2016 was a banner year for peppers, due in part to the hot, hot weather. But I won’t give the heat all of the credit – I did a few things differently last year and I’m confident that these changes also played a part in the bumper pepper harvest.
The first change I made was the bed layout – I squeezed 32 pepper plants into one 4’x8’ bed, spacing them 12” apart both between and within rows. I had several people tell me that peppers liked close spacing but I must admit, I was a bit skeptical and quite surprised that it worked out as well as it did.
Pepper bed in early August
This year, I’m hoping to repeat the success of 2016. I’ve dropped several peppers from the lineup because I either wasn’t impressed by them (Orange Blaze) or I still have quite a lot left from last year in the form of pepper flakes/powder (Aji Limon, Corne de Chevre) or frozen (Jalapeno, Padron). You’ll notice that these are all hot peppers, which is not surprising considering we are a family with 2 young kids where a little bit of spice goes a long way.
What we do use a LOT of, however, are sweet peppers. Since I already had several sweet pepper varieties that I was happy with, I decided to limit any new purchases. In fact, there are only two new peppers in the lineup this year: Shishito and Lu Mei.
The Lu Mei is a hot pepper that I purchased last year but didn’t receive it until it as too late to sow.
Shishito peppers have been on my list for a while but it was Will’s rave review that had me finally adding it to my cart this year. I’m hoping that his experience of a mild, delicious pepper that can be eaten straight after a quick blister in a skillet will be echoed in my garden and kitchen. The Padrons I’ve grown in the past, which are prepared in much the same way, have always ended up being much too hot to be eaten straight up.
My pepper lineup this year:
Sweet Peppers: Stocky Red Roaster, Melrose, Shishito, Jimmy Nardello, Carmen, Chervena Chushka, Feher Ozon, Odessa Market
Hot Peppers: Hungarian Hot Wax, Italian Pepperoncino, Lu Mei, Anaheim, Ostra Cyklon,
I find that peppers are very slow to get going so I seed them early. This year, I started them on February 19th. I sowed the seeds (after pre-germinating) into narrow but deep pots that I purchased from Greenhouse Megastore last year, which I quite love:
2.5" width & 3.5" deep
The square shape means you can fit more pots on a tray
I also decided to switch up their growing medium to Pro Mix Organic Veg instead of the William Dam Seeding Mix. Normally, I only use the Pro Mix when I am potting up seedlings and they do very well, so thought I would give it a go from the start this time round. I'll likely not be doing this again as I've come to realize that the heavier mix is just not as well suited to starting seeds.
How are my pepper seedlings doing now, you ask? Ok, but not as well as I would have liked – they are definitely further behind than they were last year. It may be the change in the soil, but I decided to look back to my notes to see if there was any other possible reason why they were lagging….and I think I found it.
Last year I had left the seedlings on the heat mat until I transplanted them. That was the first time I had done that and it worked out very well – unfortunately, I completely forgot to do that this time round.
I normally pot up peppers when they have a couple of nice sized sets of true leaves. This year, it seems they are at least a couple of weeks behind - most had a tiny 2nd set of true leaves and some hadn't even gotten that far yet. I decided to pot up the larger seedlings anyhow and am hoping the fresh soil and an infusion of kelp fertilizer will give them a boost.
|All of the seedlings were potted up over the past week|
|Carmen seedling...on it's way to calling it quits|
Luckily I won’t be without Carmen’s as two of the seedlings did make it but I’ll have to substitute out the other two with different varieties.
When I sow pepper seeds, I always sow extras for all of the varieties as you never know when you will have an issue. I don’t pinch out the extras until all the seedlings are well on their way as often, by the time you realize that you have a problem, it's much too late to start over.