A Garden Jelly to Delight the Senses


Jars, Jelly and Beer

My Serrano Pepper plant was not nearly as prolific as last year’s specimen. Usually one of these hot pepper plants is more than enough for a family! Last year’s plant must have had the perfect accommodations. A nice view of the sunrise, warm enough throughout the day and into the shade as late afternoon crept in. I think the dining in this location must have suited the plant well. The corner occupied by this plant was in my oldest raised bed, six years in the making.  It had been nurtured with aged compost every year and the worms turning the soil are abundant. The food must have been as good as any ***** establishment….. based on the size and productivity. This year the location was missing the morning sun…and the bed is just 2 years old.

So now – back to the title of the post. From last year’s plant I made several batches of Serrano Pepper Jelly. Each batch was made with a different recipe but they all came out well, each with its own merits. The first was a back to basics batch, I made it with pectin I made from apples. It jelled very well but was not hot enough. The next batch was made using commercial pectin, more Serrano peppers, but didn’t set well. This poorly set “jelly” turned out to be perfect for pouring over soft cream cheese used as a party dip. I tried to replicate the “pourable” jelly and came close. It was all good…just some better than others. Where have I heard that phrase before?????

Now the batch I made two days ago seems to be setting up nicely….. may not pour as well over the cream cheese but I can still blend it in. The remedy for the” jelled-jelly “- just blend it into the cream cheese – it seems to work very well. Recipe number 4 may turn out to be a keeper. I actually wrote it down – not really wrote it down – I typed it into a word document and saved it into my recipe file on the hard drive. I am not sure that many of us really “write” any more. My mother is good about sending hand written letters and notes. It is such a pleasure to see her beautiful cursive script. My grandson recently sent me a hand written thank you note after receiving his birthday card….. made me feel warm inside. I think we need to slow down sometimes and reflect on some simpler pleasures and times.

Where was I going? – oh the new recipe. What I like about it is the abundance of Serrano peppers it calls for. The flavor is nicely warm without causing beads of sweat to break out on your forehead.  I was concerned about having pepper pieces in the jelly so I used a sieve and removed some before canning. In hindsight I should have left it alone. Those that remained give the jelly a pleasant look and a bit of something to chew on. All of the peppers came from my garden ……. I know how they were grown and fed. The recipe basics –  A cup each of finely chopped red and green Bell Peppers(2 total), about 20 deseeded Seranno peppers, I added a half dozen yellow peppers just because they would have been lonely in the fridge, one cup of apple cider vinegar used to puree the Serrano peppers, a box of Sure-Jell pectin and 5 cups of sugar. Yum! Standard directions – heat pepper mix to boiling, add sugar, heat to rolling boil – hold for a full minute (does that make sense, isn’t a minute always a minute?) then place in hot clean jars.

It was a busy day in the kitchen. My wife had left on a trip to California to be with her brother and family as he recovers from a serious surgery. With her gone I could spread out a little more and let the resulting mess linger a little longer…..without her comments – I have learned that she really cares for me and that is why she continues to invest time in coaching me. I had also been delaying the process of getting my beer out of the secondary fermenter and into the bottles. So I combined efforts in the kitchen and completed two culinary actions…..I think I can lump beer into that culinary category can’t I? As you can see from the picture above I was busy in the kitchen. I have to wait a couple of weeks for the beer but the jelly is ready to go. Link to my beer blogging is shown below.


My lettuce growing efforts had a bit of a setback – my son came home from school for the Thanksgiving Holiday and brought his lovely Labrador mix pooch, Sierra, home from school. She apparently still has a bit of puppy in her and loves to dig in good, moist and rich soil. So, where do you suppose my young lettuce plants were…….emphasis on were. You guessed it, like a laser guided missile she made a precision strike on the three rows of young lettuce plants. There is that old philosophical question about a tree falling in a forest. If no one is around to hear it, does it make any sound? Hmmmmm. When young and tender lettuce plants are brutally shredded and no one is there, do their screams of agony not make any noise? Take a deep breath Bishop and remember that the new lettuce seed packets have many hundreds more waiting to be planted.

My to-do list for today will include lettuce planting, green bean picking, turning the compost pile and raking leaves. I wonder what he neighbors were thinking on Wednesday when I cruised the street with my portable leaf vacuum and shredder….. I was able to gather a barrel full of shredded leaves from the neighbor’s yard. Shredded leaves make great mulch and adds carbon to my composting efforts. The leaves are dropping all over the neighborhood so the crazy guy in the big green truck will be gathering leaves today and tomorrow. My wife is still gone so I will not be embarrassing her directly. ;-D

Strawberry rantings coming soon.



Learning Lessons and other Musings

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Planted 3 Inch Strawberry Towers

Sugar Snap Peas climbing skyward

 The lesson from the experiment are many and a bit painful.

Lesson number one – 3 inch drain pipe is too small – I debated and again the cheap side of me went with the lower cost….guess what. Sometimes more is better …. (I chose the politically correct phrase). The 4 inch pipe is probably a good choice but the more I look at it and work with the 3 inch pipe the 6 inch may be the best choice.
Lesson number two – fill with the planting media as you plant.  I filled the 3 inch pipes to the top before the plants arrived and it becomes a challenge to get the plants well seated.
Lesson three – space the holes out in a less dense pattern.  I chose a 90  degree orientation with the back side blank. I read an article a couple of months ago where a young lad experimented with spacing solar cells based on plant world configurations – something like Fibonacci numbers –   and the results were amazing. So I may play around with real plant world arrangements like – 135° (or 3/8) : eight leaves in three gyres. The Fibonacci sequence would predict 137.5 degrees as an optimum spacing. That would be 8 holes in three rows and then repeat.
Lesson 4 – the holes are probably the right size/diameter but the  forstner bit leaves a sharp edge in the hole. Have you heard the joke where the patient says to the doc, “It hurts when I put my finger into the holes in the pipe!” The doc  tells him, “The cure is to stop putting your finger in there!” I should have listened to the doc. I shredded the index finger on both hands – so the pain is evenly distributed. I think that helps?
I think I will experiment with the 6 inch pipe this coming spring – I will be”frugal” and rather than build the towers using PVC Tees and Ells, I will use a post hole digger to set the pipe upright. I figure 12-15 inches deep should be sufficient.
The warm weather is helping and hindering. The help – I am still picking green beans and cucumbers… as well as bell peppers, yellow banana peppers, serrano peppers and radishes. I picked all of my green tomatoesover a week ago thinking that November would bring some cool weather – well I should have waited.  Is it Global Warming or too “dadgum” politicians spewing hot air????? 82 degrees F today, 28 C for the rest of the world.
Now the bad. I am waiting for my asparagus ferns to respond to the cold, ha ha, and turn brown so I can cut them back. They are still green, still growing and sending up new shoots. So, …… ????????
I love puttering around in the garden an snacking on the fresh crunchy stuff. Fresh green beans today and a couple of sugar snap pea pods… not worth bringing into the house – just right for crunchy chewing in the garden.

I Thought I Was Being Frugal


Lettuce not be Cheap

I have been a little disappointed in that most of my lettuce seeds have failed to germinate. I know that the weather has been a little too warm so I have reseeded several times and have seen very few show up in the rows. I am a frugal gardener so I spread the seeds so that I don’t have to do a lot of thinning. Because of that I rarely plant all of the seeds in the packets. Over the course of the past few years I have many packets of leftovers and try to use them ……

I just found this bit of advice while searching the internet today.  “Lettuce also fails to germinate if the seed is old, so use fresh seed each season.” Should I take this advice???? I think I should!

I looked at some of my leftovers and the dates on the packets go as far back as 2008! Looks like I am not frugal but the word cheap might be a better descriptor.
I broke down today and spent $ 6.00 or so for some new, current season lettuce seeds. Weather is still on the cusp of being too warm…we will see 80 degrees this week again. I planted lettuce today for the fourth time this “fall” – Hope I haven’t wasted my money….what if it is more likely the warm weather and not old seed? I guess I won’t ever know.
Peas are coming up

I seem to use up almost all of the pea seeds every year and bought 2011/12 season sugar snap peas for this fall. I love this sequential depiction of peas sprouting. Most of my peas are further along than the right hand image. I noticed today that I have some up into the 15 – 18″ tall range and some flowers are beginning to develop. I am looking forward to the sweetness of fresh picked sugar snaps. The pole beans have just about stopped flowering so it looks like I will have a gap in the harvest. I didn’t have many beans today so most found their way into my mouth before they made the kitchen. They are actually pretty sweet but not like the peas.

Still gathering cucumbers from my volunteer plants. These cukes are so good. Sometimes the Houston heat causes them to grow so fast they become huge and they can be a little bitter. The weather is perfect right now, the size of the cukes just perfect and they taste great.. I grilled some of the fresh red bell peppers from the garden tonight. I have a bunch of Serrano peppers to pick this week and will probably make some more Serrano Pepper jelly. So good over cream cheese as a dip. I also found some red onion sets at the store where I picked up the lettuce seeds and added them to the white onions I planted a few weeks ago. The white onions and the garlic are up and stretching toward the sky. Looking forward to late spring 2012 for the onions to be ready.
I will be in the garden getting my hands dirty again tomorrow…..

Strawberry Towers Phase One

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I have decided to try going vertical with my soon to arrive strawberries.  I have seen a number of different approaches to going vertical and decided to build a two tower set-up as my first test. I chose 3″ PVC drain pipe – it is light weight, cheaper than the heavy wall PVC and easy to work with. The picture below shows the two tower set-up after they were put together and filled. The base of the structure is filled with pea gravel for stability. I drilled 24 –  1 1/4″ holes in each tower, none on the back side. I inserted a butcher paper tube inside prior to filling with potting soil. The blue masking tape is used to keep the tubes in place as I filled the pipe and to help keep the soil in place. When planting a small hole will be made through the paper and the bare root plant will be placed into the hole. I have subsequently added a 3X4 swage on top as an added reservoir for water and liquid nutients.

The Twin Strawberry Towers

I also drilled a weep hole a few inches above the “Tee” at the base of the tower. Wetting the soil by pouring water from the top was going very slowly. So when I returned from my inner injection appointment this afternoon I swung by Lowes and picked up a couple of 3X4 swages and placed them on top to increase the volume of water I can pour. Seems to be working much better. Have not yet filled the towers with enough water to  reach the weep holes. It may take a lot of water as the pore space in the base could be considerable.

During the construction of the  test towers it dawned on me that this could develop into a viable hydroponic set-up. The PVC piping used for the base could be used to provide the return run of the nutient run-off. Rather than using potting soil, a hydroponic perlite type of material could be used. While doing a little research into the hydroponic stuff I seem to run across lots of sites that are linked to growing that funny seven leafed plant that is in the news quite often. Wow – 55 gallon drums of nutient chemical will set you back about 3 grand….Must be good money in growing that other stuff……

The week of November 7th is the promised date for my strawberry plants to arrive. I have to work all week so planting will be deferred a bit. The plants should hold well in the produce drawer until the weekend.

Shown next is the close-up of the 1/8″ weep hole and another angle of the base and towers set up next to my compost bins and in front of my blackberry bed.  If the experiment works it could lead to a small commercial patch. I think you could increase plantings by a factor of 5 or 6 in the same square footage of space and really simplify the harvest. I have seen the strawberry harvest in California and it is back breaking, stoop labor. This could be a win all around. Intitial investment might be a little higher but in the long term could be much cheaper.

FYI – The towers are not glued in place to aid in dumping and replacing the growing medium. In the future I may consider 4″ or even 6″ PVC drain pipe.

Towers next to compost bins

1/8 " Weep hole

TTFN Folks


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