August 9, 2016

Summer Shishito Peppers, Heirloom Cucumbers and Here Come those Dahlias

Shishito Peppers, the hottest food trend to hit the American garden since Kale, mature on attractive plants which I am raising in clay pots on our deck stairs. 

If you haven't noticed, it's officially 'high summer'. Sure, it's the start of what most gardeners call the harvest time - baskets of tomatoes, piles of zucchini, buckets of pickles and string beans, but early August is also that brief period when summer feels most-summerlike, two or three weeks before we start seeing hints of color in the swamp maples. Hot, humid days and cool, dewey mornings - a precious few warm and sultry evenings when one can dine outdoors with fewer mosquitos and the drone of evening insects. Firefly season is over, and late summer mushroom season is just beginning.

Golden cherry tomatoes are beginning to ripen on the vine. Few seem to make it into the kitchen, especially when they are drenched in a late day summer thundershower.

I thought that I would just show some 'catch-up' photos from around the garden. Dahlias rule around here, as they begin to bud  - we've plants far too many for any household, but with the new Dahlia Society we helped start (the New England Dahlia Society), we felt that we should plant as many as we could.

'Kelsey Annie Joy' Dahlia. Almost, too pretty. Almost.

Dahlias are a bit of an obsession this year, but not all is going completely well with them. The 100+ dahlias which Joe and I purchased so eagerly this past winter, are all progressing but with mixed results. Raising dahlias for show is a completely different thing than raising dahlias for cut flowers. They are quite prone to insect damage, virus, rust and fungus. There is daily disbudding to do, and endless staking and fertilizing. Joe's field out back is proving to be too shady and weedy, and even though my 60 or so plants near the greenhouse are doing better, they need almost daily watering since we are experiencing an epic drought this year.

Most of the dahlias in my exhibition bed - the bed where I am raising dahlias for local dahlia shows - are just beginning to bloom. This beauty is named 'Wowie'. Indeed. My days (or, after work evenings) are now are spent disbudding, staking and trimming away unwanted stems, all are efforts which help the plants focus on producing larger and more perfect blooms.

This one is an anemone form - always a very pretty form in my book. Meet dahlia 'Alpen Fury'.

In the vegetable garden, things are doing much better, although, I now wish that I had dedicated more space to tomatoes than dahlias! The hits this year are my new raised beds - the Elevated Cedar Planter Box - which I purchased at Vermont's Gardener's Supply Co. But more about those in a later series of posts - as I fell in love with that product last year - so much so, that I actually wrote them, proposing that I would love to write about them more. Now, I have four.

A collection of Rhizomatous Begonias on the back porch, where they love the cool breezes and protection from full sun a rain. The perfect porch plant, these were small 2 inch pots in march, but quickly have grown to fill 6 -8 inch clay pots.
Left to right- 'Desert Dream', ' Northern Lights', 'Kit Kat' and 'Autumn Ember'.

This one is a rare species (one with a question mark on the label, which I purchased at a Begonia Society show last September). I really like its water lily -like foliage, and now, it is beginning to bloom.

Check out these miniature tomatos - a variety with an off name -  'Geranium' .  It is so dwarf and perfect, that it almost defies description - all of the fruit are born near the top of the plant, which is not taller than 1 foot. Perfect for these raised beds (the Elevated Cedar Raised Planting Box from Gardener's Supply - in which I raise many miniature or dwarf vegetables. The fruit are often the same sized as standard crops, but the entire plant size is smaller.

As I mentioned earlier, like most of us, I fall in love with a few products and sometimes fall out of love with other brands and products. Owning this popular gardening blog does mean that I get emails most every day from agencies and brands, big and small, all who want me to feature a product in one way or another. Most are random, and either inappropriate or products I would never use. Others, are just not something even remotely related to gardening.  When I read other blogs, I usually don't appreciate posts which feature products, or especially ones which look as if the company provided a free product to review, and then the author obviously must say nice things about the product.

I wanted to prepare you for a series of posts coming up about a product I actually love, and one which I've seen featured on other peer blogs, but one which the company never approached me for. True story. I wrote them (multiple times!) to basically say "Hey, I really looovvveee this product, and I am already writing about it -multiple times - why didn't you contact me instead?"

I want you to be ready for these winter crop projects. My tests last winter were spectacular. I wintered over auricula primroses another alpine primroses, and I really feel that once covered with the cold frame attachment that they sell, it will make a better than satisfactory alpine house for germinating hard-to-grow alpine seeds from the rock garden societies, as well as for wintering over other tender plants.

My dear friend Abbie Zabar in New York City has a penthouse garden which always inspires me to add more topiary and especially olive trees, which she trains into tall standards. She once lived in Provence, so if anyone knows about these sort of things, it's Abbie. This motif feel complete, with some vintage terra rosa pottery planted with a mandarin orange, lavender, a myrtle, rosemary and an olive tree. A dreamy corner in the veg garden which is very Euro-chic, and without really trying.

Are you getting inundated with vegetables from your garden? Tis the season for zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers, not to mention beans, other summer squashes and peppers. Bring it on!

Here is an interesting fact - my older brother doesn't even know that I grow vegetables at all. I love my brother, and he is a gardener too, but sometimes it bothers me that he teases me (or, he seriously taunts me) about this crazy idea that he has in his head that I don't grow many vegetables and if I do grow any, they are just useless fancy types. I mean -where does he get that thought from? OK, I know that I grow fancy chrysanthemums, and train fancy ornamental plants that look as if they are growing in France and then there is that greenhouse collection list with begonias, South African Bulbs and cacti, but you know what Bruce?  I also grow a lot of veggies as well. In fact, probably more than you do.

 "Well", he said at a family party a few weeks ago, "I forget that you only really grow flowers". "I mean, you can't eat those sweet peas, right?".

Ugh. Older brothers can be so.....

So, to clarify and defend the ugly rumors out there - here are a few more veggies that I am growing (I left the fennel and the red onions out of the picture. The onions are drying in the sun today.

I am raising a preponderance of pickles this year thanks to these raised beds. Pickling cucumbers to be precise and they really appreciate the warm soil.  Left to right,   'Delikatasse',  'Solly Beiler' , 'Miniature White', and 'Dar'. All heirloom and open pollinated varieties from Baker Creek. Not available for this photo - the giant red 'Sikkim' cakes which are just starting to fruit. I can't wait to see what those will look and taste like.

Pickling cakes are some of my favorite veggies to eat, and these white heirloom ones are so tender and crispy that I don't even need to peel them. This variety has a rather unassuming name ' Miniature White', but among all of the white varieties, this one lacks the bitter flavor often associated with these types of cucumbers.
These raised beds are deep, and 8 feet long so roots thrive in deep, moist soil. I could have planted standard sized zucchini but this dwarf variety is large enough. The fruit is a bit smaller, but who really wants zucchini larger than a baseball bat? I always pick them small anyway, and now I have 'just enough'.

Each plant of zucchini produced about 8 fruit, so 24 fruit was plenty for two of us. This week, I plant to pull the last ones off, and I will pull the plants, preparing the beds for fall crops which should take us into the late autumn, if not winter. Ordering seeds today for kale, micro greens, Chinese or Napa cabbage, and lettuces to sow now, since they germinate best in mid to late August. Maybe turnips, too.

Shishito peppers are definitely getting a lot of attention this year. If you haven't heard about them yet, you will. I added them to my list of 2016 summer projects, and I am so happy that I did. (I planted currants and a collection of Gooseberries as promised, as well). 

Shishito and Padrone peppers frying in a hot skillet.  I've heard that they are the perfect accompaniment with a cool summer cocktail. Gonna try that!

Shishito's are so popular at the hippest Japanese restaurants on the West coast, that they often sell out before the night is over. They are not hot (except maybe 1 in 100 they say, but I have yet to find it.). Closely related to the Spanish Padron pepper, it's a tender, thin-skinned treat. Cast iron skillet, hot and seared in a drop or two of olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon and sea salt - yum! Mild, sweet and tender. Seeds and all.

The last of the lilies are blooming - surely, a sign that summer is nearing the end.
 (OK Bruce, this IS a lily, which IS a flower. But I could cook and eat the bulb if I wanted to!).


  1. This drought really is awful - around here most yards look scorched and dusty, and the only reason ours does not is that I spend an hour every night our plot, tiny in comparison to your garden.

  2. Anonymous4:33 AM

    Hi Matt,

    What a lovely Dahlia (Alpen Fury)! One of my favorite anemone form Dahlias is "Polka" !
    I have to look , where I can buy "Alpen fury " in Germany.
    Greetings from Hamburg

    1. I need to go look up "polka' now! Especially since I am Lithuanian!

  3. Vanessa3:41 PM

    I'm loving the begonias on the window sill. Do you know the name of the one second to the left? --thanks!

    1. Hi Vanessa - thanks for asking about this - I edited the photo caption to include the variety names now. That one is a Logee's cross named 'Northern Lights', and a great one! Thanks!!

  4. The dahlias are beautiful and you also have a wonderful cucumber harvest. Great pics!

  5. What a wonderful garden. I love it. The plants look bright, cucumbers look delicious :)

  6. Matt,
    your gardening is very impressive. I'm jealous of your dahlias - the collarettes are my favorites - where we garden we rely on bore-water and the salinity level is fine for most things -except dahlias! Our only dahlia is grown by the Shade-house where I water it with rainwater only. During our drought we didn't have a lot of rainwater to spare so it was touch-and-go! Good winter rain this year!
    I like the idea of that pepper - must see if it is available here in Australia,

  7. Anonymous1:48 AM

    I think I'm going to cultivate cucumber, you think that I may put this mesh for climb my plants and do not remain on the ground?
    Please! I really need help! Greetings and thanks!


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