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A Summertime “Pop Up” Pepper Class

August 2, 2021

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It was a sizzling hot morning with no breeze other than the gentle air provided by fans turning overhead in the shade pavilion. Our pepper class and tasting event started at 10:00am but even by then, the temperatures were already in the low 90’s. We knew it was going to be a hot one! Thankfully, those who came were seriously interested in learning more about peppers.

Highlights from the Class, Pepper Tasting and Lunch

*Peppers are in the Solanaceae family of nightshade plants as are tomatoes, Irish potatoes and eggplants. There are over 50,000 varieties of peppers. The two broad categories we discussed during the class were sweet peppers and hot peppers. 

*Peppers originated in the Mesoamerica territory which includes Central Mexico down across Central America and as far as northern Costa Rica.  In the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico chili peppers were prized for their fiery flavor and spicy kick. These native tribes had fully domesticated chili peppers as far back as 5,000-6,000 BC. The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, the Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived.

*Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter the chile pepper. When eating the fruit he felt the same “burn” or “heat” as from black pepper, so he called it “pepper.” This the reason today that chile peppers are called peppers.

*Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Depends on who you are talking to. 

Botanists see it as a fruit. A botanist would use the botanical classification which is based on the plant’s physiological characteristics like the structure, function and organization of the plant. Botanically speaking, a ‘fruit’ is the seed-bearing product that grows from the ovary of a flowering plant. A nutritionist or chef would use the culinary classification system. The culinary explanation says that a ‘vegetable’ usually has a tougher texture, tastes blander and often requires cooking. A general consensus finds that peppers are both a fruit and a vegetable! 

*Thick Walled/Thin Walled 

Peppers are a flavorful addition to a wide variety of recipes. In general, thin walled peppers work well fresh in salads and sandwiches. They may also be sauteed or grilled. For example, shishito peppers may simply be tossed into a pan with olive oil and sauteed until they blister. 

Thick walled peppers are excellent for stir frying, stuffing or roasting. For easy oven roasted bell peppers, cut them into strips and place on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 450˚F about 25 minutes or until tender.

*Understanding the Scoville Scale 

Bell peppers have zero Scoville Heat Units (SHU), jalapenos have around 5,000 and habaneros have in the neighborhood of 300,000. What does that mean? The Scoville Heat scale measures the concentration of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes peppers hot. Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist, invented the scale in 1912. Originally it measured the dilution needed to make the heat in an extract of a pepper undetectable to a panel of 5 people. A SHU measure of 300,000 indicates that the extract would have to be diluted 300,000 fold before the capsaicin was undetectable. 

Now High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) gives us a direct measurement of capsaicin that is more accurate than sensory methods and is reported in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. One ASTA pungency unit is equivalent to 15 SHU’s. The Scoville scale remains out of tradition so ASTA pungency units are multiplied by 15 to convert them to SHU’s. 

*Recommended AgriLife Varieties 

Sweet Peppers: Bell Tower, Big Bertha, California Wonder, Gypsy, Jupiter and Yolo Wonder

Hot Peppers: Hidalgo Serrano, Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, Long Red Cayenne and TAM Mild Jalapeno

*Hottest Pepper in the World  

With a rating of 2,200,000 SHU’s, Carolina Reaper holds the record since 2017 for the world’s hottest pepper. (FYI…We aren’t growing it anywhere in the Raincatcher’s Garden).

*Our Favorite 2021 Selection Growing at Raincatcher’s 

2021 Grower’s Choice: Jimmy Nardello

We just adore this curvy little pepper with waxy skin and a sweet flavor. Jimmy Nardellos’ parents immigrated to the United States from Southern Italy in 1887 and brought their beloved pepper seeds with them to their new hometown of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Before his death in 1983 Jimmy donated the seeds to a seed preservation organization. Since then, this delicious chili pepper plant is known as the Jimmy Nardello pepper worldwide.

*Growing Peppers 

Pepper plants like warm weather. Plant in heavier, well drained soil. Direct sow seeds or move transplants outside late April to mid-May. Give them at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Water plants enough to keep them from wilting. Harvest peppers as they mature as this will make the yield greater. Store in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Do not wash before storing. Peppers can be frozen.

For more information on growing peppers go to: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/peppers/

A Delightful Pepper Themed Lunch Menu

Griddled Quesadillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sauteed Peppers-

We layered the tortillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sautéed Peppers. Neil Bolich cooked them on a griddle over heat onsite. We topped them with a dollop of  Jalapeno Pepper Jelly from our Raincatcher’s Jam and Jelly Team and a Hot Chili Pepper.

Mexican Fruit Cups Drizzled with a Squeeze of Fresh Lime and Sprinkled with Tajin

Jalapeno Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Ghirardelli Chocolate

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

The Edible Landscape and North Vegetable Garden theme for 2022 is still four months away from being revealed. Here is the August clue.  This very important person is known for calling agriculture “the crown of all the other sciences” as it required knowledge in many other sciences like botany and chemistry. Have you guessed it yet? If not, check back in September for yet another insightful clue

Summertime

July 23, 2021

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”

—Charles Bowden

When you think of summer, think of The Raincatcher’s Garden!

Cool off in the shade of Japanese Maples in our courtyard.

Drink in the beauty of this Crinum. We think it is a variety called ‘Super Ellen‘ described as a monster super hero crinum!

“Chill out” by thinking of our rain garden’s purpose. Hint, it nature’s best response to summertime downpours.

Quench your thirst for the unexpected with iron cross oxalis.

Like a hummingbird be refreshed by Turk’s Cap.

Dallas County Master Gardeners welcome visitors. If you would like to come to our garden at 11001 Midway Road while we are working, come Tuesday mornings. For a planned visit, leave a note in our comment section.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis


Sign up for our Taste the Heat Pepper event. The educational class and lunch will be at our garden on Wednesday, July 28th. Deadline to sign up is Sunday.

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/805084eafad22a4fc1-pepper

The Edible Landscape Kaleidoscope Garden

Kaleidoscope Garden Glass Ball to be Placed in the New Garden Area

July 16, 2021

The history of a much-loved children’s toy takes us back to Great Britain in July of 1817. British patent no. 4136 “for a new Optical Instrument called “The Kaleidoscope” for exhibiting and creating beautiful “Forms and Patterns of great use in all the ornamental Arts” had just been granted to its inventor Sir David Brewster. 

The name is derived from the Greek words kalos (“beautiful”) eidos (“form”) and skipein (“to view”). Interestingly, kaleidoscope roughly translates to beautiful form watcher. From the Brewster Society we discovered this lovely explanation of its purpose. “Kaleidoscopes are portals of remembrance that open onto the familiar, yet unexpected. Allowing the eye to marvel, the mind to explore and the heart to leap, the mirrored tubes of magic have developed into a significant new art form.”

When searching for a more illustrious and descriptive name for our underused Forest Garden bed Beverly Allen, Master Gardener Class of 2018, thoughtfully tossed out the idea of a Kaleidoscope Garden. After spending over an hour discussing the possibility of embracing not only the concept but the practical approach to its design and functionality, we agreed that it would be an exciting project. Here is Beverly’s description of how she views our new garden bed through the lens of the natural world.

“The idea of light diffused through the overhanging oak branches brought to mind a kaleidoscope. We realized this was a good opportunity to use color and pattern to engage the mind and senses. It is challenging to find a variety of edible plants that will look and perform well in a setting that transitions from morning sun on the east end to bright afternoon sun on the west end with deep shade in the middle.

 Planning a themed garden is captivating. Stay tuned as we consider the possibilities of such plants as tulips, peonies, lilac, elderberry and a surprise herb we are hoping to feature.”

-Beverly Allen

And so, our newly named Kaleidoscope Garden has been introduced. It will remain as is during the heat of July and August. Moving into September and cooler fall temperatures, watch for an explosion of color and patterns to appear within its borders. We hope you will experience its childlike wonder.

Corning Ware and Cornflower’s

July 11, 2021 

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If you are a baby boomer like me, this is probably a familiar dish. Chances are you might have received similar pieces as wedding gifts during the late 60’s – 70’s. I certainly did. And for the early part of our marriage, corning ware was used often in my kitchen. But I never gave much thought to the blue floral design embossed on the side until we started growing bachelor’s buttons at Raincatcher’s in the edible landscape cottage garden.

A quick google search led me to a fascinating story dating back to the time of Napoleon. As Queen Louise of Prussia was being pursued by Napoleon’s army, she sought protection for her children by concealing them in a field of cornflowers. In order to distract them and keep them quiet, she made wreaths from the flowers. In 1871, the year of Germany’s unification, Wilhelm, son of Queen Louise, honored his mother when he made the cornflower the symbol of unity. Later, the cornflower became the National flower of Germany. 

The name “bachelor’s button” refers to a time when single men with an interest in a specific woman wore them on the lapel of their jacket. If the flower faded too quickly, it was a sign that a woman’s interest in him was not mutual.  Additionally, English maidens wore the cornflower as a sign they were eligible for marriage. If the girl concealed the cornflower under her apron, she had her choice of bachelors.

So, why then, did Joseph Baum, an artist at the Charles Brunelle Advertising Agency in Hartford, Connecticut, choose to feature the cornflower as Corning Ware’s trademark design in 1958? That part of the story seems to have been lost but an endearing answer might be found in the flower’s symbolism. Today, the cornflower symbolizes remembrance, anticipation, fertility, wealth, prosperity, love and the future. Could it be that he was suggesting we should use our lovely corning ware dishes for favorite family recipes that would transcend time? If so, I’m thrilled to still have one of those memorable vintage dishes in my kitchen. And, that adorable blue cornflower emblem on the dish has a new and special meaning for me.

Tips for Growing Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus)

*To get the most blooms and sturdier stems, plant in a location that receives full sun. (At Raincatcher’s, our cornflowers get a little afternoon shade.)

*If soil is predominantly clay or is sandy, mix in some organic material. We add compost yearly.

*Place plants at least 7 inches apart. Mature growth height is around 15-30 inches. 

*Deadhead plants regularly to prolong their flowering periods. For taller species, staking may be necessary. We’ve had ongoing issues with them falling over so all plants are now supported with bamboo stakes.

*Mulch around plants with bark to keep soil moist and to prevent the root system from getting too much sun. 

*Regular watering will keep the plants healthier.

*Cornflowers make excellent cut flowers and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating and beneficial insects.

*Cornflower seeds are easy to harvest. When the seeds are ripe, the seedpods open up. Once this happens, extract the seeds for next year.

*Enjoy the vibrant blue flowers in salads, raw or cooked. Their sweet to spicy flavor will remind you of cloves. 

A bit of trivia: 

Bachelor Buttons were the favorite flower of President John Kennedy. His son John John wore one at his wedding to honor his father.

And, it has been reported that the most valuable blue sapphires are called Cornflower blue, having a medium-dark violet-blue tone.

Cornflowers Growing in the Edible Landscape Cottage Garden

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

July 4th Garden Party

July 4, 2021

Watering Can Filled With Flowers From Our Gardens

Volunteers from the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills gathered in a shady area of the edible landscape Tuesday for an early July 4th ‘Garden Party’ celebration. A refreshing summer rain the night before brought in a light summer breeze that cooled the air as the line formed for lunch. It was the first time in over a year and a half that we had officially been together for any type of event. 

Friendly conversations, laughter and happy faces reminded us of how much we enjoy spending time celebrating life’s simple pleasures. The fragrant smell of fresh basil lifted our spirits as we savored some of our favorite picnic foods. Summer’s bounty satisfied all who attended.

Following lunch, volunteers were asked to listen as three short quotes were read which hinted at the ‘presidential-type’ garden theme for 2022. Stay tuned over the next few months for clues.

FYI…Here’s the first clue.  

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”

If you can guess who spoke these words, then you’re getting close to the knowing the theme.

The big reveal will be sometime in December! For now…Happy 4th of July to Everyone!

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


Our Crowd Pleasing 4th of July Menu

Lunch To Celebrate!

Jalapeño-Pimento Cheese Spread

Peach, Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Fresh Basil and Mint

Old-Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler topped with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Strawberry Basil Lemonade 

Squash Vine Borer Part II

June 29, 2021

Master Gardeners share information which is one of the perks about becoming a Master Gardener. Beverly wrote this email to me recently and knowing how devastating it is to have your squash plants devoured by pests like the squash vine borer, I wanted to send this on to you.


Ann, it may be too much information in more ways than one but do you think readers would like a follow up on the squash borers?  I read advice to slice the affected stem to remove borer larvae and did that for the first time today. Sharon Law Wright and I were picking blackberries and checking on the plants in the north garden today and noticed frass on the kuri squash. The stem had a large opening. We opened it further with sharp secateurs and found the borer easily. One squash plant that I replanted in the Edible Landscape after removing borer damage has survived. We did the same thing with the otherwise healthy kuri squash today. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Plan Ahead-Easy To Grow Late Summer and Fall Gardening

June 9, 2021

Planning your garden can be panic inducing. What do I plant? Do I start from seed or transplant? I like squash but so do squash borers (a lot)!


When planning our gardens we keep the basics in mind like irrigation plans, soil, light, and available space. But what to plant and when?


You might find it helpful to start with some tasty and easy to grow plants. 
Here are some plants with minimal requirements other than regular watering starting with okra as early as July.

Okra, seed outdoors in July or August. Harvest the pods every two or three days. Slice in half lengthwise, toss in olive oil, and roast in the oven at 425֯ F for 15 minutes or so. 

 

Swiss Chard, seed outdoors mid-August to late September.  It grows in hot and cold weather and usually can be harvested all year.  Remove stems and sauté as you would spinach.

 

Radishes, seed outdoors late September to mid-November.  Many varieties take only 25 days until ready for harvest. The French Breakfast variety was a favorite with the vegetable team this year.  Serve thinly sliced on buttered bread or a whole wheat tortilla. 

Artichokes (perennial!), plant transplants in mid-October.  We get many compliments on the beauty of the artichokes in the Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden. You may harvest the globes or allow them to develop into an eye catching and exotic looking flower. 

Happy gardening!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Annual Plant Sale at The Raincatcher’s Garden

May 4, 2021

Our annual plant sale started many years ago during the time when our garden was on Joe Field Road (too many years ago to remember the exact date of the first sale!).   Raincatchers Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church is our home now and we have continued our annual plant sale at our new location.  We have always enjoyed having an in person sale on our beautiful courtyard but last year due to the pandemic we put on our thinking caps and came up with a socially distanced, online, drive thru sale.  Thanks to all of our loyal customers, it was a great success!

This year, we are happy to announce that our sale will be on the courtyard again.  All volunteers are fully vaccinated, masks will be required and hand sanitizer will be available.  We plan to limit the amount of shoppers on the courtyard if needed so there might be a short wait directly outside the courtyard before you can start your shopping spree!!!  

Now for the fun part – we have tons of decorative planters of all sizes planted with succulents, house plants and a variety of herb pots including pizza pots (a combination of a bell pepper plant with oregano and thyme).   We will have a good variety of perennials, annuals, herbs, veggies, and ground cover starting in 4 inch pots or larger.  We have apricot trees from Oklahoma and both red yucca and soft leaf yucca plants plus many more plants to numerous to list here.  There will also be yard art and when you check out, you can select a packet of free seeds from our garden.  However, a photo is worth a thousand words so please check out our slide show below to see a sample of what you will have to look forward to at our sale.  

Hope to see you on the courtyard on Thursday, May 13th.  More details will follow closer to the date of the sale!

Jackie James Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993

Sarah Sanders Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2006

Please thank Beverly Allen for this preview of some of the plants that will be for sale:

The North Garden Veggies Are Back

April 27, 2021

The vegetable crops in the north garden are thriving again. All of the raised beds are going strong. We had such nice yields from our Bloomsdale and Regimen spinach that we were able to donate 12-gallon bags to a food bank. Yesterday onions were harvested and donated and we picked a bountiful crop of purple potatoes.

Team leader, Lennard Nadalo, did his homework on tasty varieties. We especially enjoyed the Flamboyant French Breakfast radishes, Runaway and Wasabi arugula. 

Hoping to delight our frequent preschool visitors, we constructed a teepee and planted Sunset runner beans to climb the poles.

This week the vegetable team was pleased to see peppers developing well on the varieties we are growing for the jam and jelly team fund raising efforts.  We have started an heirloom variety of cucumber especially for the team to try branching out into bread and butter pickles this year.

Looking ahead to fall, we are considering small varieties of brassicas that have a better chance of success in our climate. 

Volunteers have started vegetables from seed at home.  Gardeners are tending okra and roselle hibiscus in the greenhouse to be ready in time to plant in May.  The converted turf bed has been tilled and looks perfect for planting.  Other volunteers took time and care creating the central brick lined bed that will have heat loving plants such as cucumbers and okra.  The compost team provides the nutrient dense material that makes our plants thrive.  We appreciate the many donated packets of seeds.

The spirit of cooperation among all gardeners at Raincatchers has contributed a great deal to the successful revival of this area.  Thank you!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

My perennials: Alive, dead or in-between? Evaluating plants 2 months after Texas freeze

Gardening friends, this is a helpful resource from Austin.

Source: My perennials: Alive, dead or in-between? Evaluating plants 2 months after Texas freeze

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