As another storm passes over our corner of Colorado, many of us huddle up in the kitchen or living room, toes cold from another morning of shoveling or legs sore from another powder day at the mountain, and we find a hidden catalog: the one we didn’t curse and recycle before the holiday season. Perhaps it’s from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Burpee’s or Seeds of Change, but it’s the one you kept for days like this.
Vegetable seed catalogs used to be a winter staple, but as with most things, the catalogs have gone digital and all ordering seems to be done online. In fact, I only get two catalogs delivered to my office, and they serve as a gentle reminder of 80-degree days, flip-flops and dirt under the fingernails.
For whatever reason, I almost always go straight to the peppers. Perhaps it’s a recollection of my days in Florida where I conducted multiple bell pepper trials, looking at new varieties for commercial growers; or maybe it’s the childhood memories of my grandma roasting and peeling green chiles from Pueblo in her kitchen; or the stacks and stacks of similar varieties (these from New Mexico) that my dad held in his freezer. But I’ve always seemed to like the fruits in the Capsicum genus.
For us home (and even commercial) gardeners, peppers can be challenging to grow in Southwest Colorado. The cold nights and early-season cool and damp soils are not conducive to rapid vegetative growth, which will eventually be needed to supply the fast producing fruits with ample carbohydrates. Additionally, once the plant starts to produce flowers and fruits, nighttime temperatures below 60 degrees or above 75 degrees (yeah, right) can reduce fruit set.
Other hints (some scientifically proven, others anecdotal) for growing peppers:
Remove the first couple of blooms as well as the first fruit. I have found that removing the blooms early in the season allows the plant to grow larger before setting fruit. In bell peppers, the first fruit tends to grow right in the middle, or crown, of the plant. Removing it allows the carbohydrates to go to other fruit rather than concentrating in that one fruit (commonly called a “sink”).
Jalapenos, which grow well here, generally exhibit small cracks and darker shoulders when mature.
If you have had challenges growing peppers in our climate, try sticking with those that produce smaller fruit: jalapenos, padrons, shishito-types or lunch-box (mini-sized) sweet peppers.
Red (and yellow and orange) bell peppers have higher levels of vitamin A and C than their green counterparts. But they also don’t last as long in the fridge, as they are already further along in the ripening process.
Peppers contain a chemical called capsaicin. The greater amount or concentration of the chemical, the hotter the pepper. The majority of capsaicin can be found closer to the seeds of the pepper. So if you want to limit the heat, remove the veins and placenta (near the top of the fruit where the majority of the seeds are). And while the seeds do not produce the mouth-watering chemical, they do absorb it.
Mouth on fire? Consume dairy, oil, starches or sugar. They soak up or dissolve the capsaicin. Water-based products (yes, including beer) spread the burn around your mouth.
Sharing peppers with your local Extension agents makes for happier children. Seriously.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.