stopped by there to see what early blooms are out. Since our spring has been slow to arrive I again found the beginning of Trillium, Skunk Cabbage, March Marigolds, Trout Lilies but there were only two flowers in bloom. The Snow Trillium and the Hepatica were beautiful.




This season I plan to use this site to document the changes in my garden along with the growth at Eloise Butler. We will see what grows and blooms in a home garden and in the wild garden in the woods.

Happy Planting!

Just for the fun of it this not so wild wild turkey and I had a short conversation while I was wondering the trails of the Eloise Butler Garden.



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Fresh Start – learning about my garden in the winter

IMG_2591It is December 28th and we are just days away from a new year. The ground in my garden here in Minnesota is frozen solid and there is a few inches of snow covering all of the yard. It is not the time you think about being in the garden. Let’s be real – it is 19 degrees outside. It feels like 6 degrees and there is a storm warning for 3 to 9 inches of snow between today and tomorrow.

Yes, it is a good time to sit by the fire and look at garden magazines and dream of green but there are things happening in the garden. If I want to learn then I need to be out to see what is going on. In the past I have closed the door on the garden once the ground is frozen and then have been surprised in the spring to see what has happened.

This year my plan is different. If this is to be a garden I learn from then I need to be out looking around all year. The first lesson of learning is to see, to really look carefully at the world around you.

So here is my first resolution of the 2016.

  • walk the perimeter of my garden/yard daily
  • to look closely at the whole yard (it isn’t that big – I live in the city -8,820 square feet)
  • take pictures and choose one to represent the day
  • list what I saw

It sounds easy enough but I know I am not good at daily tasks so I decided to begin a few days early just to begin a pattern before January hits and I am working again.

It is easy to just tromp around in the snow – it took me all of about 10 minutes to walk the perimeter and take a few pictures. Here is what I saw today

  • Rabbit tracks everywhere – plus one large rabbit hiding under the bush along the south fence line
  • Buds on the lilac bushes – they were green and looking like they wanted to open up. I am sure this is due to the warm late fall we had. I hope this cold of January does not harm the spring growth that was started. IMG_2592
  • Random wire in the back southeast corner – a place I seldom go. The wire must have been dropped from someone who worked on the power lines above last summer. This area needs to be cleaned and re planted in the spring (See, this is what I am hoping would happen – just walking the yard helps me see what needs to be attended to.)
  • The Spirea Bushes are already being eaten by the rabbits.  I have put food scraps in the compost but that has not been touched. I wonder what I can put out for the rabbits so they leave the bushes alone?

Not super exciting and yet there is action out there even if it looks like the plants and animals are sleeping the winter away. It will be interesting to see what the winter storm will bring for tomorrows walk.

It does make we wonder about the activity in the woods – my go to wild garden is Eloise Butler Wildflower garden here in Minneapolis, which is closed for the season. I am sure there is lots of critter activity there as well.

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Winter has begun but we are still growing

1476208_665774330139694_362244001_nIt is December 22 – we have had a light covering of snow although the temperature is hovering around 32 degrees. The garden is officially asleep and it is officially winter. The ground is frozen and leaves have fallen leaving the bare silhouette of branches against a grey sky for us to watch each day.

It is appears to be a time of rest for plants and a few critters who have found a deep hole to sleep in for a few months. Really trees and bushes are not “sleeping” they are in a state of dormancy. They have sensed that the season is changing due to the shorter amount of light and the colder temperatures. With this seasonal change the plants shut down photo-synthesis and slow their growth. They will continue to grow their root system and to take in water and nutrients but not produce leaves. The evergreen trees will continue to photosynthesize but again very slowly.

This winter time gives us a change to slow down as well. It is time to think about last years growing season and plan for the new year. There are a few big questions for us now. They are:

  • What worked in the garden?
  • What really needs to be changed?
  • What vegggies did we eat or wish we had but didn’t grow?

In these questions lies the answer to what seeds I will start under the grow lights? and what other plants I will grow this year?

So although the garden is resting – growing slowly underground – I am slowly reading over my garden journal and making plans for a new season of growing.


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