Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Red Pepper Challenge

I’m not a fan of green peppers.  It’s not that I won’t eat them.  Give me some Hidden Valley Ranch, and I’ll munch on a few.  Toss a few in my chili and I'll happily slurp away.  But green peppers don't hold a candle to reds.  As red peppers mature and ripen, sugars accumulate, culminating in a sweeter crunch than any green could ever aspire to.  Not only do they taste better, reds actually ARE better for you.  Along with the sugars, Vitamin C content increases substantially throughout the ripening process, doubling, in some cases.  Red's sweet healthfulness leaves ‘other’ peppers green with envy. 

Growing them, however, has been no picnic for me.  Reds require a long season to ripen into their sweet nature.  I have tried, for several years, to bring to maturity a shiny red pepper.  When we first moved to Irwin, we had no garden.  A generous neighbor offered to share their garden space.  I planted my red pepper promise and tended to it all summer long.  As August meandered along, I patiently waited for the first hint of red.  One afternoon, there was a knock-knock on my door.  The neighbor’s son greeted me with three not-yet-red green peppers in his hands.  He had thoughtfully picked them for me, assuming that they were fully-grown.  His well-intentioned hospitality brought a tear to my eye.

Fast forward, through a series of red pepper failures, to this year.  I planted in a new location, hoping the sun, the soil, whatever cotton-picking magical ingredient necessary would be there, in that spot.  A month ago, I inspected the progress and noticed that the peppers were growing misshapen, smooshed between stems.  Thinking I could free them up by separating the stems a bit, I proceeded to snap off half of my plant.  Imagine my delight.  In the spirit of the red pepper challenge, I have chosen to think upon that incident as ‘selective pruning’.  Maybe it’ll be the secret to my success. 

Last week, I walked into Walmart and was assaulted by a sight both repulsive and ravishing.  A huge bin sat in the produce section, overflowing with bushels and bushels of glossy red peppers.  Shoppers wandered past as though this bin was nothing of note (much the way I react to a bin-full of muskmelons).  But I noticed, and was overcome by shame and covetousness.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a chorus rang out.  “Look how easy this is” sang a choir of invisible farmers.  “We grew so many that we’re putting them on sale!”  As if the radiance and abundance of the harvest weren’t insult enough, they were being flaunted at the low, low price of $1.44!  Sheesh.  Should a red pepper ever actually appear in my garden, I wouldn’t consider selling it for less than $35.  

Is it too early to plan for next year?  Not at the rate I’m growing.  So I’m planning out my red pepper strategy in September.  Next spring, I’ll be on the look-out for some early-maturing Reds, such as ‘Gypsy’, ‘Lipstick’ or ‘Ace’.  The average Red takes 100 days to mature.  These short-seasoned Reds can accomplish it in 65-70.  I may declare victory yet.


Hanni said...

Haha, I have no earthly idea how I ended up with 4 pounds...probably because I planted a TON! Peppers have been my nemesis plant for the past several years, with nary a pepper to be seen. And somehow this year I got lucky! Dirty Walmart bin!!!

Casa Mariposa said...

The last time I grew red peppers was 10+ years ago and cut worms gnawed down the stems soon after I planted them. Grr.... If I'd seen them for $1.44, I'm sure I would have bought them by the millions. They're usually so expensive!

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