I think every gardener should have a day like I had today, at least once in their lives. The best way to describe a day like this in the garden is to compare it to that moment in the Wizard of Oz when it changes from black-and-white to color. Or, that moment in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Willy Wonka opens the doors to the factory and everyone gets their first glimpse at the Oompa Loompa‘s chocolate river. In a word, magical.
Today, I had a nice surprise waiting for me in my garden when I wandered out to check on things. There among the cover crop of hairy vetch, camouflaged amid useless weeds, I found a LOT of peppers and onions ready to pick. It was a pepper-palooza! By the way, I just want to mention that it’s really fun to say “hairy vetch” out loud. Go ahead, give it a rip. Turn to the person next to you and say it. Fun, hah? OK, back to the business of peppers. I had been been neglecting the garden for a few weeks, as often happens in early winter around here. The weather was perfect and everybody was busy doing their own thing, so I laced up my boots and headed out back.
I was ready for some heavy-duty weeding. After all, it had been at least a month since I last played God in the garden, and the weeds were gaining the upper hand. What I wasn’t ready for was the five pounds of green onions and assorted peppers that awaited me. As I cut back the leggy vetch, I found some red and green Anaheim chili peppers. Love them! They are my pepper-of-choice when I make chili rellenos. As an added bonus, I had a long-forgotten jalapeno pepper plant that was bent over, pregnant with peppers. It was one of those harvests where the more I picked, the more I found. I started by keeping them in-hand, then I had to improvise because there were too many. So I pulled out the bottom of my shirt with one hand, and made a makeshift pepper hammock with the other, cradling the harvest in my shirt. (Don’t giggle, I KNOW you’ve done the same thing. Every self-respecting backyard gardener has! 🙂 )
And then there were the green onions. There, growing beneath the pepper plants in the furrow originally planned as a watering trough, were hundreds of mature, stiff-stalked green onions. A month ago, they were barely taller than the cover crop. Today, they were ready for harvest. I vaguely remember planting them from seed, then did some quick math and remembered planting a forgotten package of leftover seeds back in the first week of September.
I credit this late-season pepper and onion harvest to the excellent soil in the garden. I’ve been very careful over the years, to rotate the crops and embellish the soil with healthy amendments. It’s an organic space, with only a very infrequent sprinkling of snail bait (once every couple years). Last, but certainly not least, I incorporated a lot of worm castings in the garden this year (one pound for every 100 sq. ft.), thanks to a healthy vermicompost system and lots of leftover food scraps.
So, the success of this late-season harvest was built upon a few old, tried-and-true methods: annual crop rotation, organic soil amendments, little or no pesticides, and worms, glorious worms.
How about you?! Are you having early winter successes in your garden? What’s your secret?
- Marinated Pepper Recipe (prepperpenny.com)
- Stuffed Peppers with Soy Recipe – SoyConnection.com (soyconnection.com)
- Growing onions in San Antonio (mysanantonio.com)
Editor's note: Photo, courtesy C. Douros