November 19, 2008


Its been a scary weekend here at my home. Southern California wildfires got within a scant 2 miles of my home and we were forced to pack and be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. Fortunately for us, the fire dampened down in the night and the high winds stilled at that time. This caused the fire to shift in a new direction and to travel more slowly. Our home and gardens were spared and we did not have to evacuate our home after all.

I've driven into the area where the fire did consume all in its path and find that the hills are blackened and buildings are closed due to fire damage. It is all very scary since it came so very close to our home.

Now I'm starting the cleanup process. There is a fine layer of ash on the ground and the plants. I've made certain to wash all the leaves of the plants of this ash and to wash it into the soil. The air still smells of smoke, but it is safe to go outside for extended periods of time since the air is clean enough. My chiles are still producing pods, but only a few on each plant. They are starting to go dormant as the nightly temperatures decrease. Soon, it will be time to get them prepared for overwintering.

November 12, 2008

Fall Chill Arrives

The weather is turning cooler at last after a long, hot summer. My chile plants are still producing pods in their little raised beds, although I am finding that the heat in the chiles is less than it is during the hot months.

I'm hoping to have enough of the cherry bombs to make one more of the chicken/sausage and cherry bomb dinners, but otherwise I'm starting to make plans to let my garden go fallow for the winter. I will cut back the plants, make them as sheltered as possible and get them into overwinter mode. I'd like to save my cherry bombs, the fresnos, the fatali and the scotch bonnet plants, but if the others survive, that is okay too.

There is not much else to say about the garden this time of year. That is the nice thing about gardening. It is a hobby that waits for you and brings you peace....not to mention produce!

October 13, 2008

Wind Storm

The Santa Ana winds are back here in Southern California. My rose bushes are whipping about like crazy bobblehead dolls and the trees are dropping branches and fronds. Fortunately, my chile garden is in a sheltered place at the side of the house so my chile plants are protected from the fury of our October winds. Most of the plants have plenty of pods on them. In fact, I'm not quite sure what to do with them all! I've made several chile dishes and frozen them away for the winter. I've dehydrated many of them and crushed them into fresh powder to use in cooking.

I've lost many of my chile plants this year due to my heavy work schedule this past spring and summer. Basically, I haven't been watering my chile plants as much as I should and this combined with the hot weather turned many of them into dried up stalks. It is something that I've never seen happen in my garden before. I'm concerned about losing my overwintered plants since they are all producing far more pods this year than they did when they were young first year plants. One of the great things about gardening in Southern California is that chile plants can be perenials if you help them through the frost months. I've spoken with chileheads that have extended the life of their cayenne plants for seven or more years. I'd like to see that happen with my scotch bonnet, fatali and cherry bomb plants.

September 01, 2008

Jerk Chicken

One of the reasons that I grow scotch bonnets in my garden is that I love to make Jamaican Jerk Chicken on my BBQ. I had found a recipe for this dish in Gourmet Magazine many years ago and found that it was delicious. The recipe calls for 2 to 4 scotch bonnets or habaneros in the marinade. I know that this seems like far too much of the fiery chiles, but trust me, it works out well. You get a good amount of heat, but the citrus overtones of the chiles also come through.

The first time I made Jerk Chicken, I use Manzano Chiles that I happened to find in the supermarket. Manzanos are a form of habanero that have a sweet start and the heat is slow to come on your tounge. I have never found them again, but using them hooked me on the recipe. The next year, I started to grow the scotch bonnets since I wanted an authentic jamacian flavor for this recipe.

This year, I have been converted to once a month cooking methods and I have developed my jerk chicken recipe so that I can make multiples of it and freeze it away for later use. Basically, I make the marinade in my blender featuring chiles from my garden, pour it over the chicken in a ziploc, but instead of putting it in the fridge for 24 hours to marinate, I freeze it. When I take it out on cooking day, it will thaw and marinade in the fridge and be perfect. I decided to use chicken breast this time instead of chicken pieces so that I can make these on the contact grill during the winter and not have to light up the BBQ. I put away several meals of jerk chicken in this manner. A few of the meals have been made with scotch bonnets and a few of them with my fatali chiles. Both will be different, but delicous.


2 cups scallion, finely chopped
2 whole habañero chilies, seeded and minced (or use scotch bonnets)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
5 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons dry mustard
2 whole bay leaf, crushed
2 whole garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon cinnamon
5 pounds chicken pieces, wing tips removed
vegetable oil, for grilling

Make the Marinade. In a food processor or blender purée the scallion, the 2 chilies, the soy sauce, the lime juice, the allspice, the mustard, the bay leaves, the garlic, the salt, the sugar, the thyme, and the cinnamon.

Divide the chicken parts between 2 heavy-duty resealable plastic bags and spoon the marinade over them, coating them well. Seal the bags, pressing out the excess air, and let the chicken marinate chilled, turning the bags over several times, for at least 24 hours and up to 2 days. Or you may freeze the chicken at this point for later use. When you are ready to use the frozen jerk chicken, let it defrost in the refridgerator for 24 hours before cooking. It will defrost and marinate at the same time.

On an oiled rack set 4 to 6 inches over glowing coals grill the chicken, in batches if necessary, and cover if possible, for 10 to 15 minutes on each side, or until it is cooked through. Transfer the chicken as it is cooked with tongs to a heated platter; keep it warm, covered loosely with foil, and garnish the platter with the additional chilies.

An alternate method of cooking is to use chicken breasts instead of pieces when you make the dish and then cook the chicken in a contact grill for approximately 10 to 12 minutes.

August 29, 2008

Scarpariello with Hot Cherry Bombs

My favorite hot chile used to be the Fresno chile. It was a good medium heat, all purpose pepper to use in cooking. I still grow Fresnos and like them, but lately I've been growing very fond of the hot cherry bombs. They are a little sweeter and flavorful than the Fresnos and are easy to stuff due to their small round shape. So not only can I slice them up, but I have snack options with them as well.

Tonight I made the Chicken and Sausage with Hot Cherry Peppers recipe from the Sara Moulton website. I decided to omit the artichoke hearts since my husband doesn't like them, but honestly, I didn't miss it. The chicken breasts turned out tender and moist with her cooking method, the sauce was rich with just enough kick from the four hot cherry bombs that I picked from my garden this afternoon.

I've discovered that this "scarpariello" recipe is actually quite common on the internet. It is a traditional Italian American dish that was developed by a New York City chef many years ago. The common tie of all the recipes are chicken, sausage and hot cherry bomb peppers. The rest seems to vary depending on the chef. I believe that only Sara Moulton put artichoke hearts in her verison. Others put in lemon and rosemary or other vegtable combinations.

August 26, 2008

Nearly Harvest Time!

This weekend, I managed to get all the weeding done in my little raised beds of chile pepper plants. The grass that overtook one of the beds, something that I've never seen before, had choked off and killed my two overwintered italian pepper plants. So no italian horns to fry up this fall. I still have one yellow bell plant left, so I'm hoping to get something off of it later in the year for dinner.

My chiles are the opposite of the bells. In their sheltered place on the side of the house, they have flourished as always. I have dozens of scotch bonnets ripe and ready to go, a huge crop of fatali chiles, hot cherry bombs and a few of the new chiles that I planted this spring.

It is time to start drying my chiles in order to make fresh powder for my pantry. My dehydrator has been taken out of the garage, but I haven't set up a station outside to do the drying. Thunderstorms are predicted in the next few days and I don't want to leave my machine out to the elements. I will keep an eye on the weather, but I intend to get started with my harvest shortly.

July 20, 2008

Ripening Chile Pods

The temperature outside has gone into a more normal range, leaving the heatwave behind us. There were thunderstorms in the Los Angeles area last week and while we remained dry, the river nearby is high with runoff waters from the mountain rains.

My garden needs weeding and the gravel paths are full of invasive plants from the neighbor's yard. I've been so busy with work for the past two months that I've had little time to spare for my garden. Fear not, chiles thrive on neglect! All of the chile plants have pods. Sweet yellow italian horn peppers, cherry bombs, fatali, kung pao chiles and a mountain of red scotch bonnets. I harvested a few cherry bombs for my weekend omelettes this week, enjoying that crisp and clean bite of heat with my breakfast. You simply don't get that kind of flavor and texture from supermarket chiles. My only concern with the plants is that my scotch bonnet has fallen over due to the excessive weight of the pods growing on it, but so far the plant seems to be just fine. I haven't lost it. My Carribean Jerk Chicken recipe is safe! I should be able to make up a few packets of the marinated chicken for my freezer and enjoy the perfect grilled dinner later in the fall. The rest I will dehydrate and make into powder that rivals cayenne for heat and flavor.

I saw a new chile recipe on Sara Moulton's new cooking show this morning called "Chicken with Sausage and Hot Cherry Bomb Peppers". It was chicken and italian sausage sprinked with halves of pickled cherry bomb chiles and all simmered in a white wine sauce. It looked simple, but also very tasty. It is giving me incentive to pull out my water bath canner and contemplate pickling cherry bombs...just for this recipe. It was nice to hear Sara Moulton confess that she is a chilehead and that she cooks with hot chiles at home all the time. I guess she is lost like the rest of us! LOL

May 18, 2008


We are having record high temperatures outside for the past week. 100+ degrees for several days in a row. The weather service people are saying that this is a new high pushing back the last high that was recorded in 1890. Wow. It is scary to think how much hotter things might become in later years here in California. I go out to water my gardens early in the morning before the heat gets too horrible. I put plenty of hose water on my feet to cool them and it feels wonderful.

My roses are simply loving the heat and are sending out lots of new canes. I have been keeping up with their watering as best I can, but frankly they can handle the heat and drought conditions well. Roses have a reputation of being "fussy" or too much work, but I find that once you attune to their needs they are actually quite hardy and are the perfect sub-desert flower. The lavender plants that I put among the roses are also doing well, although their lovely purple blooms are faded and starting to dry. Soon I will need to go out and deadhead the lavender and prepare it for another bloom cycle.

I wish that I had good news about my pepper plants. I lost my chocolate habanero this week. It is nothing but a dry stalk now. Once the heatwave breaks I will go and pull it out and put its cage away. I don't think that this has been a good year for chile plants for me. I've lost so many seedlings and overwintered plants that it is growing to be disappointing. As much as I hate to contemplate it, I might have to settle for california wonders for my bells this year. I don't feel that they have as much flavor as my other favorites, but at this point in the game I don't feel that I have many options left. At least I will find them in the local nursery.

April 19, 2008


I was back to the Fullerton Arboretum for the annual Greenscene event. I go there mainly to buy exotic chile peppers from the Orange Country Organic Gardeners Society. Usually they have great selections. Not this time. Never have I been so disappointed in new plants. All the peppers and chiles were common garden varieties for the most part. Jalapenos, Serranos, plain habaneros. The main bell pepper that they were selling was California Wonder, a pepper that I have always found to be lackluster in flavor and appearance. I did buy a few chiles: a jalapeno and two serranos. I also picked up a pair of italian stuffing peppers of the belle variety that are supposed to be very sweet. We'll wait and see. I see now that I'm going to have to prowl the retail nurseries for my plants this year...if work allows me the time. I spoke with one of the volunteers about my disappointment and she asked me to write down some of the chiles that I would like to see grown next year. I looked at their list and saw several of my usual favorites already listed by other people. I added Blushing Beauty and Lemondrop to the list. I was given a flyer to go and join the organic gardener's, but due to my work schedule and the distance to the meetings, I'm not sure if I can attend.

On my way out, I also picked up a pink flowering maple bush for my rose garden. I have a few empty spots that I'd like to fill in and I find that the flowering maples are great in the shadier parts of my garden and bloom wonderfully. I currently have a red one, a yellow one and a white one. I'm not certain where I'll put the pink one yet, but I think that it is going to do well.

Overall, I felt that the event was smaller this year with fewer vendors. The admission to enter was $6, which was higher than last year. Still, it was a beautiful day and the people that came to the event seemed to be in high spirits and were buying baskets, pots, plants and hamburgers with abandon.

March 29, 2008

Garden Shed and the Loss of Pepper Plants

This morning my husband and I put the handles and lock holder onto our new garden shed. It looks very attractive and is going to hold plenty of tools, pots and gardening supplies in a waterproof manner. I still haven't purchased a new padlock for the shed and additional keys for that padlock, but I am hoping to take care of that sometime this weekend. There is still plenty to do with the shed, mainly moving all my tools and supplies from the garage to their new location. I'm very much looking forward to having that additional space available in my garage.

On my way back to the house, I stopped to check on my little pepper seedlings. I was aghast to discover that all but a single cayenne plant had been eaten last night! I'm not sure what is going on. I've placed my pepper seedlings in this location before and they were untouched. What was left of the stems looked gnawed. I don't believe that this is my typical cutworm problem. That only seems to happen when the plants are in the soil of the bed. No, this looks like an animal had come over and eaten the leaves off of the stem and then gnawed the stem. I've moved the last little pepper plant to a place on top of our new BBQ box. I'm not sure if it is going to be safe there or not, but I will have to try. The plant is still too small to put into the bed, even with a cutworm barrier.

I will have one more chance to purchase rare pepper/chile plants this spring. Greenscene, our local plant fair is in a few weeks. A couple of organic plant groups sell plants there. I probably won't find anything super rare, but at least I hope to replace the Blushing Beauties which are my favorite bell peppers. It has been hit or miss with the plants and I haven't been able to harvest a blushing beauty for a long time. I'm hoping that this is the year I get a mature plant...and then can overwinter it into strength.

March 23, 2008

Garden Shed

The new addition to my garden this spring is a garden shed! It is six feet tall and almost 5 feet wide. It is a combination of shelves and a "broomcloset" to store tall garden tools out of the rain and weather. The shed is made of sturdy plastic and should keep my tools, pots and plant foods dry and more accessible to the garden. I am looking forward to getting all my gardening toys out of the garage at last.

We purchased the shed at OSH hardware about a week ago, however when we attempted to bring it home, we discovered that it was too large to fit in our SUV. We were forced to leave the shed at the hardware store while we figured out how we were going to get it home. After discussing the problem that evening, we concluded that the best way would be rent a U-haul trailer and pull it home. On Saturday, we got a 5x8 open trailer and went back to OSH with our pickup ticket for the shed. The workers there loaded the shed onto the trailer and it fit perfectly inside laying face down. We left the box it came in at the hardware store, and made sure that the back of the shed was on the floor of the trailer to prevent scratching up the visible surfaces. It was a bumpy drive home. The trailer is very light and even a small bump in the road made it bounce. I kept my speed under 40mph the entire way home because of this.

Once we got the shed home, we waited for my husband's friend to arrive and the two men hauled the garden shed into our backyard and positioned it next to the house. They used the gravel of my paths to make the shed level and it seems as if it was always meant to be there. I had measured the space that the shed was going to go into before we purchased it, so I knew that it would fit, but I had neglected to measure the size of the gate opening. We got lucky and the shed was able to squeeze in.

The shed still needs to have its door handles put on and a lock will need to be purchased for it before I can start to store things inside it. While I am not planning on storing anything of value in the shed, thieves have been known to enter backyards and take off with the strangest things in my neighborhood. Plus, since I will be storing fertilizer and other chemicals there, I feel it is safer to keep it locked from small fingers that might be visiting my home.

March 14, 2008

Garden Cleanup

I spent around 20 or 30 minutes this afternoon cleaning up the dead plants in my raised beds. All of the tomato plants had turned to crinkly husks that crumbled in my hand almost to powder. The chile plants were dried up sticks that pulled from the earth without resistance. The garden is uneven since I have cleared spaces where the dead plants were, but once this spring storm blows through on the weekend, I might attempt to move the chiles and peppers into more favorable locations in my garden and create room for new things. A few more weeds have popped up in the gravel pathway since I cleared it two weeks or so ago, but so far they are not in the way of my work and so I'll leave them be.

The easy cleanup this spring is part of the reason why I'm such a huge fan of square foot gardening or intensive farming. The raised beds mean that I don't have to bend down very far to work the soil or clear out last year's spent plants, the water usage and fertilizers are in small amounts so that saves me plenty of money and I am able to plant right next to my kitchen door so that fresh produce is always just a few steps away and I can keep an eye on the garden for pest control. I don't think that gardening gets any better than this. I once had someone scoff at my garden and called it a "child's garden" due to its small size, but you know, I don't need huge rows of dirt to take care of and the army of weeds that produces. Give me small and productive any day.

March 13, 2008

Monster Tomato and Pepper Sale

It is time for the annual Monster Tomato and Pepper Sale at the Fullerton Arboretum. This is the yearly sale where I normally pick up my chile pepper plants for the year. The Fullerton Arboretum is well known in my area for promoting gardening and they host wonderful seminars for both adults and children throughout the year. The pepper and tomato sale is their biggest fund raiser and I always look forward to it each year.

I went prepared. I have a little luggage cart with bungee cords and I made sure that I popped into the back of my SUV before I took off. The sale is held in the garden's potting shed and it is a bit of a distance to walk. When you are loaded down with little pots of plants, it can be a long haul back to the car. When I arrived at the Arboretum around 11am, I had to put my SUV in a queue since the entire parking lot was full. I was very surprised by the crowd, but then again, it was a bright sunny day and I could not be the only one wanting to be first in line to pick out the best plants before the weekend. The volunteer staff was organized and as soon as a parking space opened up, they guided the next driver in line to it. I found that the line went quickly. People got in, bought their plants and then went home in an orderly fashion.

When I arrived, I got myself a little cardboard box that the volunteers provide for free, strapped it into my luggage cart and then proceeded to go down the isles of chile and pepper plants. Overall, I was somewhat disappointed by the selection of peppers this year. Many of the more exotic chiles that I have found there in the past were not available this year. I picked up a single Tepin chile, one rocotillo and two long thin cayenne chile plants. Of the belles I purchased: 2 blushing beauty, 1 araine, 1 quatro de gallo. I did not purchase any heirloom tomatoes this year. I am still rather upset over dealing with the possum last year and decided to not bother until I can figure out a way to hang them and grow tomatoes upside down. This will keep the next harvest out of the grip of future poachers. With my little luggage cart, it was very easy to get my new little seedlings back to the SUV and thus back to my garden.

I've been looking over my garden this afternoon and I'm glad to say many of my plants survived the winter. Two cherry bomb chiles, one lemon drop, one pepperoncini, the fatali, red scotch bonnet, kung pao chile and the two italian horn pepper plants. While I'm sorry that close to half of the chiles didn't survive our cooler winter, in a way it is good since I will have room for new fresh plants.

March 08, 2008

Spring Cleanup

I've been neglecting my gardening blog for the last few months...and frankly, neglecting my little garden. Last October, we were very close to the wildfires that burned down a great deal of Southern California and dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster has been considerable. While we did suffer from extreme smoke for a week or two, otherwise our home is safe and for that I'm very grateful. Over 2000 homes burned to the ground all around us and the economy in our area suffered.

I left my garden on autopilot for the winter. I turned off the watering system and simply left all the plants to deal with the winter as best they could. We did get more cold temperatures this winter than usual and a considerable amount of rain. This is not as harsh as it sounds. It is what I normally do over the winter, although I try and at least clean up the beds and do what I can to help my chiles overwinter the cooler temperatures, which I simply didn't have the time to do this year.

I went out to check on my garden last week and found it covered in wandering jew vines that had snuck in through the fence from my neighbor's yard. Around half of my chile plants had died and all of the tomato plants were dried out husks. I worked on clearing the gravel paths first. Removing all the vines and the few weeds that had come up through the weed barrier and I removed a few of the dead chile plants along with the wire cages. The soil in the beds look dark and rich. I don't feel that I will need to add anything to it this year beyond a little fish emulsion. Once I get things completely cleaned up, I should be able to plant new salsa ingredients without any problem.

Meanwhile, my yards are waking up to the warmth of spring weather. The pink jasmine vines are loaded with white blooms and their scent fills my patio. The spanish lavender is starting to form heads and I suspect that I will be seeing their purple blooms within a week or two. The roses, which were pruned back to 18" of the ground in January, are now starting to spring up with new cane growth. I do not have any rose blooms as yet, but I don't expect to see any until late March or early April. I will give them a feeding soon to help them wake up from their winter dormancy.