It’s That Time of Year


It’s that time of year again. No, no, not the holidays, though  it is that too; it’s time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work in the garden this past year. To the extent I can, I like to try to determine why somethings worked and somethings didn’t. Overall, the garden was a success this year. We had some surprises, both in what worked and what didn’t. The photo above is some of the horseradish we harvested over Thanksgiving, and that is taking over the garden.

2014 Harvests by Week

One of the big surprises, and a still ongoing success, has been the kale. I never grew kale in the past. I also never ate much kale. I always thought kale chips were one of those things health nuts try to push on you as a substitute for a potato chip – you know, something salty, a  little crunchy, the perfect substitution. A perfect substitution for a thick, salty potato chip it is not. A nice snack, it is. I would roast torn pieces of kale in a single layer that I spritzed with a little olive oil, sprinkled a little sea salt and herbs-de-Provence over, and cook in the upper oven of the Aga (which runs at about 425 degrees) for 5 – 10 minutes until crisp, dry, and just starting to turn golden around the edges. They were a great accompaniment to the end to a day in the garden while enjoying a mixed drink in the courtyard. We have also used a lot of kale in bean soups and frozen it after a quick blanch and wringing out for use later. Because we haven’t had a really hard frost at the garden the kale is still going strong, having been planted last March.

2014 Harvests by Product

Another huge success were the various peppers and chilies. For hot pepper we grew: serrano, Thai hot, habanero, and ghost peppers. For sweet peppers we grew: Shishito, Cupid, and Carmen peppers. We had great production and they all worked for their intended use. Most of the peppers were dug up and put in pots to bring down to warmer areas for the winter. The peppers I did this with last winter than replanted in the garden last summer far out-produced plants started for last summer. I am hoping that happens again and that I can plant fewer peppers and achieve greater production, while leaving space for something else.

A partial failure this year were the various tomatoes. As near as I can tell we had way too much rain during a few storms. That, combined with the fact that I have to set the irrigation for anticipated and likely weather, resulted in plants being over watered last summer. Not something I anticipated for the high-mountain desert. Oh well, we still had lots of great tasting tomatoes, just not the huge amount I expected. The beats were also a failure, I think for the same reason.

The two graphics with this post shows what we harvested for most of the summer. I got a late start on recording so I missed a few things. For example, the blackberries and raspberries peaked the two weeks before I started recording. I also did not record all the kale or herbs. We used a huge amount of fresh-from-the-garden herbs at Thanksgiving. Since we had them fresh, and I assume we may eventually get a good frost, why not use them?

I have to get back to analyzing last summer’s garden and perusing the seed catalogs that are starting to arrive in the mail and online. It is hard to believe I have to place a seed order soon to start all over for next summer.

Happy Halloween

Pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash come in so many shapes and sizes. These are some of our smaller gourds and squash and a couple of the pumpkins, the larger gourds are being used for an event so a better photo will have to wait. Although they are grown next to each other, with the same soil and water, the swan and dipper gourds far out grew our pumpkins and butternut squash this year. We still have enough pie pumpkins for a few batches of pumpkin bars and now that Thanksgiving is so close it won’t be long before the next tray is made.

Fun gourd fact: Gourds were domesticated in South America before edible squash.

Happy Halloween everyone!

What If . . .?

As we harvest the last of this season’s tomatoes, I can’t help but wonder if we would even have a garden if grocery store tomatoes were any good. When we first started a few plants in planters years ago, the first things we tried were tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t think I am alone with that. After marginal success, and a few great tasting tomatoes, the garden expanded. And expanded again, a few times. We now grow a number of varieties, none of which are available in a store by me. The same is true for most plants we grow. One of the big revelations for us was chocolate tomatoes. I had never even seen them before, but oh the taste, the taste was like no tomato I had had. Sweet, low in acid, meaty.

Gardening can readily become an obsession as one experiences vegetables that taste like something. Even home-grown carrots taste much better than any I have had from a store. Sure, part of the taste is the psychological benefit that I grew it, but, the varieties of vegetables sold at stores were not selected for taste; mine are.

This coming weekend the tomato plants and most others will be pulled up. Water will be disconnected to areas no longer growing anything. And only a few hearty plants like kale, Brussels sprouts, and some winter squash and gourds will be left to grow. The second half of the great plant migration is largely over, but that is a subject for another time.

Enjoy the end of the season harvests. Try to remember what vegetables can, and should, taste like through the winter.

Francis’s Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce

About 2 1/2 years ago for the holidays a good family friend sent along a can with a small seed in it all ready for water. That was before I knew much of anything about super hot peppers, at least other than videos I had watched of people eating super hot peppers and the aftermath of that decision. The videos had instilled in me one primary thought: Stay away, way away. Now, with the arrival of that small seed I had the start for one of those super hot peppers.

The moment I decided to water the seed – and really, because Francis was like a 3rd grandfather to me I couldn’t not try to grow it, was when I took one step too many over the cliff and started to slide off. The slide was slow at first; I likely still had time to grab onto something to stop. Ghost pepper plants, at least mine, are very slow to grow. It took 14 months before the first blossom formed. Granted, some of that time the plant spent in less-than-ideal conditions, but still, more than 18 months before the first pepper ripened. I remember wondering whether just touching the pepper was dangerous. I had played with enough hot peppers then rubbed an eye that I did not want to experience that with a hotter pepper. The plant is producing so many peppers now that it is a year older that I am again a bit overwhelmed by them all.

Once the peppers started ripening the next logical question was: How to use them. Our expectation was that the peppers would be just a little cooler than lava (or  a Phoenix summer, which is about the same temperature most years). We started with using whole peppers in a salsa and then removing the ghost pepper after cooking. That method add surprisingly little heat. Then we started chopping small ghost peppers and adding them after a further wiz in the blender to ensure we did not get a good chunk of pepper in a bite. Now, after much experimentation, it is our go-to chili for adding extra spice to the chutneys, salsas, and hot sauces. It is the only pepper we have found to cut through the sweetness of the peach chutney or roasted tomatillo salsa verde. We also add a couple to the  hot sauce to add just a bit more kick to the fruity habaneros.

This past winter a generous reader let me know that in Costa Rica they add papaya to a hot sauce similar to the hot pepper hot sauce. Adding fruit, especially papaya, to a hot sauce was not something I had contemplated. It has taken until a few weeks ago for the habanero peppers and ghost peppers to ripen to allow me to experiment with different versions of the basic recipe. The recipe below is named for Francis who sent us down the super hot pepper path. Be forewarned, this is hot. It is also fruity and tasty. It adds a great punch to tacos, eggs, and on anything else a hot sauce is appropriate (as if there is anything that isn’t appropriate). If you don’t have fresh ghost peppers or don’t want to deal with that level of heat, feel free to omit them. We have also tried this sauce with mango and it tastes great too.


  • 6 Ripe Ghost Peppers, seeded, deveined, and diced (WEAR GLOVES)
  • 26 Ripe Habanero Peppers, seeded, deveined, and diced
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, roasted
  • 2 Medium Carrots, cleaned and grated or diced
  • 1/2 Small Papaya (about 1 cup), seeded and peel removed, Chopped
  • 1 Medium-Large Onion, diced
  • 2 Cups Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Lime Juice
  • 3/4 Cup Water

Wear Food Service Gloves for preparation and clean-up!

Seed and remove the veins from the ghost peppers and habanero peppers then chop the peppers and place in medium pot.

Roast the garlic cloves with skin on in a hot skillet until slightly blackened. Let cool. Remove skin and put in pot with peppers.

Clean carrots and remove tops, peel if desired. Then grate or dice. Put in pot with ingredients above.

Dice onion and add to pot.

Add vinegar and water to pot.

Cook everything about 20 minutes at a simmer. You want everything soft.

Slice papaya in half. Remove seeds. Scoop out flesh. Keep on the side until last 10 minutes of cooking all above.

Let everything in pot cool awhile.

Add lime juice to blender. When all the other ingredients are cool, add to blender. Cover and blend 10 minutes or so until liquified. Do not stick your face over the blender while blending or adding mixture to the blender. Just the fumes are potent.


Weekend Harvest


Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words. Brad’s Black Heart (on left), Azorean Red (right), and a truck load of Avamatoes.

Hot! Habanero, Thai Hot, Ghost Peppers

It was a good harvest for the weekend.