Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Overwintering Chilies and Free Food

It is so hard to pull a gorgeous, fruit-laden chili pepper plant from the ground. I kept telling myself and conveying to the poor peppers that it was for the best. Had to be done. The celestial clock is ticking and soon there will be no more impending frost. There will be frost. And death. Pull out a fat stack of plastic pots, a trowel and begin digging. I'm starting to think it may be best just to keep them pot-bound year-round. It is less work and they are still productive.
Mustard Habanero

Why overwinter chilies? 1. Starting chili pepper seeds in my cellar of a basement is difficult without bottom heat added and slow at best. 2. If I start several peppers each year I can chose 1 plant to keep of the bunch and have a small collection of various plants so I don't have to buy 20-30 seeds and start that many of each variety every year.  3. It is super easy. 4. I have the space and a dirty cellar basement to make a gardening mess in and 5. Overwintered plants will produce earlier than new starts and 6. Having life, aside from cave crickets and the pet toad, in the basement is oh so nice in the middle of winter. 

How do I overwinter chilies? Before the fall frost, which is due for us around the 2nd week in October chose which plants to overwinter. With a trowel make a cut into the ground in a circle around the chosen plant. Have a pot ready. Nicely yank the plant out of the ground and put it in the pot. Add some garden soil or potting soil to replace what just fell off. Water the heck out of them since you just tore off a lot of roots. Harvest all the chilies off of them if you haven't already done so and put a marker in the pot if you want to know what you have. After a couple of days adjusting to the pot trim the plant WAY back until it looks like some dead sticks. If you have room and don't mind cleaning up dead fallen leaves you can skip the trim. Put in the basement under a shoplight set to a timer.  Just water when the soil is dry. They won't need as much water as they will not have leaves to lose water from. If you do not trim them back and do not harvest the chilies you will have to water it more, but you will have peppers around the holidays. This is up to you. 
In the spring, bring the chilies outside slowly once the threat of frost is gone and allow them 1 hr of direct sunlight per day until fully acclimated. Now they can be planted back into the garden.

Chilies freshly dug from the Garden (and a bougainvillea) 

Other things going on today- I planted some more seeds. The chickens got through a hole in one of the hoop houses so I had to resew with lettuces, old spinach seeds and corn salad.

A few things I have started from seed in pots for the fall garden- cabbage, kale, green onions, spinach and johnny jump ups (for the heck of it).

What is the best kind of food? FREE FOOD!!! It is important to remember to mention to a fellow gardeners/foragers what vegetables/fruits/fungi you LOVE and do not grow well/find. For me, it is eggplant. I cannot grow it well without pesticides (although floating row cover may work, it just didn't last year due to the stray cat wanting to sleep on it) and I refuse to use them, but I still LOVE EGGPLANT. I came home yesterday to a huge bag full of eggplant at the back porch. Hell yes!  Thank you Jodee. While I've never had enough eggplant to try this I did today. Here's how I prepped eggplant for freezing. I plan on using it later for eggplant parmesan. 

1. Slice your eggplant while heating a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Directions said to add lemon juice to the water. My guess is that this is to preserve color, but who cares! It will be covered in tomato and cheese delight later. I did dump a few splashes of white wine vinegar and salt in the water for whatever reason. It seemed like a good idea. Blanch for 4-5 minutes. This breaks down the enzymes that would otherwise cause aging in the fruit.

2. Strain in a colander and set the hot eggplant in a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Strain again.
3. Lay them out on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. Once frozen put in a labeled freezer bag. I read that they keep 8-10months. 

A fellow coworker is a hunter. While hunting she also forages for wild plant/fungal foods. She came across a huge chestnut tree. She gave me a bag of chestnuts. I gave her a bag of Slippery Jack bolete mushrooms. It was a free food trade. How awesome. I've never made my own chestnuts and she can't find Slippery Jacks. Whallah! 

Eating organic gourmet food, for next to nothing. Life is good.


Pam J. said...

I discovered your blog by scrolling through the recent comments on Garden Rant about the question of getting rid of fleas. I just had to give you a shout-out b/c I'm SO on the same page as you...business about being overly reactive to microorganisms and other small creatures in our midst. Not sure if you saw my comment on that same post, but I referred and linked to a recent WashPost article by Rob Stein saying exactly that: we are just part of a larger biomass and we sometimes err on being too aggressive about ridding the world of other living organisms. Anyway, I'll be back to visit your blog often. (And your GRant comment made me feel so much better about myself; I had begun to feel like I was an idiot for what I said, but now I don't!)

Laura said...

Hi Pam! Thanks for your comment. I wasn't able to open the link you attached on GRant, but I can guess what it may say. I'll see if I can search for it later. I'm a biology teacher so that is my influence. I use to treat my cats and dogs without thinking about it, but as I use my brain more and care less about what others think about my pets having a few fleas I've approached their health differently. I had an outdoor cat growing up who lived 19yrs and was never dewormed/defleaed. In fact, none of our pets were growing up and all of them lived long and seemingly healthy lives. I try to impress upon my students that our fears of germs, etc are counter to how we should think about them. It is good to hear from like-minded folk. Keep spreading the word. Hopefully it will open a few eyes and minds. Keep in touch.

Pam J. said...

Here's the article.

I've decided to create a place where I can store (possibly/probably technically not entirely Kosher) articles of interest that are behind pay walls or otherwise hard to find. I won't be sharing it much so I don't fear police action. And I sure don't feel any guilt. If the link doesn't work, just go to

I'm 99% sure that will work.