Maybe it is my background as a scientist, or as someone who is insatiably curious (and gets bored with routine very easily!). But, each year I treat my gardening exploits like a big sprawling laboratory. Which means each season I make sure to try different varieties of familiar crops, as well as some things I've not grown - either ever, or in a long time. I eagerly anticipate the familiar - the many hued tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, the beans and lettuce, the squash - all of those items that make spring and summertime meals so memorable. But the unfamiliar is what makes me leap out of bed early to check on the progress - it is what renews my gardening energy and drive each season.
So, these are the things that I am most eager to observe and experience this year.
Brussels sprouts - I think I started these way too early, so will need a second planting....but having been introduced to these by our daughter (who loves them), Sue and I now crave them as much as any veggie - and this is my first attempt at growing them in the garden. I will experiment with different locations in the garden, and timings of set out - but the thought of harvesting fresh sprouts just after an autumn frost is exciting indeed!
Oleander - I've collected dried seed pods from Sunset Beach and Ocracoke....the Sunset Beach seeds germinated well last year, and I have six healthy plants, approaching 3 feet tall, in 2 gallon pots that wintered through fine in my garage. I can't wait to see them bloom - and have enough to try in different areas of our yard to test ability to winter over. I think that these came from plants with deep red flowers that grew in our friend Margie's beach house yard. Whether they keep that color - or were hybrid, or crossed with other varieties - will be interesting to see.
Annual flowers - I planted and have up and happy a selection of sweet peas, Dahlias, Zinnias, Pansies and Snapdragons, none of which I've grown before. Can't wait to see how they do, and the different colors to spread around the yard!
Of course, I always vary our tomato plantings, and this year am returning to the original cross from which Lucky Cross and Little Lucky were selected, to see what else I can find in the mix. And there will be more work advancing some of the new Dwarf varieties.
For the experimental hot peppers, I am going to focus on two general types - one I named Bouquet, but is still highly variable, and one that looks like the variety Black Pearl - and, again, is still quite unpredictable.
For sweet peppers, I will continue on with the stabilization of five new named varieties from the hybrid Islander.
That will keep me busy and motivated...and, by the end of the summer, happily exhausted!
It is amazing how greens and lettuce can't wait to explode from the seed...but it takes patience with eggplant and peppers (though not much more patience - I expect to see signs of life in some of my cells any day!).
Here is what I planted on February 7 - the corresponding plug flat nestled on a heating mat, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in front of the south facing window of my office.
Bride F1, Ichiban F1, Lavender Touch F1, Neon F1, Ping Tung Long, Prosperosa, Ripples and Zebra F1. My rationale for planting these was mostly seed that was a few years old, or was slow or difficult last year.
Billy Goat, Bird, Bolivian Rainbow, Long Red Cayenne, Datil, Festival (dark leaf), Festival (light leaf), Filius Blue, Fish, Chinese Five Color, Gemstone, Ghost, Golden Habanero, Habanero, Hot Paper Lantern, Hungarian Hot Wax, Camille's Italian, Jalapeno M, Jamaican Hot Chocolate, Leslie's Anaheim, Little Nubian, Pretty in Purple, Pretty Purple, Purple Flash, Purple Robe, Red Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Serrano, Skinny, Spectral, Tabasco, Trifetti, Variegata, Vietnamese Multicolor, Yellow Peter. I chose these to start earlier because they are either slower growing ornamentals or chinense types (the Hab family are all very slow to get any size to them), or older seed.
Mexico Midget - because it always takes forever, or my seed doesn't germinate well....giving myself multiple chances of having decent seedlings early by starting early!
Cossack Pineapple ground cherry - which are also very slow growing early on.
Wish me luck! Updates to come....
Brutal! Over the weekend I decided to get disciplined and delve in to the annual hot pepper seed saving extravaganza. I've grown quite a few hot peppers in the past, but really outdid myself this year - there must be nearly 100 different plants out there in the driveway. I have a better system this year - the plants are all numbered, so I went out with my basket, a pen, and a stack of coin envelopes - putting half a dozen or so hot peppers in each appropriately numbered envelope. The tricky part was arranging them in the basket so that none fell out (of course, with the quarters so close in the driveway garden, I managed to kick the basket once....fortunately, only a few were jettisoned from their envelopes, hence hopelessly misidentified. Off into the woods they went!).
This was also the first year using gloves, which rescued me from hours and days of intense pain. The amount of pigment and capsacin that accumulates on the gloves, knife, cutting board, and counter is remarkable. As is the variation of number of seeds, wall thickness, ease of extraction, and liquid content in each type of pepper. Add to that the acrid fumes that fill the work area and it is quite sneezing, coughing, eye watering good fun! The big surprise is the Fatalii cross that arose from one of my plantings. Fatalii is a Habanero relative, but one of my seedlings had purplish foliage, indicating a cross. The plant that resulted from this purple tinged seedling was a monster, 4 feet tall, well branched, with slender, 3 inch long colorful peppers (deep lavendar to yellow to orange to deep red, as they ripened) similar to a Thai type of pepper, and nothing like the wrinkled, bright orange fruit that Fatalii produces when in the pure state. As I cut those slender red peppers I expected nothing worse than the typical capsacin aroma from C. annum varieties. Imagine my surprise when the ripe fruity/cherry aroma and sneeze-inducing extreme heat of the Fatalii character filled the air!
Pepper seeds are easy to save from that point on - I loosely stack the just-extracted seeds on labeled paper plates, one type per plate. Our dining room table is strewn with the piles of plates. After a few days, I carefully separate the plates (a few seeds always get stuck to the bottom of the plates and care is needed to ensure they are released back to the correct plate!), use a business card to scrape the seeds apart and off of the plate and move them into a loose single layer. After a few weeks of further drying, they are ready to be placed into air proof containers (plastic or glass vials), labeled, and readied for next growing season or sharing with others.