January is traditionally the time of day dreaming and planning for gardeners young and old. Garden catalogs begin trickling in, tantalizing us with rediscovered heirlooms, as well as new and improved flowers and foods. Slowly we work through each catalog revising the list of everything we want, until we can be satisfied with what we really need, what we really have time and space for. But many a cold, rainy day is cheered with all the possibilities.
If you aren’t already inundated with gardening catalogs check out: http://www.mailordergardening.com/ You will find listings for more garden catalogs than you ever imagined. They are arranged by plant categories, such as trees, herbs and vegetables, bulbs, etc. When you click on the catalog name you are sent to a page that gives a description of the company as well as a link to their web site. Or you can simply jot down the phone numbers of the ones you think you would like and call to request a catalog. Parents and teachers will also want to check out their “Kids Garden” section. They have color pages, a game, and information on a small grant. If you don’t have Internet service, stop by our local library. Most libraries (including ours) now have public access computers available, and someone is usually available to give you a hand.
Planning for Peppers
Peppers do an outstanding job during our hot summers. However, our sometimes cool spring weather can get them off to a dismal start. They tend to be very slow growing when young; the cooler it is, the slower they grow. A little planning ahead will help you grow the best pepper crop ever. Peppers of all kinds can be started inside (in late January or early February) if you can provide a warm location and bright light. Peppers germinate best with soil temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees. You can get a good guestimate of indoor soil temperature by laying a room thermometer down on the surface where you will place your seeded six packs. It may take some experimenting to find the right location. You need the seeded six packs to stay warm at night, but not get over heated during the day when they are under lights. Many people resort to special heating mats made for starting seeds; others skip the seed starting step and purchase young plants ready to harden off and slip into the ground. If you want to grow your own peppers from seed, it is a good idea to find your spot or shop for a heating mat now. Most nurseries and garden catalogs keep them in stock, especially this time of year. Shop around; prices for exactly the same set up can vary greatly.
If you crave a rainbow of peppers in more variety than we usually find close to home, several catalogs come to mind. If you are interested in growing organic heirloom peppers, here are two great choices. Seeds of Change offers two pepper seedling collections—one of sweet peppers, the other of chile peppers, plus lots of choices in seeds. (888) 762-7333 / www.SeedsOfChange.com The Seed Savers Exchange offers seedlings of eight different heirlooms, two of which are hot, one mild, and the rest sweet. You can mix and match or order a sampler pack. And they have even more varieties as seed. (563) 382-5900 / www.SeedSavers.org If the latest hybrids are what you want; Burpee has in a dazzling variety, many available as seedlings or seeds. (800) 487-5530 / www.Burpee.com You can order on line from any of these companies, or call and request a catalog.
Once you get your seeds growing or your plants delivered, you will want to keep them in containers until all threat of frost has past. They will enjoy spending warm days outside, at first in the shade. Each day they should be exposed to more and more sun, until they are ready to stick their feet in the soil and thrive. Don’t forget to bring them in at night if it might get down to freezing. Save your peppers a sunny spot in the garden and they will reward you with a bountiful harvest.
Fresh Produce From the Garden
Winter’s crisp cold nights have an uncanny effect on many root vegetables, turning them sweeter than if they were grown in the summer. If you planted parsnips last spring; carrots, rutabagas, or turnips this fall—you can look forward to a special treat. Get out your shovel next time we get a break from the rain and use it to carefully loosen the soil around these delectable roots. Dig only as many as you will need for a few days; they will stay sweeter and fresher in the ground than they will in the fridge. You can use them in most any dish that comes to mind, such as home-made soups, casseroles, stir fries, or grated into salads. For a real treat try roasting up a batch of mixed veggies. Roasting brings out the flavors of fresh dug winter roots like nothing else. Whether you throw them in next to a pot roast or a nice fat hen; or if you just roast them up on their own.
Here is a technique that doesn’t require using parchment or any other fancy supplies. You can use a metal cookie sheet or a baking pan--whatever you happen to have on hand (and is safe for use under the broiler). Scrub up your veggies and cut them into pieces about two inches long by t an inch wide and a half inch thick. Brush your pan and the veggies with a thin coat of olive oil. (If you don’t have olive oil, use whatever vegetable oil you have on hand.) You can sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper or other seasoning if you like. Place your veggies in a single layer on your pan, and set your oven rack so the surface of the veggies will be about five inches from the heat. Turn the oven on to broil, and keep a close eye on the veggies. After about five minutes, as they begin to brown, you want to move them around on the pan so they don’t stick. Continue checking them every three to five minutes. As they develop a nice warm color, pull the pan from the oven, brush them with olive oil and flip them over. They will not all be ready to flip, nor will they all be ready to remove from the oven at the same time. But every time you turn or remove some, the rest can be shifted just a bit to keep them from sticking. If you don’t devour these delectable morsels as soon as they cool, you can serve them as a side dish; arrange them on lettuce or other greens, toss them with pasta, tuck them into a sandwich, or offer them as a finger food with a little dip.
However you serve them, the results are elegant. And it is so easy to prepare. It is best to stay in the kitchen for this job. You can use the time to toss a salad or set the table, you don’t want to let your poor roots get scorched.
Originally published by the Hoopa People Newspaper
Copyright 2007, Harvest McCampbell