Friday, December 11, 2009

Texas Gardening: The Pepper & Onion Lady

I started gardening 2 years ago, planting bell peppers and onions because those are vegetables we use a lot and the cost at retail had gone through the roof. $1 for a bell pepper! $1.29 a pound for onions, which we use every day! Paul said "If you are going to garden, raise things we already eat" which was great advice and got me off to the right start.

So after two years of raising peppers and onions under my belt, and having enough to give away both years, I feel like an old hand when it comes to this two thirds of the cajun trinity. Heh. Just call me the Pepper and Onion Lady. And remind me in a couple more years that I thought I knew a lot in 2009! LOL~

I've been buying my peppers as seedling plants, rather than starting from seed. I will probably continue that this year, but I might try saving seed just in case there comes a time when I can't find plants in the varieties I like.

Some varieties of peppers did famously this year - just like those same varieties did last year. But other varieties were miserable, both the ones here and the ones at my friend's place. After planting perhaps 8 different varieties of bell peppers, Emerald Giants are The One for me. Six plants produced a couple hundred peppers both years, while other varieties made lovely shrubbery for months and finally produced an only pepper or three at the last minute. For you - and even for my neighbors - it might be a different variety that succeeds. But, for me, Emerald Giants can't be beat.

Ditto for the Anaheim Green Chiles. Although they didn't do as well this year as last, they still produced a nice heavy crop of mild peppers for chile rellanos and general cooking.

I raised Poblano peppers this year for the first time and they eventually made a crop but it took them all summer to do it. I didn't get any peppers until the last minute when I gathered right before the frost. I covered the plants to see if I can baby them through the winter (not likely but oh well) in case getting a faster start in the spring might help them produce earlier.

I don't eat hot peppers but was thinking of raising some this year. However, I'm reading that they will cross with mild peppers and turn them all hot, so I will probably stick to the mild ones. And now I understand why my green chiles are so reliably mild. It's about the variety to start with, but also about polination, since the seeds of peppers is where most of the heat is concentrated.

The successful peppers produced in both full sun and in half-day sun. The difference was that those in full sun turned red faster so I had more red ones as a bonus as well as baskets of green. I also learned that I can leave green peppers hanging on the plant until I am ready for them. They just grow larger or get ripe.

Last year I planted onions as the little round bulbs. My friend said "Oh no those will never make, you need to put out the little plants", so I bought little bunches and put them out too. He was right. The little bulbs were great green onions but never bulbed. The sets, little plants, did great! I planted more this year and grew enough onions that I may not have to buy any all year (we use onions every day).

My Dixondale Onions catalog (they are in Carrizo Springs TX) just arrived and I will be ordering my onion plants now so that they can be shipped to me in January. Later on, in February and March I can buy plants locally at the feed stores and the produce market but I want to be able to choose my varieties and be certain they are "short day" types. Those of us in the south need
"short day" types in order for them to produce bulbs, since onions bulb based on the length of the daylight hours. Varieties grown up north would never make bulbs down here.

Last year I planted onion varieties "Candy" and "White Bermuda". They both did super, and have kept really well. This year, I'm planting more and adding 1015 Texas SuperSweet and Hybrid Southern Belle Red to my order.

I only fertilized once last year, toward the beginning of the season, and they did not get very large. This year, I am going to try fetilizing regularly and see if they get bigger. I don't mind them being small but Paul says it is hard for him to handle the little ones.

My favorite thing about growing onions is that they are so easy! They don'have to be set deep, and you can see when they start bulbing because most of the bulb is on top of the ground. You know when they are "ripe" because the tops magically keel over, all at once. I thought something was wrong the first time I saw this - went out and the tops of two whole rows were lying faint on the sand (I raise them in what used to be a kids sandbox).

After the tops have started dying, you pull them up and let them lay spread out to finish drying and curing. Then gather them up, brush them off, and store them in bags. I saved all my citrus mesh bags all year to use. I've been very pleased at how well they have kept, stored at room temperature (and not even in the dark).

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