Growing Jalapeño Peppers
Growing Jalapeño Peppers. Some Like it Hot!
I remember well the first time I started growing jalapeño peppers in my vegetable garden. That was years ago, when growing jalapeño peppers was considered a novelty. Today, the popularity of growing jalapeño peppers and other hot chili peppers is burgeoning. Why? Just tune into the Food Network or pick up the latest food or gardening magazine and you’ll understand. Hot peppers have become mainstream! In fact, peppers were the herb of the year for 2016.
Lots of folks are growing jalapeño peppers and other varieties of hot chili peppers alongside their sweet bells. And the flavor is beyond anything in the sweet bell pepper family: a bit of sweetness and a good amount of spice and heat. Here are some tips for growing and using jalapeño peppers and other hot peppers.
Scoville Units: Some Like it Hot
Talking about heat, these members of the capsicum family have varying amounts of heat, called capsaicin. Capsaicin is measured by what is known as the Scoville scale or Scoville units. Developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, this scale lets you know the heat component of chili peppers.
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From the fairly mild heat of Anaheims (up to 2,000 Scoville units) to the medium heat of jalapeños (up to 10,000 units) to the painfully hot varieties like Carolina Reaper (up to 1.5 million units), there’s a chili pepper variety for every taste and heat tolerance.
Good for You
Studies show that the capsaicin in peppers helps reduce bad cholesterol, helps control diabetes and relieves pain and inflammation.
Hot peppers are good sources of vitamins A and C and chock full of antioxidants.
How to Grow Peppers
If you’re new to growing hot peppers and wondering how to grow peppers, you should try growing jalapeño peppers. They are easy to grow, either from seed or established plants and are fairly disease free. I usually plant my jalapeños near my tomatoes and cucumbers, which are good garden companions and ensure healthy peppers by preventing pepper plant diseases.
To grow jalapeños and other varieties of hot peppers from seeds, you can either plant the seeds directly in the ground or containers if you live in a warm enough climate, or you can plan on growing seedlings indoors. I save my pepper seeds from year to year.
There are various methods to start seedlings indoors. I start eight to 10 weeks before the outside planting date. In my area here in Southwestern Ohio, that means starting the seeds in March for transplanting in the garden in late May or early June, when both the soil and air temperatures remain above 60 degrees. I plant mine in peat pots which can go directly into the garden. I plant the seeds about 1/2″ below the soil and water with hot water the first time. This speeds up germination, which can take up to a couple of weeks.
Like all peppers, jalapeños love hot weather and full sun. In our garden, we use well-rotted chicken manure to fertilize, but a general fertilizer works well. To encourage healthy growth, we cover the plants one inch above the root line. We plant ours two feet or so apart and when well established, I’ll put mulch around them to keep weeds at bay and to help keep moisture around the plant.
If growing jalapeño peppers in containers, use one large enough for them to spread their roots. A five-gallon container with good drainage works well. I use a mix with perlite and peat moss.
If you purchase plants and they are flowering but still quite small, pinch off the flower heads. This bit of pruning will allow the plant to get to a healthy size before developing fruit.
Moisture is important for pepper growth so plan on watering in a consistent manner both for peppers in the garden and containers.
Some folks like to cage peppers to keep them upright. That helps keep critters away and also stabilizes the plants.
When harvesting any pepper, use a pair of scissors or a knife. Don’t pull the pepper from the plant, since this may break the stem or the entire plant. And remember that the longer the hot pepper is on the plant, the hotter it will get. You can tell this by the color. Jalapeños, like other peppers, start out green and gradually turn red when completely ripe.
As the pepper ripens and matures, you may see corking/striations on the pepper. This appears as tan or white lines. What does that mean? Basically, it means the inside is growing faster than the outside. Some pepper aficionados believe that this indicates a hotter than normal pepper. Others say the striations indicate the pepper is ripe enough to eat. Regardless, the pepper is still good. In fact, in Mexico, peppers that have corking fetch a higher price, as that is assumed to be a sign of quality peppers!
And here’s the deal about heat: the membrane holding the seeds is the hottest part of the pepper.
When harvesting jalapeños peppers or other hot peppers, use gloves. The hot oil/capsaicin from the pepper is not easily removed from the fingers. I use a bit of bleach and water which pulls the oil from my skin. Don’t rub your eyes or touch your mouth when handling hot peppers, either!
To save hot pepper seeds from ripe peppers, I use a method taught by my friend, Wilma. I will remove the outside flesh, leaving the stem and seeds on. Then I hang the peppers up until the seeds dry.
You’ll know they’re dry when you can flick off a few with your finger. Remove seeds. Store in a dark colored bottle or paper envelope away from heat and light.
Some prefer to simply remove the pepper seeds and place them on a paper towel to dry, then store them.
Canning jalapeño peppers is easy; they are delicious pickled in a simple brine of water, vinegar and a bit of sugar if you like. I’ve made jars and jars of pickled jalapeños. Sometimes I’ll throw in other hot or even sweet peppers with the jalapeños. To add another layer of flavor, I may toss in a garlic clove. I like to mix different kinds of peppers to make easy and delicious hot pickled peppers.
As my Mom and Grandma did before me, I place a wild grapevine leaf on top of the pickles before adding the brine.
The tannins in the leaf keep the pickles crisp. I smile as I do this, since it’s a way of keeping our special culinary history alive. And besides, it’s those wild grapevine leaves that I use to make our family’s dolmathas!
Are you growing jalapeño peppers or other hot peppers? Do you have any tips to share for growing, harvesting or preserving?