Monday, April 9, 2012

Pepper Madness Starts Again

I love peppers. All sorts of peppers. But don't call me a Chilehead, I don't think I qualify, true Chileheads seem to be on a quest for the hottest peppers around and I'm just not a fan of super hot peppers. You won't ever find the world's hottest pepper in my garden, not even close. You might find a pepper that looks like a Habanero or Scotch Bonnet out there, but it will be a wimpy sweetie look-a-like. I've experimented with growing mild Capsicum chinense varieties for years and have found a few that I like, including Rocotillo, Aji Dulce, Datil Sweet and others. But I'm ready to move on from the challenge of finding the best tasting mild chinense pepper to a different chile quest, so this year I'm only starting 2 chinense varieties - Rocotillo and Pimenta Biquinho. You'll find their descriptions in my list of peppers at the end of this post.

After 5 years of gardening in this locale I'm finally accepting the fact that I just cannot grow the big sweet pepper varieties that used to produce so beautifully for me in the Santa Clara valley. Summer weather comes late here and I'm finding that it just doesn't pay to get my solanum crops off to an early start. In general, the plants grow just fine, but because the nighttime temperatures don't stay above 50º F until late June or even early July the flowers do not pollinate properly or at all. I'm starting to accept the idea that the best use of my garden space is to maximize my spring crops and plant the peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants late and aim for late August as the start of the solanum harvests. So this year I'm starting a search for a flavorful sweet pepper that will produce a decent sized crop in my cool coastal climate. I've searched the catalogs for varieties that are adapted to short seasons and/or cool climates. This has involved another attitude adjustment on my part, I'm working on getting over my bias towards heirloom and open pollinated varieties and I'm including more some F1 hybrid varieties in the mix this year.

Now, just because I live in a climate that is not optimal for growing big thick fleshed sweet peppers, it doesn't mean that other peppers don't do well here. Thin fleshed frying peppers, whether they are meant to be harvested green or ripe tend to produce quite well as do small fruited sweet and hot peppers. And I can generally get a decent harvest of roasting peppers that can be harvested green, such as New Mexico type peppers. You'll find some of my favorites of these types listed below along with some new varieties that I'm trying. Capsicum baccatum plants are generally more cold tolerant than other pepper species and will often survive for more than one season with some protection in my garden. The only problem with the baccatum peppers is that many of them are late ripening and I've found that the peppers may not ripen before the first frost so I've been experimenting with the earliest ripening varieties. I'm starting some new plants of a few of my favorite varieties plus I'm trying some new varieties.

So, here's the list of peppers that I'm trying this year. We'll see just how many of these I can get to germinate and actually grow to a size to set out in the garden. Last year I started my plants early and we ended up having an extra cool, wet, and long spring and a number of the plants didn't survive or thrive. This year I've thrown in the trowel and I'm starting late, I sowed my seeds on March 30th and even now I'm still waiting for a number of them to germinate. I've included my seed source and the descriptions from the catalogs when I have one.

Capsicum chinense:

Rocotillo (listed simply as Aji in the 2009 SSE yearbook) - intense flavor, 1" peppers, slightly hot (sometimes), from Mexican food store, SSE PEPPER 123. I grew this pepper a couple of years ago and it was truly intensely flavored but not hot. It was absolutely delicious fresh or dried and I want more!

Pimenta Biquinho. I got these seeds in a trade with another pepper aficionado. A sweet small fruited nipple shaped pepper from Brazil. My first attempt at growing these a couple of years ago was a failure. I tried sowing them very late and then overwintered them indoors but they didn't like it, so I'm going to try one more time.

Capsicum annuum sweet peppers for short seasons and/or cool climates, new in the lineup this year:

Flamingo Hybrid (Territorial) - In our pepper trials, Flamingo outshined similar varieties with its unparalleled productivity. Exceptionally prolific, the gorgeous 3 1/2 inch long and wide peppers pack sturdy, healthy plants. The 3-4 lobed, slightly tapered fruit start ivory-yellow, then ripen to a glowing orange-red with a shiny, polished finish. Its flavor is sweet and succulent, delicious in salads, adding a glowing color against leafy greens. Resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.

King of the North (Seed Savers Exchange) -The best red bell pepper we know for northern gardeners where the seasons are cool and short. Blocky, uniform fruits are excellent for stuffing or fresh eating. Great sweet flavor. Our stock is from Fedco Seeds in Waterville, Maine.

Lady Bell Hybrid (Territorial) -Reliably bountiful, this robust bell has a delicious, sweet flavor and crisp, crunchy texture. The 3-4 lobed fruit have moderately thick, juicy walls and turn from a glossy green to a bright red at maturity. They flourished and ripened during an unusually chilly summer at our trial farm. We love the beefy, elongated bells for everything from salads to stuffing or frying.

Liebesapfel (Adaptive Seeds) -We love this “love apple.” Red pepper with sweet thick flesh. Very early and productive. Deeply lobed, flattened sheepnose type pimento. Developed by a small seed company in Germany. Matures outside without any plastic in Denmark. From Søren Holt of Frøsamlerne, the Danish seed saving organization.

Odessa Market (Baker Creek) - This pepper comes from the Black Sea city of Odessa in Ukraine. A great tasting, top-shaped pepper that starts out bright green, turning orange and then red. Short plants produce fruit all summer, and this variety is dependable even in the north. A good variety for growing in pots.

Shepard's Ramshorn (Adaptive Seeds) - Large, elongated and blocky, sweet red Italian frying type pepper. Seed sourced originally from Spain and reselected in Italy. Reputed to be one of the sweetest peppers. A little bit later than Corono di Toro, but more productive, even outside in cool Oregon summers.

Sunnybrook Pimento (Adaptive Seeds) - This is the best sweet pepper we have found for short season areas. It is a thick- walled, early, sweet sheepnose type. In addition, its productivity sets it apart from other super early sweet peppers. Our original seed came from Ben Gable of Real Seeds in Wales, as well as the Irish Seed Savers Association, with high recommendations from both.

Sweet Chocolate (Seed Savers Exchange) - (aka Choco) Early bell pepper bred by Elwyn Meader and introduced by the University of New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station in 1965. Ripens from green to chocolate on the outside and brick red inside. Thick sweet flesh. Great for gardeners in short-season areas. Not actually new for me this year but new in this garden. Very old seeds, it will be a miracle if any of the germinate.

Wisconsin Lakes (Seed Savers Exchange) - Developed in the 1960s at the University of Wisconsin at Madison by Professor O. B. Combs. Great choice for an early maturing bell pepper. Reliable yields of thick-walled, 4-6 oz. fruits that ripen from green to red.

Capsicum annuum thin fleshed frying peppers to be harvested red and/or green:

Jimmy Nardello's (Seed Savers Exchange) - Given to SSE by Jimmy Nardello whose mother brought the seeds to the U.S. when she immigrated with her husband Guiseppe from the Basilicata region of Italy in 1887. One of the very best for frying, delicious roasted apple flavor. Productive plants are loaded with glossy red 10" long peppers. I grew this pepper years ago in Santa Clara and loved it, time to try it again!

Melrose (Baker Creek) - This is a superb heirloom frying pepper brought from Italy years ago. The 4-inch fruit turn brilliant red and start producing very early with flavor that is rich, flavorful, and very sweet. Great fried or fresh, a true Italian variety that seems to have been widely grown in the Chicago area. I've been intending to try these for years.

Pimento de Padron (Franchi and Renee's Garden Seeds) - These are a long time favorite of mine and my garden wouldn't be complete without at least a half-dozen plants. The peppers should be harvested quite immature and are delicious pan fried in olive oil and served hot with a sprinkle of sea salt.

Sigaretta Dolce (Gourmet Seed International) - Tall, vigorous plant with slim, long, sweet 'cigar' fruits, starting green and maturing red. Ideal for 'sottoaceto' pickling. One of the finest frying Italian pepperoncini peppers. Very mild selection from Bergamo, Italy. Another new pepper for me this year - great germination so far!

Capsicum annuum green roasting peppers or red peppers (weather and rats permitting):

Big Jim (swap) - A delicious New Mexico pepper that is not too hot.

New Mexico 6 (swap) - This pepper is nice and mild, perfect for roasting and stuffing.

Capsicum annuum small fruited sweet and spicy peppers:

Peter Pepper (swap) - a novelty hot pepper that should be fun to try.

PI 593480 (Morocco) (SSE Heritage Farm) - I acquired the seeds for this pepper from SSE through the annual yearbook, there was no description given. It turned out to be a 1-inch wide by 1.5-inch long pointed pepper that is borne upright on the plants, sweet and flavorful. All my pepper plants suffered the year that first grew these and I didn't get a very good crop. I want to try it again.

Pima Rodrigues (swap) - A spicy pepper from the island of Rodrigues (via Mauritius) in the Indian Ocean. I managed to get only one plant to survive last year but not long enough to produce a crop. Time to try again.

Capsicum annuum? C. baccatum? the flier:

Large Sweet Antigua (Baker Creek) - We collected this pepper several years ago in the beautiful, historic mountain town of Antigua, Guatemala, at the city market. The fruit are shaped like a long, tapering bell pepper and are rather refined looking. They are green and turn a bright red, at which stage they are very sweet and highly flavored. The tall plants are very productive. This variety is perfect for farmers markets. I don't know how to classify this pepper, it's a total flier since I don't think it is a short season pepper, I don't know if it is large or small fruited, thick or thin fleshed, early or late. I don't even know what species it is, but the fact that it was collected in a mountain town and is a tall plant gives me hope that it may actually be a baccatum species which might be ok in my garden. Plant it and see what happens!

Capsicum baccatum:

Aji Angelo (Peppermania and saved seeds) - A lovely and productive Aji, very sweet with medium heat. Pods to 4" ripeing to bright red. Plants grow large and branching and one of the earliest producers of the C. baccatum var pendelum species. A very pleasing Aji, super for fresh consumption. I also love these quick dried in a 200ºF oven, they come out sweet and crisp, perfect for crumbling.

Aji Pineapple (saved seeds, origin the - This sweet citrusy yellow South American chile grows on a more compact bush and ripens slightly earlier. I miss this one and want some again.

Christmas Bell - (saved seeds, origin cross country nursery) 2 to 2.5 inches long by 2 to 2.5 inches wide; medium thick flesh; matures from pale green to orange to red; pendant leaves; 30 to 36 inches tall; Late Season; Uses: Unusually Shaped Fruit. The catalog description does not do these peppers justice, they are prolific and flavorful. I love them fresh or quick dried in the oven, and they make great refrigerator pickles too.

Guampinha de Veado (Peppermania) - A semi-wild variety from the cattle country of Campanha region of Brazil. Pods grow to 1-1/2 - 2" X 3/8" and ripen to a vibrant red. Given the opportunity, this variety can grow to a large bush. A nice biting heat and the sweetness of the C baccatum in addition to drying very well makes this a versitile representative of the species. It is resilient and forgiving to most conditions and for those in the shorter grow seasons, the shorter "time to ripe" makes this an excellent option to grow the lovely... One of the peppers that I tried to grow last year and didn't thrive in the cold long spring.

Pimenta Barro do Robiero (Peppermania) - WOW is what we have to say about this beauty. Multitude of pods ripening from cream to coral to red, all with shades of purple grow erect on this shrub like plant. Medium heat and sweet aroma and flavor. An early and prolific producer, very content in a container. These colorful pods are super for fresh picking, unique garnish and make a beautiful jar of pickled peppers. Origin - Brazil. One of the peppers that I tried to grow last year and didn't thrive in the cold long spring.

If you've been counting, yes that is 26 different varieties of peppers, hmm, just one more variety than last year, a couple less than in 2009, and 5 off of my peak of 31 varieties in 2008. I do like my peppers and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather and the rodents will be more cooperative this year. But lets not count the peppers until they germinate...


  1. I think I have 25 varieties of peppers going this year. Jimmy Nardello was a huge hit here last year. It's hard to believe it was my first year growing it. I'm trying Aji Dulce and Pimento Padron this year, along with Fushimi and Shishito. Most of the others are repeaters. I hope you find some sweet peppers that perform for you there. I will be anxiously watching for your reports!

  2. Wow,that is a lot of peppers! I look forward to seeing the harvests!

  3. Hooray for peppers! I've learned a lot from your pepper posts. I'm fascinated by that description of the Large Sweet Antiqua, especially if it is a baccatum. I've fallen hard for baccatums. I struggle with the large bell types here, too, but for different reasons. They get sunburned and weak very quickly. But, pimento types grow really well, and they tend to be really productive for me. I have grown Odessa Market before and loved it. Also, I loved growing Peter Pepper, and am growing it again this year--two plants in the ground already!--and I think you'll like it, too. It is the perfect spicy pepper to make hot Italian sausage or add to a spicy tomato sauce. Yummy. Plus, it is funny! I hope everything grows well for you.

    1. There is so much to love about baccatums! I think that they are not grown enough. Most home gardeners have never heard of them and I've never seen them for sale - neither plants nor fruits. I'm really hoping that the Large Sweet Antigua turns out to be a baccatum, a good baccatum, at least a good pepper of any sort... It's great to hear that you really like the odessa and peter peppers, I know you have good taste in peppers. :)

  4. You always have the best pepper list. I so wish I could eat them, but it looks like I might not have any in the garden this year.

    1. Oh no, you are still sensitive to solanums, that must be so frustrating. I hope you get over that soon.

  5. Part of me wonders how you'll be able to absorb all of these peppers, but I know from experience that you can! I've been loving peppers for a couple of years now and am excited t try some different ones. Maybe I'll start some I got from Italy!

    1. it sure looks like a lot, but if my harvests this year are like they have been the past couple of years I'll be lucky to get enough. Plus, I also grow just one or two plants of the seasoning type peppers which keeps the harvests manageable. I'm really hoping to get enough sweet peppers to be able to preserve some, I haven't had to deal with a glut of sweet peppers in years.

  6. Oh boy, that's a lot of peppers, I forgot to start baccatum, it might be too late to start the seeds now, but I'm going to try anyways, last year I didn't get to harvest until late October and they were not ripe at all.


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