Pepper Growing Season Kicks Off

This blog post kicks off a series about growing peppers for seed. I will take you through an entire season of growing peppers for seeds with the overarching goal and intention of adapting a seed to our particular climate and soil, and for our particular fermented pepper sauce. We will cover: weeding, watering, plant care, plant and fruit selection, harvesting, processing fruit, processing seeds, composting, putting beds to rest, a bit about pepper history, and fermentation.

We may take a few detours along the way. I will want to talk about some of the other local processes which occur while our peppers are growing and that contribute to our bioregional sauce. For example, visiting a farm where our applesauce is grown, or the beekeeper that gathers our honey.

For the pepper seeds, I will focus on a couple of varieties, Hot Portugal and Criolla Sella, that we grow for our Srirawcha and Boulder Sol sauces and fermented pepper flakes.  

We are focusing the pepper grow at our farm this year almost exclusively on the production of peppers for seeds. In order to have enough diversity of genetics to select from, we have to have a big enough population of plants to select from. We are going to grow the minimum number this year to achieve this, which is seven hundred and fifty plants. Then we will be able to select the plants themselves for characteristics that we like as well as the fruits for characteristics that we like.

It is important to know that if you want to select and adapt your own variety you should be growing varieties that are open pollinated (often denoted as “OP” in seed catalogues) and not hybrid (often denoted as “F1” in seed catalogues). The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, but it is important to note.

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First detour…A bit about the peppers: The Criolla Sella is actually a unique species of pepper that most people in the US have never tasted before. Most peppers that we are familiar with, like the bell, jalapeño, cayenne, relleno, Anaheim, and poblano are of the species Capsicum annuum. Some very hot peppers are the species Capsicum chinense, like the habanero, the Trinidad Scorpion, Carolina Reaper, Ghost pepper.  However, the Criolla Sella is a Capsicum baccatum, and it has a very unique flavor, with notes of mango or citrus. On the Scoville scale it is a 30,000 so it is hotter than a cayenne. It originally comes from Bolivia, and I got the seeds from my teacher, Rich Pecoraro. Perhaps its original growing environment has enabled it to already feel at home and thrive here in Boulder County. Still, this little pepper has never had the kind of selection pressure we are going to put on it, either for production, or for this region. We have some work to do to select it to be fully adapted to production here in the challenging growing environment of the front range of the Colorado Rockies.

In planning this grow, I know how much bed space to prepare because I will be planting these peppers about 1 foot apart (“one foot centers”) and I will do two rows per bed (the rows are 36 inches apart). Therefore I know that I have to prepare 325 bed ft. for the peppers this year, which is convenient because the beds in our East Terrace field are exactly that length.

We have a growing season of 150 days here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder County. We know that in order to get enough maturation days so that the fruits will ripen, we have to get a head start, and even then we may have to cover our plants when the weather starts to get cold this fall. I plan on planting the transplants in the field around June 3rd-4th. This date was chosen because we can expect the soil temperatures to be warm enough to encourage the peppers to grow well (soil temperatures between 60-90 degrees) and not be harmed by nighttime temperatures below 50 degrees. The specific date of the 3rd-4th of June was chosen because it will be during a waxing moon, and it is a good time to plant a flower or seed crop. To be ready for this transplant date, I need to start the seeds about 8 weeks ahead of time.

For this reason we use an early ripening variety of red pepper called a Hot Portugal for the red sauce. This pepper will reliably ripen and turn red before our first hard frosts of the season.

That’s all for this installment. We will be back in a couple weeks to talk more about the seeding process.

        In good health,