Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Colossal Pepper Fail

This past Friday I transplanted a bunch of pepper seedlings into the raised beds that wrap around the side of our house. All told it was about 35 plants, mostly red and orange bell peppers with some sweet Italian, paprika and hungarian wax varieties as well. They were mulched pretty well with straw. We're well past the average last frost date for St.Louis, so I didn't think much of it. Then a cold front came along bringing rain and dropping temperatures about 15-20 degrees below normal. The night time low was supposed to get into the low 40's for about 3 nights - no danger of a frost, but I was concerned that it might be a bit too cool for the newly transplanted peppers. What did I do? I used some wire brackets to float a sheet of clear plastic over them. Things were cold, wet, and miserable on Sunday; and the pepper plants looked fine. This would have been no big deal if I had pulled the plastic off of them on Monday morning before I went to work. Alas, this is the last week of the school year - ie, things are a zoo, and my mind was elsewhere. The weather cleared up, and it got into the 60's with a fair amount of sun. Tuesday was the same, and it wasn't until Tuesday evening as I was mowing grass that I realized the plastic was still over the raised beds. I pulled it off and almost fell over.

They were all dead...completely fried.

I was so pissed off at myself. The only possible survivor was one Hungarian Wax on the end of the bed that had a couple wilted leaves left on it. Everything else was a shriveled brown mess. The seedlings had come up so strong this year, that I was really looking forward to salsas, relishes, and all sorts of other stuff this summer. Oh well...I broke down and bought a couple of bell pepper plants at the grocery store today, and I'll probably hit up the nursery for some more this weekend, but it won't amount to anything close to what I had in the ground.

Two things occurred to me as I was putting the store plants in this evening:
1. Growing your own food comes with a definite learning curve. I've been gardening seriously for 5 years now, and I still feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing most of the time. Anyone who thinks that they can go from 100% dependence on the grocery store to living off the land overnight is in for a rude awakening.
2. It reinforced how lucky we are to have the resources available to us that we do. Make no mistake, the modern industrial agriculture/food system is unsustainable. I fully expect to see it fall apart in some way during my lifetime. Even if it doesn't, I'd want to get out as much as possible anyway. That said, it's nice to know that my family won't go without peppers this year simply because I'm a friggin' idiot.


  1. every1 goes thru that, i've been gardening 2 years by my self, but grew up farming w my grandparents. i forgot alot of stuff lol. this is my first year with a nice set a colosal peppers tho, I was wondering how do I know they are ready to be picked? mine are huge like 6 inches long still green.

  2. MM,
    I too was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that gardened. Both of my grandmothers had big gardens, especially my grandma Lorenz. Much of my inspiration and instruction for growing, canning, cooking, and baking food comes from her.

    As for knowing when to pick your peppers, I think red or yellow is the default color for pretty much all mature sweet peppers. Different varieties take different amounts of time to turn from green. I picked on last night that was 6"-7" inches long, and it was just starting to turn red. Most all of the rest of my peppers are still too small to pick though. The one Hungarian Wax plant that survived the massacre put on purple/black peppers the size of a jalapeno, but they were black from the get go. Speaking of jalapenos, I've let those go long enough that they turned red as well. I think the weather also can have a pretty significant impact on how quickly peppers will ripen. This summers heat has certainly helped with that. Congrats on growing a bunch of big ones this year.