Peter Piper may have picked a peck of pickled peppers, but not before he planted a pretty peck of pepper seeds.
How are your garden plans coming? I’ve been saying for a month that everything seems early, but you eventually reach the point that you’re behind, unless you planned ahead before it got too late.
I am so glad that I have people around me who are good at looking ahead; it is not my strong suit. I love planting my garden beds at the South Rome Community Garden each spring, but it is almost always dependent on the foresight of my friends who were planting seeds while the days were short and the temperatures cold.
This year, I got a little ahead of the game on a plant that I have been trying to grow for several years with no success. I have ordered the seeds and tried to start them for two years in a row, and while I could get them to sprout, I couldn’t get them to grow hearty enough to plant them in the garden.
They are called “Pimiento de Padron” in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, the wish book of all of my most gifted gardening friends.
The description very romantically reads, “These small-fruited peppers originated in Galicia, northwest Spain, where the bite-sized green fruit is sautéed in olive oil and served with coarse-ground sea salt in tapas bars across the country. Most of the peppers are relatively mild, but an occasional unpredictable hot one led a New York Times writer to call eating the dish a game of ‘Spanish Roulette!’ Also fine for pickled peppers; the heat increases as they ripen to red. An authentic regional variety.”
When I used to spend a lot of time in Atlanta, I enjoyed these in several different restaurants and even bought them at farmers markets and prepared them myself. They are delicious and I have wanted to grow them for years, but have never succeeded.
The thing about planting a garden is that you can get a good selection of standard plants at your local hardware and gardening stores, and you can find a few unique varieties here and there, but the best way to grow anything outside of the norm is to start it from seeds yourself, and that isn’t always easy.
One of my favorite gardening gurus is Tamara Smathers, a good friend and fellow beekeeper and lover of homegrown veggies. Her day job is serving as the minister of education and administration at Rome First Baptist Church, so you know that she is good at faith and nurturing. In her spare time, those traits are showered on all sorts of beautiful and fruitful plants in her antique greenhouse behind her home. You can always find begonias, geraniums, and ferns alongside fig, blueberry and citrus bushes, but come early February, everything gets squeezed aside to make room for seed sowing with summer in mind.
After last year’s failure in my padron pepper propagation, I asked Tamara if she would consider trying it for me, if I provided the seeds and a growing mat to warm them. She graciously agreed, though I am sure there was some concern involved. She had never heard of these peppers with which I was so obsessed.
The timing snuck up on me, as always, and Tamara’s Feb. 7 Facebook post showing her multiple boxes newly seeded with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants quickly kicked me into gear.
I ordered the seeds and dropped them off as soon as they arrived, along with the promised growing mat that is critical to inspiring these warm weather seeds to sprout in the middle of winter. I told her that I was available to help with transplanting any of her many seedlings when the time was right.
I have been a proud recipient of her plants over the last few years; a little support felt like the least I could do.
Earlier this week I spent my second delectable greenhouse session with Tamara, gently prodding small plants from the crowded wooden trays whence they were born, untangling their fragile roots from those of their siblings, and setting them in larger pots with the elbow room to spread and grow.
On this visit I was proud and excited to participate in the transplanting of the padron pepper seedlings, just one month after she seeded them! They are so strong and happy, and I think that every single seed emerged! I felt like a proud parent, even though all I did was plant the idea while Tamara actually planted the seeds.
But isn’t planting an idea nearly the same as planting a seed?
Just as with a tiny seed, I think it surely depends on how that idea is nurtured beyond the initial planting. I have had the idea of planting these peppers for years, but it took the skilled and careful nurturing of a gifted gardener to really make it happen.
Eventually I and others will move those little plants to our garden beds as the days warm and lengthen enough for them to thrive. It will be up to us to continue to feed and water them, to pull out the competing weeds and pinch off the pesky bugs, for them to reach their full fruition.
I can’t wait to pick my first peck of padron peppers to saute and perhaps pickle. It will be a hot summer afternoon very different from the blustery days of winter in the greenhouse, but that early planning will be the only reason we reach that festive moment.
When we finished our work, Tamara and I stood in her yard and talked about ideas and plans for many things. So many, in fact, that we eventually joked about how good we both are at coming up with ideas for other people to do.
“Idea seeds” are a penny a peck, but good preparation and planning and patience can always lead to fruitful results.