Monday, May 18, 2009

When You Pick a Pepper

Growing a garden takes a lot of imagination. That’s the best part, really - imagining what you will grow. This weekend as I studied the hot pepper seedlings for sale and read their descriptions, I imagined the food I would cook and the hot pepper jelly I could put up. I imagined the sleek red shapes of the habanero peppers and the tiny round shape of the cherry pepper. I considered the Thai Hot and decided it could be dangerous. The plants I was looking at were no more than six inches tall and had just a smattering of leaves, but deep inside them are the beginnings of some fierce enchiladas. I picked out two hot and one sweet pepper that were new to me.

For the record it is much more economical to grow your own seedlings from seeds unless you’re letting your imagination lead and you’re taking a chance on something like a hot pepper. Here’s why: First of all, who needs more than one hot pepper plant? If you’ve never grown hot peppers, let me be the first to tell you that they are pretty prolific. And if you’ve ever cooked with hot peppers you know it only takes a tiny amount to add some serious heat. One well grown hot pepper plant will easily supply me and any unsuspecting friends who stop by all summer.

The way I figure it is this – A packet of heirloom or organic seeds (that could grow me 40-50 hot pepper plants) costs $3.00. This healthy, already-grown-with-someone-else’s-time-and-trouble plant is $3.00. And after I buy this one all future peppers of this variety will be free. Truly. That’s because I’m a seed saver as I’ve said before. There was a time that I was more of a purist and would have insisted on growing the new pepper myself. These days I have drawerfulls of seed packets from years and ideas gone by. Now it’s much simpler, and more economical, to buy a seedling. If I love it, I’ll save the seeds. If I don’t, it just cost me $3.00 and I won’t have another seed packet hanging around making me feel guilty.

If you haven’t had the time or the inclination this year to start your tomatoes or peppers from seeds, you’re out of time. But choose your seedlings carefully because they could become the grandparents of tomatoes to come. Be sure to buy heirloom plants if possible and avoid hybrids (you can’t save their seeds because they have two different parents so you’ll get one or the other, but not the tomato you’ve come to know and love). The seeds and seedlings you buy at Walmart that cost just $1.25 are not a good deal because more than likely they are sterile seeds. Many of the big seed companies sterilize their seeds. That way you have to buy them again and again. So like so many other things that seem so inexpensive at first blush they will cost you more in the end.

I won’t tell you how to save seeds now, you’ll just forget, but watch for a post later in the summer when seed saving time is in full bloom. Just know that it’s easy and takes nearly no work. And while you should be picky about what you bring home for your garden (just like relatives, they could be with you for a long while), now is the time to let your imagination run wild. Take a chance on something new. It won’t cost you much.


  1. Which peppers do you plant that are prolific? The peppers I've planted have yielded MAYBE 3 peppers each all summer.

  2. I'm talking about HOT peppers. One plant is always more than I need. The types that are coming to mind are jalepeno, ornamentals, cherry bomb, but there are others. Sweet peppers do well by me, but we typically need about three plants to keep us in peppers all summer, more if I'm going to make pepper jelly.