Summer Vegetables

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

People generally fall into one of two categories, those who love hot peppers and those who do not. Those who do are passionate and continually try to bring others to the spicy side of eating. Some entire cuisines such as Thai and Cajun cooking depend on regular infusions of the flavor and heat of peppers. In the South, most grow some to eat or roast, but many more are used for making pepper vinegar and jelly. More people agree that summer would not be complete without juicy watermelon on the table, or the back porch if children are involved.

Peppers are not hard to grow, and hot peppers are easier than bell peppers to coax into making plenty in the home garden. The Scoville Heat Scale reflects relative heat of various pepper species. Sweet bell pepper registers 0 and the hottest peppers (such as naga-gih jolokia) measured in their natural state come in at over 1 million units. That sounds hot, until you know that police grade pepper spray rates over 5 million, and other extractions even higher. The jalapenos on those nachos are a mere 2,000 Scoville units and even Tabasco and cayenne peppers rate “only” 30,000. Still, you can get plenty of heat from these peppers and in between are many gradations of heat with different tastes to tempt you. You can grow them and many more in the summer-fall garden in beds and containers. Pick your peppers: hot wax and chipotle peppers (5-10,000), Thai and red Amazon (abt. 75,000) birds eye, scotch bonnet and habanero (100,000 up to 350,000 units).

Mississippi’s watermelon crop is not all about the red. Milder-tasting, yellow meat watermelons are gaining popularity each year as they become more widely available and growers seek diversity in their varieties. Peyton Johnson Collins, The High Heeled Hippie, was a vendor at the MS Farmers Market in Jackson last Saturday, offering tastes of her melons to eager customers. “This year I'm growing 4 watermelons, and a variety of true cantaloupes and muskmelons. The watermelons are yellow Moon & Stars, White Wonder (a very pale yellow), Early Moonbeam (lemon yellow and very sweet) and Crimson Sweet because I just like it. I grow primarily open pollinated and heirloom vegetables,” she said. With partner Don Maxwell, Collins grows tomatoes, beans and lots of hot peppers as well as “other stuff. I like to grow things I can't buy and that I want to try.” Judging from the number of people at the booth, it seems a lot of people are interested in unusual vegetables, too. Visit High Heeled Hippie’s page on Facebook to learn where she’ll be next.

Growing melons is not as easy buying them, but it is certainly rewarding to pick them right out of your own backyard. Both watermelon and cantaloupe require warm, well-drained soil, lots of water and fertilizer, a long growing season and plenty of room. There are ‘bush’ varieties available, but they are much less productive and require almost constant fertilization. Go ahead and start some peppers for the fall garden, but plant melons in peat cups next spring for transplant shortly after the last frost. Plan to lay out black plastic mulch in a 4 foot square area where the vines will begin to grow. That warms the soil so you can plant sooner, and get a harvest to warm your heart

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