Come On Baby Light My Fire!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Playing With Fire
That great British poet once intoned: "Don't Play With Me, Cause You're Playing With Fire." And that's good advice. But what does Mick Jagger know about hot peppers anyhow? Hot women? Yeah, I guess he knows about them. He should. But hot peppers? Please, Mr. Jagger, move aside. Because Bill and the wife that is Venus are ready to "roll those tumblin' dice."

That picture to your immediate right is our latest foray into "playing with fire." This represents the really hot stuff that will be growing in the Bird Back 40 come this summer. We got an early start on these seeds -- mid January to be exact. Because if you want hot peppers in a summer garden? You need to start them in the dead of winter.

Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa
Provided everything goes hunky dory in the summer garden, these seedlings should start delivering a bounty of the "fire hot" stuff by mid July. That's right about when the main crop of heirloom tomatoes will begin to ripen up. So what's the big deal? I'll tell you what the "big deal" is. Hot peppers and heirloom tomatoes are the essential ingredients in the moderately famous and always in demand Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa.

You've got to have a bounty of fresh tomatoes for salsa making in the summertime. And you can't go without a bounty of hotter than hot, burning hot peppers. Because salsa that rocks like Mick Jagger demands fire. And in the Bird Back 40, we play with that stuff (we also wear gloves).

Mick Jagger-Salsa Fanatic
The varieties you see planted under our special grow lights in our home-office-turned-greenhouse include the following: The always popular Bhut Jolokia, also known as the "Ghost Pepper." If you guess that a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper might be a part of this year's mix -- that would be one fine guess. Other varieties popping to the surface include the Caribbean Red Habanero and the Assam Hot Pepper.

There's also a Pasillo Bajio thrown into this year's mix, which isn't really hot, but that smoky flavor adds a lot to the moderately famous and always in demand Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa.

Bhut Jolokia Peppers
This will represent the third year of usage for the Ghost Pepper. These were originally a gift from South Natomas Gardening Zen Master Nels Christensen. Last year we graduated to growing our own, but made the mistake of starting seeds at the same time as the sweet peppers. But this year we followed the advice of hot pepper fanatic Dave Jessee up in Brownsville. Start those seeds early, son.

This photo below, to the right, is from his seed starting setup in early January. Notice the hot stove to provide heat? One of the first things I noticed is the cat located under the hot stove, boiling his brains. Any normal cat would have socked Dave's hot pepper starter plants to the moon and back. But Dave assured us that kitty was at that tender age where all he cared about was lying under the hot stove and boiling his brains.

Dave Jessee Hot Pepper Seed Starting Setup (plus cat)
Mental note: Cats are not the smartest of creatures. But they sure do like hot stoves.

A big test still awaits. Will the Scorpion pepper hold up to the processing time our salsa demands? That processing time includes a steady boil for at least one hour, followed up by 30-35 minutes of time in a pressure canner. Many so-called "hot peppers" turn into absolute wimps when exposed to this kind of abuse -- and that includes the mighty Habanero. The Ghost Pepper held up well to this abuse, which is why we are growing the Ghost Pepper again. But will the Scorpion?

The owner of these Scorpion Pepper seeds assures us that his Scorpion pepper acts like a Timex Watch: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The seeds for this pepper came from Joseph Brophy, an attorney and gardening fanatic located in the great state of New York. How did I come into contact with someone like Joseph Brophy? It's called the internet children, and forums dedicated to all things related to growing heirloom tomatoes.

Scorpion Pepper in a New York Garden
I traded Mr. Brophy some seeds for a champion Black Cherry tomato plant and in return he shipped over his special Scorpion seeds. And if Mr. Brophy can get the Scorpion to not only grow and produce in a place with a shorter than short growing season like New York, can you imagine what this pepper might do in California? The land of nine month summer growing seasons?

OK, so I'm being a tad facetious. But you get the idea. It's not like Sacramento gets covered with a blanket of snow in November. Not hardly. If the Scorpion can produce a bundle of hot peppers in some place like New York, it should absolutely go to town in gardening-friendly Sacramento.

Time will tell.

It might still be a touch cold outside -- but be assured of this: It's hot pepper season in Sacramento. Let the summer growing season commence!

The Treasure of "Ima Wiener"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

X-Rated Radish
And now -- just in time for Valentine's Day -- a little pornographic love from the vegetable garden adventures springing from the Bird Back 40. Because nothing spells "love" quite like the "treasure" that the wife unveiled from the Bird Back 40 raised gardening beds some days back. There it is -- pictured to the right -- a schlong sized radish. It's the Treasure of Ima Wiener.

I can't even take credit for the title of this blog posting. Those readers who are fans of "The Simpsons" must now realize that I ripped it off from one of the funniest parts of The Simpson's Movie. The lines from that movie go a little like this -- when antagonist Russ Cargill confronts Homer Simpson holding a shotgun:

The Simpsons
Bart: Wait! If you kill my dad, we'll never know where the treasure is buried!
Cargill: What treasure?
Bart: The treasure of... Ima Wiener.
Cargill: "Ima Weiner"?
[Homer and Bart laugh]

Homer: Classic!

It would be Maggie who saved her father in that particular scene, by throwing a rather hefty sized stone that struck Cargill in the head. A development that left Homer to proclaim: "Maggie! What a great little accident you turned out to be."

It's bathroom humor at it's best -- which makes it a classic Simpsons moment in time.

To be brutally honest -- gardeners aren't supposed to let radishes get quite this big. If they reach a size like this they tend to taste a bit (I kid you not) "woody." However, for some strange reason this one tasted just fine. It tasted just like -- well -- a French Breakfast radish is supposed to taste like: a radish.

And what a radish it was!

Fortunately, for us, the night that the wife pulled this monster out of the ground we were making the perfect meal: chicken salad. This is one of those quick "work night" meals when you don't have a whole lot of time to throw everything together. It involved grilled chicken breasts, some bagged salad to mix with what's left of the fall salad greens, a spare green onion or two from the leftover summer garden and -- oh -- did I mention the x-rated sized radish?

Grilled Chicken
Cut up the chicken -- throw it all together -- add in some dressing quickly prepared by my most excellent wife and you have a dinner like no other. Oh -- and a conversation piece that I can bring to you, dear readers.

There's not much left of the fall garden these days. And with the sudden onset of warm, almost spring-like weather -- the mind turns to spring and summer gardening opportunities. Unfortunately, the one arctic blast of cold weather we received in December managed to kill off most of the pea plants we started in October. And although it doesn't seem like it could possibly happen, a freeze in February and March isn't out of the question.

The Radish Meets its End
It's happened before. It can happen again. But the one item that we can plant in abundance right about now? That's right -- the radish. Which might lead to another treasured discovery sometime soon.

Happy Valentine's Day! And remember -- it's not all about wieners. It's about radishes.

Conversation With a Young Man

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Variegated Pink Lemon-Bird Back 40
Come here young man. Let's plant a lemon bush before the start of the Super Bowl shall we? This just isn't any lemon bush by the way. This is called the Variegated Pink Lemon. And someday it will yield lemons that will deliver a batch of freshly squeezed pink lemonade.

Have you ever planted a lemon tree before? Well, this will be a first for you then, won't it? The first task to accomplish is to find an appropriate spot for our Variegated Pink Lemon. We want a spot that will protect it from the harsh winter conditions that blow through the Bird Back 40. We can't just plant it and forget it. No, it needs protection.

Protection for the Variegated Pink Lemon Bush
Therefore, young man, I think the best spot for this lemon bush would be in this side yard. We can plant it next to the house, where it will be protected from northerly winds and freezing conditions, but still receive enough sunshine to grow and produce lemons.

However -- there is one problem young man. This spot is already occupied by a rose bush named after John F. Kennedy. Have you learned about JFK in school yet? John F. Kennedy was one of our most famous Presidents, and served his country in World War II just as your grandfather did.

Digging up the JFK Hybrid Tea Rose Bush
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963 and this rose was developed as a tribute to him. Did you know that? It produces beautiful and fragrant long-stemmed white roses, which you will someday begin to appreciate. The young ladies love long-stemmed roses, young man. Did you know that?

What's that? You don't like girls? That's OK. I didn't at your age either. But, trust me on this young man, someday you will.

Fortunately, this rose bush is asleep right now because it's so cold. This makes it easier for us to trim this rose bush, dig it up, and move it to its new location. No -- don't worry. We won't hurt it. Rose bushes are fairly tough customers, young man. It takes a lot of effort and work to kill a rose bush. Lord knows, I've made enough mistakes around them to learn this fact. This rose bush will be just fine in its new home.

Prepping the Lemon Bush for Planting
The next step, after digging up the JFK rose bush, is to dig a hole for our Variegated Pink Lemon Bush. Where do you think we should dig that hole? In the center of this patch of dirt against the house? Correct! Hey, you're a smart kid! How did you get to be so smart?

We need to dig a hole that is wider and deeper than the pot that this Variegated Pink Lemon is planted in. If we mix in loose planter mix soil with the original clay soil, this will give our lemon bush room to grow and expand this spring. What's that? Yes, it might produce a lemon or two next year. But it will definitely produce a lot more in the coming years.

Variegated Pink Lemon
Planting a fruit tree or lemon bush is an exercise in patience, young man. It doesn't pay off with fresh fruit or citrus right away. But it eventually will. And by the time you're actually old enough to develop a taste for lemons, you will begin to appreciate your Variegated Pink Lemon bush.

What's that? You don't like lemons? Well, I didn't really enjoy them that much when I was your age either. But, you like lemonade, don't you young man? Well, where do you think lemonade comes from? That's right! Fresh lemons. And there is nothing like freshly squeezed lemonade, young man. It's a treat you will come to appreciate.

Variegated Pink Lemon Bush
But the most important part of your lemon experience is yet to come. Because, someday, in the not too distant future I might add, you will find that your freshly squeezed Variegated Pink Lemonade goes exceptionally well with an ingredient called tequila.

It will be at this point, young man, when you begin to really enjoy your Variegated Pink Lemon bush. Because this concoction of lemons, sugar, water and tequila will have an especially pleasant effect on you, as long as you mix these ingredients in moderation.

Final Step: Drip Irrigation for the Variegated Pink Lemon
But that's not the best part, young man. The best part is still to come. Because, at some point, you will discover that this concoction of lemons, sugar, water and tequila has a very special and pleasing effect on young ladies as well. This is a lesson you have yet to learn. But -- trust me on this young man -- it's an experience that you will enjoy.

Oh -- the lessons you've yet to learn young man!