July - First Pods Forming

After a cool and wet start to the year, the weather has certainitly got its act together in June/July with the temperature in the chilehouse regularly topping 100 oF. My plants always seem to storm ahead in July and this year has been to exception with well over half of the varieties Im growing this year either flush with flowers or already forming pods. Heres a few examples of the pods:

The Magical 'Manzano' and the Pubescens species

My Manzano plant is probably the favourite of the 70 odd varieties I’m growing out this year. I purchased a small plant from the 2005 Chilli Fiesta and successfully over wintered the plant in the back bedroom. After a slow start to the growing season, it has been storming ahead in recent weeks and after producing nearly 100 stunning purple flowers in early June, small apple like pods have started to appear. They look fab!!!

Manzano meaning 'apple', originates from Mexico and is part of the species capsicum pubescens. Like its Peruvian & Bolivian cousins the Rocoto and Locoto, the plants can be fussy growers. Seeds can be slow to germinate and plants prefer dapple shade and a temperature range of between 60- 75oF rather than hot humid conditions. Mature plants have a better resistance to lower temperatures (not hard frosts) than the other four domesticated chile species (the others being annuum, chinese, frutescens and baccatum) hence why they tend to over winter well. Pubescens is also the only domesticated Capsicum species with no wild form; however, two wild species ‘Cardenasii’ and ‘Eximium’ are closely related.

Pubescens are grown most widely today in the Andes from Chile to Colombia, mostly in small family plots. Plants tend to be large growing up to 8ft in perfect conditions (although 3ft is more normal) and have large hairy, oval shaped leaves and stunning flowers which stand erect on the plant. Flowers tend to have purple corollas and purple/white anthers and are amongst the most beautiful of all the chile species. Check out the chileman database for some stunning examples.

As well as their hairy leaves, another distinguishing feature of the Pubescens species is their unusual black seeds which are very hard (like apple pips) and should be removed before eating. In terms of seed production, pubescens do not cross pollinate readily with any of the four other domesticed chile species and therefore in theory all seeds produced by a Pubescens variety in a mixed garden will be 'true' and viable.

Fruits are generally apple or an elongated pear (peron) shaped are at their most tasty when eaten fresh and should be left on the plant until needed. They come in three broad types – Amarillo (orange), rojo (red) or canario (yellow) - an indication of their maturity colour. Immature fruits are green.

One of the joys of these plants is that the fruits produce a unique and complex blend of capasaicinoids (pungency compounds), causing some people to believe they are hotter than habaneros. In parts of the Americas they are referred to as ‘el mas picante de los picantes’ - the hottest of the hot. I can’t wait to find out!!

July - Chile Flowers & Blossom Drop

Chile plants are fantastic. Not only do they produce a delicious range of peppers ranging from the smoky flavoured Poblano to the mouth blistering Naga Morich, as an added bonus and before setting fruit they produce some absolutely stunning flowers. I've even grown some plants this year (mainly from the Pubescens species) just to photograph the flowers. Sad or what!!

After sowing seeds in March, my chile plants usually start flowering in June/July. A flowering plant normally means that tasty pods are only a few months away. One area which can cause alarm to new chile growers is 'blossom or flower drop'. Chile plants produce many flowers prior to fruiting and it is common for some of them (even up to 60/70%) to fall off. If virtually all your flowers fall off without setting fruit, it will be due to one of more of the following problems

1. Day time temperatures are too high (consistently above 95 oF)

2. Night time temperatures are too low (consistently below 60 oF)
3. Too much nitrogen fertilizer has been applied (check NPK ratio
of fertiliser)

4. Overwatering
5. Natural light levels are too low (reduces fertility).
6. Humidity is too low (also reduces fertility)
7. Air circulation is poor (good air circulation contributes to pollination).
8. There is a lack of pollinating insects.

Maintaining a temperature range of between 60-95 oF, applying a fertiliser low in nitrogen [N] but high in phosphorus [P] or potassium [K]), introducing insects or tapping plants to aid self pollination should help reduce the problem.

July - Sunscald

After many months of what has seemed like continuous rain, overcast days and the dreaded slugs, my little babies now face another problem – too much sun!!

Several of my young plants in the chilehouse have suffered horrendous damage caused by the intense mid day sun. Curling and yellowing leaves are the most visible signs of sunscald and the more shade loving varieties like Rocoto and some of the wild species have been particularly badly affected.

To prevent any more of my plants getting cooked alive, I put up some net shading on the south side of the chile house. This has also helped reduce the daytime temperature from 40oC (even with the vents open) to a more chile friendly 30-35oC. It should also help cut down the amount of time I seem to spend these days watering the plants, particularly the ones in smaller containers and terracota plant pots which dry out quickly.

I’m hoping that the most badly affected victims will still survive, as the stems look OK. Cremated leaves can be replaced, scorched stems usually mean impending death.

July - Wild Chile Species

One of the things I have been really looking forward to this year is the challenge of growing wild (and very rare) chile species. Most people are familiar with the five domestic species – Annuum, Baccatum, Chinense, Frutescens and Pubescens, however there are at least twenty odd wild species all of which originate from the jungles of South America

I have been very fortunate to obtain viable seed from several 'pod pals' around the world and despite their reputation for being difficult to germinate and grow on, I have managed to nurse several of the wild species along. The Capsicum Galapogense were the most difficult with the seeds taking almost 10 weeks to germinate.

Some common traits of wild species include their stunning flowers, very small (and hot) berry like pods and delicate foliage. Check out the chileman guide to chile species and the chileman database (using the species drop down) for more details. I can't wait to photograph the flowers and put the pods into my tummy!!

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