Kinzler: Pepper problem, late-shipped perennials and skip the gypsum
In today's "Fielding Questions" column, Don helps a reader figure out what caused this issue on jalapeno skins.
Q: Attached is a picture of our jalapeno peppers that look like they have webbing on the skin. I’m wondering what causes this, and if they are safe to eat. — Eileen H.
A: The lines in the skin of the jalapenos isn’t caused by insects, and it’s not a disease. The pattern is called "corking," and happens when pepper plants have an occasional growth spurt. If the skin on certain pepper fruits isn't flexible enough to expand and accommodate the growth, the skin cracks instead of flexes, leaving slight cracks that heat, leaving scar lines. Such growth spurts can happen when rains follow a dry period, for example.
The peppers are totally edible, and in doing a little research, I discovered that some people prefer jalapenos with corking, because they feel they’re spicier and have a greater depth of flavor.
Enjoy the peppers and if you like spice, those with corking might have a little extra kick.
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Q: We ordered a purple reblooming daylily and a goblin gaillardia that just arrived bare-root. With the early winter how can we store them until spring? — Lyle R.
A: With the early onset of snow and cold weather around the region, many of us wonder what to do with perennials or bulbs that were bought or received late. These are always best planted whenever possible, even if late, when the soil isn’t frozen solid. If the ground is temporarily covered with early snow you can still plant perennials when the snow thaws, if soil is soft.
After planting, cover the area with 12 to 24 inches of leaves or straw which can prevent the soil from freezing for several more weeks. The protective mulch can be left in place until early spring. If you’re expecting plants to arrive late, cover the planned planting area with this mulch to prevent soil freezing, allowing you to plant when the material arrives.
If planting outdoors isn’t possible because soil is already frozen solid, there are several options. Bare-root perennials can be potted, watered well and placed along the house foundation, but not the south side, as it freezes and thaws too much. Then cover with leaves or straw, and plant next spring.
If you have an extra refrigerator, dormant bare-root perennials can be put in a plastic bag with barely dampened peat moss. Poke a few holes in the plastic to prevent excess moisture buildup, and plant in spring.
Any of these methods are usually better than leaving plants in a garage, which can fluctuate greatly in midwinter when doors are left open for warming vehicles.
Q: I have a large flower bed and the soil down an inch or so is mostly clay. Does tilling in gypsum help to amend the soil? If so, what amount should I use? — Barb O.
A: Unfortunately, gypsum isn’t the solution for improving most heavy clay soils. Gypsum, whose chemical makeup is calcium sulfate, is used for buffering soils that are too high in sodium. Most heavy soils, including those in the Red River Valley, aren't typically high in sodium. Instead, they’re high in calcium, so gypsum has little to offer and can cause excess calcium. There are a few areas in the region that do have high-sodium soil, which can be determined by submitting a soil sample to North Dakota State University’s Soil Testing Lab.
The way to improve most clay soil is by adding generous amounts of organic material, such as compost, leaves and bagged manure. Autumn is a great time to incorporate a layer of at least 3 inches of organic material. Doing so each fall can greatly improve soils that are either too heavy or too light.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at email@example.com. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.