March 2009


Well, this has been, hands down, the busiest couple of work weeks I’ve ever had. I’ve barely had the time or energy to look at my plants, let alone play with them. They managed to survive, despite my neglect, and now that things have calmed down (at least temporarily), I had the time this weekend to pot up and start some new seeds. I’m about two weeks behind the schedule I created earlier this year, but at least I won’t be pushing the envelope as much as I was going to. It’s tough to say whether the worst of winter is over here, and it’s probably better to put things out a little later instead of taking the risk with the cold.

I potted up the oldest broccoli, cauliflower, and onion plants, all of which are about 5 weeks old. I moved them from the seedling tray into 3″ peat pots to make some more room for the plethora of tomato seeds I was starting today. I’m going to need to fertilize them….forgot about that! I’ll use a liquid seaweed fertilizer at 1/4 strenth. Maybe tonight.

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All of my pepper seeds have sprouted…including a 3-leaved Jimmy Nardello! I think someone on Garden Web brought up this phenomenon recently, but I haven’t checked in over there for quite a while, so I’m not sure what the verdict is…is this very a common occurrence?

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I started some more eggplant seeds today, after 0% germination of the last round. I know it was because I didn’t cover the cells with plastic to warm the starting mix properly. At least, that’s what I think happened. I got a little haphazard with the plantings in the seedling tray and put them in a precarious spot. This time I’ve got all new seeds on the bottom half of the tray so I could easily cover them all over at once. Hopefully it was user error and not a bad batch of seeds.

Along with the new eggplant seeds, I also started my tomatoes. Black Cherry, Sun Gold Cherry, Pink Grapefruit, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple, Bloody Butcher, Paul Robeson, and Brandywine Red. I chose the Pink Grapefruit just because I think they look cool. We’ll see how they taste! I added Paul Robeson because he used to live in my hometown. I feel like I’m supposed to grow them. 🙂

Doesnt it look like a pink grapefruit with its yellow skin and pink center?

Doesn't it look like a pink grapefruit with its yellow skin and pink center?

I also got a third light last week. I think I have finally optimized my planting space. I could use a second heat mat, but with some finagling I may be able to fit everything onto the one.

Finally, I didn’t have a chance to report that last week I took most of the mulch off the garlic bed, and to my surprise they were already growing under there!

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Since then, the cold nights have yellowed them a bit, but I have read in numerous places that it’s better to lose the top growth in the early months than to keep them smothered with mulch for too long. I’m trusting the people who know what they’re doing! Ah, isn’t experimenting fun?

I’m going out of town this week, but the plan for next weekend is to put the strings on the boxes to divide them up into square feet, construct the string trellis, and plant lettuce and pea seeds. I’m thinking I’ll put some plastic down on the beds tomorrow before I go so the warm weather this week can heat up the beds before next weekend.

All in all, I feel pretty good about where I am at this stage!

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Front to back: onions, caulifower, broccoli

Front to back: onions, caulifower, broccoli

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It’s great to see some true leaves! I planted another round of cauliflower today, as well as 4 varieties of pepper. I’m looking forward to trying ‘Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Pepper’, as the story behind it takes place in Naugatuck, CT, the town next to mine.

This is the story, taken from Iowa Source Magazine’s website:

Who is Jimmy Nardello?
The Story of the Jimmy Nardello Pepper
BY KURT MICHAEL FRIESE

Seeds for the Jimmy Nardello Pepper are available from Seed Savers Exchange. (Photo courtesy of SSE/David Cavagnaro)

In southern Italy, at what one might call the “instep of the boot,” is a mountainous region called Basilicata. In the subregion of Potenza, with its small coastline on the Thyrrhenian Sea, sits the tiny town of Ruoti.

For several years there, Giuseppe Nardiello and his wife, Angela, nurtured a favorite variety of sweet frying pepper. When they set sail from the port of Naples in 1887 for a new life beside the Golden Door, Angela carried her one-year-old daughter Anna and a handful of the pepper seeds with them. They settled in Naugatuck, Connecticut, where they raised the peppers, and eleven children. The fourth one was a son named Jimmy.

Jimmy’s son James, who is now 81 and still residing in Naugatuck, told me that the teachers in Jimmy’s grade school dropped the “i” from Nardiello, apparently believing that theirs was the proper spelling. It stuck to Jimmy, and to all the subsequent siblings and descendents.

James also said that his father was the only one of the Nardello children to inherit Angela’s love of the garden, and that Jimmy lovingly cared for his own throughout his life. He built them the way his mother taught him, in terraces, the way all gardens were built in the mountains of southern Italy. There he grew hundreds of peppers, but the sweet frying pepper was his favorite, and he would string up his bounty and hang them to dry in the shed, so his family could enjoy them all winter long.

Jimmy passed away in 1983. But before he did, he donated some of the heirloom pepper seeds to Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa. SSE specializes in protecting heirloom seeds, with more than 11,000 varieties protected in two separate climate-controlled vaults. They grow out roughly ten percent of the stock on a ten-year rotating basis, refreshing and expanding the supply each time. One of these seeds is the one that has become known as Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper.

One hundred and twenty years after the Nardellos set sail, bringing a small piece of their homeland with them, the pepper that bears the family name is becoming a favorite among chefs and home gardeners nationwide, but it is still registered as “endangered” on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Tastes. The Ark is an effort to find, catalog, and protect the world’s endangered flavors from the onslaught of the standardization of agriculture and cuisine.

Right now, though, in gardens around the country and right here in Iowa (including mine), the Nardellos are turning from their youthful kelly green to a mature fire-engine red, indicating that they are ready to be picked, sliced, fried in olive oil with garlic, and slathered over steaks alongside a generous pour of Primitivo.

They are also delicious as a sweet edge in your favorite chili or salsa recipe, and they are the best sweet pepper for drying. To dry them, string them on thread with a needle, careful to pierce them through the stem and not the fruit. Hang them near a sunny window or on the porch, and they’ll add decoration as they dry.

The best ones resemble a pig’s ear. James says that’s how his dad picked them. They grow in full sun in neutral to acidic soil, and are quite prolific as long as they are not over-watered.

Jimmy Nardello Pepper seeds are available from Seeds Savers Exchange. Learn more about Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.