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thoroughburro 2023, kith and kitchen

I’m just a week or so away from my first round of seed starting, and The List has stabilized.

As the title suggests, I’m focusing on a more shareable garden, this year. My high heat tolerance is well satisfied by sauces and flakes, so it’ll be a mercy to others and not much sacrifice to me if I cook more with mild or heatless peppers and lean into condiments for my own spice satisfaction.

Capsicum annuum​

4 Gogoşar (pronounced “gogoshar”; also transliterated as gogosar, gogosari, etc), a heatless Romanian variety whose name is confusingly also used generically for red pepper. My partner has very fond memories of this large, pumpkin-shaped pepper being roasted and then stuffed or preserved. They’re also used fresh, like red bell pepper. I had to import these seeds from a Romanian seller on Ebay who at first resisted since US customers had been leaving bad reviews for unreliable shipping. I assured her I would leave a good review regardless of ever getting them. It all worked out, and now of course I’m that much more invested in growing the variety…

4 Quadrato d’Asti Giallo, a superlative, heatless yellow bell pepper from Asti, in northern Italy. I grew this last year and, although the pods were stunted in only 5 gallons of soil, I was extremely impressed with the thick flesh and excellent flavor. Together with Gogosar, these should account for most of our “vegetable pepper” usage.

4 NuMex Heritage 6-4, well known as a choice, but mild, New Mexican cultivar. I grew Big Jim last year, but it was too hot for my partner to enjoy when used as the base of, for example, chile verde.

4 Jalapeño Zapotec, nearly rejected for again being too hot for my jalapeño-popper-loving partner, it found a place as my primary fresh spice pepper for pico de gallo and other fresh salsas. I’d find a place for it regardless, really; I find it a very compelling pepper.

4 Jalapeño TAM, this is the jalapeño to hate if you despise the near-heatless jalapeño products which took over the mass market: it was developed by Texas A&M University to be a commercial (but open pollinated) crowd pleaser. It should be exactly right for my partner’s poppers, and thus allows me to grow my Zapotecs!

4 Chiltepin O’odham (pronounced something like “OH ohdahm”, the apostrophe representing a glottal stop; they’re fascinating), a really tempting chiltepin collected from a sacred mountain. I struggled to choose a chiltepin for the year, especially because my dried Chiltepin Hermosillo Dwarf from last year have been amazing… but I do want to see if the berries of a non-dwarf might be a bit bigger, and I’m a sucker for a good origin story.

4 Stavros, an apparently choice Greek pickling pepper of the general type known in the US as “golden Greek pepperoncini”. “Pepperoncini” terminology is an absolute minefield, which is a shame since so many of us developed an addiction to them in childhood (thank you for that if nothing else, Papa John’s). This seems to be the only specifically named cultivar widely available, so it was an easy choice.

Capsicum chinense​

4 Orange Habanero (SLP) and
4 Orange Habanero (CPI), let one of these be the harpoon which slays at last this white whale, please god! This will be the third year I attempt to accomplish the original goal of this now-major hobby, which was to replace my no-longer-locally-available favorite sauce (El Yucateco XXXtra Hot Kutbil-ik) with homemade. The first year, I began too late and only whetted my appetite; last year, I put all eggs in the Habanero Oxkutzcab basket, which was too fruity for purpose. I’ve realized I need a bog standard habanero for the sauce I crave. Hopefully one of these will do.

4 Habanada (also using seeds collected from @HellfireFarm), which will allow me to make a medium-heat, taste-alike version of my signature sauce for more sensitive friends and family. This technique, of substituting some of the spicy variety with a heatless version to make a mild sauce, works so well that the smell, texture, and damn near the flavor are almost identical to the real deal. I hope to slowly create more heatless varieties of sauce peppers to allow this for each sauce I make. Someday.

4 Bahamian Goat, which saved my bacon when Habanero Oxkutzcab proved unsuited. It’s bulletproof and super productive with no downsides. It would almost be hubris not to grow: oh, you think you’re so good you don’t need the Goat at your back? It’s a good luck pepper.

4 Hot Paper Lantern, which I failed to see through last year. These have an almost universally excellent reputation, and in general sound like another pepper with all pros and no cons. I tend to like those! In addition, Johnny’s offers a yet more lauded version which was apparently the pride and joy of one of their breeders, Janika Eckert. I expect great things!

2 7 Pot Jonah, which I fully expect to regret growing. The capsaicinoids all over everything around processing time was a bit annoying last year. This year, I know to dedicate a separate cutting board and generally be more aware of the invisible menace which accumulated capsaicinoids become. Even so, I expect processing a superhot into sauce to be an ordeal. But I do want that sauce. I want a sauce in my repertoire which can make me think twice. Plus, I already thought of a good name.

2 Ají Charapita, which I grew from RFC seeds last year. I wasn’t sure if I would grow it again, but it’s lovely and compact, and looks amazing filled with glowing berries. We made a present of the single harvest of the single plant we grew, packed in vinegar, and it was both surprisingly beautiful and tasty. This seedline from Peter Merle was collected by him from a wild (or, I would suspect, naturalized) context along the Amazon, near Iquitos where the variety is common. I don’t expect it to be appreciably different to RFC’s, but the extra provenance is cool!

2 Redfire, also known as CAP 691. An enigmatic wild (or naturalized) red chinense which @Pr0digal_son described temptingly here. I’m hoping this has deciduous pods…

Capsicum baccatum​

4 CAP 455, which was the most productive pepper I grew last year, as well as the tastiest heatless red. The large jar of refrigerator pickles leftover has seen heavy use in chickpea salad sandwiches. I intend to devote a future season to more widely exploring baccatum, but this one is essential.

Capsicum frutescens​

4 Tabasco, which sure, yawn, but that unique flavor is still my absolute, must-have favorite on breakfast eggs. I’ll be surprised if I can make an acceptable substitute, but taking a shot at it will be my first fermented sauce project.

It’s a smaller grow than last year, in order to allow room for a burgeoning interest in herbs and a tentative branching out into other veg. As long as my choices work for purpose, it should all be more than enough!
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Last night only got down to 50 F (10 C), so I left the garden out on the porch. Looks like they’ll be able to stay out a few days. Hardening off seems to be going well!


Looks a lot more manageable when they’re off the cramped shelves! Maybe could even use a few more of something… maybe peppers? 🤔

Well good news, the water heater closet duo popped up together, before I even had to start worrying! Chiltepin Hermosillo Dwarf with one sprout at 10 days since sowing, Habanero Orange CPI with four sprouts at 6 days.

Here are the Habanero Orange CPI pots:


These served as a test of my idea to sow directly into nursery pots with my standard, typically untroublesome fine coir. It seems this will work as well as hoped! Fewer materials for me to buy and one less repotting for the sprouts to suffer! 😆

Meanwhile, I have sixteen of these 11 lb (5 kg) compressed coir blocks to rehydrate:




Every time I buy compressed coir, I’m slightly disappointed by how much it expands. Not that it’s much less than advertised or anything, just that it’s so expensive… I somehow always expect it’ll make a big pile! This layer varies between 4-6 in (10.16-15.24 cm) deep.

At least this time it’s of reasonably good fineness. This is Envelor brand, fine grade. I used too much water while expanding it, so this is an example of almost dripping, completely sodden coir: still so fluffy!

I also bought in 8 bags of Black Kow composted manure, some Epsoma slow-release fertilizer, and some pelletized garden lime. The recycled peat, the fresh coir, and these amendments will get mixed sometime in the next few days. I’ve made compromises for budget, but this should be a lot better than last year!

How’s Pinwheel doing?


Happy enough, but it hasn’t made much progress compared to its siblings:


C’mon Pinwheel, let’s go!
$22 for 76 liters is the best price I could get, this year. And that’s the advertised volume when expanded, which I suspect is a bit optimistic. What you see in the photo above is $22. 😬
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The cheapest is 1.24 (euro) per block of 10 liters. That would be 9,424 per 76 liters, about $10. The price of any potting soil has raised significantly this year for every brand. We pay about $11 to $22 for 70 liters of regular potting soil whereas last year it was about $8 to $17.

With inflation nowadays, every other week or so, I see a news article on one of the bigger news platforms, claiming that people can save money with their own veggie garden. It always makes me laugh. If I add up potting soil, my rise in electricity costs, seed costs, canning costs, my working hours and loads of other costs, I am producing a high end harvest. 😀 I'm doing something wrong...
With inflation nowadays, every other week or so, I see a news article on one of the bigger news platforms, claiming that people can save money with their own veggie garden. It always makes me laugh. If I add up potting soil, my rise in electricity costs, seed costs, canning costs, my working hours and loads of other costs, I am producing a high end harvest. 😀 I'm doing something wrong...

Potting soil was cheap for me (in BE) because I participated in a group purchase organized by a local community. I spent most on compost and seeds. I did not grow staple foods that require a lot of area to grow (such as potatoes). We $av€d quite a bit, but it was more about the pleasure to grow and eat your own.
Here’s a closer look at the new hotness, Habanero Orange CPI:


I find it hilarious that this whole, now-primary hobby is basically in service of producing a personal version of El Yucateco’s XXXtra Hot Kutbil-Ik (a straightforward roasted orange habanero sauce), and after three years I might be on the verge of growing the habanero I need! 🤷‍♂️

I’m wondering why I never thought to sow straight into the nursery pots before. I’m all in on using this technique for 2024, so I guess I’ll find out if there’s a downside!
A small storm is coming through today, with gusts up to 35 mph (56 km/h). I considered lugging everything back in, but this is a windy lot… they’ll be contending with wind throughout their lives, here. So, Air Defense Formation, go!


I find that simple windbreaks like this make a ton of difference. The plants still get swirled around, but it mostly eliminates the sustained, straight-line wind that bends stems over for long periods.
For a while there, it looked like I might be able to get stuff planted out a good couple weeks earlier than usual… but it was not to be: everything is back inside for a couple nights around 35 F (1.67 C). Plant-out will almost certainly begin on Monday! Still a week earlier than local average, but feels like foooorrreeverr.


When the kids come home but you were already using their space for other stuff…
Last year, I used plastic grow bags (3 and 5 gallon). I intended to reuse them for a few seasons, but they were troublesome and too delicate. After settling, many were lopsided and difficult to water evenly. They also tended to tear when moved, and the weekly lawn mowing gradually perforated them with debris.

Today, we numbered and drilled the new containers:


These are standard, all-white buckets, with thick, stiff plastic. I’m hopeful they’ll last indefinitely. Forty 3.5 gallon (13.25 liter) buckets, sixty 5 gallon (18.93 liter) buckets, and (for the large-podded annuums) eleven 12 gallon (45.42 liter) tubs.

I found bargains on it all, but it was nonetheless a strain on the budget. I think it’ll feel like a good decision as the years go by… 🤞

An advantage of drilling my own holes is that I can place them not on the bottom, but a couple inches up the sides:


In my grow last year (and generally in my area), containers drying out in the heat has been more a problem than remaining wet too long. Holes on the side makes it easy to see when water has run fully through and should also act to partially bottom-water the container, allowing the media to slowly soak up the last couple inches.

However, something else I noticed last year was that some of my most productive plants were actually partially in-ground: they had one or more fairly thick roots escape the container. That won’t be possible with side holes only. So, in the lower right of the first photo you can see an old bucket with its bottom knocked out. I’m going to try filling it in place and growing in it as if it were a normal container… making for a container with infinite root space? A single-plant raised bed? A container which refuses to hold moisture? We’ll see! 🤔
I also moved from growing bags to hard plastic containers for larger plants. Plastic bags were easily torn apart after a few months of use under my climate conditions. In a few cases, I even used tape to keep things together 😶
It’s been beautiful weather for working: cool, breezy; don’t even get hot, just exhausted!


I mixed and filled the white ones yesterday. With the dark, 12 gallon tubs done today I think I’m about halfway done by soil volume. Hope so, anyway!

The rest of today will be spent expanding the coir for tomorrow. These are all good examples of things which could have been done in Feb or Mar, but noooo, not Mr Foresight over here. 🤣
Are you adding Cal-Mag or something when you expand your coir? And are you then rinsing it after expanding it?

I add pelletized garden lime, composted manure, and some Epsoma slow-release nutrients.

The coir doesn’t need to be rinsed… I’ve heard scary stories, but I think they’re from an earlier era before garden soil was one of its primary uses. At least, I’ve never seen anything for sale which wasn’t “rinsed and pH treated”. I believe that amounts to letting piles of it be rained on long enough. Never had any trouble!
I add pelletized garden lime, composted manure, and some Epsoma slow-release nutrients.

The coir doesn’t need to be rinsed… I’ve heard scary stories, but I think they’re from an earlier era before garden soil was one of its primary uses. At least, I’ve never seen anything for sale which wasn’t “rinsed and pH treated”. I believe that amounts to letting piles of it be rained on long enough. Never had any trouble!

OK, that's good if it's working for you. I use the cheaper stuff and I will continue to prep it.
I put in a long day and got all the 5 gallon buckets done, yesterday. That’s almost everything mixed and filled… just a couple dozen of the 3.5 and 2 gallon buckets left, but they’ll go fast in comparison.

Last year, soil was almost an afterthought and I wound up using pure peat with a bit of bark mixed in for drainage. I keep my longterm plants in inert media (albeit coir, not peat) and feed them liquid nutrients (Dyna-Gro All-Pro 7-7-7), and sticking with a familiar method for my first season growing crops seemed prudent. Long glog short, crops are way hungrier than succulents: the Dyna-Gro became too expensive, and much of the season was spent top-dressing nutrient granules and pelletized lime.

I still can’t afford to put together the soil I’d really like, but here’s some photos and a better description of what I’m mixing up for this year:


The big pile is recycled soil from last year (again, mostly peat) on the right and fine coir on the left. I keep fresh coir rehydrating in the bin at bottom-right while working in the much larger bin on the left.

I fill the large bin about half full with half recycled peat and half fresh coir, then add a bag of composted manure:


If I had to estimate, I’d say this is about 3:3:1 of peat:coir:manure.

I amend that with 1 cup (0.24 liters) of pelletized garden lime:


And 4 cups (0.95 liters) organic, slow-release fertilizer:


Then I kill my back by stooping over and mixing it all up:


In the end, I’ll have done that about 20 times to create about 516 gallons (1950 liters) of potting soil.

I’m smiling, but behind the sunglasses lies pain and exhaustion 😅:


(Hello! It’s me and about a third of my many bucket children.)

The soil mix is guesswork based on last year combined with budgetary constraints, so I’m not putting it out there to emulate… more to document it for later in the year, when I’m asking for help diagnosing nutrient deficiency and uptake issues. 😒

The next few days are cloudy, just a bit rainy, and mild — perfect for transplants to find their roots before getting blasted by sun. I’ll be planting out the most mature varieties today!