Thursday, October 16, 2008
Overwintering Peppers - 3 year old Fatali and friends
Fatali Habanero Pepper
Every once in a while, you learn a gardening trick that sticks in your brain like stubborn pine resin and this was one of them: Pepper plants are perennial; you can bring them inside and produce a crop from the same plant next year. As I have a tendency toward adventure gardening, I thought, "cool" so I did just that. The first year, my pepper lost all of its leaves and looked so dead that I threw it out. Further reading suggested that leaf loss was not uncommon so I tried again. The second winter was a fantastic success yeilding a crop of long cayenne even indoors. The third year I was plagued by insects and this year will be the fourth year that I try it.
I particularly like this method for hot peppers because though I love spicy food, I don't need an overwhelming mass of hot peppers at any one time and I find that this method provides me with two crops of the shorter season Long Red Cayenne instead of one bumper crop. For the longer season Fatali habanero, I get one crop ripening near first frost in September. In fact, it was the pathetic growth of what was previously known as 'four leaf fatali' that promted me to try again. It hadn't fruited at the end of the season and as my husband had picked it out, I thought I would try growing it a second season.
Other then the jalapenos that were devasted this year by a mystery malady (I was away much of the summer), I had thought I had all the hot peppers I needed until I took a stroll in the Canadian Agricultural Museum, aka the Experimental Farm (more on this garden soon). What did I see but a demonstration patch of varigated Fish peppers and some Medusa Head? (or small pepper plants that stick straight up in multiple hues of orange and red - all identifications are welcome). Some animal had rampaged through the patch leaving several pods strewn across my path. What could I do but rescue them? So next year, I intend on adding Fish, Fatali, and maybe Medusa Head to the party wintering over.
Gardening 201 - How to Overwinter Peppers
Pot to Pot
This is the easiest method, plant seedlings in a large pot and repot in something larger when needed. You might want to add compost tea every once in awhile as well. Bring out for the summer, bring in for the winter. The only problem with this method is that you have to remember to water well. I have had branches die back - even the whole top of the plant - from what I assume is drought. My solution this year was to mulch. The plants only received rain water so it seems to have worked. This year was however a bit of a soaker.
Pot to Garden Bed to Pot
I have done this as well and the plants grew much larger bearing heavier yields. Of course they were much more disturbed when about a month before first frost near the end of September, I dug them up. I have read that you should trim the roots and tops at this point but I have never done this.
Problems and Observations
Before bringing in your plant, observe very closely for whitefly, aphid, spider mites and the like. They are difficult to combat inside so do so outside while you can. If you do get an infestation in the middle of winter, you can try applying a light soap to water spray, rinsing off after 10 minutes or so. You can also just try jetting the plant with water to dislodge at least some of the interlopers. I would do this when I watered them about once a week. I also used the squish method of pest control by examining my leaves very regularly and manually smushing the pests. This kept them under control enough to keep them alive until natural predators cleaned them off in the spring outside.
Peppers are very frost tenders so you can start introducing them to real sunlight as opposed to that filtered window stuff as soon as daytime temperatures are warmish. For me, that's 10 degrees celcius. I usually have them in a covered coldframe. Increase the amount of time spent out each day in increments or if you are me, forget they are outside and start swearing when you see them in the evening looked bestraggled. Once danger of frost has passed, you can abandon them in pots in a warm, sunny place or plant them in the ground.
From my short time overwintering, I have noticed that my pepper plants will grow and crop well then show decreasing leaf size and then the leaf size will gradually increase and they will grow and crop well again. I haven't grown enough peppers to say that this is always the case but it has been for me in the two pepper varieties that I have inside.
So now you know, go ahead and try it. As for me, I'm going to try overwintering minature sweet bells next year too in order to see how they do. There is a rumour that the smaller fruited species overwinter more successfully.
Most of the links are to my older gardening blog - Ottawa Hortiphilia which talks on length of my overwintering peppers saga.