One of the first spices I’ve gotten is a black pepper plant. I’m starting with the plants that take a long time before a harvest and according to my research, a black pepper vine can take up to seven years before it will fruit. I’m hoping to cheat that a little because I bought one already a good two or three feet tall.

But even without flowers or fruit, it’s a rather pretty thing with it’s heart-shaped, bright green leaves. I look forward to training the vine, perhaps into almost a black pepper ‘tree’. Being mid-winter, I was nervous about having it shipped in the cold, but it seems to have survived and is doing well. I’ve got it in a mix of equal parts peat, perlite, and vermiculite in a self-watering pot. A little mist of water when I remember — usually in the mornings and evenings — and so far so good.

I’m quite excited by this one as it’s like getting three spices in one. Depending on the harvest time, not only black peppercorns but also green and white all come from this one plant. Green are seeds from the immature fruits. Black peppercorns are still the immature fruits, but when they are just starting to turn red. Dried, they turn the familiar black. And finally, my favorite, white pepper is harvested when the fruits are past their red-ripe stage and to the point where on most crops, the fruit would be considered long past edible. For peppercorns, they just get better!

Sigh. It will be a long few years waiting to try it.

In the meantime, another spice had a bit of a harder time in the cold, so I’m pausing the additions to my spice garden until the weather warms. But the star anise tree does seem to be recovering, so no lasting harm, thankfully.

Star Anise

Star anise — not to be confused with the herb known as anise or aniseed — I think will be a beautiful tree when it recovers its color. I have to think it was the cold during shipping causing the yellow as it looks healthy otherwise. I didn’t hear the delivery that evening and it spent the night on my porch during a freezing cold snap. As I repotted it into something warmer, I could feel the dirt around its roots break apart as if lightly frozen. That can’t have been good for a tropical plant.

The glossy green leaves remind me of a camellia. Aren’t plants odd? A camellia loves the cold and even blooms during the winter, yet this plant that looks so similar is tropical and took damage by a light frost.

So be forewarned if you’re starting your own spice garden: when buying tropical plants in a temperate or colder region, buy them during the warmer seasons.

Here’s a close-up of one of the damaged leaves.

Poor little thing.

But the new growth at the top of the plant has lengthened in the past couple days since I’ve had it, so I have high hopes the ‘star’ of my new collection will survive.

This one takes a richer soil, so I included some worm castings in the mix. (Yes, I have a worm farm, too, but I’ll cover that later.) It also takes up to six years to fruit, so that’s why I got it early in this Foodie Homesteading journey. This one looks like it might be at least one, possibly two years old already, so maybe in as little as four years, my son can make some pho with our own home-grown anise. I can’t wait.

Until then, happy homesteading!