A Garden Sprouts!

June 25, 2012

Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Stop by the newest PHS Pop-Up Garden at 19th & Walnut Streets, directly across the street from Rittenhouse Square. Garden hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 am to 2 pm; Thursday evenings, 5 to 7; and the second Saturday of each month, 9 am to 1 pm. You can visit the Garden through October 2012.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project


Portia’s Peppers

May 31, 2012

Get in the conversation. A new on-line forum, FacePlant, is social media for gardeners says its founder, Louisa. “I started this site because I love growing stuff, documenting my efforts, and reading about and exploring other people’s gardens.”  Photo courtesy of FacePlant.

Above: Peppers growing gangbusters at a community garden.


Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

A Sowing Primer

April 29, 2012

Early Spring weather has restless gardeners eager to get outside and plant the garden quick! But it’s still too early to sow pepper seeds outdoors: the nights are too cool. Best to start those seeds indoors or under the care of a hotbed or cold frame outdoors. That’s what Bernard M’Mahon recommends.

Growing Hot Peppers

America’s first-ever gardening handbook, published in Philadelphia by Bernard M’Mahon in 1806, is a handy primer for home gardeners of all abilities.

The handbook’s full title says it all: The American Gardener’s Calendar; Adapted to the Climates and Seasons of the United States: Containing a Complete Account of All the Work Necessary to be Done in the Kitchen-Garden, Fruit Garden, Orchard, Vineyard, Nursery, Pleasure-ground, Flower-garden, Greenhouse, Hot-house, and Forcing Frames, for Every Month in the Year; with Ample Practical Directions for Performing the Same.”

Search inside its pages and find step-by-step instructions of what to do, when and how. Here’s what M’Mahon says about planting capsicums or peppers in April:

“Sow capsicums, towards the end of this month, on a warm border, to produce plants, for planting out towards the latter end of  May, or beginning of June; the large heart-shaped capsicum, is in the greatest estimation for pickling, but the small upright kinds, are the strongest for pepper: if they are desired at an early season, sow them on a slight hot-bed, the beginning of this month, and with due care they will be fit to transplant, where they are to remain, towards the middle of May. In the eastern states, the tenth of May will be soon enough to sow them, in the open ground, but in the southern states, they may be sown any time this month.”

Spicy Pepper Plants from Hot Head Heaven

Many modern-day seed merchant catalogs and websites present equally helpful growing tips about starting pepper plants from seed.

“You’ll find an enormous range of choices available from seed,” writes Jill M. Nicolaus for Dave’s Garden, which publishes a “Seed Starting 101” guide for all kinds of garden plants. “If you’re new to growing peppers, you’ll be amazed at the varieties available at seed racks, in catalogs, and on on-line websites.”

Bartram’s Garden has just published its latest garden catalog, offering ten kinds of sweet and hot peppers.

Sweet varieties include the Bullnose Red Bell, originally introduced from India in 1759; the Doe Hill Golden Bell, a pre-1900 family heirloom from Virginia, described as a “cheese-shaped pepper”;  and the Chervena Chushka, a Bulgarian heirloom traditionally used for roasting.

Hot peppers include the Bulgarian Carrot; Fish Peppers from William Woys Weaver’s collection of Afro-American varieties; the Hinkelhatz, a rare Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom,  used mostly for pickling and pepper vinegar; Long Red Cayenne, a pre-1827 heirloom; Habanero, a fiery Scotch-Bonnet variety originally from Cuba or the Yucatan and a key ingredient in West Indian jerk sauces; Willing’s Barbados, a useful ornamental with tiny peppers, featured before on this blog; and, the Numex Twilight, a hybrid ornamental, originally developed by New Mexico State University, that’s also good for cooking.

Most growers warn gardeners that unlike tomatoes or some other kitchen garden plants, peppers take a bit more patience as they’re slow to germinate and picky about soil and temperature conditions.

Here’s another gardening website that feature tips for growing hot peppers GrowingAnything.com

Photo credits

“Growing Hot Peppers,” a Facebook photo essay web page.

“Spicy Pepper Plants,” from Hot Head Heaven, featured on the Daily Loaf website.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Last month, a reader asked if the Landreth Seed Company was the earliest garden seed company in Philadelphia. He also wanted to know if Landreth sold hot pepper seeds in those early years.

What triggered the query was this advertisement published in 1792 in Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser, one of dozens of Philadelphia newspapers published at that time.

Garden historian Barbara Wells Sarudy writes about the origins of such seed dealers and nursery owners like David Landreth on her blog Early American Gardens as well as in her book Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake 1700-1805.

David Landreth

David Landreth

She writes: “The method of selling seeds and plants changed dramatically in the Mid-Atlantic and Upper South after the Revolutionary War. The growth of urban economies gave rise to new commercial gardening ventures, nurseries and seed stores, operated by professional gardeners who initially imported and then grew their own seed and plant stock.”

David Landreth was one of dozens of seed men in America in the early 1800s. But seeds and all varieties of plants and trees were grown, traded or sold by a number of garden suppliers long before Landreth. The most famous of those collectors and suppliers were Philadelphia botanists John Bartram and his son William Bartram from their Kingsessing farm. Another early gardener was James Alexander, who sold vegetable and herb seeds imported from London in Philadelphia in 1751. But the most successful seed merchant of all was a Welsh woman, Hannah Davis Dubre of Northern Liberties, who kept the business going and expanded it after her husband’s death in 1768. To accommodate customers who didn’t want to trudge out to her remote plantation, she introduced the idea of relying on agents in town to sell and supply to retail and wholesale customers, including international traders.

William Bartram (April 20, 1739 — July 22, 182...

William Bartram (April 20, 1739 — July 22, 1823) was an American naturalist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Shakers too built a substantial business selling seeds in the 18th Century, and were the creators of a most important innovation in seed trading, the seed packet!

Seed merchants often supplied wealthy landowners like William Hamilton of the Woodlands, whose mansion still stands in West Philadelphia, and Robert Morris, who owned a large estate on the Schuylkill, today’s historic Lemon Hill in Fairmount Park. Both men had huge gardens and greenhouses. The breadth and exoticism of their botanic collections rivaled those in Europe. They also supplied seeds and plants from their working estates to agents like Landreth and others.

However, it’s Irish immigrant Bernard M’Mahon of Philadelphia, trained by Landreth, who is credited with printing the first seed catalog in 1804 and making it widely available to the public. Just two years later, in 1806, he would publish the first-ever book on gardening in the US. The America Gardener’s Calendar is still a very useful guide to planting, caring for and harvesting one’s garden and can be read in its entirety online.

M’Mahon, also spelled McMahon, says in the preface of his book that “he is constantly supplied, at his Seed Warehouse in Philadelphia, with a general assortment of Garden Seeds, suitable for cultivation, in the United States, and in the West Indies; Grass seeds of every important and valuable kind; an immense variety of Tree, Shrub and Flower seeds and roots, procured from various parts of the world, with which the enterprize of American commerce has any connection, as well as from the different State and Territories of the Union….”

He adds that he supplies “at the most moderate terms every convenience for gardening, from spades and shovels to bulb glasses and glass suitable for hot-bed lights and other forcing department.”

So, did Landreth or others also sell hot peppers in those early years? They most certainly did!

Cayenne pepper was a popular spice and was often brought into Philadelphia ports from the Caribbean and is even noted in a merchant shippers ad from a 1723 edition of the American Weekly Mercury newspaper.

M’Mahon’s 1806 catalog notes three classic Central and South American hot pepper varieties  – capsicum baccatum, a South American sweet hot that resembles a Bishops Crown; capsicum frutescens, a small chile like the Bird Pepper, and capsicum sinesen, probably an early Habanero variety.

Landreth and other seed merchants would soon follow with their own catalogs.

Additional Reference:
The 225th Anniversary Commemorative Newsletter Series, “A History of American Vegetables, Herbs and Flowers, From the Landreth Perspective 1784-1950,” Volume 5, Issue 2, February 2009.
Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Feeding the Spirit

February 15, 2012

Turn on and tune in to the webcast “Feeding the Spirit: Museums, Food and Community” this Friday, February 17, from 1:45-5 p.m.

This “national potluck” is a gathering of food scholars, professionals and others who will explore how museums can promote food literacy, healthy and sustainable food services, as well as use food to build participation and strengthen community connections.

It’s every bit what the Philadelphia Pepper Project is all about.     logo

The free program is being hosted by the Center for the Future of Museums (CFM), a think tank and research and design lab to help museums transcend their traditional missions by fostering more creative programming. CFM is affiliated with the American Association of Museums.

Although the primary audience for this webinar is people who work in, and with, museums, anyone can join in the conversation, especially those who work with food, or who are involved with community health issues such as childhood nutrition and gardening.

Featured panelists on the program include Jeannette Ickovics from the Yale School of Public Health, who will talk about how museums can promote food literacy and improve community health; Elizabeth Meltz, director of food safety and sustainability for the Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group in NYC; and, Erika Allen, Chicago and National Outreach coordinator for Growing Power. Later afternoon programming, moderated by Elizabeth Merritt from AAM, includes Ismael Calderon, director of science at Newark Museum; Jessica Harris, noted culinary historian and professor at Queens College, CUNY; and, Jane Pickering, associate director at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

To learn more or to register on line for the program, contact the Center here: http://futureofmuseums.org/events/lecture/webcastmenu.cfm


Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Peppers and Future Fossils

September 21, 2011

photo by Nathaniel Hamilton/For NewsWorks, WHYY

Colorful hot peppers are part of the urban garden mix at Jenny Sabin’s greenhouse of the future.

This clever and unusual “Greenhouse and Cabinet of Future Fossils” is just one of many projects and programs being hosted by the American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum for its current exhibition, “Of Elephants and Roses: Encounters with French Natural History, 1790-1830.”

Jenny Sabin is an artist and architect who specializes in computational design. Inspired by the historic greenhouses featured in the APS Museum’s current exhibition, she created this environmentally sustainable pre-fab structure, one of five structures planned for  The Greenhouse Projects at the APS Museum.

APS: “Made of recycled and recyclable materials, the 52’-long structure has no glass and requires no heat. It is supported by curving, structural ribs that hold up 110 translucent, jewel-toned cold frames (mini-greenhouses) filled with edible and ornamental plants. The 2’ x 1’ x 1’ cold frames are removable and portable, intended for winter gardening in small urban spaces.

The “Cabinet of Future Fossils” inside the Greenhouse displays digitally produced ceramic art objects that are inspired by forms in nature. But they are not quite recognizable. Like scientists perplexed by the fossil bones of animals who lived a long time ago, Sabin wryly imagines a future era when people might be equally puzzled by these curious “fossil” remnants of the computer age.”

To learn more about this exhibit and other Greenhouse Projects, reference the APS website.

Jenny Sabin will give a lecture on  “Between Architecture, Nature and Technology: Material Analogs,” at 6 p.m. on October 20at the APS Museum, 104 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

Rebel Gardeners

August 5, 2011

Meet the Rebel Gardeners.

Tough on dirt; soft on vegetables. All kinds of vegetables. Fruit too.

At their farm stand at Clark Park on S. 43rd Street in West Philly, there’s an ever surprising array of goodies that evolves over the hot summer. Beets, carrots,  tomatoes, squash, eggplant, various greens, peaches and, of course, hot peppers. Indeed four kinds of hot peppers were on hand this past week, including Poblano, Jalapeño, Habanero and long Chili peppers!

Unquestionable team spirit is smartly announced by their hot yellow polo shirts and their energy as they promote their business cards — handmade constructions that tout their website and the vegetable du jour, garnished with a recipe and home-grown seeds.

So who are these Rebel Gardeners?   

They’re a gregarious group of 8th graders from (can’t make this up) Pepper Middle School, located in Philadelphia’s Eastwick neighborhood.

Last year, the school kids were studying nutrition, science and sustainability when they learned about the impending fate of their nearby neighbor, the Eastwick Community Garden. The seven-acre garden, much-loved and tended to by community residents for almost 40 years, could soon become a parking lot as it’s in the pathway of an expansion of the Philadelphia Airport.

Determined to preserve and pass on their collective knowledge, the community gardeners began mentoring the young students, who made frequent field trips to the Eastwick garden. This year, faced with lessening chances of the community garden surviving, the young group decided to build a garden at the school so that even more students would learn what they were learning.

The Pepper Middle School garden project was created by the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative and with Eat.Right.Now. The nutrition initiative is slated to expand to other schools in the school district next year.

Meanwhile, the kids have written First Lady Michelle Obama to tell her about themselves and about the plight of their friends’ garden.

After all, they’re Rebel Gardeners!

To learn more about the Pepper Middle School program, check their website at http://www.rebelgardeners.org/about or write them at rebelgardeners@gmail.com.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

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