Petit Marseillais

Today we’ll be starting out a few seeds of a variety we received for free from our order containing the pimente d’Esplette which we started a few days ago.  I wasn’t able to find much information on this pepper, but from the little bit I was able to dig up it looks to be a heirloom pepper originating from southern France that grows to be a medium size and of relatively mild heat.  From what I’ve been able to find it looks like this particular strain is not widespread and can be hard to find, especially in the United States. The few seed websites that had this in stock looked to be sold out of it already, so it looks like we were lucky to have obtained this beautiful orange fruit ideal for culinary exploits: roasting, stuffing, and pickling.

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There’s nothing I love more than discovering the story behind something and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to grow the pimente d’Esplette so much.  It has a defined historical tradition and a real cultural tie to a people.  I hope to find more about the Petite Marseillas and disseminate that information in the coming days, even if it will make SuperC#_Gardener roll her eyes like when I start going on about the history behind a certain beer style we’re drinking or cheese we’re eating.  The pursuit of knowledge can provide as much sustenance as food and beverage.

Due to the volume of seeds we have been germinating, the remaining items we have on hand to aid us in the commencement of our horticultural endeavors are not nearly as beautiful as I like to think my previous sentiment about the pursuit of knowledge was, but they should still do the trick.  Keep in mind folks, it’s not about the size of your planter but the rate of germination.vsco-photo-1 (1).jpg

Until next time, hot peps!

Fish pepper. We’ve got germination!

It took twenty days, but we have our very first fish peppers finally germinating! My beautiful variegated African American heirloom hot pepper. So far, my germination rate has not been great. Out of maybe 20 seeds plants, I’ve only got four germinated. I am hoping that it is still just early.

As I mentioned before, I am growing these peppers in honor ofishpepper_seedlingsf my sister who introduced me to them. She went to college in Baltimore where these peppers originate. An offshoot of serrano or cayenne peppers (oral history makes these things blurry), these peppers pack a punch while maintaining a pale colored flesh. Popular in shellfish recipes for their ability to keep a white sauce white, they were often the secret ingredient to making a sauce extra special. I am looking forward to bringing these peppers to a shellfish boil my transplant friend from the South holds every year. Hopefully these peppers produce by then.

In terms of growing this pepper, I am starting a lot of seeds. Some seedlings tend so hard toward albinism that they are not able to even photosynthesize. I already had one tiny white seedling die and rot on me. I plan on over planting these and keeping the most vigorous growers. While the growing is slow, the rate increases with every leaf that pops up on the plant. The past few days in Chicago have been cloudy and dreary so these seedlings are getting moved under a light for an extra little bit of care.

 

Pimente d’Esplette

The pimente d’Esplette, also known as Ezpeletako biperra in euskara, the language of the Basque people, is an heirloom pepper grown mainly in and around Esplette, a village in the the northern reaches of the Basque region.  It is to the Basque what black pepper is to the rest of the world: a mild and earthy seasoning ubiquitous in recipes and tabletops across the area.  It is so intertwined with Basque cuisine it has achieved Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union, indicating strong historical and cultural ties to a specific place.  Our seeds, originating from a farm in Ohio and grown in Chicago, will not be receiving any sort of recognition from the EU anytime soon, but I do hope they will achieve the same smoky and delicate flavor in the sandy soil of the Windy City as they do in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  I’m looking forward to drying some this fall and trying it out in a traditional few recipes from the region.

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The pimente d’Esplette (or in our case, pimente d’Chicago) is a relatively low maintenance pepper and should be ready to transplant about a month after germination.  Until then, cheers! Or as the Basque say, topa!

Cyklon Paprika Pepper

Here is the hot pepper of my people I am trying out this year. The pepper ostry cyklon is a milder heirloom hot chili believed to originate in Poland. In fact, it is such a mild hot pepper that even the poles refer to it as a “half-hot” pepper. The name of the pepper translates to “hot cyclone”, but Poland isn’t known for it’s cyclones or it’s hot food. A hot pepper fit for the polish palate.

There isn’t much information on English language sites but a wealth of it on polish ones. The fruit themselves will grow to about 3 – 6 inches in length and have about 3 millimeter thick flesh. The flavor is described as sweet-hot and is commonly found in polish farmers markets in the late summer. I plan on smoking the peppers whole, dehydrating them, and making my own paprika powder.

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Now onto my other hot peppers. It takes so much patience. Given the germination problems that I’ve been having with some of my other hot peppers (fish peppers, red and purple cayennes), I am so impressed with the germination rate of the cyklons. I believe I took a wrong turn setting the plants directly on a radiator and the mixture of dampness and heat has caused my seeds to not make it. These particular seeds were started on the radiator during an oddly warm spell in late February and I bet the radiator was not running as hot! After some research, it seems as though mild temperatures of 65 – 75 degrees are ideal for hot pepper germination if sown directly into dirt. A little hotter if you are starting them in paper towels. Most pepper heads prefer the  hot hot hot damp paper towel method which I will be trying next year.

Something have noticed the hotter the pepper, the lower the germination rate. The more finicky slow growing the plant. I might run to the store and pick up some liquid nitrogen to help my babies out.

I have too many seeds!

I love seeds. Laying in bed with a beer and flipping through seed catalogs is one of the things that gets me to winter. I get buzzed. I look at all the peppers, tomatoes, funky flowers and drift off into into a wonderland of spring and summer planting. I breathe life into the pun of hoardiculture.

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So with my very limited space and my propensity for hoarding seeds, I have accumulated a lot through the years. I hate wasting and thus try to stretch out the longevity of my unused seeds as much as I can. I keep a rotation to make sure that none of the seeds I save for next season are more than two or three years old. That is when the germination rates really drop. Here are my tips to help you germinate and grow old seeds! If scientists could germinate a 32,000 year old seed, maybe we can have luck with a three year old one.

  1. Store you unused seeds in the best possible environment. That means keeping them dry by placing them in an airtight container to keep out moisture.
  2. Keep them dormant. That means cool and dark. I store mine in plastic ziplock bags in my fridge. Stratification is tedious, but important.
  3. Stay organized. Label all of your packets and the dates they were original packaged. Trust me, this is for your own sanity later on.
  4. Don’t waste peat pellets. Check your germination rates. Do a patch test of a few seeds on a damp paper towel. If after 1
    0 days (depending on your plants), you’ve got about a 50% germination rate, you should be good to go!
  5. Know thy plant. Certain seeds are just more viable in old age than others. For example, corn and pepper have a hard time lasting longer than two years, like a cucumber will be quite successful even six or so years later than it was packed. Other seeds like chamomile require light to germinate.

What is the old plant you guys have germinated? Today I decided to give a watercress from 2007 a whirl

Hello, hot peppers!

Today was an unusually warm early March day in Chicago. It hit a whole fifty degrees! I’ve been trying hard to start some fish peppers. My sister went to college in Baltimore where these peppers originate and she has always raved about them. These peppers have beautiful variegated leaves and hit anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 on the Scoville scale. Historically, they were used to spice up seafood dishes in the Mid Atlantic in the African American community. Because it was so popular in seafood dishes, it was named the fish pepper! I tried to germinate only five seeds a few weeks ago and only had one seedling germinate and promptly die when I forgot to check on it and it rotted in its covered container. Hopefully setting them on my radiator germinator and being more loving will speed things up.

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Hot peppers in general take a very long time to germinate, so I am trying to start them well in advance of the last frost date in Chicago. I’ve got some more mild peppers (ostra-cyklon and sigaretta di bergamo) peppers which germinated in about a week.

I would love to hear if anyone else has had success growing these peppers!