Variety Spotlight: Aji Rico Pepper

This is the latest in a series of posts that I’ve done about my favorite varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs we grow at Happy Acres. To see my other Spotlights, and those from other garden bloggers, visit the Variety Spotlights page.

Today’s Spotlight is on a hot pepper called Aji Rico. This F1 hybrid variety is a 2017 AAS Winner and has quickly become one of my favorite peppers. It’s always loaded with lots of 3 to 4 inch peppers that ripen to a brilliant shade of red. The thin-walled fruits are sweet and crunchy, with a mild to medium heat level and a citrusy flavor. They are great for fresh use and for turning into hot sauce, which is what I do with a lot of ours.

Aji Rico peppers closeup

Aji Rico is the first hybrid hot pepper from the Capsicum baccatum species, which originated in South America. Compared to many of the open pollinated C. baccatum peppers, it boasts faster maturity and higher yields. Aji Rico is one of the earliest of the baccatum peppers to ripen in our garden, and it produces ripe peppers in 70-75 days after setting out transplants. I have grown it successfully both in large containers and for in-ground plantings. The plants do get tall (30-36″) and can use some support, and I use cages for my in-ground plants and stakes for the ones I grow in pots. The yields are definitely higher for in-ground plantings, and mine are always prolific producers here in our garden.

Aji Rico peppers

In the kitchen, Aji Rico is truly a versatile pepper. It’s usable at both the green and red ripe stages, though the flavor intensifies as the fruits ripen. It’s mild enough that hot pepper lovers can snack on them raw, which is a great way to enjoy the fruity aroma and flavor. They are also a good choice for salsas and sauces both raw and cooked. And they can be dried and ground into seasoning powder too.

Aji Rico peppers

I use a lot of mine to make fermented hot sauces. To prepare, I slice them lengthwise and remove the seeds and inner membrane to reduce the heat a bit. I wear vinyl gloves for this operation, as I do when processing all hot peppers. Next I mix the peppers with salt and let them sit for a few hours before packing into glass jars. I generally ferment the peppers for 1 to 2 weeks before turning into hot sauce. For complete details on my method, please read Fermented Pepper Mash. Of course you can always skip the fermenting step and make a fresh hot sauce with them as well. I have a few of my favorite recipes listed at the end of this spotlight.

sliced Aji Rico peppers

This year I had a bumper crop of Aji Ricos, so I tried pickling a batch of them. They turned out great, and I will be preserving them that way in the future for sure. I’m still tweaking my recipe, but the first step in the process involves an overnight soak in a 10% salt solution. That step firms up the peppers a bit, and reduces the heat level as well. The next day I drain the peppers, then make a sweet brine using sugar, rice vinegar and water. I store the pickled peppers in the refrigerator, where they keep for several months without losing quality. The pickled peppers are great on sandwiches and salads, and I use like to use them as a pizza topping too. The combination of fruity, sweet, sour and spicy ticks all the boxes for me!

big harvest of Aji Rico peppers

big harvest of Aji Rico peppers

soaking peppers in brine

If you are looking for a great tasting pepper that’s productive in the garden and versatile in the kitchen, you might consider giving Aji Rico a try. It is early to mature, high-yielding and a vigorous grower. It has certainly earned a place in my garden in the years to come.

hot sauce and pickled Aji Rico peppers

I hope you have enjoyed this spotlight on a pepper that is very productive and tasty, and one of my all-time favorites. Seed for Aji Rico is available in the U.S. from several sources, including Totally Tomatoes, Harris Seeds and Territorial Seed. I’ll be back soon with another variety to spotlight.

Aji Rico peppers

For a full list of other AAS winners both present and past, visit All-America Selections Winners. Their website also has information on where to Buy AAS Winners.

For more information and recipes for making your own hot sauce:

  1. Homemade: No-Rooster Chili Garlic Sauce
  2. Homemade: Sriracha-Style Hot Sauce
  3. Homemade: Fermented Hot Sauce
  4. Have Fun, Save Money: Make Your Own Hot Sauce (Mother Earth News)
  5. Brine Recipes (The Probiotic Jar)
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2022 Sweet Potato Review

I’ve been growing sweet potatoes in my garden for as long as I can remember, and they are a dependable and productive crop for me. I’m also a big fan when it comes to eating them, and over the years I’ve found a good mix of varieties that are productive as well as tasty and useful in the kitchen. Today I want to share my review of the ones I grew in 2022. 2021 was a great year for them, and I harvested 90 pounds in total. This year I set out the same number of plants as last year, and the same varieties. But this time the yields were down, no doubt due to dry growing conditions this summer and fall. I did supply supplemental water, but apparently it wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of rain. I still managed to harvest 64 pounds from 5 varieties, which should keep us well supplied for months to come.

first of the sweet potatoes

The three best performing varieties for me this year were Bonita, Korean Purple and Purple. Each produced around 2.8 pounds/plant. That’s down about 25% from last year, but still a decent yield. Bonita has a pinkish tan skin and moist white flesh, and is one of my favorites for baking whole. Last week I baked up one from the 2021 harvest and it was still sweet and moist.

Bonita sweet potato

baked Bonita sweet potato

Korean Purple is another one of my favorites in the kitchen, and it has purple skin with a dry white flesh. It usually makes a mix of large and small roots, and this year was no exception. It is a great choice for making hash, oven-baked fries or sweet potato chips. The dry, sweet flesh crisps up well and caramelizes nicely in the oven. I don’t generally clean the soil off any of the sweet potatoes until right before cooking, or at least until the tender skin has cured and toughened up a bit.

Korean Purple sweet potatoes

large Korean Purple

sweet potato fries

Purple is another variety with purple skin and dry flesh, but it has deep purple colored flesh. It also is prone to making long, slender and sometimes crooked roots. I’ve been growing it for several years now, after Norma (Garden To Wok) shared some planting stock with me. It is great for the same uses as Korean Purple, and the two work well together in many dishes. I got 16 pounds of roots from six hills this year.

Purple sweet potato harvest

closeup of Purple sweet potato

Purple sweet potato slice before cooking

The two underperforming varieties this year were Beauregard and Murasaki. I planted six hills of Beauregard and they yielded a bit less than 10 pounds, for an average of 1.6 pounds per hill. Last year I got 18 pounds from five hills, which is over twice the yield (3.7 pounds per hill). I can normally depend on Beauregard to give us lots of baking size roots, but this year we will likely use most of them cut up or sliced since they are fairly small. Beauregard does team up well with Korean Purple and Purple when sliced thin and baked in a cast iron skillet for Sweet Potatoes Anna. I also use it for my Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes dish, which we usually make for our Thanksgiving dinner.

harvest of Beauregard sweet potatoes

closeup of Beauregard sweet potato

Sweet Potatoes Anna

The last variety I grew this year is Murasaki, which is a Japanese variety with reddish purple skin and creamy white flesh. It was the poorest performer this year, with the six hills yielding a bit more than 7 pounds. Last year it was the best performing variety, when I got 20 pounds from five hills. What a difference a year makes! Trader Joe’s used to sell it seasonally in fall, though I don’t know if they still do. It has a nutty, sweet flavor and the flesh is drier than most sweet potatoes, though still fairly moist. I am sure we will savor every one of these this year since the yields were so small.

Murasaki sweet potato

baked Murasaki sweet potato from last year

I always let the sweet potatoes cure in a warm place for several weeks before we begin eating them. The basement is the best place we have for curing, and I spread them out in a thin layer in cardboard boxes. As they cure, the skin toughens up and the starches convert to sugars. After curing, they will keep until next spring.

For more information about growing sweet potatoes try these sources:

Growing Sweet Potatoes in Missouri

Sweet Potato -University of Illinois

The Sweet Potato – Purdue University

Sweet Potato Growing Guide – Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Grow Sweet Potatoes – Even In The North (Mother Earth News)

 

 

 

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No-Dig No-Till Update

This year I am experimenting with the no-dig no-till method of gardening in a couple of beds and I want to give an update on that project. As I get older, I am always looking for more ways to make gardening easier, and this seemed worth trying. I was inspired by Dr. Lee Reich’s classic 2000 book called Weedless Gardening, and an episode I saw about his garden on Growing A Greener World. Reich’s background as a soil scientist and long-time gardener lends considerable credibility to his methods to have a successful garden without spending a lot of time weeding.

no-dig no-till test bed

The first test bed was home to brassicas and bush squashes I set out in spring. After spreading compost and other amendments over the bed, I put down woven weed barrier fabric. The material I’m using is four feet wide, and listed as “professional grade 3.2 oz” material. I secured the material along the edges with metal landscape staples. I planted broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi at one end of the bed in late April, and the bush squashes at the other end once danger of frost had passed in early May. All of these crops did quite well, and I am pleased with the results. Broccoli and cabbage are known for being heavy feeders, and they did exceptionally well. That tells me my soil amendments gave them what they needed, even without being worked into the soil.

early brassica plants

For fall I wanted to follow the crops in that bed with collard greens and kale. After pulling what was left of the spring crops, I lifted the weed barrier fabric carefully and folded it up so I can reuse it next spring. Then I applied a nigh nitrogen organic fertilizer (Happy Frog Tomato & Vegetable), scattering it over the bed on top of the soil. Since I plant collards farther apart than broccoli and cabbage, I put down new fabric and I cut the holes at the wider spacing. I should be able to reuse this material next year as well.

new weed barrier in place

 

collard plant

The greens got off to a good start, and have grown quite well given our extremely dry conditions this summer. I have been harvesting them on an as-needed basis, and they should keep us well supplied for weeks to come. This test bed has given us a lot of veggies for a minimal amount of work, and I have to say that is encouraging news indeed!

fall crop of collard greens and kale

The other test bed was lightly worked up in spring, fertilized, and then covered in weed barrier fabric. I sowed bush beans on one end and blackeyes on the other, and I set out a few extra pepper plants in the middle of the bed. In early August, I pulled the beans and blackeyes and sowed those areas with turnips and radishes. I added no fertilizer or compost at that time, since I had amended the soil in spring. This bed has also done well, and my only concern is a few weeds that have come up down the edges of the weed barrier fabric. I put down cardboard and newspaper in spring, and I am guessing it has broken down and allowed the weeds to germinate. The bed itself is mostly weed-free, and overall these test beds have a lot less weeds than the rest of the garden.

no-dig bed with radishes and turnips planted

no dig bed with turnip greens

Next year I plan to convert at least one more bed to the no-dig method, and possible another one as well. The bed where sweet potatoes grew this year is right next to where the collards and kale are growing and is a prime candidate. I plan to plant tomatoes there next year, and hopefully I can get compost spread this winter. I do have another area where eggplant and paste tomatoes grew this year, and I might convert it to no-dig too. That would make over half the garden no-dig no-till. That second area will be home to the brassicas and bush squash next year, so they should do well there if I go that route.

area for no-dig bed

I hope you have enjoyed this update on my project. I will be working on getting the beds ready for planting in spring in the weeks to come, as well as enjoying the fall greens I harvest. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres!

 

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Harvest Monday October 31, 2022

It’s time for Harvest Monday, where gardeners from all over celebrate all things harvest related. Once again I’ve decided it makes sense for me to take a break from the Harvest Monday posts for the winter months, until next February. Harvests are few and far between for many – including me, and I always enjoy taking a bit of downtime from gardening this time of year as do many other gardeners. I’ll be back with Harvest Monday on February 6th. Until then, I will post here about other garden news as it happens, and you can always follow my Facebook page and Instagram feed for harvests and other garden news. Thanks to all for reading and participating in this celebration of the harvest that has been going since 2009. Now, on to the harvests!

Our fall planted collard greens have sized up nicely, and I am cutting them on an as-needed basis. This year I’m growing one from the Heirloom Collard Project called Big Daddy Greasy Green, and my two plants look wildly different. One plant has typical smooth, dark green leaves, while the other one has frilly leaves. The frilly leaves looked familiar, and finally I realized they look a lot like the Portuguese Kale I have grown in the past. Regardless of the looks, both types had a good flavor, though not necessarily any better than others I’m growing. The project describes them as a “Tough variety that has some slight sweetness to it”, which is not exactly what I would call glowing praise!

Big Daddy Greasy Green collards

one type of Big Daddy Greasy Green

Big Daddy Greasy Green with collard leaves

I cut another batch of turnip greens last week, and these were tender and mild-flavored.  Topper is a hybrid that makes mostly leaves, though it will eventually make roots. I grow it for the leaves though, and it is prolific and dependable for me here. I sowed these back in August, making a slit in the woven row cover fabric. The fabric no doubt helped conserve soil moisture during our dry weather conditions, and weeds have not been an issue either.

Topper turnip greens

I pulled the last of the sweet peppers, and though the frosty weather had killed many of the plants it hadn’t seem to hurt these peppers at all. We still have a glut of them, and I am freezing many for later use. I am also thinking a roasted pepper soup might be on the menu soon.

last of the 2022 sweet peppers

As for hot peppers, I dried some of the Aji Colorado peppers and ground them up into chile powder. The listing at Adaptive Seeds (where I got my seeds) describes it as a “Thin-walled hot pepper great for drying and grinding into powder, and also good eaten fresh or made into hot sauce.” I was a bit hot for my tastes for fresh eating, but the heat seems to have mellowed a bit during drying and it made a tasty chile powder.

dried Aji Colorado peppers

Aji Colorado powder

I saved the most exciting harvest for last. I planted a persimmon tree here in 2016, and we are finally getting our first fruits! Nikita’s Gift is a cross between an American Persimmon variety and a Japanese variety. The fruit is astringent until ripe and soft, and so far only one has been ready to eat. That was a real treat, and I scooped out the orange flesh with a spoon and ate it as a snack. The tree gave us 14 fruits this year, and with any luck will give us even more in the years to come.

Nikita’s Gift persimmons

ready to eat persimmon

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please take a minute and check out what everyone is harvesting!

 


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Harvest Monday October 24, 2022

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. As forecast, we got our first freeze last week, with temps dipping down below 30°F. In the days before, I harvested all the peppers and eggplant I could find, plus a few more of the mature Centercut squashes. The sweet peppers came on late this year, and we have so many now I will freeze some for later use. The somewhat shy yielding Sugar Rush Peach also gave us a few more to use for hot sauce.

late season harvest

last of the eggplant

The sweet potatoes are all safely curing in the warm basement now. I dug 64 pounds in all, which will keep us well supplied for the months to come. I will let them cure for several weeks before we get our first taste. Meanwhile, we are still eating on ones from last year. The tubers keep amazingly well if handled carefully during harvest, and then stored in a cool dry location after curing.

sweet potatoes curing

I brought in a huge haul of Aji Rico peppers before the freeze. I got five pounds from two large plants, and I decided to pickle a couple of jars as well as make hot sauce with some of them. This 2017 AAS Winner has a fruity flavor and medium heat, and is my favorite pepper for hot sauce. It’s also great for fresh use.

Aji Rico peppers

Aji Rico peppers closeup

And speaking of hot sauce, I have a selection of various types made now. I’ve still got a couple of batches fermenting, but it looks like I will have plenty to keep me warm this winter! We had an out of town friend visit last week, and I sent him away with one bottle.

assorted hot sauces

I didn’t plant a lot of radishes this fall, but I pulled all of what I did have growing in a cold frame bed. It’s a mix of varieties, including the long red Chinese Dragon radish I’m growing for the first time. We don’t eat a lot of radishes, and these keep well in the refrigerator until we use them.

radishes after pulling

fall radish harvest

Another hot pepper I harvested is called Tangerine Dream. There’s another variety with the same name that looks completely different, but the one I grew has round orange fruits with a mild heat level. In the past I pickled them, but this year I am going to try making a hot sauce with them.

Tangerine Dream peppers

One last pepper I’ll mention is one I’m growing for the first time called Desperado. It’s an Anaheim type, with large thick-walled fruits that have a mild heat level. I’ll roast and skin these, then chop them up and freeze for later use. The frozen Anaheim types are so much better than the canned ones, and great to have on hand.

Desperado peppers

With cold weather arriving, collard soup was on the menu last week. The first one I cut is an heirloom variety called North Carolina Yellow – and so appropriate for Vivian Howard’s soup recipe given her NC roots. We used beans for protein, and almost a pound of the collard leaves. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the collards, and any other sturdy green (like lacinato kale for instance) would also work well.

North Carolina Yellow collards

In non-harvest news, a couple of years ago I planted goldenrod, aster and a hardy mum in a perennial bed to give us some fall color and to provide a food source for pollinators and butterflies. The Country Girl mum is proving to be a popular place this time of year, with lots of bees and butterflies visiting it every day. The butterflies include Skippers, Sulfurs and I have seen several Buckeyes visiting lately. The blooms are fading now, but it has had a great run of color this year and should just keep getting bigger and better in the years to come.

Sulfur butterfly on mum

Buckeye and Skipper on mum

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please take a minute and check out what everyone is harvesting!

 


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