After years of envying other gardeners’ bounty, I finally got my wish for a little more spice in my summer. Year after year, despite my best effort, the garden lacked a little zest until Bill Renner, a friendly Colorado Master Gardener, gave me his secret: all I had to do was let things heat up and Mother Nature does the rest.
The result is a harvest of peppers bigger and bolder than any I’ve ever had – so full of chiles, belles, and jalapenos that I fear for my family’s stomachs this winter. After a weekend spent harvesting, roasting, and peeling, 16 bags are nestled in the freezer just waiting to warm cold evenings with a hot, sweet meal.
His secret? Peppers love the heat, and I was cooling them off with a blanket of mulch too early in the summer. Keeping roots cool is a core tenet of gardening in a hot, arid land, but not every plant likes to be coddled.
Peppers are tough plants that like their soil a tad dry and plenty warm, so I didn’t mulch until well into July, when soaring temperatures baked the earth. The peppers loved it, setting fruit and growing large until they produced so many pods just looking at them made me sweat.
Sure, there were a couple of blemishes, but with this primer, you’ll learn to ignore a few spots and get rid of the problems:
Cause: Sunscald. Skin crisps under the baking glare of our high altitude sun.
Cure: Select cultivars with good leaf coverage. Because our wind can push leaves off of the fruit, provide wind buffers if you live in a windy spot (essentially the entire state of Colorado). Cut off affected area and enjoy the rest.
What: Ends of the peppers are rotten, look water-soaked, then dry out.
Cause: Blossom end rot, caused by poor uptake of calcium. Though calcium is plentiful in our soil, irregular watering and excessive heat prevent the plant from using it.
Cure: Use a timer to automatically turn on and off the irrigation, and mulch plants to keep the soil from drying out too rapidly.
Cause: Cucumber mosaic virus. Viruses can cause odd-looking problems.
Cure: Spread by aphids and occasionally by gardeners, once virus has gotten into the plant, pull it. There is no cure; the plant just becomes the mothership for the disease.
What: Plants are wilting, leaves have brown spots and the fruit develops large, rotten spots, often bordered by white mold.
Cause: Phytophthora, a soil borne fungus that is a problem in chronically moist ground.
Cure: Provide good drainage, and later your irrigation.
What: Leaf spirals, cupping or distortion.
Cause: Peppers are sensitive to herbicides. Many gardeners don’t spray their food plants; instead, the damage is from drift. Drift can occur from applying weed killer on windy days.
Cure: Limit applications of weed killer to cool times of the day when wind is calm.