Hot peppers

 

Hot peppers.

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Whatever hot peppers I managed to grow last summer were eaten immediately or went into salsa. I did find one batch of hot peppers frozen in olive oil, seen above, in the freezer the other day. I defrosted the dish just enough to get a couple tablespoons full out, sautéed some baby bella mushrooms in the oil with the hot peppers, added some cooked Trader Joe’s spinach tortellini, and had a delicious lunch. Thanks in part to those tasty medium hot peppers. But that seems to be the only batch of hot peppers that got frozen in olive oil last summer. I need many, many more hot peppers this summer.

I’m thinking that hot peppers are not getting enough sun in the vegetable garden. One problem is the invasive Norway maple trees and white walnut trees behind the back fence, which are growing taller with every year. Trimming these, or taking them out, requires cooperation from various neighbors. I don’t think they will be opposed to the idea. I just haven’t brought the subject up with them as yet.

When I grow hot peppers in the vegetable garden, they sometimes get shaded by other vegetables as well. The space is quite compact with raised beds. I plan to do a post about the physical layout of the vegetable garden if this February–now March–snow ever melts. But more snow is due today. Hope it is the last hurrah of winter. When spring finally makes an appearance, I will write a post about the good and bad qualities of the vegetable garden and will be able to take photos without snow.

To digress a little further in this consideration of sunlight for pepper growing, I lost an old apple tree in the October snowstorm of 2011. Because it had not lost its leaves, the wet, heavy snow was too much weight for it. I was watching at the window when the apple tree started leaning more than usual. In a period of perhaps a half-hour, the old tree just sank slowly to the ground, getting uprooted on one side. The tree services were so overwhelmed with business after the snowstorm that they didn’t get around to my fallen tree until spring. They took the tree away, but they didn’t grind the stump, and informed me that they had cut the stump off level with the ground. I didn’t argue with them, but it seemed to me there were two ways of looking at that stump being level with the ground.

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I spent a year wondering what to do with that eyesore of a stump. The field mice and rabbits had no problem figuring that out. The holes from the rotting roots made fine homes for them.

A friend told me about a technique of covering stumps with soil so they will rot faster. This is an alternative if you don’t want to pay for stump grinding. So I tried it. I dumped all the soil from the garden that I considered less than desirable on the stump. Mostly clay soil. The first summer, the pile of dirt was maybe 3′ high. I tamped it down to discourage the critters from digging homes in it.

It worked. Each spring I took out pieces of rotted stump and long sections of rotted roots. The dirt pile is much smaller now as it has settled into the spaces left by the rotten wood. The rotten wood is so light it can easily be put into trash cans and placed at the curb for yard waste pickup by the town. I’m eager to see what the old apple tree area looks like this spring–as soon as the snow melts. Soon. Please.

Back to the sun. As you can imagine, that old apple tree shaded a sizable area. Although I was sorry to have it gone, its absence did create new possibilities for gardening. My first idea was wildflowers, but this was not an intense effort on my part. I threw out some seeds. Of course, the weeds did better than the flowers. A better effort on my part was planting a couple hundred daffodils and crocus in the area three years ago. My son was stationed in Iraq at the time and sent me the daffodil/crocus order as a mother’s day gift, so planting the bulbs when they arrived the next fall was special. He’s now home safe and sound to help me enjoy his gift.

Now the area is quite lovely in spring but still a weedy eyesore by August. This summer I will make my best effort at keeping it weed free and enriching the soil.

Now back to hot peppers. A neighbor plants pretty vegetables among her flowers with good effect. I think pepper plants are pretty. Because the old apple tree area is now the sunniest and warmest area I have, I plan to plant hot peppers in there. Daisy, my dog, as well as other dogs who visit, will need to be kept away from the pepper plants. I can accomplish that by putting fencing around each plant. I do that with the blueberry bushes. It’s not a big deal.

I also hope that spreading the peppers out more may reduce cross-pollination. Some years this does not seem to be a problem. Last summer, my much loved pale yellow Havasu peppers were green and seemed more like frying peppers, leading me to wonder about cross-pollination.

As with tomatoes and sweet peppers, hot peppers require fertile soil with lots of phosphorus and calcium. Plant indoors 8 weeks before transplanting out after the frost date is past and the soil is warm. I discussed all this in my previous post Sweet peppers.

I have 6 varieties of hot pepper seeds.

One habanero; one cayenne; one Havasu–Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog calls this one a Santa Fe pepper; one serrano; one ancho/poblano; one jalapeño. Wow.

All hybrids.

Two warm; two medium; one hot; one very hot.

Helios F1. (Capsicum chinense). Habanero hybrid. Very hot. I love habaneros. One summer, a couple of habanero plants produced so many little “Scotch bonnet” peppers that I couldn’t give enough of them away. It was a zucchini problem–neighbors hiding when they saw me coming with peppers. The next 2 summers, almost a total crop failure with habaneros. And the ones that set on didn’t turn orange and weren’t as hot.

Helios is a new variety of habanero for Johnny’s and for me. Extra early. 67 days from transplanting to green. 87 days to red ripe. Bigger fruits.

If they are very hot as they are supposed to be, great care must be taken in handling them.  They will burn fingers. Washing your hands only makes it worse as the oils don’t wash off. Heaven forbid you rub your eyes. It’s best to wear disposable gloves. Don’t touch the outer glove when you take it off. I find that manipulating the pepper with a fork and knife on a board that can be put in the dishwasher works well. Keep the gloves on. That way you have minimal contact.

One piece of a habanero minced extremely fine makes the hottest, most delicious chili ever. You have to experiment to find the right heat for your taste.

Cheyenne F1. Cayenne chile hybrid. Warm. Johnny’s says sweet and hot. Yummy. 65 days from transplanting to green. 85 days to red ripe. I don’t have much experience with growing cayenne peppers. I visualize them long and red, dried and hanging in bunches. But I never hang food up. My house is too dusty.

Havasu F1. Johnny’s says Santa Fe chile. Not sure what that is. Medium heat. 60 days to pale yellow. 80 days to red ripe. I’ve already related my frustrating experience with having Havasu peppers turn out as green frying peppers. I don’t think I mislabeled them, but . . . . The year they produced as they were supposed to, I got beautiful pale yellow peppers. Never red ones. Probably ate them too fast. Because of their color, they are attractive in salads and any summer recipe. I love them for their name as well, which brings back happy memories of hiking rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. It would be good to discover that Havasu peppers are heirloom peppers from the Havasupai people, but I can’t find any indication of that being the case.

Serrano Del Sol F1. Serrano hybrid. These seeds are left over from last year. Johnny’s has replaced them with a new serrano named Hot Rod. So I will see how these leftover seeds work out. Perhaps leftover seeds are the root of my problems with second-year crops. Hot. 55 days from transplanting to green. 75 days to red ripe.

Tiburon FI. Ancho/poblano hybrid. Warm. 65 days from transplanting to green. 85 days to red ripe. These peppers are poblanos when green, and anchos when dried, according to Johnny’s. I thought they were anchos when red. Hmmm. Large dark fruits with sweet, thick flesh. Sounds wonderful.

El Jefe F1. Jalapeño hybrid. Medium hot. 67 days from transplanting to green. 90 days to red ripe. Johnny’s says best combination of earliness and yield for a jalapeño.

I have much to learn about cooking with hot peppers. First I will learn to grow them. Then I will learn to cook with them. When they are so delicious, it’s hard to think how failure in cooking is possible.

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