It’s mid-June, and gardens are thriving with fresh vegetables that are — or are very near — ready to be picked. It is also the time to get a second round of these vegetables in the ground. One of my favorite things to grow in summer are peppers, and because I want to prolong the harvest for as long as possible, I will plant a few more now.
The genus Capsicum, commonly known as peppers, are produced in a large variety of colors, shapes and heat levels. Common terminology breaks them down on a most basic level into two categories — sweet and spicy.
The Scoville Scale, developed by pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912, measures the hotness of a pepper. The degree of hotness is given in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It ranges from 0 (sweet bell peppers) to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin). Capsaicin is the compound produced by peppers that creates the burning sensation.
I’m a spicy gal, but I have my limits. I am always in awe when I see one of those competitions in which the contestants pop habanero after habanero in their mouths for two straight minutes. I feel like, even if you win, there is a very distinct downside to the victory.
Although I don’t pop hot peppers like Tic Tacs, there is a place in my pantry and garden for habaneros and bell peppers alike. These peppers vary greatly visually and by taste; however, they all require the same growing conditions. Peppers prefer full sun, receiving six to eight hours a day, and moist, loamy soil. Loam is a fertile and well-draining soil that contains clay, sand and a significant amount of decomposed organic matter (compost).
Many gardeners prefer growing their own transplants, which are simply seeds that have been started indoors in containers and transplanted outdoors when the conditions are right. For the earliest planting, seeds should be started indoors eight to 10 weeks before the last frost. They can then be safely moved to the garden when the soil temperature is at a consistent 70 degrees.
Before planting transplants outdoors in spring, seedlings need a week prior to planting to become acclimated to the outdoor temperatures, which is referred to as "hardening off." After a week of the transplants being slowly introduced to the outdoor climate by moving them out during the day but back indoors at night, the seedlings can be left out overnight for one night to completely harden off before planting them in the garden.
Mid-June is the last opportunity to get transplants in the ground so they have enough summer heat to flower and produce fruit. They can be fertilized at first fruit set and again as bottom foliage begins to turn yellow. Take care not to overfertilize or use a fertilizer that has a high nitrogen percentage. This can cause the plant to produce excessive foliage but will reduce fruit production.
Common peppers and their SHU
• Mild (0 SHU – 2,000 SHU): Bell, Banana, Anaheim, Poblano, Ancho;
• Medium (2,500 SHU – 23,000 SHU): Jalapeno, Hot Wax Serrano;
• Hot (30,000 SHU – 350,000 SHU): Cayenne, Thai, Habanero, Scotch Bonnet;
• Flaming (350,000 SHU – 1,500,000 SHU): Ghost, Caribbean Red, Scorpion, Naga Viper; and
• XXX (1,5000,000 – 3,000,000+): Pepper X, Carolina Reaper, Dragon’s breath.
This recipe is a wonderful combination of various peppers for the salsa lover. Until next week, happy gardening.
Roasted 5-Pepper Salsa
• 10–12 ripe Roma tomatoes, quartered
• 1 large white onion, quartered
• 1 clove garlic, or more to taste
• 2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeds removed
• 2 large Anaheim peppers, quartered and seeds removed
• 5 jalapeno peppers, quartered and seeds removed
• 2 large poblano peppers, quartered and seeds removed
• 1 bunch cilantro
• 1 lime, juiced
• 2 teaspoons cumin
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• Olive oil
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Place tomatoes, onion and garlic in a bowl; coat with olive oil and transfer to a baking sheet.
Add all peppers to the bowl; coat with olive oil and transfer to a second baking sheet.
Bake for 60 to 75 minutes until peppers’ skins are charred.
Allow vegetables to cool slightly. (Pepper skins can be removed, but it is not necessary.)
Transfer all vegetables to a food processor and pulse a few times, leaving vegetables chunky.
Add cilantro, lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper.
Pulse until desired consistency is reached.
This recipe is a blueprint for roasted pepper salsa. As with many recipes, you can adjust the peppers according to your taste. If the salsa proves to be too spicy for your palate, additional tomatoes and onions can be added. Make sure to add additional lime juice and seasonings as well. This recipe also works well fresh, without roasting.
— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit https://mg.aces.edu/limestone for more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners.