One way to extend your summer harvest of hot peppers is to make hot pepper flakes. I will say this prior to writing my process, I am not an expert in this process and just tried it out this season, and did the same process with yellow hot peppers a couple years ago, and it worked out well.
I grew several types of hot pepper plants this season in containers and patio pots, all started from seed: Serranos (above photo), Matchbox (red pointy ends; grows on small compact plants), Habaneros (small yellow ones), and others like Ancho Poblanos (not shown in these photos).
Ignore the big round ones (Cherry Bombs – too hot for us! And a bit more difficult to dry using this oven this method).
I don’t have an air fryer and wondered how that would work for drying out hot peppers, but anyhow, all I do is line them out on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven at a low temperature (175 degrees) and let them sit ALL day in there. I will check them occasionally, maybe shake the cookie sheet to toss them around, and just wait. The house will have a unique cooking smell.
Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp
It will take all day or maybe even out that night and put back in the next day for a few more hours to dry them out. I will cut some in half mid-way thru the drying process. Be very careful as the oils will get on your finger tips. Then if you touch your face, you will get a burning sensation.
Pick out all the peppers that are completely dry from your cookie sheet after it has cooled, and put them into a mini food processor grinder and pulse away. It is that easy. (Remove stems prior – again, you may want to wear gloves as the oils easily get onto your hands.)
Do not use any that are mushy
Note: Do not put any peppers in the processor that are still soft and not completely dry because they will just mold in the jar later. (For example, the big round ones, called Cherry Bombs, were just too mushy so I left those out.)
After pulsing the mini grinder, wow, look at this beautiful color of very hot pepper flakes. I put my nose over the mix and it gagged me – not kidding. The scents were that powerful. I won’t be able to use these myself, but my husband will though. He shakes it on his soups and other meals during the winter. One jar is enough for the winter, but I’m sure he’d use more if I made more.
Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid
It is best to use a jar with a lid that has the open holes to shake and also, I will leave the open area open for a few days and toss these around to help the air circulation. It is important to not have any moist flakes in this – or it will just mold later. So when you dry them in the oven, be sure to not use any that are soft and not fully dried.
Growing Hot Peppers
I want to learn more about growing hot peppers because making these flakes is actually fun. There are probably better ways to dry them out – but everyone usually has an oven so this is a method I tried and it works out – for my husband. I can’t eat these – they are too hot for me.
Great Container Garden Plants
It was easy to grow various hot peppers in container gardens and patio pots. They are pretty much carefree. They like a very sunny location and do well in potting mix soils with regular watering as needed. Most of them turned to their specific ripe colors around the end of August and some still ripening in September (in my areas of Connecticut; Zone 6b). The plants can stay out till our fall frost which happens around mid to late October.
Starting from SeedIndoors
Starting them is an early start in March (about 8-10 weeks before our spring frost (referred to as a last frost). The seeds require a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal) so be sure to use seed heating mats and place in a warm location to grow them from seeds. They are transplanted into container gardens and patio pots 3 weeks after spring frost has passed.
Basically, only thing you need is a good watering routine and perhaps some small thin stakes as some of my plants got rather tall (the serrano and habaneros). The other, Matchbox hot pepper, stays compact and is perfect for smaller pots. They are pretty too – covered in bright red vivid peppers. I find they do not get affected by insects or wild animals (like squirrels).
Think spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love making it in the winter months. It is also wonderful shaked into soups, stews, on top pasta dishes, and in chili recipes. If you can handle the hot spricy flavors and heat, it is wonderful.
Because the seeds need good warmth (as noted above), they can be a little more demanding for starting from seeds, but I will try again next season. I have starter plants available in May so look me up if local and interested in the spring time.
Thank you for visiting,
Cathy Testa Container Gardener Container Garden Installer – for hire! Hot pepper grower Today’s date: 9/22/2021 Week’s weather: Rain rest of week, mid-70’s day 860-977-9473 email@example.com
Yesterday, it began. My first disassembly of a canna lily in a pot to store the underground rhizomes for the winter.
This process may be done anytime between now (September) up to our October frost. Frost may occur anywhere from early to late October in my area of Connecticut (Zone 6).
Because I want to get a head start on my work of overwintering various tropical plants, I did this one yesterday.
It was in a black nursery pot which was inserted into a metal decorative pot. I usually, as a rule, don’t do this – I usually plant the plants into larger patio pots, but alas, I was just too busy and you can see how the rhizomes and root ball area grew so large, it started to burst open the black nursery pot!
I used large pruners to cut the foliage off first, then worked to remove the black pot out of the silver pot – it was tricky!
Since the pot cracked open, I used regular kitchen scissors to cut the pot so I could get the root ball out. Then the real work began, trying to take this big rootbound mass apart.
First, I cut it in half. The rhizomes are usually about 6-8″ from the top and I do my best to not cut any of the rhizomes, but if you do, do not panic. It usually won’t totally harm the rhizomes. However, you do want to avoid too many cuts because cuts are areas where rot or insects can set in later. I also cut off the bottom half of the soil by slicing it off but am very careful not to cut into the rhizomes. Sometimes you may see where the rhizomes are once you start removing the soil areas here and there around it.
After cut off the bottom half of the soil off, cutting below where I think the rhizomes are located, I keep trying to remove soil by hand, with a soft brush, with tools, being careful to not nick the rhizomes.
I usually use a hori-hori garden knife, but I decided to just grab a large kitchen knife to do the work, first slicing it in half. After that, I used my hands and a small butter knife to chip away at the soil mass. I was careful not to cut into the rhizomes. Then after, I took the hose and blasted it with water to remove as much soil as possible. You need a strong spray so this hose end worked perfectly, minus the mosquitos attacking me near the hose at that moment!
Because the roots were so tightly bound up, the hose was really helping to wash away the soil. I really wanted to separate this mass because over time, if they stay in a big clump like this, they just don’t grow as well or produce as many flowers.
After the soil is washed away, it allows for more ease to try to pull apart the rhizomes by grabbing the stalk and tugging. In some cases, they will pull away cleaning without breakage. (Note: The larger clump I am still going to try to break apart after it dries more in the sun.)
I will let these sit on a table for a day or a few hours, and then store them in plastic storage bins in my unheated basement with peat (see type below). I will show the bins later but they are standard plastic storage bins with covers. I drill small holes in the covers to allow air circulation (important). Also, I think shorter horizontal bins work better than deep bins. You don’t want to bury them deep, just enough to cover the rhizomes with peat to help them stay cozy, hold light moisture, and stay dry. All a balancing act.
This is what the canna lily looked like before. It is one of the tallest varieties I have and I want to save some of these rhizomes in good shape. Of course, can I remember the name of it right now? No! LOL. Am I getting old? It will come to me. It is actually not that healthy looking in this photo. It got stressed from being root bound. Next year, it will look much much better. You can store the whole root if you want and I’ve done that before, but it was time for this canna lily to receive more attention so it will grow better from individual rhizomes next season, plus I’ll get more plants that way!
So the one I took down is the far left one. See the one on the right in the blue pot. That one was repotted in spring into that larger pot from a nursery pot. It will probably be easier to pull apart when I work on that one next.
Cut off the stalks of foliage. Use clean, sterilized tools.
Take the root ball out of the pot. Cut off the soil mass “below the rhizomes.”
Take off as much as soil as possible around the rhizomes and roots. Use tools like your hands, soft brush, butter knife (I did), to scrape away soil but be careful not to nick the rhizomes or cut them. A garden hose with a strong blast really works well.
Break apart the rhizomes carefully by grabbing hold of the stalks and pulling. Sometimes they pull away easily. If they don’t, keep trying to remove soil, let it sit out and try again when drier.
Let sit out to dry and cure. (A few hours or a day or two).
Store them in bins with peat (or people have told me they use newspaper but I prefer sphagnum peat moss that is sold in big square bales. It is reusable year after year so I keep the peat in the bins after taking the rhizomes out in spring time.)
Make sure the location you store them is a cool dark place with no chances of freezing. (35 to 40 degrees F is the recommendation). My unheated basement works well by the door inside.
Next spring, plant the rhizomes in a standard nursery pot (1 gallon size) and use good professional potting mix to get them started again. Plant the rhizome about 6-8″ deep in the pot. March is a good time to get them started. I do this in my greenhouse but you can do it by a window in the home where it is warm, etc. Before my greenhouse, I placed them on the floor in the pots by a kitchen slider window.
Grow them in part to full sun when it is after our spring frost time. Usually the same time you may safely plant your tomato seedlings outdoors. Remember, put in shade first for a few days to acclimate.
The photo below is of a bale of the peat moss. It is not the stringy peat you see in hanging baskets – it is the brown peat that you may break apart in a wheelbarrow if you buy a big bale. I reuse it for years if there are no issues in the bins. It is long lasting.
Before or After Frost Timing
From my years of doing this routine, you may do this either before or after October’s frost. If you wait till frost, the foliage will be blackened from the frost. The frost and colder temps probably helps to put them in a dormant state this way, but I always have done it before frost with no issues in September. If you wait till frost, it is just colder outside and sometimes wetter – and messier.
See my prior posts on this topic (search Overwintering or Canna lily in the search box). Some are linked below as well.
Thank you and enjoy your weekend!
Cathy Testa Container Gardener and Designer Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT Today’s date: Sat, 9/11/2021 Today’s forecast: 75 degrees F mid day, sunny with some fluffy clouds – yes! 860-977-9473 “Containercathy@gmail.com”
I had ordered more of the upright giant like elephant’s ear (taro) tubers to grow this spring but some of them gave me problems. There were some soft spots on them but I planted some anyhow and waited to see the outcome.
It took a long time for them to sprout and they grew slowly. Later, however, I noticed two tubers I planted in starter nursery style pots were forming clumps and the leaves looked different than what was to be expected for the tubers I ordered. It turned out two of the tubers were not the type of elephant’s ears I had ordered. They turned out to be a surprise. The company sent me the wrong tubers.
Thus, it looks like I have a new name to memorize! Maybe I will call it Xant for short when I point it out to friends. Upon researching the plant and looking it over, I am pretty sure it is an Xanthosoma. The leaves are shaped with an indentation in the middle (like a shield). It is definitely not the Alocasia (an upright type) I was expecting yet it turned out to be a nice surprise to add to my collection of elephant’s ear plants.
I looked over the veins on the leaves as they were forming and a vein runs along the outside edge of the foliage, a distinct difference compared to my large giant upright elephant’s ears which do not have this particular vein pattern. I’m happy that a mistake was made by the company where I purchased the tubers from because now I have two of these gorgeous plants started. They also form a nice mass or clump of stalks with many leaves.
The location where I put two potted plants of these received part sun all summer since putting them outdoors after our spring frost. I love the way it added to the tropical vibe between the tall canna lily plants. I usually pot ALL my plants into large patio pots with fresh soil but I just inserted the Xanthosoma in a decorative pot (blue one) rather than repot it, and I made the mistake of using an outer decorative blue pot with no drain holes, so every time we had a downpour of rain (often this year in 2021), I would have to take the inner nursery pot used to start the tubers out and pour the rain water out of the outer pot which didn’t drain.
This is considered a tuberous perennial hardy in zones 9-11. It grows about 2-3 feet tall and I will store it the way I do most of my other elephant’s ear plants, by either digging out the tubers and storing in my basement in boxes, or taking the whole plant into my greenhouse for the winter. I probably will put one plant in the greenhouse to see how it tolerates lower temps and store the other via the tuber method.
During the summer, I started to fertilize it weekly and the soil was kept on the moist side all summer because of our routine rainfalls this season, which is what this plant prefers (moist soils). Hopefully, I will be successful at re-growing this variety next season. Eventually the foliage color improved and got darker, etc.
Oh gosh, another long name to memorize! This also is a new plant I tried this season, but not a mistake, a purchase from a local nursery. I saw it and immediately had to have it. It is a ginger plant (variegated with the yellow and green leaves) and I knew it would fit in with my tropical plant vibe.
I know I have the plant tag somewhere in my office. I will have to locate it. I’ve read that gingers are cold-hard in zone 7b, but we are in zone 6, so I have to figure out how to over winter it. Isn’t it gorgeous?!
Of all the new plants on my deck, this one is my favorite and a must keep. I don’t have room for it in the house and I am not sure yet if it will tolerate my low-temp greenhouse for the winter. I am considering dividing and and storing half by digging up the rhizomes and perhaps keeping half of the plant in tact, repot and put it in the greenhouse.
When I first got this plant, I planted it in a big blue planter but it wasn’t happy. The leaves would roll up and seemed to be coiling up from the sun’s heat. So I moved it and it still wasn’t happy mid deck where sun would hit it mid-day. Then I moved it further to the end where there is plenty of shade, and it thrived. It appears to do best in part shade. It also did not like drying out so I kept the soil moist. I always put time released or slow release fertilizer into my potted plants, but I also started to give it a balanced liquid fertilizer every couple weeks or so when I was pouring fertilizer on my other deck blooming plants. It definitely enjoyed that and took off. It is healthy and huge and I just love it. It did not flower however this season.
Learning how to overwinter plants is often a trial and error process. Over the years, I have been very successful with overwintering various tropical plants. These two above will be new ones for me.
I also decided to repot an agave (another one) yesterday. It was in a green tall glazed pot and the pot was so extremely heavy, I knew the soil was staying way too wet. I wondered why, it had a drain hole and so I took the whole plant out and saw the soil was a very dark rich black color, so I think I may have put it compost. Again, rushing is not a good thing. I probably was rushing, grabbed some compost and planted it in that despite knowing agaves need well draining soil. That soil just retained way too much moisture, so I repotted it into a lower pot yesterday, adding perlite to professional potting mix, and put it in the greenhouse. This is a photo I took of it. You can tell the lower leaves are off color – a bit yellow – showing signs of just too much moisture. It should recover now.
I usually don’t get bothered by mosquitoes on my deck or in the yard, but this year, they are on killer attack. It has been difficult to work outside without getting dive bombed by them. They have bit me on the ear lobes, on my face and fingers, and legs. Why do I mention that, I’m not sure, but it makes me wonder how on earth landscapers do it all in this wet weather. For me, my motivations is the love of plants and how it makes me feel every time I look at them. Looking at my two new plants offered me curiosity and relaxation and I certainly want to do my best to keep them so I may regrow them next season.
What is next?
I will probably ask my husband to help me this weekend to move some of my bigger pots into the greenhouse so I don’t hurt myself! And we use the hand-truck and it is not too difficult. As mentioned prior, I’m doing some work early. I’ve already disassembled my tomato planters and I threw out some herbs too. I had to literally talk myself into taking out the herbs because some still looked okay but I had to repeat to myself, take them out – you will be too busy later. I also took down a long shelf style planter with several Mangaves and Agaves and moved them into the greenhouse and put the long two tiered planter in my home. My home doesn’t get enough sunlight for all of the plants, so the planter will be used for something else, we will see!
Next to do will be to disassemble some of my canna lily plants. I really need to take apart the rhizomes and un-crowd the pots. When you leave them in a clump year after year (if you store them that way), eventually they get too pot bound and won’t produce flowers. I also collect seeds this time of year from my Canna lily plants.
I’m also collecting Datura seeds for a new one I planted this season, it has purple upright flowers. Since collecting the seeds for this plant is new to me, we will see if I’m successful. The key is to wait till the seeds are fully ripened, and also to do some research. Each type of plant is different. I read you can put paper bags over the Datura seed pods and let them crack open and the seeds will fall into the bag. I didn’t use this method (yet), but it is a good idea – IF IT DOESN’T RAIN, which it did again last night. This means more mosquitoes! Ack.
One thing I just love about tropical plants is how fast they grow. They really make a show in one season. Years ago when my friends would visit, they would rush to my deck to look at all my plants and see what I had out. However, now I notice they just know I will have lots of plants and don’t seem as “surprised” as they used to, plus many have learned some tricks from me and have tropical plants of their own now. I guess they just expect Cathy T’s deck is always over loaded with plants – and I actually cut back this year. Giggle!
Well, I’m kind of rambling. Sorry about that. Hope this post is helpful or enjoyable – which ever is best for you!
Cathy Testa Container Gardener Connecticut 860-977-9473 Lots of photos on my Instagram under Container Crazy CT Date of this post: 9/10/2021 Today’s Weather: Mostly Sunny 68-70 degrees F This weekend – sunny all weekend –YIPEE!!!
This will be a quick post. I am trying to document how I overwinter various plants from the outdoors to the indoors in my area of Connecticut as I work on them. This week we are having gorgeous weather, thus I am getting a head start on my plants at home because I will be busy the rest of the month working on clients’ plants.
These plants are considered succulent perennials hardy in zones 9-11, some maybe hardy in zones 7-6, but in my case, I treat them as non-hardy plants and move them into a lower temperature greenhouse for the winter. The greenhouse is not heated right now because it is still warm enough outside, but by mid-October, we could get frosts and my agaves should not be subjected to any frosts.
During the summer, my agave plants are in full sun locations on my outdoor deck in individual pots. Some are super heavy and require a hand-truck to move them to my greenhouse, while others I can manage to lift and carry in my arms in the pot, although it requires a bit of muscle power to do so.
I usually allow the soil to dry in the pot as much as possible but we had so much rain and moisture this year, some of them are still holding damp to moist soils. However, it is best to move them indoors when the soil is dry if possible.
Over the winter, I suggest you do not water them at all and allow them to stay on the dry side. If the soil stays wet and you move them indoors, they may get root rot (especially if you are moving them into a house with air conditioning still on and in a non sunny situation).
Let the soil dry out as much as possible before you decide to move in your agave plant. As noted above, wet soggy soils only invites problems (i.e., root rot, insects that like moisture, and fungus sometimes)
Inspect the plant for insects. Use the methods below to blow away any insects, debris, etc.
Lift to inspect roots if possible (optional)
Wash the outside of the pot with mild soapy dish water if possible
Usually my agaves do not have any insect issues on the succulent foliage. You may find a spider in there (a good one), a cricket hiding between the foliage, maybe even a tree frog sitting on the plant! They seem to like one of my bigger agaves. I find one or two tree frogs every year hanging on them earlier in the season. Before moving them inside, check them over for any potential insects or debris (like fallen tree leaves or twigs, etc.). Ways you can handle the inspection are by:
Using a leaf blower to blow anything off of it. Using a hose with a harsh spray to blast the leaves with water to dislodge any debris. Use a little brush to brush away items caught between the leaves.
Lift from pot to look at roots – optional and if possible
This agave is in a plastic pot inserted within a glazed pottery pot. I decided to lift the plant out and inspect under. Yes, the soil is still moist, but otherwise, the roots look fine. When I lifted it up, a tiny cricket insect jumped out – so it is helpful to check and get all those little hiding bugs a chance to get out before they move into your home or greenhouse.
You can see here the plant is pushing out a side shoot (pup) which will eventually form another baby agave. Overall, the roots look fine, but the soil is staying so wet, I decided not to reinsert the plastic pot into the glazed pottery pot when I moved it into the greenhouse. This will allow the air to help dry out the situation. Also, right now, the greenhouse is nice and sunny and warm. It will help to dry out the soil.
Overall this agave showed no major concerns. It is now safe in my sunny greenhouse to await the cooler days of fall and then eventually winter where it will be protected until next year. I have written about overwintering agave plants before. To locate the posts, type the word ‘Agave’ in the search box on this site.
Thank you for visiting. Let me know if you have any questions.
In most cases, we adore the days of rainfall during the summer because it offers a break from watering our container gardens and patio pots, but this year, 2021, we got our fair share of rainstorms and too much at times.
I found that soil remained wet too long in some cases. It stressed our tomatoes, however, most tropical like plants love the rain. For some of my succulents, it was just too soggy. They did fine, but with today’s expected downpours (due to Hurricane Ida remnants passing over Connecticut today, tonight, and tomorrow), once again my succulent plants (agaves, jades, echeverias, etc.) will get more rain pounded on them as they sit in their patio pots. They haven’t had lots of dry periods this season, so the soil has stayed more on the “moist” side than dry side for days.
Because of this, I decided yesterday to move some of my plants onto a deck table with a patio umbrella so they won’t get blasted again. Yes, it is a bit of a PIA (pain in the a**) to move them, but I just don’t want that soil water logged at this point as we transition into September.
I will most likely move some of them to my greenhouse too. I am only doing this as part of my overwintering process early because I have a busy month coming up and this is my only week to get come chores done early. So again, plants may stay outdoors for quite some time, even into early October “for some types of plants.” However, when it comes to my succulents, I don’t like them to stay in a water logged state too long. Fortunately, this weekend’s forcast looks fantastic. It is predicted to be in the mid-70’s with sun from Friday to Saturday (yes!). But it looks like more rain on Labor Day! Rain rain rain this year.
Plants not poorly affected by rain are my tropical plants, such as this upright Alocasia, which I adore. Tropical plants add a real feel of a jungle or rain forest, and I love having that look on my deck because it makes me feel like I’m in Hawaii. If you can’t be somewhere tropical, might as well try to get that feeling at your home.
This plant is showy and grows extremely large leaves. I took the time to measure the biggest leaf yesterday. It is 3 feet height and 3 feet wide with a 3 foot long stalk. In fact, it was hard to hold up the ruler as I tried to take a few photos of it yesterday.
These plants are accustom to dealing with tons of rain fall cause they are from the tropics and are used to it – it is in their genetics, basically. That is cool. With all the strong rainstorms we had this summer, the leaves just kind of tussled around and didn’t break or even tear. Also, the leaves have the ability to shed water droplets and also the texture of the Alocasia leaves allow the water to run off quickly.
Members of the Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma are always on my plant list. They grow huge. I love the heart-shaped elephant ear leaves and enjoy looking at them every single day. In fact, my jungle look is at the end of my house by my bedroom, so I see this via a slider door and have watched hummingbirds visit quite a bit this year as they go to the orange tubular flowers below this Alocasia shown above.
Another plant which has done well despite the rain is my Mandevilla. In fact, the Mandevilla twined around one of the stalks of the Alocasia this summer as it reached out for places to twine as it grew. This one is called, Alice Du Pont, and it is a plant which I overwintered last year in my basement in the pot. I took it out early to start growing in my greenhouse and then planted it in a big raised bed like planter on my deck. I fed it bloom booster water soluble food about once a week for a time in the middle of the summer and it has bloom beautifully. It is considered a tropical vine and works well when trying to create that jungle look with some trumpet like gorgeous hot rose colored flowers.
These tropical plants will grow well into early fall. I perform a combo of overwintering techniques from mid September till mid-October. Some are stored in their small pots in my basement or greenhouse, some are taken down (foliage and tops cut off) and tubers or rhizomes below are stored in boxes in my unheated but not freezing basement. And some are kept going by harvesting seeds and sowing them next season. The Mandevilla (and Dipladenia) can be a little tricky to overwinter and get growing again. It helps that I can start them early in the greenhouse. I started some others and they did not take off or produce as many blooms. You can’t win them all in the world of nature. There are just so many factors which are out of your control. Like rain for example, but then again, rain is a helper at times as well. Mandevilla are stored as dormant plants in a dark place at about 40 degrees F over the winter. The soil should not completely 100% dry out but stay more on the dry side than wet.
As for the Alocasia noted above, also known as Elephant’s Ear or Taro, I’ve dUg them up and divided off any side shoots as well as put the tubers in boxes in my unheated basement. I’ve detailed the steps in prior blog posts on this site. This spring, I did encounter a problem. Some of my tubers were soft in spots which usually doesn’t happen. I know what I did wrong. I used “new boxes and bins” and neglected to drill some air holes in the covers. I was rushing because I was busy. I planted them anyways in spring but they were really slow to grow AND I was worried the rotted parts would ruin the whole process. Some made it and some others were tossed. The tubers must be stored in a dry cool place, away from any chances of freezing, and after the plants go dormant for the winter. I hope I will be more successful this year. Time to get the drill out!
This photo is of my Ensete (red banana plant) with Castor Bean plant (left) and another type of elephant’s ear on the right. It is the first time in years that I did not directly plant the Ensete into the large square big cement planter. I planted it into a big pot and set it into the big cement planter. I got a little lazy and busy, but it is doing just fine. It still grew massive leaves and looks super healthy. I added compost to the soilless potting mix in the black pot. I grew the castor bean from seeds of last year and the elephant ear from a stored tuber. I won’t be working on these plants until early October.
Well, I think it is time to go work in the light rain before the harsh rain arrives later today and will be pounding overnight. We have seen a lot of flooded areas around here, ditches over flowing, damp lawns, and run off. We even got a huge sink hole down the road from rain this season. It is at least 6 feet deep. We are lucky compared to the people in NOLA. I can’t imagine what they are going through and they are in our thoughts.
One last thing – other methods for dealing with rain (drain holes are a must in pots, elevating the pots with plant saucers or trays, moving them under tables, and spacing them out so air flow circulates around the patio pots after the rainstorm, and maybe even a fan. Yes, I put a fan on my tomato plants this summer, it was that wet out there!)
My last post, before today’s post, was titled, March is a big sow month – well, to follow on from that, April is a BIG GROW Month.
I have many tomato seedlings started from seeds and growing now, and the more warmth, sun, and good days of April we get will increase their sizes over the next 3-4 or 5 weeks of indoor growing in the greenhouse before they are transitioned outdoors for a few hours to harden off and then ready by end of May.
End of May is my target date for planting the tomato starts in containers, because to me, it is the safest and warmest time. Memorial Day is the key date. And I truly can’t wait. I’m overly anxious this year, it was a long winter. I hated February, Ugh. Now it is April – yahooooo. That means weather will improve, we can be outdoors more, I’m cleaning up my perennials and shrubs outdoors, and I am checking on my starter plants daily, potting some up, all that jazz.
I spend time cleaning the greenhouse floors of debris, taking tables down to the greenhouse outdoor areas to prepare for when seedling will go outside for some real sunshine, and inspecting everything, but it is also still a waiting month. I so want to put all my nice tropical plants outdoors, but we can still get cold snaps. It requires patience. Sometimes I can’t take it – LOL.
This Connecticut weather is nutso sometimes. As we know, it snowed just last week. Yup on Friday. It melted fast – thank God. And tomorrow will be 70’s degrees, which will mean my greenhouse temps will rise fast tomorrow and I’ll be opening the side manual vent, and putting on small fans, etc. But then overnight, it can get cold just a couple days later. It is nutso! I know I said that already. LOL.
I still have not removed the bubble-wrap, which covers my auto-fan in the greenhouse up at the top on one wall, because I don’t want cold air to blow in on the cold snaps. I have to say, taking care of plants in a greenhouse, is a daily, if not minute by hour operation! Why they call it a “nursery.” And April is a big month of getting things growing more – as the warmer temps and more sunny and longer sun days improve.
April this month thru mid-May is a big grow month. I will little by little have more patience as I watch the seedlings grow larger and I pot them up. I can smell the tomato plants now when I’m in the greenhouse and brush against them. That familiar scent that says summer is coming.
In fact, the sun is out right now as I type this – so I have to keep this short cause I have a bunch of heirloom tomatoes I need to pot up today. They are ready for step two.
I was starting to worry that my seeds may be delivered late because I keep reading on various gardening websites about people experiencing shipping delays. One lady, in fact, made a joke that she has been stalking her mailman waiting for her seed delivery, which made me chuckle!
Well, my seed order arrived yesterday, and I’m thrilled. When my husband walked in from work, he said, “Your seeds are here.” He had grabbed the box from the mailbox for me.
I immediately opened the box and scanned the many seed packets. All there except one type which hopefully will show up or the charge will be removed from my invoice. So, I thought this early morning, I would just write a bit of what I do the minute I get my seed order in.
Of course, open the box and review the order. Count the packets and make sure all are in the box and in good condition. Enjoy the moment – I do!
Now, this am, I will take out one set of each type of packet I ordered (BTW, these are primarily tomato, hot peppers, herb seeds, and a couple of flowers). Because some of the sowing and growing instructions are “inside the seed packets” and not on the back of the seed packet envelope, I will keep one set of the packets for me and read all the instructions carefully (now, don’t wait). I think key is learn about the growing habits or needs of that plant a bit – don’t over look it, especially if you are totally new to trying sowing of seeds indoors before the growing season.
Take out my Planning and Growing Calendars and verify I counted back the number of weeks correctly for each type of plant. Remember, one type of tomato plant maybe slightly different than another variety. So one may say 6-4 weeks before your last frost date in spring to start sowing the seeds indoors, or it may indicate 8-10 weeks before. For example, for a few years now, I’ve grown Upstate Oxheart tomatoes. They are a type that indicate 10 weeks before, but another tomato, like my Bumble Bee cherry tomatoes, are indicated at 6-8 weeks before our last frost date. Thus, I will review Planning Charts I created to verify all, such as one chart I created which indicates “when to sow your seeds indoors based on the last frost date expected in mid-May in Connecticut.” If you have general charts from various sites, compare those with the instructions on your specific seed packets. And be aware, do not use “days from transplant” if this is noted on your packet – this is not the same “as days or weeks before frost.” The days to transplant is the number of days once the seedling is transplanted into your gardens or outdoor container gardens, fabric grow bags, or whatever place you want to grow them outside. It indicates when the plants will produce fruit or mature.
I also will day dream about how amazing these plants will be and remind myself that spring is only a few months away. Hang in there, January can be a tough month. I focus on the upcoming weeks to prepare. Some things to do now are get your growing pots and seedling trays ready (I prefer 3-3.5″ deep cell trays for proper root development and plastic because the stay clean, pathogen free, keep the soil consistently moist, and are long lasting and reusable), take out your seed heating mats and clean them up, and think about getting seedling soils before March. I usually pick up soils mid-February but I am going to get them early this year. I want to be ahead of the game. As noted in my prior post, get “seedling mixes” or “sterilized potting mix for container gardens or patio pots” to start you seeds. Avoid heavy soils which may be amended with compost as you don’t need that at the seed sowing stages. The lighter the soil, usually the better, and no dirt from the ground. Look for fresh bags, avoid cheap mixes that may be too old to take up water (meaning from dollar type stores if they look old – they may be new and just fine – just be aware). You want potting mixes made with peat, sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite and perlite if not using seedling mix. Seedling mix is finer (not as dense as container or potting mix) but both will work. Do not use mix labeled as “garden soil” or for the garden. Keep the bags in a safe dry place till use.
Store my seed packets after I have all reviewed and organized. Then wait till early March to start sowing in general (again, these are warm season vegetables (tomatoes and hot peppers) that need to be started indoors in seedling trays/cells and then transitioned to the outdoors after frost to harden off.) Hardening off is all about acclimating the seedlings you have started indoors to the outdoor exposures and temperatures gradually on the right days (shady area then gradually to sun, not too windy, not cold, and watch for shade which may not exist if trees are not leafed out yet, and only for a few hours each day, etc.). This is usually the week or two weeks before Memorial Day for me.
Key dates: Jan (get ready and order seeds early), Feb (get organized), March (start sowing), April (monitor all your seedlings), May (start potting up-moving the seedlings from your cell trays into larger one size up pots), Mid-May (start hardening off outdoors gradually), May at Memorial Day (all safe to plant outdoors).
Storing the seeds. They must stay dry and cool. No humidity, don’t put in freezing temperatures or in a hot place, like a sunny greenhouse. Keep them in a cool spot away from moisture. I put mine in metal lunch boxes! They are the perfect container. I also just happened to go to a vintage market last weekend, and found these really old lockable long boxes (steel bank safe deposit boxes) and thought, these are perfect for storing my seed packets. The metal lunch boxes or tin boxes also tend to stay cold. I put them in a room in my home that doesn’t heat well under a table away from any heat sources. In general, if you store the seeds appropriately, based on the types of seeds, they may last 3-5 years, however, some seeds are short lived and should be used the first year (i.e., parsley). The ideal conditions for storing seeds are cold (but not freezing), dark, dry places. Be aware of storing them in basements (humidity), garage (too cold or hot), greenhouse (can get too hot), and anywhere where moisture could be an issue. I have read you may store seeds in refrigerators but I have not tried that out yet.
Okay, so I don’t have much time this morning to focus on writing a post so I apologize if a bit sloppy writing and any typo’s I’ve missed! I want to get to my seeds and this is also a time where I start preparing my tax paperwork (yes, in January) so that I don’t have to focus on taxes when I want to be playing in my greenhouse in a month or so.
I will be posting things like this for those interested in my seed sowing steps. Perhaps if you are new to seed sowing indoors before the planting season, you find some of my experience here useful.
If you search the web, you will find a plethora of sites offering many articles, step by step instructions, growing charts, and tips, but will any one link or article give you all the simple answers you need to start seeds indoors? Probably not.
Think about this – there are millions of vegetable plants you may grow from seed in our world. How could anyone sum it all up in one fell swoop?
When I started growing vegetable plants from seeds, the desire to do so was sparked by the love of art packs from a particular seed company. The art sparked my interest and then I started to buy seed packets. I was interested in unique tomato plants and flashy hot pepper plants, rather than the traditional types I ate growing up on a farm. Maybe I got overloaded with the same types of tomatoes from when I was a kid, I don’t know, or maybe it is my love of art and creativity that got me into the different, unique, interesting varieties because they are like a work of art to me. A colorful purple tomato to me is cool. Or a pepper shaped like a UFO – that rocks! Plus you get to eat them and they taste delicious.
However, I have spent countless hours reading seed sowing books, reviewing growing charts, looking up frost dates from different sites and all of which seem to give a slightly different answer, and determining what supplies and seeds are best for my area of Connecticut, and then I spent hours putting my own guides together. I guess, in some ways, it is good that I am an organized person and an over-thinker! Maybe I looked at too much, because my head would spin. After all, you could just buy a pack of seeds and plop them into soil, and it would sprout – but would it be successful?
Today, I want to try to share some of my seed sowing considerations in a random casual fashion:
#1) Start small and pick easy to grow plants. So, what veggie plants are easy, what grows like weeds? Hmmm, well, that is a tricky question. One may say, well a pumpkin seed is sure to pop up from the soil or a cucumber seed, but do you like pumpkins, do you have space to grow pumpkins in containers or a garden? They sprawl out for miles (well, for many many feet) and so that may not be the best choice for you. And cucumbers, well, they vine up and down and all around, but they don’t like their roots disturbed, so even though they are easy to grow, they have considerations if you start seeds indoors and then transplant. In my opinion, some herbs are easy to grow, like parsley, or mixed lettuces seem easy, or some basils, but even if they are easy, they all have unique personalities to consider. For example, basils like warmth. If you put them out too early when cool in the early spring, they don’t like that and won’t flourish. Cherry tomatoes are easier than regular tomatoes in my experience. No matter what – you will get tons of cherry tomatoes from one plant – it is amazing! Parsley is easily and it likes a bit of the cooler weather, unlike the basils.
#2) Get the tools ready. Do you need a grow light? Many people will argue you do. And it does increase your success at sowing vegetable seeds indoors. But what is success? A perfectly straight upright seedling? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, I know many people who grow seedlings in seed trays set on their old fashioned heat radiators in their home, and the seedlings leaned towards the window for more sunlight, but they made it – and make it into their gardens. However, as you learn more, you start to consider the options of getting a lighting system so it increases your success and makes for healthier seedlings. As for myself, I have a greenhouse which provides sufficient lighting when the sun is out. In early spring, on many days, there are cloudy days. So far, I’ve gotten by just fine without grow lights. As I learn more, maybe I will get grow lights to add to my set up, but it is not going to be this season. Anyhow, what I’m getting at, is at a minimum, think about the tools you will need to sow seeds and start to pick up your supplies based on what you think you want to grow. BTW, I do use heat seedling mats to encourage germination of the seeds and to increase the start of healthy roots. This I have found helpful to invest in. That is a tool you may want to consider ordering now.
#3) Soil mix – This IS critical. First, for the ultra beginners, you should know that you can not sow your seeds in dirt from the ground for vegetable plants you need to start indoors in seedling trays ahead of the growing season. Believe it or not, when I offered seed kits last spring, one person thought you could put dirt from the ground into your seedling trays. They said my instruction sheet enlightened them and they had no idea dirt was a no-no. So, when you go out to get your soil for sowing seeds indoors, get bagged seedling mix or sterilized potting mix for patio pots. Either will be fine. The seedling mixes are finer than potting mixes, usually fresher since it is going to be seed sowing time soon, and perfect for tiny seeds to make contact with the seeds, etc. If you don’t want to deal with that, and want to sow seeds in the dirt, pick vegetable plants that you may directly sow into the ground after all chances of our spring frost and when the garden soil is workable. But you need to determine which plants you can sow directly into the ground, things like beets, for example. Some plants prefer to be directly sown into the ground. If you pick this option – remember, you have to prepare your garden area ahead as well.
#4) Timing. This is another critical factor. All plants grow at different rates. Some take longer and some are faster. They need a certain number of days or weeks before they produce fruit. If you start your seeds too soon, they will be outgrowing your starter pots, getting root bound, start to struggle for the moisture it needs, and even start flowering, which leads to fruit (and for ultra beginners, flowers are where the fruits are produced. I don’t mean to sound rude or condescending, but if you are new to the world of gardening and plants, and didn’t know this – don’t feel embarrassed. I didn’t either when I was a kid and I grew up on a farm!). So, say you sow your tomato seeds too soon, then they grow larger and larger indoors, and then you need to put them in a bigger pot, and then they get flowers and then, you want to put the plant outside but it is still too cold out – it may even freeze one night if the temperatures drop down. You could loose the flowers from the cold temps, now you will have no fruit. Potentially, all your seedling work is lost. The same goes for starting seeds too late. If you start too late, your plant will sprout, it will grow, and you will think, awesome, and, now I can put it into my gardens or containers in spring outdoors, fine, but then you wait and wait and wait after its been growing in the garden, and it is almost early fall and you still don’t have any peppers. You started the seeds too late indoors. Peppers take more weeks to produce their peppers for some varieties (as an example), they have a required longer growing season. Timing is a critical thing. Get yourself a seed sowing calendar, look it over, and count back the number of weeks it indicates on the seed packet (or inside the packet) as to when to sow your seeds indoors. You count back from your last frost date in spring which in Connecticut usually falls around mid-May. If you end up buying seeds from me or a seed kit, I already did all this timing homework for you in my charts and calendars based on the seeds I will have available for sale.
#5) Okay, what else is needed? I guess it is Determination + Enthusiasm. Last year, we had the start of the pandemic and lots of things were short in supply (including some foods), AND as we all know, people were home so they had time to start their own gardens. The enthusiasm to start sowing your own seeds for your own amazing vegetable gardens was very high, and many people came to me for advice and for seeds or seed kits. Everyone was so enthusiastic, I just loved it. The pandemic even created a seed shortage by seed companies because so many people were trying to grow their own for the very first time! But, growing plants from seeds is not like making brownies for the first time. You read the directions on the box, set it in the oven after mixing all as directed, and you are successful, and you eat the brownies. Sometimes in the plant world, there are factors out of our control. So, you read the directions, you sow the seeds, but then all of a sudden there is an issue after planting them outdoors and they’ve been growing for a while. Say it is blossom end rot or a tomato horn worm, and ack! You are bummed!! But if you are still determined, you will succeed. So you take on the challenge, fix it if possible, and then you reap the rewards of an amazing tomato harvest or pepper harvest. And it feels good, it tastes good, and it is right there at your finger tips. Oh, again, that makes me remember something, I think cherry tomatoes are easier to grow from seed than regular tomatoes, so that is another tip for beginners. Usually you get lots of cherry tomatoes! Like tons of them! Did I say that already?
Will those of you who gave tomato and pepper growing from seed last season give it a go again this season? Yes! I know you will. I know there are some of you that so enjoyed it, you are on board. But maybe not, maybe you thought all these considerations were too much, too many things to think about, and if you don’t like to water plants, talk to them, and treat them like a cherished pet dog that needs care, well, then maybe you won’t. That’s okay too. The choice is yours and if you decide to make that choice again this season, and get seeds and/or seed starting kits from me, I promise to be your cheerleader and encourage you as well as give you as much information as I can about how to start sowing seeds indoors based on my experience.
I shared this photo yesterday, on a whim, on my personal Facebook page and received lots of comments. Most people wrote things like, “You look so happy!” or “This is a great photo.”
I have to say, I am THE most happy at the moment right then, right before I would be completely ready for my holiday workshops to begin for my annual wreaths and kissing balls attendees.
This photo, taken two years ago, was on a sparkling, yet brisk cold, December morning. I got up early before all the wonderful attendees arrive, working diligently with my helpful and happy husband to get all the beautiful fresh mixed greens on tables. All this work always took place right before the workshop was to start on the day off.
From fresh Balsam Firs, so traditional for the Christmas scents we are familiar with, to elegant florals such as Berried Eucalyptus. All would be carefully placed on rustic tables and shelves. Some bundles were placed in red plastic bins or galvanized rustic buckets in wheel barrels. Whatever we had on hand to make all the taking easy for everyone.
It would be so pretty when we were done setting all the greens up. I would be freezing cold at times with the tips of my fingers being numb even while wearing gloves, and feel like my eyes were tired (why the big sunglasses over my eye glasses in that photo), yet, I always took the time for photos to capture these moments just before guests would begin to arrive. Every minute, from our first sip of coffee that day till the start time of my holiday workshop was consumed with work for both me and my husband.
There have been many years where I was completely exhausted from all the organizing type stresses. Will my greens by okay? Will there be enough greens? Will I be able to handle a group of 35-40 very excited women ready to make wreaths?! Will the weather cooperate? Will it be windy? Usually all my anticipation would start to fill my mind, of course, as I laid my head on the pillow the evenings before the big workshop days.
The days or even weeks before the event, I would start to decorate here and there, adding holiday touches in my home, on my property, and in the staging area for the greens. I always wanted to make everything perfect, or as best as possible. It needed to be a cozy, organized, and a welcoming event.
We would stage all the fresh holiday greens, many varieties, in a beautiful wood shed, which my husband built for his wood. For many years, he sacrificed the space on one side for us, for this workshop event, for the ladies. What a man, Mr. KB Claus. He never once complained about that. This year, of course, it is all filled with his stacked wood. And he just happily stacked his wood this year without ever a mention of how he gave up the space all those years prior for my workshops.
It almost looked like a manger on my holiday workshop days, as one attendee stated one year. It wouldn’t be long before I learned, I need elf helpers because the large group took a lot of coordinated effort, and fortunately for me, I am blessed with three close friends who offered to help me and my hubby.
But this year is different, very different. My holiday offerings are different, our upcoming family and friend gatherings are different, and our holiday anticipation, in many ways, will be different. All due to COVID entering our worlds. Who would EVER imagine COVID would be here still in the month of November. Into, what eight months, since this all started in March? My goodness!
So this year, as I’ve noted, I am taking custom orders for wreaths and kissing balls, as well as offering fresh greens by the box. All the details are outlined on my site, http://www.WorkshopsCT.com. I have my holiday face mask ready to greet anyone coming by for orders, and my helpful and festive hubby already built a stand for safe zero contact porch-pick-ups. Well, it will be driveway pick-ups this year. The stand he built is from wood limbs of trees around our property, which make it rustic looking. I can’t wait to hang my custom wreaths and kissing balls on it for orders. I think it will look pretty. And this starts next week, immediately after Thanksgiving Day.
So who am I? Well, I guess this holiday season, I am still Mrs. KB Claus but in a different format. Not sure what my title will be but I do know, I thoroughly enjoy working with the beautiful fresh holiday greens creating and it will certainly help ease our COVID situations. Creating with greens is an amazing escape from any concerns we may have as we stay safe at home. And I’m sure my husband will tolerate all my antics along the way!
This photo caught people’s attention yesterday when I posted it on Instagram and on my business Facebook page.
One commented (a friend and attendee of my workshops) with, and I quote, “That would be dried up, shriveled and dead at my house!” Another comment, on the Instagram feed, was, “Love the color!” And the photo post was doing better than 95% of my recent posts per Instagram’s notices on my feed.
Well, the darker color was the reason I brought a full tray of them to my greenhouse last spring to offer in my workshops, specifically the hanging baskets workshop with succulents. I wanted to make sure we had some to offer contrast in color.
I had asked my grower prior, can you make sure to include some Echeverias with darker tones if possible? When I saw the tray of them at the grower’s later as I arrived, my eye’s did that heart pounding thing which you see on emoji faces grinning with two hearts for eyes. Wow, those are beautiful and I knew I had to have them, and they made me very happy indeed then and since.
The full tray of consisted of 40 perfect darker toned Echeverias, and they all were sold except for 12 last season, which here they are in the orange trays, showcasing their dark tones in my greenhouse in the beginning of winter. Aren’t they amazing? Really!
These Echeverias have kept their form, have not shriveled up, and liked being rather neglected in regards to no water for a long time, which is fine for many succulents in the winter. However, if you don’t water some succulents, they will start to show signs of neglect by shriveling up, but these did not do this and seem a bit more resilient.
Inspecting your succulents during the winter months is important. I don’t have to visit my greenhouse ‘every day’ right now but I do have to go there to look around within a few weeks cause if you see a critter, you want to act on it right away.
As I poked around and sighed at the messy parts of the greenhouse yesterday, I did a quick inspection of everything as best as I could. Picking up trays and looking closely. I decided to move these plants into orange trays, and that is when I grabbed my iPhone to take a photo. The orange with the dark colored succulents was striking.
Watering and Inspecting
First, I looked to see if anything needed a drink, then I looked closely to make sure no aphids were present on any of my plants or cuttings, and then I tossed some things. Yup, that is the MOST difficult thing to do but sometimes you know there won’t be a use, as least right now, of some of the cuttings I have waiting to be taken care of and I decided to toss some. Ack! I hate doing that but I did.
But when I laid my eyes upon those darker toned Echeverias, still in stock – a nice grouping of 12, I thought to myself, wow, am I glad I got those. And look at them now. Plump, full, and a nice color in the middle of winter. I wish all succulents would stay this beautiful for this long. Look Ma, No Stretching!
When I asked the name last spring of this succulent, my grower said, they are Echeveriapurpusorum Berger. If you Google it, you may find this description by one site. It was the first to appear on the top of my Google page:
Echeveria Purpusorum Rose A. Berger is a striking echeveria with deep olive green leaves embellished by small brownish red spots. The leaves are pointy and don’t have the white powdery coat like other Echeverias, making this species have a firmer and less fragile look.
I wholeheartedly agree – these are “firmer” and not fragile. The main reason I wanted them though, last year was because I enjoy adding the contrast in color with a darker toned succulent in arrangements and the hanging baskets, etc. It has a kind of plum-purple color, brown color, or even an olive green color in the right light. It is a darker tone which makes the other succulents stand out in the design or arrangement.
Speaking of light, it gets plenty of sunlight in my greenhouse on days like today when the sun is shining. They are sitting on a shelf facing the south side and it gets very warm on sunny days in the greenhouse, it can reach to 90 degrees F sometimes, but most days are cloudy and it stays more on the cooler side, about 55 to 60 degrees F in winter. On sunny days, I try to take a break from my office work to visit, water, inspect and get some Vitamin D.
If you google this Echeveria, I’m amazed at the range of prices it goes for from various sites from Etsy to whatever’s. In fact, someone was trying to sell a damaged one for a lot! I think that is funny. But heck, if they are able to make a business that way, what am I missing?
I tend to keep a good eye on my plants and I want them to be perfect but that is not always easy. Yes, succulents may be neglected for a long time, but they will look like total crap if you neglect them too long. Believe me, I’ve seen succulents at places (won’t say where) and think, OMG, they haven’t watered in forever. They are low water plants but not no water. Even in the winter, a little bit is good for them from time to time. But for the most part, they are drought tolerant and need lots less water this time of year. I won’t go into how to water them here right now but there are good methods to keep them happy. That is for another blog post or for a future workshop.
If you do a bit of research on Echeverias, you will learn they are native to Texas, Mexico, and Central and South America. There are so many colors and many are on the softer side of coloring from soft blues to light pinks. Some are green and others are trimmed in red edges. Finding a nice dark rich color is not always easy, but I did last season, thanks to a wonderful grower. They know who they are (Thank you).
One seller’s site online listed them as a “collector’s” succulent. Hmm, was I giving them away last summer? LOL! Anyhow, regardless of the prices, descriptions, and if they are in vogue or not, I do find this variety to be a keeper, and if you are interested in one of the healthy 12 I have in my greenhouse right now, just shoot me a text. You know where to find me.