Gardeners are by nature experimenters, I think. Each growing season we try something different, and when it works we try to remember to repeat it. Some changes do not work, so we try to avoid repeating that effort. Now is the time to reflect on our mistakes.
Last winter I started eggplants in the greenhouse earlier than anything except for those seeds of ornamentals I had sowed in empty milk jugs to be set outside for stratifying by Mother Nature. When I transplanted eggplant plants into the garden, I planted them on the east side of one of my north-south raised beds, and kale and collards to their west. Huge mistake. Eggplants were quickly shaded by fast-growing brassicas, and they fared poorly. They need direct sun, more than they were getting.
A gardener should be able to reach at least to the center of a raised bed, if there is access from both sides. If there’s access from only one side, the bed should be sufficiently narrow for the gardener to reach clear across the bed. We built two raised beds many years ago that were too wide at 5 feet because we hadn’t researched workable dimensions. My 12 other raised beds are more reasonably sized.
The two very wide beds (5 feet wide) are annually invaded by quackgrass, whose rhizomes follow sharp spears that penetrate root crops that are planted there. Fighting the quackgrass there is an ongoing problem for me, but the lack of access to the center of the beds was also a problem. In one I planted hot chile plants in the two rows on each side of the bed, but the middle two rows lay empty. I had my garden helper plant a few hills of cantaloupe and honeydews there.
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I had no idea whether pepper plants and melons would happily co-exist, but they did. Melon vines stretched out and wandered through the pepper plants, leaves blocking sun thereby preventing germination of annual weeds. We had done our best to pull out all traces of quackgrass, but some nevertheless did come up through the vines. Instead of a weedy center or a center inaccessible for harvest or tending, though, we’re now harvesting cantaloupes. Honeydews aren’t ready yet.
In a bed of supposedly sweet peppers, squirrels dug them as fast as I planted them, and killed some plants. In those empty spaces, we planted sweet potatoes. Those vines are happily wandering around and through pepper plants, too, blocking out annual weeds.
By “supposedly sweet” I refer to the Tobago Seasoning and Trinidad Perfume peppers. They’re very attractive little plants, with lovely scrunched dangling inch and a half long peppers, Tobago said to be mild, and Trinidad described as “no heat.” I ate part of one Trinidad raw in the garden, and it was mildly hot, so later I chopped two in a dish with several cups of chopped vegetables and a cup of rice, a Creole “dirty rice” dinner. The dish was howling hot. We had to throw it out, and after five hand washings with soap my hands were still burning. I’m usually wary about hot chiles and wear rubber gloves, but the one I did eat didn’t indicate that would be necessary.
I’ve grown chiles every year for more than 40 years, chiles of most varieties (except bhut jolokia), so I know the appearance and growth habit of most chiles. The Tobago chiles look like Chinense (same species as habaneros), and ripen to red. Trinidad also looks like Chinense chiles, and ripens to gold or orange. If you can tolerate the piquancy of hot chiles, these are very attractive plants that would be at home in a fair-sized pot (7-inch top diameter by about that same depth). But don’t count on their being mild.
Chile peppers have perfect flowers (i.e., male and female parts), and are self-fertile. They can be pollinated by wind or shaking the plant, but they’re easily cross-pollinated. Years ago I built screened cages to prevent cross pollination of chile plants, but I saw unusual bees delving into the soil and emerging inside the cages, working over the flowers. If I could limit myself to one variety per year, I could keep the strain pure.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707