Hot Weekend with Hot Peppers

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I had to transplant the new hot peppers into their bed in the fading evening light because of the unseasonably hot weekend, but they don’t seem to have minded. There are six of them spread out across a 3′ x 4′ bed with a few Nasturtiums. I edged the planting bed in with a dozen ‘Chandler’ strawberries because my daughter can’t seem to get enough of them and they won’t mind a little shade from the growing peppers when things heat up for real. But I’m afraid to look at any of my companion planting books now that I’ve mixed strawberries and peppers.

The peppers for this bed include a ‘Manzano Orange’ which has soft, fuzzy leaves that look more like an eggplant’s. The Manzano pepper is one of the few chilies that are not in the Capsicum annuum species. Instead, it’s a Capsicum pubescens from the Andes. Maybe that’s where the fuzzy leaves come in. Wilipedia says pubescens means hairy. The thick-walled peppers are supposed to look like small apples and make nice hot salsa.

I’m hoping to over-winter the ‘Manzano Orange,’ though it’s going to need to be replanted somewhere with a lot more space because Wikipedia also says, “They grow into four-meter woody plants relatively quickly, and live up to 15 years, which gives them, especially with age, an almost tree-like appearance.” Sounds wonderful! This winter I was able to keep two sweet pepper plants going on in pots on the semi-protected patio. They are each several feet tall and leafing out fully with lots of flower buds right now. I’m very interested to see if, and how, they produce this year. I think they are a ‘King of the North’ and a ‘Corno di Toro.’

My Hot Pepper Have to Have list has been trimmed, due to my uncanny ability to kill pepper seedlings. I can grow asparagus from seed. I can grow potatoes from true seed for God’s sake! But I cannot seem to manage to keep pepper seedlings alive long enough to make it into the garden. Out of the dozens of pepper seeds I have started this year, only one ‘Fish’, one ‘Matchbox’ and one ‘Joe’s Long’ have survived. They are heading out into the garden along with the purchased starts of ‘Pasilla,’ ‘Red Cherry Bomb,’ ‘Ancho Poblano,’ ‘Ethiopian Brown Berbere,’ ‘Pimento Super’ and the ‘Manzano Orange.’

Suddenly that seems like it might be a whole lot of peppers. What’s your favorite way to use peppers? Fresh, dried, pickled or something else I haven’t thought of? Please share!

56 Is the New 64: Tomato Germination Tests

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Tomato Germination Test‘Cherokee Chocolate’ 88%
‘Orange Heirloom’ 88%
‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ 100%
‘Green Zebra’ 100%
‘Pruden’s Purple’ 100%
‘Black Sea Man’ 100%
‘Pineapple’ 100%
‘Old Kentucky’ 25%

It didn’t matter that the ‘Orange Heirloom’, ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ and ‘Pruden’s Purple’ seed was from 2009. Or that the ‘Green Zebra’ seed was from 2010. OK, it might have mattered a little bit that the ‘Orange Heirloom’ seed wasn’t as fresh as it could have been, but I’d be willing to bet that tray position had every bit as much to do with slightly lower germination rates in both the varieties on that side. Was that the problem with the ‘Old Kentucky’ seed? Maybe not, since the two cells that did sprout seeds were the ones on the very outside. I’ll probably try to sprout another four seeds in a flat as a test just to see.

Sprouting Pepper SeedsPeppers are another thing entirely. They do not leap out of the potting soil the way the tomatoes did. The tomatoes were planted 3/6 and by 3/11 all of them that were going to sprout were sprouted, except the ‘Old Kentucky’ twins who didn’t show their heads until the 13th. Peppers dawdle. One comes up over here, the next day maybe another one over there. Or not, maybe they wait a week or two.

I started the pepper seeds on March 1st. The first pepper out of the ground, more than a week later, was a lone ‘Golden CalWonder’. When it was still alone the next day, I re-potted it to go under the lights and returned the rest of the cell packs to the incubator where they would stay warm and moist.

If you enlarge the photo I hope you’ll be able to see that two weeks after planting, several of the seeds are just now emerging, and there is no sign yet of some of the varieties.

Golden Purslane SeedlingsOne thing we do have germinating is ‘Golden Purslane.’ I thought I winter sowed a patch but when they didn’t come up where I expected them, I started a small pot of seeds to be sure. Right now all you can see are the tiny seed leaves with red stems and red around the edges of the leaves. But in another week or two I’ll be pricking them all out of the pot and wishing I had been more careful with my winter sowing!

Pepper Quest 2010

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Finally Found?

While we are planning what to put into the dirt for the next growing season, we are never too far from thinking about dinner. One of the things we certainly could have eaten more of last year was peppers. And this year we should have plenty of them; hot, sweet and in-between.

There are at least three popular ways to start your pepper seeds:

  1. Pop them in the dirt as-is. Keep them moist and very warm (as high as 85 degrees would work) and hope for the best.
  2. Soak them in water overnight before popping them into the dirt, etc.
  3. Soak them for 10 minutes in a 10% bleach solution, then plant them. This method is recommended for killing any possible disease that might be carried on the seed if, just as an example, perhaps you got your seed from an unknown or unusual source, let’s say.

We have trials of all three methods going right now using seeds from Guajillo peppers that are supposedly grown all over Mexico and very popular but which I could not find this year for love or money from our usual seed sources. My ever-resourceful husband found a handful of seeds from someone on eBay for us to try. And I drove up to Penzey’s in Menlo Park to buy 1 oz. of dried Guajillo’s for $2.09. I cut a slit in the side of one and now have enough seeds left over to go into business on eBay myself. Of course, we don’t actually know if the peppers will grow from either source yet.

Guajillo’s are moderately hot peppers for us, they rank at ~6,000 Scoville Units. We are also planning to try ‘Hot Lemon‘ peppers (5,000-30,000), Jalapeños (2,500-8,000), Anchos (1,000-2,000), Santa Fe style peppers (500-700), ‘Pizza‘ peppers (500) and the very hot Fuego F-1 Hybrid (60,000-100,000), even though we usually try to grow from open-pollinated seed.

The sweet pepper list is shorter, but also very important for fresh eating. Many of the Dirt to Dinner kids will happily eat sweet peppers right off the plants! This year we’ll try Yolo Wonder, California Wonder 300, Golden Star, Mini-Red Bells and a Tangerine Pimento. (If this one is anything like the Pimento we grew last year, I’m going to have to move it to the Hot list.)

We plan to be using our peppers in a variety of Mexican dishes since Mackenzie has been interning in Mexico for the last several months, for fresh salsa, for pickling, for drying and for smoking. We will also be canning ketchup, pasta sauce and barbecue sauces.