This Week in the Garden

Maxine Rogers


This Week in the Garden, by Maxine Rogers

As I write this, it is December the sixth, Saint Nicholas’ feast day. It is snowing, the first snow of the winter. Saint Nicolas was able to slip about, almost unseen, last night on his white horse as he goes from house to house and fills the children’s wooden shoes with candy and nuts.

If this does not happen at your house, it is probably because you failed to leave some hay in the shoes for his horse or maybe he just has a preference for people from the Netherlands who celebrate his feast day with gusto. Saint Nicholas usually leaves gingerbread, marzipan and chocolate letters for good kids. I expect bad kids may find a switch or a lump of coal in their shoes. I got some chocolate this morning.

As it is cold and snowing out you may well ask what am I doing in the garden now? Well, I am growing turmeric and ginger plants. These plants take ages to grow so I started them in October. I bought organically-produced ginger from Peru and picked out the roots that looked to have buds. Then, I placed the roots in a bowl of warm water to get the roots re-hydrated. This is an important step in waking up the roots. The next morning, I put the, now swollen, roots into 4 inch pots with my home-made potting soil. It took them almost 6 weeks to push up some shoots.

I did the same with the turmeric roots but my husband was able to find some for me that had green shoots on them so we started out much farther ahead with the turmeric. I keep both sets of starts in my Annie Siegel propagator. This is a simple set of shelves rigged to hold shop lights above each shelf. This is where I start my transplants from seed. The propagator is located in the laundry room and is not especially warm but the ginger and turmeric seem to be doing okay because they have good light conditions. The plants need to be kept moist but not soggy.

Come the first warm days of spring, I will pot my ginger and turmeric up in wide shallow pots such as people use to force bulbs. The pot does not have to be more than 4 inches deep but it must be wide as the rhizomes of ginger and turmeric grow across the soil, not down. I give them liquid fertilizer to keep them growing strong. The transplants will now go on hanging shelves in my polytunnel and they will stay there for the whole growing season.

The plants are ready to harvest when the centre dies back or you can dig up a root from the outer edge of the pot from time to time for a smaller harvest. Full maturity can take 16 months and probably more in our climate.

You may ask why am I bothering to grow such exotic spices when I could just go to the supermarket and buy some? Well, getting ginger and turmeric here, fresh from the tropics, means flying it up and flying is extravagantly polluting, not to mention expensive. Fresh spices may become too expensive for me to purchase and they may hit supply chain disruptions due to the Covid flu because you never know what supply is going to go short these days.

Both ginger and turmeric have medicinal qualities that I would not want to be without. I use both almost every day and feel better for it. They are important spices to make Indian and Chinese dishes which is more important now that there is so much less travel going on. We have to bring travelling into the kitchen where it will improve our health and delight the family.

I am also growing peppers, both sweet and the scalding-hot Habanero peppers. Habanero peppers are, on average 76 times hotter than a Jalapeno pepper. I lifted some of the best looking pepper plants out of my polytunnel at the end of the summer and potted them up in large pots. They have the tallest shelves in the Annie Siegel and are still growing. I have to prune their tips back.

I recommend growing the Habanero pepper which I grew on a whim last spring. It took ages to get the peppers going and they needed a lot of liquid fertilizer to set a crop but once they did, they produced a huge quantity of really hot fruit. I used the peppers to brew a fermented hot sauce and now we are self-sufficient in hot sauce.

Peppers, like tomatoes, are perennial plants but due to our short growing season, we grow them as annuals. If a gardener can keep a pepper plant going over the winter, that gardener will be setting a mature plant out in the greenhouse at the same time as other gardeners are starting their pepper seeds.

If I can get my peppers through the winter, and they are looking pretty good, I should be able to get a crop of really ripe peppers in quite early. The habaneros are so prolific, I don’t think there is a household outside of Mexico that would need more than one mature plant. I am drying some of the fruit for chili powder and to use in rubs for roasting meat. Dried and fermented peppers are full of vitamin C and quite useful in battling colds.

I also grow Christmas cactus, spider plants and more Aloe Vera than I ever imagined. With the Christmas cactus, I take off a few leaves and leave them a day or two to wilt. Then, I pot them up and treat them like the adult cactus. They get showered once a week and given a liquid feed. They make nice gifts. Our spider plants are also showered once a week and given liquid fertilizer. The plants are so happy that they are flowering and growing long vines with baby spider plants growing from the vines. I just break these baby plants off and pot them up.

The Aloe Vera is a bit of a problem. I split it a couple of years ago into more than 40 plants and gave them away at the Garden Club. Everyone should have an Aloe Vera in the house as the sap from the leaves is a really good dressing for burns and also makes an excellent facial mask with no plastic being involved at all. Anyone wishing an Aloe Vera plant should give me a call 335-1088 and I will pot one up for you.