Seed-starting time

Gardeners across the country all get that itch in January.  We have survived the biggest hump-day of the year.  Wednesdays as hump-day? Pah! We scoff at that.  Gardeners feel like they have crossed a humongous hurdle on December 21st, the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year.  We long for spring and a new growing season so desperately that the thought of the days beginning to stretch longer and longer, even if for just a few extra minutes; our minds swim with anticipation.  But, of course, we have to get through the holidays — and then clean up after the holidays….yada yada.  Yay, now that time is over. Time to get busy getting a start on what we love to do.

Starting seeds indoors is about all a gardener can do, other than look at catalogues and dream.  Well there is more to do, but that is a topic for another day.  Yesterday and today, I started a bunch of seeds indoors.  I started a lot of cool season greens and herbs, and of course a couple trays of Chiltepin.  Tepin peppers have a reputation for being difficult to germinate.  Many pepper seed sources state that they will not guarantee that the seeds will sprout and that it could take up to 80 days.  In my experience over the past 5 years or so, it has definitely been hit and miss.  Several times I have had the flat of seeds sprout within a couple of weeks.  Other times, it just sits there for months and I give up.  Last spring, I had a large flat of several hundred seeds that did nothing.  I finally gave up and dumped the soil  back in my wheelbarrow to re-use to start cucumber seeds.  Lo and behold, up popped each lovely cucumber sprout, and soon thereafter, a cluster of chiltepin seedlings surrounding each one! – - Yikes! What to do? – - I kinda had a Sophie’s Choice moment…..but I really wanted to make pickles, so the tepin seedlings bit the dust.  Anyhow, this year’s resolution is to get this germination conundrum figured out.  I have a few ideas, and I’m gonna be more scientific about it.  The main variables to contend with are soil, moisture and temperature.  And potentially seed conditioning.

Soon I will show pictures of the experiments I have started so far.  But for today, since this article is going on and on, I want to leave you with one idea.  Never, never use any type of potting soil or seed starting mix that is mainly peat moss.  Peat moss is anti-microbial.  It does nothing to stimulate life.  In fact it does the opposite, hence “antimicrobial” (Sorry to repeat myself.  My kids complain about it all the time.)  Peat moss lives for years and years in bogs without breaking down.  That is your first clue.  Also, there is some current research regarding its anti-microbial properties that I won’t bore you with right now. So don’t use peat for starting tepin seeds, or possibly any other finicky seed.  It is looking like these little guys need  a generous boost to get started in a hurry.

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Chiltepin update…and recipe!

It has been quite a while since I blogged about the chiltepin.  However, a lot has been going on in the past couple of months.  It was a great harvest, as you well know.  All the peppers have been dried and either stored in glass jars, or ground for spice and put into small spice jars.  I used a lot over the holidays!  My favorite recipe is for spiced pecans that I made and gave as gifts to family and friends.  My parents had a bumper crop of pecans on their farm – a couple hundred pounds. They get the nuts cracked at a local feed store, and then mom peels them by hand.  It takes probably at least a month or two for her to peel them, and then another month for her hands to heal from peeling those sharp pecan shells.  She is a tough lady.

I love making spiced pecans, because nuts are superfoods, and combined with chiltepin and cumin and coriander, which are also superfoods, spiced pecans are a wonderful and thoughtful gift to give friends and neighbors.  We live in a hectic world, and sometimes it is difficult to make things from scratch, but when we get a chance to do so, we spread a little bit of love that comes from the heart, and can even be “heart healthy”!

Here is an easy pecan recipe that I like, and I added chiltepin to replace the red pepper.  You can add more or less of any ingredient according to your own taste buds.  I hope all of these ingredients are in your pantry.  They really should be.  I actually added more salt, cumin and coriander, because my first batch was a bit bland-ish.  Consider your first batch an experimental one, and then tweak it for the next time.  Remember….you are talking about super foods, so the more spices you can take, the better off you are!!!

SPICY PECANS

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (or Chiltepin!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugar and spices, except for the chili powder. Stir in the pecans, and gently toss with chili powder to coat.
  3. Spread coated pecans on a medium baking sheet, and cook 30 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring approximately every 10 minutes.
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Being Selfish – Part II

Incredible how one’s whole focus changes completely when a baby comes into their life.  In some ways a person becomes extremely unselfish as one devotes one’s self to this fragile soul, and in other ways one becomes extremely selfish – - for the child.

Babyproof….babyproof….babyproof the house!  Cabinets are latched.  Dangling Cords are gone.  Perfume-free detergents cleanse the household.  Educational toys.  Baby Einstein. Nothing but the purest and best for this young life.

Oh, what a beautiful day. No fun being cooped up inside in our super safe house.  Let’s go out in the yard and crawl around in the grass and explore the great outdoors….

Ummm.  We just used a pre-emergent weed and feed yesterday.  The label is confusing. Can’t tell how safe the product is. But it doesn’t seem like a good idea to let my little one play in the grass just yet.  Maybe tomorrow….or maybe not. When will  the toxicity go away?  There has to be a better way.  She really wants to play!

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Being Selfish – Part I

In my first guerilla organic blog I made a statement about doing it (organics) for selfish reasons.  Guess it’s time to explain….

There was a day, once upon a time, before kids, when my husband and I used all the typical lawn fertilizers and weedkillers and  pesticides that the market is flooded with.  We were sooooo proud of our immaculate lawn in our little piece of suburbia.  Nary a weed would DARE to pop up in our yard.  Better life through Chemistry, as many of us geeks would say.

Then, a child was born………

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Save our Planet

Could somebody please explain why it is, that the impetus for encouraging the “masses” to Recycle….Be Green….Reduce your Carbon Footprint…Be Organic….is by laying a guilt trip on all of us and telling us to “Save the Planet“?  Is that the best reason that anyone can come up with for doing things that are just plain practical?

Save the Planet.  A noble cause.  It is amazing that anyone actually buys into it.  I refer you to the brilliant opening paragraphs of Michael Crighton’s “Jurassic Park”.

You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity. Let me tell you about our planet. Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There’s been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away — all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It’s powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. Do you think this is the first time that’s happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn’t have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We’ve been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we’re gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.

The Earth will Not Miss Us. Hmmm…..Save the Planet?  Or Save Ourselves!  Why does Mankind think that he is hurting the planet, when the actual “Inconvenient Truth” is that the Earth is Kicking OUR Butt!!!  Look at the earthquakes that have devastated Haiti and other countries.  The devastating Tsunamis.  Mudslides. Hurricanes. The volcano ash that stopped air traffic  in Europe.  The human and economic devastation from these natural disasters has been incredible.  Yet we are arrogant enough to think that our feeble attempts at reducing carbon footprints will somehow “Save” this planet that is in “continuous and violent upheaval”.

Recycle to save the planet?  Or recycle and be “green” because you are fully aware that it is practical and resourceful.  “Waste Not Want Not” was a familiar phrase that our parents and grandparents repeated.  They were soooo much more “Green” than any of us could ever be.  Practicality is the motivation behind Guerilla Organics.  Be resourceful. Agile. Make organics work for you and your lifestyle.  Don’t buy into any of the sacrimonious “Be Green”, “Carbon Footprint” Hype.  We live in a free market.  Don’t be manipulated.  Be educated.  My goal is to show you why being organic is just plain smart.

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Official in ’96 – Texas State Pepper

Texas Legislature
HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, The Lone Star State’s reputation as a haven for lovers of hot and spicy food is well deserved, and the native chiltepin pepper has contributed greatly to this proud legacy; and

WHEREAS, A member of the genus Capsicum, the chiltepin grows wild in our temperate climate and is both undeniably American and typically Texan; its distinctive flavor makes it ideal for hearty stews and red-hot Texas chili, and it is a staple in many Tex-Mex favorites; and

WHEREAS, Even the mockingbird, our state bird, recognizes the appeal of this piquant pod, choosing to dine on it almost exclusively when the pepper is in season; wild turkeys, too, are often seen feeding on these tasty little morsels, and these and other fruit-eating wild birds play a vital role in the chiltepin’s proliferation; and

WHEREAS, Found in abundance from the southern United States to northern South America, the chiltepin has been used for many years by the various peoples who have populated our great state; known variously as chile mosquito and chile bravo, the Spanish described this zesty fruit as “arrebatado,” meaning that although its spiciness is immediate and intense, this bold sensation does not linger long; and

WHEREAS, The chiltepin is used in both fresh and dried forms, combined with vinegar to make a tangy sauce or sprinkled into soup to provide just the right seasoning; perhaps the most amazing attribute of this indigenous spice is that it has been shown to increase the human metabolism by as much as 25 percent, making it a promising means of controlling weight gain; and

WHEREAS, The chiltepin’s storied history even includes a footnote to one of our greatest American presidents, Thomas Jefferson; an avid gardener, President Jefferson acquired some of these exotic tiny peppers from a fellow horticulturist and displayed a keen interest in establishing a market for this Texas pepper; and

WHEREAS, It is important to acknowledge and promote our endemic natural resources, for they are an integral part of our heritage and help to make us recognizable to other cultures around the globe; the chiltepin is Texas’ only native pepper, and its long history and wide variety of uses make it truly deserving of special recognition and endorsement; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 75th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby declare the chiltepin the official State Native Pepper of Texas.

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Save the Planet? HA!

This is not your ordinary blog on organic gardening and lifestyle.  There will be no preaching about saving the planet here.  My reasons for being organic are purely selfish.  Stay tuned to find out why

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The Mother of All Peppers

The Chiltepin is a wild pepper that grows across the Southwest of the U.S., and in Mexico.  According to Slow Food USA, it is the only wild native chile in this area, and is thought to be the oldest species in the Capsicum genus.  Therefore the Chiltepin is sometimes called the “mother of all peppers.”  Because it has a long history in the US/Mexico borderlands, it is known by many names, such as Chili Tepin, Chile del Monte, Chili Pequin, a’alkokoli (O’odham), Chiltepictl (Nahuatl), Amash(Mayan).  Many of these cultures used the Chiltepin as food, medicine, vermifuge and mythic icon.  Wow, what is vermifuge?  Okay, of course I looked it up – - vermifuge (noun) is a medicine that expels intestinal worms.  Gosh, who knew?  I guess that makes sense.  I tried a stab at vermicomposting once, which is a composting process using earthworms.  Sooo….that’s the “vermi”, and as for the “fuge”…….well, that just sounds like someone is expelling something!  – - Mythic Icon?  Talk amongst yourselves, and let me know when you figure out what that means.  The silly pepper is pea sized.  Hard to imagine worshipping the darn thing as some kind of Mythical Icon.

Also, according to Slow Food USA, the Chiltepin pepper has not become completely obsolete thanks to sustainable harvests and cultural stewards of the pepper.  The peppers are wild-harvested, hand picked, and organic.  There remain less than 15 known localities in the US that serve as natural habitats for wild chiles.  They are protected in the US in Coronado National Forest, Big Bend National Park and Organpipe Cactus National Monument.

It is not surprising that the Chiltepin is slowly disappearing from the wild.  As tough as this native plant is, it is not immune to the herbicides that are broadcast across many of the ranchlands in the southwest.  Our family is happy to be a “cultural steward” of this, the mother of all peppers.

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It’s Harvesting Time!

Fall Harvest

Fall Harvest

Things have been a little busy this past month!  We have been picking peppers like crazy.  The chiltepins are at full peak, and hundreds, if not thousands are ripening every day.  This is a sample of what we picked this last week (Ooh, my aching back).  We have them in sheet pans to air dry them; then we will jar some of them for seed preservation.  The rest of the dried chilies will be gently roasted to 180 degrees to kill any potential bacteria, then cooled and then immediately vacuum  packed to preserve freshness and flavor.  At that point we store them in a cool, dry place and open as needed for cooking or to grind into the best chili powder ever!  We use ground chiltepin on everything from eggs, to rice, soups, stews, sandwiches, pannini’s, etc.  It is our third condiment along with salt and pepper.

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Chiltepins in the Landscape

Here is a sample of our Chiltepin shrubs in the landscape.  They are the shrubs in the foreground of both pictures.  They make lovely and lush shrubs – very ornamental, and at the same time very beneficial, since they produce the edible peppers .  We pick the peppers as soon as they turn red, so unfortunately you don’t see any of the red fruit on plants in the photos.  We just love them and they are pretty drought tolerant.  They thrive all summer long in the Texas heat.  They do die back in the winter like most perennials, but if properly mulched, they’ll pop right back up in the spring.  Chiltepin don’t seem to be in the same category as the pepper plants that you find in the garden center.  Definitely hardier.

We have around a hundred plants decorating our backyard property, which is about a half acre.  You might notice the natural “edging”, which is mainly composed of oak logs.  We try to be as sustainable as possible – no organic matter leaves our property – things get composted, or used as mulch in paths or planting beds.  Therefore, when we needed to have  several trees cut down – rather than having the trunks trucked away to the landfill, we created new landscaping beds.  They will rot over time – in fact you can see that one section has already started to bite the dust, but for the time being, we are really enjoying the “rustic” look!  And you should see the gorgeous mushrooms that emerge on their bark here and there.   Check out www.genuineverdict.com  – I’m sure Mike has captured a number of mushroom photos in the past, but he has so many photos, so good luck finding them!

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