Pepper plans for 2018.
I am dreaming of red ripe peppers in my 2018 vegetable garden. To find photos of red ripe peppers in past summers, I had to go back to the summer of 2015. Please see the post Red ripe peppers and colorful salsa for a look at some lovely red ripe jalopeña and cayenne peppers in 2015. Now here I am in March 2018, getting ready for our 4th nor’easter of the month, and dreaming about red ripe peppers.
As can be seen in the photos above, red ripe peppers were scarce to nonexistent in my 2017 vegetable garden. Habaneros turned orange, as they should. Havasus remained their pale yellow immature color–still good but none turned orange or red, as they should. The bells, cayennes, and frying peppers all stayed green, green, and green, with none turning red ripe, as they should. This may have been caused by weather conditions, or by poor gardening techniques on my part. I don’t know, but I must try to do better this summer and understand the reason why or why not.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, from which I buy the majority of my seeds, recommends a 4-year rotation for peppers. Good grief. I have trouble achieving a 3-year rotation for most vegetables. This year going forward, I have determined to try a non-rotation of tomatoes. Please see the post Strategizing the 2018 tomato crop for details. Peppers and tomatoes are both nightshades (Solanaceae), which must be considered in planning a crop rotation. My vegetable garden is not big enough to incorporate both tomato and pepper needs. I’ve tried growing peppers outside the fenced-in vegetable garden in grow bags with some success. This year, I have some new ideas about peppers in grow bags that I want to explore.
First, I plan to fence off a narrow strip of wildflowers at the near side of the vegetable garden, as can be imagined perhaps in the above snowy March photo. Before the recent snowstorm, I set up the small bamboo poles seen above, planning to dig a trench 4′ out from the near vegetable garden fence, to put in fencing stakes and wire fencing, to fill the trench with gravel, and to then plant peppers in grow bags among the existing wildflowers. Our family now includes 3 dogs, so more fencing is needed to curtail their exuberance somewhat. Life is good.
I plan to cut X-shaped openings in the bottoms of the grow bags to let moisture and earthworms in without harming the integrity of the bags. Last summer, I decided that I needed to irrigate the wildflowers to keep them blooming into the fall when the butterflies are still looking for nectar. With water becoming increasingly expensive, it seems extravagant to irrigate wildflowers, but if I’m watering peppers at the same time, I can better rationalize irrigating wildflowers. The peppers will still require some top watering, but with the bottoms open to the ground below, some moisture from rain and irrigation can come into the bags.
I also plan to fill the bottom half of the grow bags with soil I dig from the trench. Then add garden soil and compost to the top. This year, I once again have ewe poo, composted sheep manure from a local sheep farm, incorporated into my compost. I’m hoping for better, more balanced, soil and therefore better peppers.
This all may seem rather tedious, but part of the fun of gardening is getting to the point of tweaking gardening methods and judging the results. This blog has helped me to keep a record of successes and failures over 3 years now.
Soil fertility is a big concern. I want the best soil for the least expense. As an organic grower, I depend on crop rotation, green manures, compost, and rock minerals to achieve and maintain soil fertility. Eliot Coleman cautions in The New Organic Grower that feeding the plant is the agribusiness way, while feeding the soil is the organic way. Last summer I spent too much money on fish emulsion fertilizers, such as Neptune’s Harvest, watering the fertilizer in around the roots of tomatoes and peppers twice a month. Then I realized that as good as fish emulsions may be, I was nevertheless feeding the plant, not the soil. As a result, the plants last summer were too large and spindly, while the fruits, although numerous, were small and often misshapen. As can be seen in the photos above, both plants and fruits just didn’t look healthy.
I read several books on soil fertility this winter, but only got more confused. So, first this spring, I plan to do soil tests, starting with the soil I’m digging from the trench in the wildflower strip. It seems to me this soil best represents my vegetable garden soil before I started adding compost and organic fertilizers, so perhaps that’s a good place to start. A square one, so to speak. Once I understand the makeup of my garden soil, I will better know what needs to be added, how much, and how often. As soon as this March snow melts and the ground thaws, I will proceed with this first soil test and go from there.
Here is a rundown of the pepper seeds I purchased from Johnny’s for the 2018 vegetable garden.
Intruder F1. Seen above from 2017 garden. Large, blocky fruits with thick walls. 62 days to green; 72 to red ripe.
Sweet Sunrise F1. No photo available. Blocky to slightly elongated fruits. Flavor is fruity and sweet. 65 days to green; 85 to yellow ripe.
CORNO DI TOROS (bull’s horn)
Carmen F1 frying pepper. Seen above from 2017 garden. Best tasting sweet Italian frying pepper. Sweet flavor for salads and roasting. Tapered fruits averaging 6″ long and 2 1/2″ wide. 60 days to green; 80 days to red ripe.
SANTA FE (Guero Chiles)
Havasu F1. Seen above from 2017 garden. Thick-walled peppers, changing from pale yellow to orange to red. 60 days to pale yellow. 80 days to red ripe.
El Jefe F1 jalapeños. Seen above from 2017 garden. The boss. A great name for a jalapeño. Best combination of earliness and yield for jalapeños. 67 days to green. 90 days to red ripe.
Baron F1 ancho/poblanos. No photo available. Very large 2-lobed fruits. 65 days to green. 85 days to red ripe.
Helios F1 habaneros. Seen above from 2017 garden. Extra early and very hot. 67 days to green. 87 day to orange ripe.
Cheyenne F1 cayenne chiles (Johnny’s renamed them Arapaho in this year’s catalog). No photo available. Attractive, wrinkled fruits averaging 8″ to 9″ with medium-thick walls. 65 days to green. 85 days to red ripe.
Pepperoncini peppers from John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds. These are a mystery to me. Lidia casually mentions pepperoncini flakes on her TV cooking show, as if we all should know what they are. I’ve come to think they are a variety of pepper, like San Marzano is a variety of tomato. I saw pepperoncini pepper seeds advertised recently in a seed catalog, and the accompanying image looked a lot like habaneros. So, it’s a mystery to me. I have leftover seeds from last year. I will plant them for another year, and hope to be enlightened.
As can be seen from the above descriptions, it takes from 10 to 23 days longer to go from green to red ripe or yellow/orange ripe. Much depends on the season. In addition to providing the best soil fertility I know how to, I will do everything in my power to give them the longest growing season possible.
Just so we all remember what I’m dreaming about, above are images of the red ripe pepper harvest from September 2015. Peppers to dream about on a cold snowy March 2018 day.