Happy Memorial Day weekend to all of you in the United States! If I did not have a calendar I would swear it was only mid-April and not close to turning over to June. Our brief period of sunshine and warm temperatures has not lasted and even though the calendar says we’re on the cusp of summer when I look outside I swear it’s only mid-April. The burst of frenetic gardening energy brought on by the warmth and the sun of a few weeks ago has been tamped down by the weight of cool and damp days and cooler nights, which have yet to abate and show no definitive signs of retreating.
The silver lining of the the temporary halt to gardening activity is giving me an excuse to indulge my curiosity. If you’ll recall my post Late Starters and Slow Growers from a few weeks ago, we tried tot throw a germination hail mary of a few additional varieties of peppers that would maybe or maybe not have enough time to fruit. As you can see in the photo below, that effort was less than successful:
Two serranos and one pasilla bajio out of around ten seeds of each. A success rate lower than ones I obtained in many of my college calculus exams. In hindsight, buying a few serrano seedlings proved to be an excellent choice, but I’m still disappointed by how few sprouted, not to mention I was looking forward at taking a crack at making mole sauce. Garden space is already at a premium though so maybe a smaller number of seedlings is a blessing in disguise.
So thus we have my experiment. I’ve placed a half dozen pasilla bajio seeds, for no real reason other than only one plant has survived thus far and also because I’m less concerned at this point about getting them into the garden and their fruit into a sauce than I am at coercing better germination rates out of our seeds, into a cup with moist dirt and a lid.
I did a little research and it seems like the most important thing is to keep the seeds warm and evenly moist. That would explain my poor germination rates with the original batch of seeds, where I placed them on top of the dirt and left the temperature of the soil up to the whims of mother nature. This time around I buried the seeds just below the surface to ensure they do not dry out and stay more insulated than if they were on top. I’ve placed them on a seed mat and underneath a grow light to keep them at a consistent mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, which I think will be the key difference. They are a central American pepper variety so it was no wonder they did not do well in an environment subjected to the springtime weather patterns of the upper Midwest. We’ll check back in a week or so and hopefully see a few plants starting to peek out of the soil. Until then, adios pimientos picantes!
They grow up so fast, don’t they? One day they are only seeds, small, hard and so unlike a plant and then it seems all do is blink your eyes and they have grown into strong, tall, and independent seedlings. We weren’t as successful as we were hoping, our inexperience reared its ugly head as we moved through the spring and saw many of our seeds either not germinate or die soon after giving us a glimmer of hope. The weather, so cold and gray for March and April certainly did not help either, but despite all that we still managed (with the help of the local gardening store) to bring almost two dozen tomato and pepper plants far enough along to start planting them in our garden for the summer. Due to the number of seedlings versus available planting space, we are being more gentle with some plants than with others, as we can afford to lose a few but wanted to get as many plants into the ground as we could in time to take advantage of the great weather (mostly sunny and in the seventies and eighties much of this week) to try and make up some of the ground we lost due to the lousy spring.
The plants we planted this weekend fell into two categories: plants that were ready for the outdoors, like our tomatoes and cucumber plants which had both been spending time outside in their containers and grown unwieldy, as well as few varieties that were struggling inside and we were willing to risk to the whims of the garden gods: eggplant, garden store Serrano that was muddling along in the gardener’s limbo of not growing but not dying, and the single Ostra Cyklon pepper plant that survived, albeit barely, and was obviously not thriving in our apartment. I’ll be curious to see if the warm temperatures and full days of sun will be enough to revive those. Those varieties (excepting the Serrano) are also from cooler climes and should be able to handle the variances in the weather patterns of a Chicago spring.
The plants we are holding onto are exclusively hot peppers. This is mainly due to their size (pictured below) and their geographic region of origin. While tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumber find their homes in more temperate continental climates in the Northern Hemisphere, our pepper’s homes can be mainly found around the equator, meaning they’ll prefer to let the cooler nights of May pass indoors to await the warmer days of June and July more akin to their homes. As such, we are taking a more traditional hardening off approach with these, where we are placing them outside during the hottest part of the day and bringing them in at night. Over the next few days if they’re all looking good we’ll probably start leaving them out at night in preparation for their planting sometime next week.
I’ll be curious to see if these end up doing better or worse than the plants we put in the ground this past weekend, with the Serrano serving as a perfect control. Feel free to share some of your approaches for kicking your adult plant children out of your home! I’m of the opinion that plants are fairly resilient organisms and can survive many conditions, so my approach to hardening off is accordingly lax, somewhat to the chagrin of Super_C#. This year might make me eat those words and adhere to a bit more rigorous routine for hardening off, but only time will tell. Until next time!
Well, it has been now been a month and a half since our initial fish pepper germination and twenty days since we first sowed the seeds. The seedlings are coming along nicely, the leaves are getting bigger, and finally showing signs of variegation. As mentioned in my previous post on these guys, fish peppers are an African American heirloom pepper from the Chesapeake Bay Area popular in seafood thought to be from the Caribbean.
I am growing these at the recommendation of my sister and while I am primarily excited about all the fun history of the plant (food history is the best kind of history), something else that I love about it is its variegation. Some of our seedlings were so white that the amount of albinism they had meant an inability to photosynthesize and they died almost immediately after popping out of the ground. The splashes of white on the leaves make the plant beautiful and on top of being tasty, a great ornamental addition to the garden.
So where does variegation come from and why is this the only pepper we have heard of to have it? Well, it’s just a wonderful freaky mutation and we don’t get out much! The white spots on its leaves arise because of a lack of the green pigment chlorophyll in a blotch of the plant cell. Those white patches cannot photosynthesize. Since green is still the dominant color of the plant, it survives and thrives. This variegation is usually the result of a cell mutation, and in fish peppers is apparently genetic (it has also been chimeric in other plants). I imagine what happened is that a hundred fifty years ago the mutation occurred in the plant and as can happen, the characteristic stabilized in the plant’s offspring. From some reading, it seems that a season’s climatic condition can affect when leaf variegation and fruit stripe appears. It can sometimes appear at first or second set of true leaves, but sometimes not till a bit later in the season for a plant. Anecdotally, mine have been all over the place in terms of pepper variegation. Since these peppers cross pollinate so easily, I would be interested in setting out my fish peppers near some sweet peppers and seeing if I could come up with some sort of hybrid! As for why this is the only pepper I’ve heard about for variegation, it seems like I simply have not done my research! There are plenty of other variegated hot pepper varieties such as Trifetti, Variegata, Filius Blue, and Golden Nugget. These are going to have to be a few varieties I consider for next season.
But for this summer, I am super excited about these fish peppers. They are a great ornamental addition in the garden, and unlike all my squash, I don’t think all the Chicago critters will be able to chomp down on these too much!
The cayenne pepper is a classic. More hardy and disease tolerant than most hots, the cayenne is the perfect intro pepper for a gardener who is looking to start getting into hot peppers. I got a packet of five seeds in a seed exchange this winter and am lucky to have had four of them germinate.
I love learning where my food comes from and the history of the cayenne is rich and fascinating. These peppers come from the Cayenne region of French Guiana (currently an overseas department of France) in South America along the Caribbean coast. Their name comes from the word “kian” of the native Tupian people in the region. As a particularly old variety of pepper, it has been used for thousands of years in South America in both culinary and medicinal capacities. Given how tasty the pepper is, it is no wonder that the cayenne has spread across the world and is featured in many different cuisines. Most of its popularity around the world is due to the Portuguese traders who first came to northeastern South America in the 1500s and then the subsequent trade routes that they and other western empires established. No doubt it was a hit in the spice trade!
Here are my little seedlings that connect me to history. Given how excited I am for them, and how relatively late I got the seeds going, I plan on keeping these guys in pots and overwintering them similar to my habanero plant. The weather in Chicago has been exceptionally grey, chilly and dreary these last two weeks so I have been coddling my cayennes under a grow light with my fish peppers and Capt.Capsicum’s beloved Basque pepper seedlings. I didn’t pre-soak my seeds in water (something I deeply regret) so even on a radiator, it took about a month for these peps to germinate. That is something I would have expected from a capsicum chinense cultivar, not capiscum annum. After such a long time for germination, I am pleasantly surprised at the rate of growth I am getting from these though and I admit they have been much more healthy and vigorous looking that my fish peppers.
As for my plans for these pretty long hot peppers? Decorating. Drying. Marinating. Eating. I am excited to thread my cayennes on a needle this fall and hang them in front of a window to dry all the while pretending I live in some far off exotic hot climate instead of where week long stretches of subzero temperatures are not a rare occurrence. Between all my other house plants and my upstairs neighbor constantly blasting the radiators, I have created a very convincing tropical oasis for myself. I am excited to stick a few of these in some olive oil and use these to spice up our Sunday morning eggs. Of course, as always, eating. At 30k – 50k scoville units, these are just the right amount of heat to add to dishes without too much worry of being overpowering. Growing cayennes and other hot peppers in Chicago sure is a fun challenge.
Can’t wait for the next update. Till next time, hot peps!
Here is the hot pepper of my people I am trying out this year. The pepper ostry cyklon is a milder heirloom hot chili believed to originate in Poland. In fact, it is such a mild hot pepper that even the poles refer to it as a “half-hot” pepper. The name of the pepper translates to “hot cyclone”, but Poland isn’t known for it’s cyclones or it’s hot food. A hot pepper fit for the polish palate.
There isn’t much information on English language sites but a wealth of it on polish ones. The fruit themselves will grow to about 3 – 6 inches in length and have about 3 millimeter thick flesh. The flavor is described as sweet-hot and is commonly found in polish farmers markets in the late summer. I plan on smoking the peppers whole, dehydrating them, and making my own paprika powder.
Now onto my other hot peppers. It takes so much patience. Given the germination problems that I’ve been having with some of my other hot peppers (fish peppers, red and purple cayennes), I am so impressed with the germination rate of the cyklons. I believe I took a wrong turn setting the plants directly on a radiator and the mixture of dampness and heat has caused my seeds to not make it. These particular seeds were started on the radiator during an oddly warm spell in late February and I bet the radiator was not running as hot! After some research, it seems as though mild temperatures of 65 – 75 degrees are ideal for hot pepper germination if sown directly into dirt. A little hotter if you are starting them in paper towels. Most pepper heads prefer the hot hot hot damp paper towel method which I will be trying next year.
Something have noticed the hotter the pepper, the lower the germination rate. The more finicky slow growing the plant. I might run to the store and pick up some liquid nitrogen to help my babies out.
Today was an unusually warm early March day in Chicago. It hit a whole fifty degrees! I’ve been trying hard to start some fish peppers. My sister went to college in Baltimore where these peppers originate and she has always raved about them. These peppers have beautiful variegated leaves and hit anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 on the Scoville scale. Historically, they were used to spice up seafood dishes in the Mid Atlantic in the African American community. Because it was so popular in seafood dishes, it was named the fish pepper! I tried to germinate only five seeds a few weeks ago and only had one seedling germinate and promptly die when I forgot to check on it and it rotted in its covered container. Hopefully setting them on my radiator germinator and being more loving will speed things up.
Hot peppers in general take a very long time to germinate, so I am trying to start them well in advance of the last frost date in Chicago. I’ve got some more mild peppers (ostra-cyklon and sigaretta di bergamo) peppers which germinated in about a week.
I would love to hear if anyone else has had success growing these peppers!