Turning Up The Heat: Growing Hot Peppers

Many gardeners are developing a passion for hot peppers. With all of the exciting colors, shapes, tastes, and degrees of heat for every palate, it's easy to see why. Here are some helpful tips for selecting and growing hot peppers.

Site and Soil

It's not surprising that hot peppers love the heat. In fact, weather plays a factor in how hot your peppers are at harvest time. A cool and cloudy summer will literally leave them with less heat. Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil, where your peppers receive protection from the wind. Dig or till the soil 12 inches deep and work compost into the top few inches of soil. In hot climates, peppers can suffer from sun scald. You can shade them by planting them in dense blocks in the shadows of tall or trellised crops like corn, bean, or peas.

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Planting

Yields: Plan on growing 2-3 plants per person.

Sowing Indoors: Peppers need soil temperatures of 80-85 degrees F to germinate. Hot peppers take longer to germinate than sweet peppers, anywhere from 2 weeks to 100 days!

Needless to say, it's helpful to start them indoors (or purchase seedlings). Depending on the variety, sow seeds indoors at least 6-8 weeks before your last frost, or 8-10 weeks before you plan to transplant them outdoors. Soaking seeds in water or compost tea for 15-24 hours before planting will help speed up the germination. Sow seeds no more than 1/4 inch deep in individual 3 inch pots. Keep the pots moist and warm until seedlings emerge. Grow seedlings at temperatures of 60-75 degrees F and give them lots of light.

Transplanting: Plant seedlings outdoors (12-18 inches apart) when soil temperatures reach 65 degrees F or nighttime temperatures are a consistently 50 degrees F. Hot peppers need calcium. Feed them a couple of tablespoons of bone meal and diluted fish fertilizer every 3 weeks during the growing season.

Handle With Care!

Always use gloves and protect your eyes when handling and cutting hot peppers. After handling peppers, make sure your wash your hands thoroughly in warm soapy water before touching anythingyourself or your pets!

How Hot is Hot?

Choosing hot pepper varieties for the garden according to your "heat" tolerance can be tricky. The Scoville Scale can help. In 1912, American chemist Wilbur Scoville developed what is called the Scoville Organoleptic Test, a test for rating the pungency of chili peppers. Using his method, a solution of pepper extract is diluted in sugar syrup until the "heat" can no longer be detected by a panel of tasters. It is then assigned a rating on the scale according to its degree of dilution. Because one person's "heat" can be another person's scald, it always best to trust your own tongue. Most of our personal "heat" scales are based on jalepeno peppers, so it might be wise to start from there and choose varieties according to your personal palate.

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Pepper Type*Scoville Rating
No Heat0
Bell Pepper; Pepperoncini; Pimento100-500
Anaheim; Poblano; Rocotillo500-2,500
Jalapeno; Guajillo; New Mexican varieties of Anaheim peppers, Paprika (Hungarian wax pepper)2,500-8,000
Serrano; some Chipotle peppers10,000-23,000
Cayenne; Aji; Tabasco pepper; some Chipotle30,000-23,000
Thai; Malagueta; Chiltepin; Pequin50,000-100,000
Habanero; Scotch Bonnet; Datil; Rocoto; Jamaican Hot; African Birdseye; Madame Jeanette100,000-300,000
Red Savina Habanero350,000-580,000
Naga Jolokia855,000-1,050,000
Law enforcement grade pepper spray; FN 303 irritant ammunition500,000-5,300,000
Various Capsaicinoids (e.g. homocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin, and nordihydrocapsaicin)8,600,000-9,100,000
Pure capsaicin15,000,000-16,000,000

*Table source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoville_scale

Putting Out the Fire

Mouth on fire? A cold glass of water will do nothing but fan the flames. Capsaicin does not break down in water. It's only soluble in fats, oils, and alcohol. Absorb and dilute with a glass of milk, a sip of beer, a spoonful of yogurt, a piece of bread, or even a tortilla chip. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!

Capsaicin is produced by glands in the ribs that divide the pepper into chambers. If you scrape the ribs and remove the seeds before cooking or eating hot peppers, you'll be removing part of the heat.

Drying peppers concentrates the oils. Therefore as a general rule, dried peppers tend to be much hotter than their fresh counterparts.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

June 26, 20090 found this helpful

I grow hot peppers, yes do have to careful and always weat gloves with working with them. I usually have a good mixture from bell peppers to jalapeno, banana, etc combined they make a great jelly. This was great information. I have been told that ornamental peppers are eatable and the color depends on the heat factor. I was always told that they were just to look at. Which is correct. Does anyone know for sure.

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June 26, 20090 found this helpful

I was dicing jalapenos last night and I scratched the corner of my eye with my finger. Wow, that was a mistake! I had to jump into the shower to stop the burning. I often wear gloves but I didn't this time. Next time I will for sure. :)

I have frozen diced jalapenos and spicy Thai peppers to use later. They work out really well.

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June 26, 20090 found this helpful

I watched a show on public TV about hot peppers and they said to make peppers hot and hotter you have to put them under stress by not watering them. That makes them want to stay alive longer by doing that.Water just enough to keep alive and they sure will talk to you when tasting them. I had some peppers that I watered every day and you would think you were eating a plain green pepper.

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