Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sweet on Sweet peppers!

Red Marconi (and jalapenos!)

2010 was a banner year in the garden here in Southern Ontario.  So many things just went right.  The memories still bring a smile to my face.

The rain came at just the right time, the temperatures were warm well into the fall and I stayed on top of the weeds reasonably well.

Sweet peppers were particularly happy.  I had LOTS!  I'm still grateful for the 2010 harvest of them...I managed to get lots in the freezer and am still using them.

But of course now it is on to the next season.

I like to get all my eggplants, hot peppers and sweet peppers seeded before I get involved with the seeding of heirloom tomatoes.  That's a major job which takes me several weeks. 

Lots of the varieties of sweet peppers I plant have been favourites for years.  This year I planted lots and lots of varieties, perhaps around 40.  But who's counting?!

In my garden here in the balmy Canadian banana belt (CDN Zone 6b), my all time favourite bell pepper is King of the North.  It reliably ripens to red, is a good size and a good producer.  

Jimmy Nardello is a fabulous sweet Italian frying pepper, long and luscious.  Amish Pimento and Tennessee Cheese are two of my favourite pimento types and just so great to pick off the plants and crunch fresh in the garden while working.  I love their thick walls and super sweet taste. 

Red Marconi and Purple Marconi performed beyond all expectations last year.  Long bullhorn type peppers, the plants were pulled over with the weight of these beauties.  They were a bit later than some of the other varieties, but worth the wait.

Orange Bell as well is a standout.  These big, luscious and sweet orange bells do very well in our climate.

One big surprise last year was a variety I trialed for Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine.  There is both a curse and a blessing planting for a US publication.  If I REALLY like something, there is always a chance that I can't get the seed shipped to Canada in subsequent years.  Fabulous seed companies like Fedco and others won't ship here.  

The blessing is I get to try these varieties, but also my fellow testers are kind Americans who are sympathetic to my plight, and of course I live close to the border!  'Nuff said.

The variety I got really excited about is called Pinot Noir, a hybrid from Burpee.  A hybrid has to be really good to get me excited and this one was really pretty amazing.  It produced super early, long before my other peppers (July!), produced huge quantities and was pretty tasty, although I always like the taste of a ripe pepper at the red stage more than any other. (Yes, any pepper not red, isn't ripe!) Burpee doesn't mail to Canada, and the seed doesn't seem to be available from anyone else. 

But thanks to my fellow tester, the amazing Leslie in Las Vegas, I'm good for seed.

My goal with this variety is to see if I am able to do a grow out and see if over the years I can stabilize it to an open pollinated variety.  With any luck, I'll never want for seed again.

Yesterday was my sweet pepper day.  

I start my peppers in 200 cell trays that I fill with a soil-less mix that I have moistened with hot water. I pop 2 or 3 seeds into each cell and cover with about 1/4 inch of soil.  These trays then go under my lights that are in my nice cozy kitchen, heated by my woodstove.

This heat source is invaluable for the quick sprouting of heat loving plants like peppers.

When planting out it's wise to wait until your soil has really warmed up.  Peppers don't want it cool and can become stunted and suffer blossom drop if exposed to early cold. 

They will thrive in a lovely rich soil.  I always go heavy on the compost and try to plant them in a reasonably light soil. light as it can be in the Haldimand clay belt.  

Any other fabulous peppers out there I should try?
Pinot Noir (purple bell)

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