Sigaretta di Bergamo — Sweet and Skinny

We only have one of these seedlings this year because this is a pretty obscure sweet pepper and we do not want to invest our precious real estate until we know the sweet pepper is as delicious as it looks.  These peppers have a beautiful resemblance  to the pepperoncini type. They are very long, curled thin peppers that mature to a bright red color. Fruits are usually about 0.75″ in diameter and can grow up to 12″ or maybe even longer. The flesh is said to be thin. I am excited because because they are early maturing, compact, and very prolific. Great for our northern urban garden!

The name of this pepper translates to “Cigarette of Bergamo” or “Bergamo Cigar”. Bergamo is a small city in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It is not too far north of Milan.

Italian food itself is more regional than national, with people from different provinces eating vastly different food. What someone eats in Lombardy may be very different than what they eat in Sicily. Because there is a lot of cattle rearing in Lombardy, people tend to eat more more beef compared to Sicily’s seafood. Also, possibly because of the higher number of cows, dairy consumption of butter, cream, and cheese is higher than what you would find in other parts of Italy.

As for these peppers, because they tend to be rather small and sweet with a tiny kick, I plan on using them in salads and just pan fried or grilled whole. Because this pepper is supposed to be similar to a pepperoncini, and I cannot find much info on it, I think I will also have to adapt some pepperoncini recipes and see how those go!

Sigaretta di Bergamo Seedling
Sigaretta di Bergamo Seedling Enjoying Some Sun

As for the seedling itself, it looks unique compared to our other peppers. Although small, it is incredibly busy already with several branches shooting off in different directions. The roots are now busting out of the bottom of the holes I drilled in the red plastic cups. The plant is begging to be put in the dirt, and I plan on obliging this weekend! I have scaled back on watering my peppers until their leaves begin to wilt and have been using a very diluted fish/seaweed based fertilizer. It seems to have had a great affect on the plants, all things considered. They are making quite the comeback and the root systems seem much more robust.

I cannot wait till harvest time late this summer, when we can start posting and experimenting with new recipes for these little known heirloom peppers. Do you guys have any ideas for how to eat these Sigaretta di Bergamo peppers? Maybe some old family recipes?

Until next time, Ciao peppers!

Espelette pepper — A basque vacation in a plant

Capt.Capsicum has been lovingly coddling our Espelette pepper seedlings ever since he glimpsed the Basque food article in the foodie Saveur magazine we subscribe to. He decided to order these seeds from the internet, and as soon as they arrived, went germinating.  Since then, we have been dreaming of visiting Basque country, soaking up the sights, culture, and especially cuisine. Unfortunately, such a vacation will preclude us this year, and we will have to settle to cooking our own Basque food! Hence the Espelettes. Week by week we are slowly getting closer to harvest as our seedlings grow. With the rough, grey weather we have been having, these guys are special enough to get some of the brightest spots in our grow light station. The Espelettes grow bigger and leafier by the day.

While we wait for them to grow up and dream of spring, we to make plans for the peppers and while away the time learning about their origins. In Basque, this pepper is known as the Ezpeletako biperra, and festoons can be found hanging in markets and window-boxes in the Espelette commune in southern France along the Pyrenees mountains,  the northern most area of the Basque region.

 

As mentioned before in the previous post, these peppers are so special to french culture and cuisine they have the designation of Appellation d’origine contrôlée, a certification granted by the French government for significant regional foods. There are a few other french Basque A.O.C foods which I do not expect us getting our hands on. For example, the cute black spotted Kintoa Basque Pig which just got its designation last year or the Irouléguy wine of the region. And yet there are a few others which I expect we will, like the sheep cheese Ossau-Iraty, which is apparently sold at Trader Joe’s as Basque Shepherd’s Cheese. We are definitely going to have to make tapas come fall and hang up a festoon of peppers to dry and decorate our kitchen as well.

For now, back to Chicago though and an update on our pepper’s progress. Although the germination rate was not as vigorous and fast as the petit marseillais , they are making quite a come back at the moment. The leaves are growing and the plants are not looking at all anemic.  Just in case, I also germinated a few more in some coconut coir just in case because for a while some of our peppers weren’t looking too good.  (A few security seedlings never hurt).

Espelette Seedlings Growing in Chicago
Babies ready for their own containers

A bit of heat and light always does a pepper good. I fully expect that these guys will be able to succeed outdoors and we will be collecting fruit and cookin’.  We are about two weeks away from our last frost date in Chicago and every day I grow more anxious.

Until then, we dream of spring, read gardening blogs, read food blogs, learn javascript (my life has been strictly backend development), and anxiously look at the weather forecast getting ready to dig and plant our summer crops.

Oh and these are getting gently transplanted to their own containers tonight!

Late Starters and Slow Growers

Hello from rainy Chicago!  Hopefully the weather has been better wherever you’re reading this from.  It’s been stuck in the forties and fifties with intermittent rain and limited sun for a better part of the past week and will remain that way for at least another day or two.  Before this rain blew through we had discussed starting to move some of our more mature seedlings into the garden beds due to the unseasonably warm weather.  It hasn’t dipped below freezing, but with the way the forecast looks for the foreseeable future I’m glad we didn’t take the leap.  I don’t imagine the young plants would weather (pun intended) this deluge of rain very well. The silver lining of this particular weather pattern has that its been cold enough for our radiators to be back on, making it ideal for seed germination! I had desire the other week to try to sneak in a Serrano plant or two yet this year (they’re one of my favorite chilies to cook with) despite how close we are getting to the main growing season starting. Lucky for us, even though the temperature outside is not ideal for growing, it is inside is for seed starting! We also nabbed a few small seedlings from the local garden store (at $1.49 for four how could we not?) that still need some growing up before being transplanted.

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Pictured above is our last few pepper varieties we’re going to try and grow this year. The seedlings are Poblano and Melrose peppers; the seed packets contain the seeds of serrano and pasilla baijo peppers.

Poblanos hail from the Puebla state of Mexico and are mildly hot, usually somewhere between bell and jalepeno peppers, and are a very versatile pepper.  We use them a lot for fajitas and other meals heavy on bell peppers to give it a little extra heat without changing the flavor profile of the dish.  When dried they are called ancho chilies, which is a common seasoning in Mexican cuisine.

Melrose Peppers actually originate in Chicago and are rarely found outside of the city, and accordingly, information on them is relatively hard to find.  Their name originates from the Chicagoland suburb Melrose Park and are a staple in the cooking of the Italian community here.  Neither of us are Italian, but both love the city and are looking forward to growing and trying them.

Serrano Peppers are also from the Puebla region of Mexico and are named for the highlands present in that part of the country (serrano means “mountainous” or “of the highlands” in Spanish). They are hotter than jalapenos and have a very bright taste that comes out well in salsas and richer dishes.  They are a favorite of mine to use in chili and sauces because they add a good amount of heat while imparting their own distinctive flavor on the recipe. Despite visiting numerous garden stores, and the large Hispanic population in Chicago, we were unable to find any seedlings, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to sneak in a few peppers at the end of the year.

The final packet is the best kind of seeds, free seeds! They are of the Pasilla Baijo variety, which is not one I had heard of previously.  Apparently, they are one of the main peppers in the dark version (mole negro) of mole sauce. I’m not sure what to expect from these, but I’m still excited to try them. One of the best parts about getting involved in the gardening this year is discovering all of the new peppers I’ll get to incorporate in my cooking this fall and this is another one to add to the list! Upping my sauce game.

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We’re out of seed starting pods, so I’ll be placing our serrano and pasilla baijo seeds in this empty hummus dish. I’ve soaked them overnight and hopefully that, along with the radiators, our new seed warming mat, and any hummus I didn’t manage to clean out of the container will speed these along enough to still get a good harvest.  Has anyone experimented with ways to speed up germination and early-stage growth?  I can’t imagine we’re the only procrastinators out there.  Until next time, cheers!

Let there be light. And lots of it – Troubleshooting Pepper Problems

Starting seedlings can be hard. Starting them during an insufferably grey spring in Chicago is even harder. I am still trying to revive my ostry cyklon peppers under some LED grow lights and while heat is one of the components, so is light. Perhaps even more so given that light emits energy which in turn produces heat. As an aside, I’m not taking any chances and germinating a few more seeds. Okay. So. How much light does one of our baby pepper seedlings need?

To start that discussion, we first need a concept of brightness and a unit of measurement for it. In comes the idea of  “lux”. A lux is a international scientific standard unit of measurement for illuminance and luminous emittance, equal to one lumen for a square meter. Whoa– maybe some vocab first?

  • LED – Light-emitting diode. It is speculated that led lights have the potential to offer greater efficiency, longer lifetimes and wavelength specificity. 
  • lumen – a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units perceivable by a human, that is equal to the amount of light given out by a source of one candle intensity radiating equally every direction.
  • illuminance – the amount of light level measured on plane surface perceivable by the human eye. Correlates to human brightness perception. 
  • luminous emittance – the luminous flux per unit area emitted from a surface. (so how much bounces off). 
  • lux (lx) –  lumens per square meter. One lx = one lumen per square meter. 

As I understand it, the lux is the unit of measurement that answers the question “how many candles would have to be crammed into a square meter to produce equivalent brightness?” . Here are some examples for frame of reference when we start measuring around the house.

Common Lux Light Levels Observed In Nature Table
Recommended Light Levels (Illuminance) for Outdoor and Indoor Venues – National Optical Astronomy Observatory

For pepper seedlings we want to reproduce the equivalent of direct sunlight through most of the day for our peppers. Damn tropical plants. With that amount of brightness the chlorophyll in our plants’ leaves will have the best conditions for photosynthesis which in turn creates energy for plant growth.

But wait, lumens aren’t everything! Consider that when we talked about lumens, we discussed human perception of brightness. Not plants. Humans see more light on the yellow/ green wavelengths but plants utilize red/blue wavelengths which the human eye is poor at perceiving. Plants use prefer lights beginning at 450 nm (nanometers). 450 – 650 nm rays are required for plant photosynthesis, the production of food from light, water, carbon dioxide through the catalytic action of the plant pigment, chlorophyll. The 650 and 730 nm wavelengths control flowering through light-induced changes in the plant pigment, phytochrome.

Graph of visible light on the electro magnetic spectrum
http://tobyrsmith.github.io/Astro150/Tutorials/EM/

It is worth mentioning that there is currently some research being conducted where scientists are trying to determine what waves have what affects on plants. I was not able to find too much info on that.

electromagnetic_spectrum_and_peppers
The effects of light-emitting diode lighting on greenhouse plant growth and quality — Margit Olle & Akvile Virsile. Agricultural and Food Science, [S.l.], v. 22, n. 2, p. 223-234, june 2013. ISSN 1795-1895.
However, unfortunately, the measure for that Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) is not commonly advertised on those colored LED lights, so we will not be using it in this discussion. Hopefully, in the future this will be how we rate and describe grow lights.  But what little I found suggested that every wavelength plays its own special role in producing a healthy plant. So just defaulting to using lux doesn’t seem to be without merit.

So how bright are our overcast Chicago days rating? I downloaded a simple app on my phone to measure lux. Today was a partially cloudy day and the reader measured between 1,500 – 5,500 lux at 5:30 pm when I get home from work. Hovering my phone parallel to my led grow lamps, at about three inches away,

Fish pepper seedling under led grow light
Fish pepper in a seat of high honor.

I am reading about 100,000 – 114,000 lx. However, every inch I move away from the bulbs, my lux reading drops significantly. At six or so inches, I am lucky to get a reading of 14,000 lx. Given the strength of the LEDs and their consistency, the fact that I can keep them on for how long I see fit, I’m inclined to keep using them. I think it makes sense to put my most sensitive and beloved plants as close to the grow lights as possible. The remainder, I guess will go on the window sill and we pray for some sunny days.

I wish I had records for what the lux light level was like when I was at work. I have an extra RaspberryPi lying around and now am inspired to put together a light logger so I can have a better idea of what kind of suffering I am putting my seedlings through. What about you guys? Have you created any smart gardening tech tools to help you better understand the conditions of your plants? How much — if at all — do you utilize extra lights in your gardening?

So Close You Can Almost Taste It

We had absolutely gorgeous weather this weekend in Chicago.  Maybe a bit blustery, but I’ll take some wind if it means I get clear skies and temperatures in the seventies.  We gave into temptation and even put a few seeds in the ground, mostly cold hardy plants like beets and radishes, filling in a few rows of our freshly prepared raised garden beds (more on those later this week). The weather was so great this weekend that it made us forget we were still only in mid-April and were getting ahead of ourselves thinking about where to place our prized pepper seedlings.  One look at the forecast later this weekend, back into the fifties with lots of clouds and rain, brought us back to reality though.  This was a wonderful taste of summer though and a reminder of just how close we are to gardening season getting into full swing.  Tonight was spent transplanting a few dozen seedlings from their starter pods into solo cups for the next stage of their maturation and their gradual introduction to the elements.  It was hard going, as evidenced by the need to keep a beer on hand.

hot pepper in the city

Seeing our pepper seedlings take flight in this weather awoke a bit of a frenzy in me.  Last night we were very close to ordering another half dozen varieties despite the fact we are probably too late in the year to have much success with many of the hotter varieties, as we would be talking about mid-June by the time they were ready to go into the ground.  I was a bit let down by this realization and may yet give in and buy a seedling (serranos are a favorite of mine and I’ve had my eye on Trinidad Scorpions) and maybe a few more varieties we’ll plan to grow in pots, at least for this year. A bit unfortunate to realize this now but these growing pains are to be expected as this is my first season of true dedication to horticultural pursuits.  ‘

I hope wherever you are you were all lucky enough to get outside the house and into the garden this weekend.  I’m sure you’re all as excited for spring as we are.  Until next time!

A Dream of Spring

This weekend was the beginning of the spring season here.  Sure, the official start was about two weeks ago, but for me spring doesn’t really get going until my eyes are itching and my nose is congested from allergies.  Fortunately, the outburst of tree pollen fades in short order and the increasing temperatures and sunlight persist for the coming months. Those who live in the north mark their lives through the coming and going of the seasons, an uncertain method matching the uncertainty of our lives.  Sometimes spring comes late, summer is unusually hot, or winter unusually harsh; people come and go, as does work, we move around.  Despite their variability the seasons lend our lives a comforting backdrop.  They happen in a regular order, spring always following winter, giving way to summer, and crisp fall days guide us gently (sometimes not so gently) back into winter.  A predictability all of us crave at times.

Of the four, winter is the most maligned.  It is often considered a period of dormancy for plants and animals alike.  The leaves have left the trees, plants have died, man and animal have either migrated or shifted into a period of relative inactivity, some more than others.  I am one of those who tries to stay active during the winter, picking up winter sports and trying to find the beauty in the outdoors when the weather is inhospitable even if it must happen underneath the protective layers of a thick jacket, hat, and mittens.  I would be lying if I said that the long winter nights and the sometimes unrelenting bleakness did not get to me, especially in those bitterly cold January nights and damp and chilly February days, where spring seems so close yet still so far away.

Taking part in the preparation for planting season this year has changed my opinion on winter being a time of inactivity where rejuvenation awaits the spring thaw.  Watching seeds come to life in mid-February, when the sky is still gray and snow is on the ground, was proof enough for me that winter is as much a time for life as the gentler seasons.  Late winter is when the birds start to come and sing their songs once again, filling the void they left when they went south the previous autumn.  Forest mammals begin to emerge from their winter homes.  Particularly ambitious plants poke up out of the ground. People begin to plan their spring and summer activities knowing that even though they may still seem far away they’ll be here soon enough, often sneaking up without warning. It is thoughts like these that keep me going on those days in the depth of winter and hoping for warmer days, tromping home from work when it’s dark at four in the afternoon or watching from underneath a blanket as my street is buried by yet another snowfall.  Even at its worst, spring is always right around the corner.  Soon these plants, which emerged at the end of winter, will take root in the garden in the spring, grow throughout the summer, and bear fruit in the fall before winter claims them.  Not long after it will be time to plant for another year.

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