Another couple weeks and I can start germinating tomatoes and chili peppers inside the house. We live in the northeastern part of the US, roughly USDA Zone 6, so we have around 6 months or less of warm weather to grow our vegetables. If we don’t start the seedlings in the house around the end of March there will not be enough time for them to bare fruit and ripen. Starting to germinate them earlier than this, the seedlings will be too lanky when it’s time to put them in the ground around May.
Growing up eating spicy food, chili pepper is a staple in our kitchen. The love of spicy food extends to the love for a variety of peppers. I experiment with one or two new peppers every season. If I like them, I keep the seeds to grow the next season. If I don’t like them, it’s ‘one and done.’ As of now I’ve grown at least 13 different types of pepper. They range from extremely spicy like Bhut Jolokia to sweet pepper like baby bell pepper.
One of the peppers I fell in love with is Fish pepper. I grew it for the first time two years ago. I first learned about the Fish pepper in a free local magazine, either Edible Manhattan or Edible Queens, not sure exactly which one. I picked the magazine up at the farmer’s market, read the article about Fish Pepper which prompted my search for the seeds. I was lucky to find organic seedlings at one of the farmer’s stands. I was warned not to grow them next to other peppers because the next generation may not look and taste like the parents.
I think after seeing these images, most of you can see why I fell in love with them. The beautiful variegated leaves and fruit worth being used as an ornamental plant. But it happens to work great with all types of seafood, hence the name. And, we love seafood. The information I found about this pepper claimed that it originated in the Caribbean and was brought to the US in the 19th century. It has a medium heat so one pepper is enough for a small seafood pot.
I’ll grow it again this year from the seeds I collected last season. The new generation should look like their parents above. I grow them in pots and move them far from the vegetable garden. I did the same with the first generation and it seemed to work. I don’t need a Fish pepper that tastes like Ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia).
I have fun growing chili peppers and continue searching for new varieties to add to my collection. Growing varieties of chili peppers stems from my love for spicy food. This year I grew fourteen kinds of chili peppers, plus Hungarian paprika, Little bell pepper and Baby bell pepper. I ran out of space basically. As much as I love peppers, I needed to grow some other vegetables too and I have to fence them all in. To my surprise, deer and rabbits eat chili pepper too. They leveled my neighbor’s peppers as well as what I left outside the fence.
We have plenty of chili peppers this year and hopefully they will ripen before the first frost. This growing season has been a little shorter than the previous year and there have been plenty of days that are cooler than normal. Chili peppers grow well when it is hot, however the flowers will drop and the growth stunted when it’s cold. The temperature has dropped below 50º F. for the last couple of nights so there are not that many ripened chilies as there were a week ago.
I have picked some early ripe ones but there still plenty of green chilies out there, especially the Karen (tribal in Southeast Asia), Himalayan yellow, and Bhut Jolokia. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another few weeks hoping for above 50º F temperatures.
I freeze most of the ripe peppers to be used during the off-season. When I know that the first frost will come in a day or two, I cut all the chilies, green included, then dry, roast, and grind them for friends and colleagues who also love spicy food. I sprinkle the resulting chili powder on everything from noodle soup to pizza. As far as I know, spicy food in moderation is supposed to be good for your immune system.
And, yes, my stomach lining is still intact. Moderation is the key.
Not everybody loves spicy food. However, if you grew up eating it or having grown used to the heat, it’s hard to live without it. Most of the food I grew up with is spicy, including dessert and snacks. And chili peppers? We have countless kinds with different shapes, colors, and degrees of heat. Chili peppers are a staple in every household. I can say unequivocally that where I came from, a home without chili peppers is not really a home.
So, growing chili peppers is not an option for me; it’s a MUST. I started by growing what I know and am used to in my cooking. Then, I’ve learned that there are many more varieties of chili peppers on this planet than I can count. Thanks to the book Complete Chile PepperBook: A Gardener’s Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking by Dave DeWitt &Paul W. Bosland, and the Union Square farmers market, I have expanded my growing list annually. I grew twelve different kinds last year. It was, so far, the best year yet. This year, I grew only nine varieties and it was not a good year for growing peppers either. The vegetable garden was invaded by cherry tomatoes (I couldn’t bring myself to pull up the self-sown seedlings) and the weather hadn’t helped. With too much rain and too little sunlight, most pepper plants will have black spots on their leaves, drop flowers, and the fruits, if any, take forever to mature.
The growing condition was not ideal and the threatened early frost forced me to harvest all of them before the frost hit. Frost burned chili peppers will turn black and mushy. Basically, it was a disappointing year for growing chili peppers.
I can’t complain much because what bore fruit and ripened were enough to keep us happy until next year and provide enough to give to friends and neighbors. The chili powder I made this year may not be as good as the previous years since a lot of the peppers I had dried were not fully ripe. There were not as many Bhut Jolokia peppers, one of the top heat producers, in the mix either. But a few of the Trinidad Scorpion peppers should help bring up the heat. So we tell our friends to add a couple of pinches, not just one pinch, to their food and we don’t have to put the warning on the label either.
I grew this Trinidad Scorpion (Capsicum chinense) pepper for the first time this year. It’s holding status as one of the hottest peppers in the world with a Scoville heat index over 1,000,000 units , the same range as the Bhut Jolokia (below) which held the record alone for several years. This one has just started to ripen. I usually taste a new chili by biting into it, then spitting it out, like wine tasting. This way I know how spicy it is before I use it in cooking. I was careful with the Trinidad Scorpion. I just touched my tongue with the knife I used to cut it and I could feel the heat within a second and it lasted for longer than I would wish.
Bhut Jolokia (Capsicum chinense), the Ghost pepper, didn’t even have a chance to turn red. I grew some of them in pots this year as an experiment and had to get them inside the house earlier than expected. The ones in the garden hardly produced anything since they were shadowed by tomatoes.
Caribbean Red didn’t have a chance to turn red either, but the green are spicy enough. They also had black spots on the leaves since they were shaded by tomatoes.
I have plenty of Lemon Drop (Capsicum baccatum) this year and a lot of them have ripened to a canary yellow. It was good in the sense since the Wild Brazilian seedlings were eaten by slugs so the Lemon Drops will lend the powder a lemony scent.
I grew this Sikkamese chili pepper for the first time too. My former boss and current friend gave me the seeds. I’m still trying to get its actual name by showing it to friends and colleagues who come from India, Nepal and Tibet. I’ll be glad to learn what this pepper is called in their native land.
Purira is very interesting. The color turns from pale yellow to yellow with purple highlights, then orange and bright red at the end. A pretty hot one too.
This type of Thai chili pepper (Capsicum annum) did well. Maybe too well in that it held the weight of too many peppers and bent over squashing the strawberries.
Most of these peppers didn’t have a chance to fully mature. A few of them didn’t even make it to full grown plants. The seedlings of Chocolate Habanero, Wild Brazilian, Bird Dropping Thai chili peppers (the smallest type) were eaten by slugs.
‘Note to myself:’ Be more disciplined in pulling tomatoes out next year, give the peppers and cucumbers a break.