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Pick a Peck of Peppers

 Tips for growing fresh garden peppers

Central Oregon can be the perfect place to grow a variety of peppers in your home garden. Our frequent long hot summer days can produce outstanding results with minimal damage from disease. Furthermore, there are many incredible varieties to choose from. You just have to be patient and play by the rules of our short growing season and sometimes-unpredictable gardening zones! With a little luck you should be on your way to some simply delightful culinary treats.

Unless you’re planting purely for ornamental purposes, you’ll want to choose a pepper your palate can handle. Ever heard of a Scoville unit? It’s a measure by which peppers are rated for heat. Bell peppers have a Scoville rating of 0 while jalapeños can reach 4,000. The mighty habanero starts at 100,000 Scovilles, but can peak to over 500,000. No matter what type of pepper you plant, the toasty summer days of Central Oregon can be a gold mine for ratcheting up Scoville units.

Read on to learn more about getting the most out of your high desert pepper garden, whether that translates to flavor or simply the pleasure of growing your own food.

Choices, Choices

If you love jalapeños, two varieties should grab your attention. Emerald Fire is a large glossy green entry that should fit very nicely on a summertime BBQ grill. At over 2500 Scoville units of heat, the Emerald Fire is a blazing success. The spicy fruit is set upon a rather compact, easy-to-grow, prolifically producing plant.

Spicy Slice is an extra large jalapeño-type pepper, measuring over four inches long with thick meaty flesh. Scoville ratings for this one are between 4000 and 6000. Allowing the fruit to mature will reveal a beautiful shiny red skin, plus it will maximize the heat.

Tangerine Dream is a delightful-looking plant when fully adorned with red-orange, rocket-shaped fruit. A sweet pepper with zero Scoville units, this little compact dandy is a favorite among gardeners. Maturation is just 70 days from when the plants are set out in the garden, making this one a great choice for our short growing season.

The All American Selections National Winner Flaming Flare, the 2015 All-Americas Selections National Award winner, is a Fresno variety, which means it’s a pepper bred for thinner skins. This one—a little hotter on the Scoville scale than the Emerald Fire—should prove an excellent choice for making a little chili sauce. It’s a larger-sized pepper that not only withstands hot summer days and cooler nights (perfect for the high desert) but is also a very heavy yielder. The longer the fruit stays on the plant, the more spice it accumulates, along with very decorative colors of orange and red. A must for the kitchen garden!

If you love banana peppers, there are two award-winners that should be on your wish list for 2015. Hot Sunset is a large-growing, disease-resistant and very productive plant. The lucky person who harvests this delightful pepper (at 650 Scoville units) will run into a quandary in regards to preparation—shall it be eaten fresh, tossed on the grill with a little olive oil, roasted in the oven for over-the-top flavor or placed in the old crock for a little pickling time?

The other new banana type is one called Sweet Sunset, very low on the Scoville scale. It grows on a compact plant suitable for container gardening, and should be a very, very productive plant. The first fruit will come early and continue to bear as long as our season permits! As with Hot Sunset, this pepper provides the grower multiple options in regards to culinary use.

Looking simply spectacular is the compact pepper Pretty N Sweet. Planted as an ornamental in the garden or in a decorative patio planter, this new introduction is sure to grab attention. The folks who judged this entry came up with the name “Ornamedible.” As it ripens, the viewer will see an array of orange, red and yellow colors that are set well above the dark green leaves. Contrary to other ornamental varieties, this one is very sweet (and very low on the Scoville scale) and can be harvested up until frost.

Last, but not least, is a new, screeching, screaming, burn-your-mouth variety called The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. Developed and bred in Trinidad, and now cultivated in New Mexico, this introduction is sure to melt the elastic in most folks’ socks. At more than two million Scoville units (6.5 times hotter than the habanero), this pepper should satisfy, and put to rest the pursuit of a hotter, meaner pepper.

Growing Up

If you plan to start any of these exciting varieties from seed, I would recommend that you sow about fifty to sixty days before you plan to set them out in the garden. Make sure to use strict sanitation in all aspects of your germination process, as pepper plants are very susceptible to various disease issues. If you choose not to grow your own starter plants, local garden centers should have ample choices to choose from. Plants in varying sizes should be ready to set out as early as mid-May.

Remember that pepper plants are extremely vulnerable to cold temperatures in the soil as well as ambient air. Getting an early start is advised due to our short growing season, but too early could prove to be disastrous!

As always, make sure to “harden off” your garden starts before planting them in the open garden. Frost protection devices such as hot caps and row covers are advised in our unpredictable growing zone. Fertilize with a liquid-blended organic fertilizer every two weeks for superior results.

Well, that about wraps it up for this edition on the green, growing and garden related side of life. Have fun and enjoy the hobby of growing and harvesting your own culinary garden delights.

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