Friday, March 9, 2012
Starting Sweet Red Peppers
Last year, the crop of sweet red peppers was abysmal in central WI.
I had very few. It seemed we would eat them green as soon as they got to any possible size. July was cool and rainy. We had a very late start to the growing season followed by a week of temperatures above 90. It was not only me, but nearly everyone I talked to had poor luck with getting sweet red peppers to ripen. There were also none to be had through local produce sellers.
My sister-in-law and I both commiserated. This year, we vow to do better. Rather, with her expecting her new baby any second, I vow to do better for the both of us. She also asked, please plant peas right away, "I need them to feed to Baby."
Okay, I feel there must be a pepper variety out their hoarded by immigrants from some Slovak country where the summers are shorter and cooler that would be a good variety to grow here. Last year, our back to back growing season was a mere 106 days.
This year I have decided to expand the number of peppers I will grow in an attempt to find a good heirloom or non-hybrid from which I can collect seeds and grow in coming years with regular success.
I have not been particularly pleased with pepper transplants because I don't know where they have been and who they've been with. If this sound like I'm looking for a good candidate for "friends with benefits", maybe it should. Unlike most other transplants, pepper transplants are very sensitive to temperature. If they experience temperatures that dip to less than 50 degrees (F), they can either drop their blooms or their bloom cycle is totally messed up. (Translation: greatly delayed.)
No bloom, no fruit. For the innocent gardener, you have no way of knowing whether they sat in a truck overnight when temperatures were in the 40s or whether they have been outside without protection because the plant itself will appear perfectly healthy. The only solution to this dilemma is to grow your own, harden them off during the daytime hours, and transplant them into the garden late, here around June 10. Transplanting them earlier may well end up with a much later crop.
Last year, I picked up some 'Aruba' transplants late in the year(beginning of June) and they set only one or two fruits per plant. They didn't even think about setting up a bloom cycle until July. If I had inspected them earlier, I have to assume I would have found nascent axials where blooms formed that were dropped because of the frost we experienced May 26 last spring.
Also last year, there seemed to be very little pepper seed available. What was available was pricey (50 cents per seeds) and did not germinate well (at about 30%!). (Do the math there!) The only seed that did germinate well for me was some jalapeno seed I had saved from the previous year, much to my brother's chagrin when he inadvertently added one to a salad.
This year my chosen varieties include purchased seed of 'Sheepnose Pimento', 'Sweet Heat', 'Planet Hybrid', 'Margaret's', 'Marconi Red', 'Sonoma Sunset Hybrid', and 'California Wonder'. It also includes seed from peppers I liked including some mini-peppers sold for grilling with dozens yellow, orange, and red in a large bag from the grocery store. I saw these listed for sale from seed and labeled as 'Yum' peppers. I saved seed from the very reddest and also from the peppers at large. I saved seed from the reddest of those 'Aruba' from my own garden and some from some jalapenos, too.
So I started my seed on March 1. Today, the first of my seedlings are up. I am using a grow mat and soaked the seed fro about 5 minutes before pressing into a native soil mix of 70% sandy loam and 30% spaghum peat moss. I then covered my seed with vermiculite and watered well. I have my seed planted in a domed 288-cell tray. The best and biggest will make their way to the family garden. I may also sell some of my excess. We'll see.
I guess it should come as no surprise that the saved seed is the first out of the ground. There's lots of those little 'Yum' peppers. Also the 'Sweet Heat' look to be doing well. As a general rule, because of poor germination I planted most of the tray two seeds to a cell, unless the package was only 10 or 20 seeds to a pack, as was the case with the 'Margaret's', 'Marconi Red', 'Planet Hybrid', and 'Sweet Heat'. These were also the pricier seed at 35 to 65 cents a seed.
So, one of my criteria, other than they be sweet red pepper varieties, include a short growing season from transplant (for those innocents among you, the number on the packages "days to harvest" is from transplant date, not seeding or germination). Days from transplant to harvest for these varieties are 80 days for 'Sheepnose Pimento', 56 days for 'Sweet Heat', 73 days for 'Planet Hybrid', 62 days for Margaret's', 75 days for 'Marconi Red', 70 days for 'Sonoma Sunset Hybrid' and 75 days for 'California Wonder'.
I confess. A couple of the varieties, the colorful picture of the red pepper sold me, particularly the one showing the 'Sonoma Sunset Hybrid' and its thick deep red sliced rings of sweet red pepper.
Ideally, my choices are heirlooms and non-hybrids from which I can collect my own seed from the plants that do the best in my own garden. That's one of the reasons 'Margaret's' made my list. This is from the Jung's seed catalog (a local seed provider here in Wisconsin):
"The sweetest, biggest, most beautiful sweet pepper you'll ever grow. The fruits are huge, about 7 inches long, with color that transitions from green to orange to deep red. They have thick walls and outstanding mild, sweet flavor. The plants bear early and prolifically. The original seed was brought from Hungary by a family member of Margaret Gubin, a long-time Jung customer from Cambria, Wisconsin who carefully maintained the stock seed for over 50 years."
So these are my choices this year. I am making an extra commitment to properly tag them from the get-go. Aren't my little laminated tags cute? My son's dad gave me his old laminator.
So what varieties are your favorites? I would love to hear!