Greenhouse Modifications

Darin made a few modifications to the greenhouse over the last few weeks so we thought it was time for an update.

The pepper seedlings are really taking off so we decided that we should transplant them from the trays to individual pots. Thanks to Darin’s big fat head (his words, not mine), we had to hold an emergency repotting session right before the Superbowl started. He was adjusting the power bar at the bottom of the greenhouse and hit his head on a tray, which fell to the floor. We now have many “mystery” pepper plants since they were planted in tidy, labelled rows but got all mixed up when they fell. It will be exciting, I suppose.


After he recovered from the Superbowl, Darin transplanted the rest of the peppers (with labels). He decided to lower the grow lights to 2-3” above the tops of the plants. We found that our plants got pretty leggy last year with the lights being up higher, so hopefully this will remedy that for this year’s crop. He also added a few more grow lights and, while he was at it, added some small fans. This was something we had read about last year when we learned about hardening off plants (not that outdoor gardening season is starting anytime soon!). Exposing the plants to a gentle breeze helps them develop strong stems and, as an added bonus, reduces the chance of mold/mildew. It sure dries the soil out quickly, though, so we are rotating the plants frequently so they get a break from the breeze.


Would you be surprised if I told you that Darin is planting one more tray of peppers? This time he chose two types of bell peppers: Red Mercury and Delirio Hybrid. He’s also planting jalapenos (regular this time, not mild like the ones we’ve already started. All of the seeds are from Early’s.

On a non-greenhouse note, the U of S spring gardening classes have been posted! Check out the courses here.



Heat in the Dead of Winter

Tonight I decided to count the number of pepper seedlings that are growing in our greenhouse. We have a lot more than I first thought. Here’s our pepper plant count so far, along with their Scoville Heat Units:

  • 4 Fat n Sassy – 0 Scovilles
  • 10 Sweet Bananas – 0 – 500 Scovilles
  • 11 Jalapenos – 2,500 – 8,000 Scovilles
  • 25 Cayennes – 30,000 – 50,000 Scovilles
  • 2 Habaneros – 100,000 – 350,000 Scovilles
  • 1 Chocolate Scorpion – 1.2 to 2 million Scovilles
  • 3 Carolina Reapers –  2.2 million Scovilles

Most have been up for a week or two, but the Carolina Reapers just emerged in the last day or so. That makes it about 2.5 weeks from the time we planted them to the time they sprouted. Sheesh.

The Scoville scale is a measurement of how hot chilli peppers are. It actually measures the amount of capsaicin in a pepper, which is the chemical that produces the sensation of heat in humans. Apparently, the Guinness Book of World Records named the Carolina Reaper the world’s hottest pepper in 2013, although some are now saying that Pepper X/Dragon’s Breath pepper is the hottest.

What are we going to do with all of these peppers? We’ll definitely make some hot sauce. Darin made some fabulous sauce last year with our peppers and we’d like to try that again. We will likely dedicate more of our raised beds to our beloved peppers as we have decided not to do the 3 sisters planting this year.

Stay cool, everyone! Or not.

Anatomy of a Plant Name

Warning – pretty dry entry ahead.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to my Botanical Latin class on the hot, sunny afternoon of July 6, 2015. Why was I taking it? It’s a required course for the Master Gardener program at the U of S. This class actually turned out to be one of the most valuable classes I’ve taken to date. It was even interesting and entertaining, thanks to my favourite gardening instructor, Vanessa Young.

Today I’m at home sick and all of the work that I could be doing is not at home with me. Why not take this opportunity to do some learning? I decided that I need a refresher on botanical Latin (binomial nomenclature – the system of naming plants). Sure, we can use common names when referring to plants, but I want to make sure we are being as specific as possible when discussing our plants on this blog. When possible, I’ll try to give the Latin names for whatever plants I’m talking about. That way, if you decide you want to find that plant for your own yard, you can find the exact same plant.


Trifolium rubens

The first word refers to the genus. You can think of the genus as the plant family’s last name. For example, Jones is the last name for all the people in the Jones family. This plant family’s name is Trifolium and tells us that any plants in this family are very closely related. It is always capitalized and italicized. If handwritten, it’s underlined. If I was using this genus name repeatedly, I could abbreviate it T. rubens after I write it out the first time. Sometimes the genus can be used as its common name, such as the petunia (Petunia hybrida), delphinium (Delphinium albiflorum), and clematis (Clematis alpina).

Specific Epithet/Species

Trifolium rubens

The second word is called the specific epithet or the species. Specific epithet is a better term to use because the two words together (i.e., Trifolium rubens) indicate the plant species, but sometimes people refer to the specific epithet as the species…. just to make things confusing.

The specific epithet is the equivalent of a person’s first name. Let’s say we have Trifolium rubens and Trifolium gemellum. We could say that these are two siblings that are very closely related but are different enough that they deserve different names. Plants with the same specific epithet can interbreed among themselves. The specific epithet might come from the plant’s Latin or Greek name, refer to the geographical area it came from, describe a physical characteristic of the plant, or honour a person. Rosa arkansana is a species of rose originally found along the Arkansas river, while Rosa woodsii is a species of rose that grows on the edge of a forest.

Sometimes the genus is known, but not the specific epithet. In that case, you would write the genus name, followed by “sp.”. For example, you could write Trifolium sp. to show that you know it’s a Trifolium but you aren’t sure about the specific epithet.

Author’s Designation

In rare cases you might see a third part of a scientific name, such as Rosa arkansana Porter. This tells you who officially named the plant. I haven’t seen this very often as an amateur gardener.

Varieties vs. Cultivars

This is where I tend to get confused. A group of plants forms a variety when they grow wild in nature and have a unique characteristic from the rest of their species. The handout from my class gives the example of the chokecherry Prunus virginiana, which is a familiar native cherry. In eastern North America the fruit is bright red, but in western North America, the fruit is very dark purple to black. Otherwise, the two plants are identical. In order to differentiate the two, the western chokecherry is called Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa (melano = black; carpa = fruit).

Cultivars are often confused with varieties. Cultivars refer to a group of plants that originated naturally or were developed using human activity. A cultivar requires human intervention in order to reproduce. Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa ‘Schubert’ (the Schubert chokecherry) is a popular cultivar here in the prairies. It differs from other chokecherries because its leaves turn purple in the summer. It was found in the wild, then humans reproduced it and they continue to cultivate it today.

According to my class, true botanical varieties are pretty rare. If you have to guess on whether the name refers to a variety versus a cultivar, you are far more likely to be correct if you guess that it’s a cultivar.


An “x” in a name tells you that a plant is a hybrid. A hybrid is an individual plant that has been produced using two genetically different plants. In this case, you won’t often find the full lineage of both parent plants but you will at least know that it’s a hybrid.

The Fun Stuff

I find binomial nomenclature super interesting because the structure of a word can tell you about the plant itself. You might not know what a Trifolium rubens is, but you can quickly learn about the plant by studying the word.

Tri = three; Folium = foliage = leaves

Trifolium = three leaves

Rubens sounds like rubies. Rubies are red.

Trifolium rubens = a three-leaved plant that is red.

(It’s actually a red-flowering clover. Cool, hey?)

Mother Nature Network, Rainy Side Gardeners, and The Seed Site are good references for deciphering botanical names.

(Information taken from “Botanical Latin for Master Gardeners” from the University of Saskatchewan.)

Thrillers, Fillers, Spillers

I love the anticipation of watching for those first little seedlings to emerge from the soil. We didn’t have to wait long for our first flats to show signs of life. Our pennisetum (fountain grass) emerged within two days and is doing well now!


Why fountain grass? Well, now that our yard is “done” (not that landscaping ever really ends), we can put more energy into our containers. I have come to appreciate ornamental grasses in my container design.

There is really no one way to approach container design. You can plant one type of plant in a container or combine several types. If you’re doing a combination, the traditional way to choose your plants is by using the thriller/filler/spiller approach.

Thrillers are typically your feature plant and provide height to your container. Many people use dracaena spikes but more adventurous types may try canna lilies or ornamental grasses. We even tried columnar basil and leeks last year. Thrillers can feature either dazzling flowers or spectacular foliage. Thrillers are often placed in the centre (if you’re going to view the container from all sides) or at the back of the pot (if it’s only going to be viewed from the front). The pennisetum that is so steadily growing will hopefully grow to become beautiful thrillers that we can play around with in our designs.

Fillers are those plants that, well, fill up your container. They are usually mounded/rounded and provide bulk to your container. They are usually of medium height and complement the thriller. You can use a few different fillers at once if you have the room and the desire. The fillers are placed so they surround the thriller. I used coleus, pansies, petunias, calibrachoa (in very small containers), and kale last year.

Finally, spillers are low-growing plants that are placed close to the edge of the containers. They spill over the edge and visually soften the transition from container to plant. Spillers can be placed on all sides or just in the front, depending on where it will be viewed. We tried creeping jenny, sweet potato vine, bacopa, calibrachoa, and wire vines last year. I have thoughts on what I will and won’t try for spillers this year but I think that’s another post for another day.

You can think of thrillers/fillers/spillers as a container recipe. When I am shopping for plants I will often arrange them on my cart as I would in the container and play around with combinations until I find one that I like. (Pro tip: take a picture with your camera because once you have bought those babies home they’ll probably be mixed up or, if you’re like me, you’ll have forgotten what your plans were.)

Right now it’s far too early to start/buy most plants. Growing a few thrillers is a great way to kick off the year. If they don’t survive, I’ll just start new ones. That’s what I figure. I’m getting impatient already and it’s only January 17th. Boy, am I in trouble.

Happy New Year!

Taking the Christmas tree down today was kind of a sad task…. that is, until I realized that it’s one more step closer to being gardening season!

Until now, we’ve kept our indoor greenhouse in our office. After we took the tree down today, we realized that the empty spot left over was a fantastic place for the greenhouse. Lo and behold, it fit. Not sure who was more excited to see it being set up – us or the cats. We’ve had to cat-proof it so they can’t sneak in there. Little buggers.

IMG_6122We started our own pepper plants from seed last year in our basement using a heating pad and, eventually, grow lights. Despite starting them early, they took quite awhile to begin producing. It was well worth the wait though – all but the habaneros were prolific producers and we were able to make delicious paprika, hot sauce, and salsa.IMG_2950

Sure, it’s only January and probably far too early to begin seeds. However, the best teacher is experience; we decided to start our pepper seeds now and see what happens. While we were at it, we started some rosemary (which didn’t go well for us last year), pennisetum (fountain grass), allium (from some seeds we saved last year), delphiniums (saved seeds), and Mimosa pudica (sensitive plant).

I think we have lots of time so if things don’t turn out, we can just start new ones! Now to obsessively peek in there to see if anything has germinated.