Musings on The Garden May 2023


In March and April there is snow on the ground … then there isn’t … there is snow on the ground … then there isn’t and so on and so forth. March and April offer widely varying weather, windy days, and a sun that is steadily warming. March is the month to plant seeds indoors for transplants for the garden. If you haven’t already done so you’re almost too late!

My shallots and garlic planted in the fall are up and growing fast and I’ve moved the mulch away from the plants. This will allow the soil to warm faster and the plants to “take off” on their growth trajectory.

Continuing from the March issue of Musings on the Garden I wanted to cover peppers we grow in our garden. I have fewer years of experience with peppers relative to tomatoes as I don’t remember them being a big part of our garden and diet growing up in SE South Dakota. I’ve really started appreciating them in the last 20 to 30 years and over that time we’ve settled upon the ones I’ve included in the table below. Peppers need a fairly long growing season so in Iowa it is necessary to start them indoors for transplanting outside in May. Peppers DO NOT like cold, damp weather so it is an advantage to wait before planting outside until well into May when the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees F.

As you can see in the accompanying table, our pepper growing is divided into bell peppers, poblano-types, cayenne-type, and both serranos and jalapeños. These may vary a bit from year-to-year as we may experiment and try something new. The last couple years we’ve grown an Italian pepperoncini pepper but I don’t think we will this year and it’s not included in the table.

Peppers do best in well-draining loamy soil and definitely need full-sun. They aren’t bothered by many pests although an occasional wondering animal (deer or raccoon) may nibble on them/break stems. I mulch around the plants to keep down weeds, retain moisture and allow picking of the peppers even with muddy conditions.

A table depicting Doug's Favorite Pepper Varieties & Characteristics.

Bell Pepper Type: Orange Blaze. An All-American Selections winner that matures early (68
days), is prolific and has sweet flavor. Starts out green but matures to beautiful orange color. Size is smaller for a bell (3-4 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and with 2-3 lobes).

Bell Pepper Type: Big Bertha. One of the largest peppers known (7 inches long, 3 1/2 inches
across and mostly 4-lobed). As fruit matures turns from deep green to red. WARNING: branches of plant many need support as weight of peppers may break them!

Poblano Type: Ancho Gigantea. Poblano pepper with thick walls that grows to 3 inches long
and about 2 1/4 inches wide. Fruits mature from deep green to red. Can be eaten fresh, roasted or dried. Mildly spicy with Scoville ~2,000.

Poblano Type: Anaheim. Classic chili pepper that grows 7-8 inches long and about 2 inches wide with thick walls. Plants grow 28-34 inches tall and in my experience are extremely prolific. Scoville of 500-2,500.

Cayenne Type: Cayenne, long thin. Long, slender, slightly wrinkled hot pepper that turns from green to red when ripening. Scoville of ~30,000-50,000. Excellent for use in chili or salsas.  Plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall and are prolific producers.

Cayenne Type: Hot Portugal. A cayenne-type pepper that is sweet and spicy. Scoville range is 5,000 to 30,000. Long with thin flesh and ripens quickly in shorter growing seasons. Best when allowed to ripen red on the plant. These peppers are great fresh: sautéed in soups, stews, and added to stir fries for some heat. Dried and crushed, these peppers make some of the best red chili flakes around.

Serrano Type: Named after a mountainous region in Mexico where this pepper originated. Slightly smaller than jalapeño pepper. Scoville ranges from 5,000 to 23,000. Green when growing but mature usually to bright red. Used is chili, soups, stir fry, and salsas. Plants usually quite prolific.

Jalapeño Type: Slightly larger than serrano peppers. Classic pepper for
stuffing and roasting (or the classic jalapeño wrappers). Scoville 2,000 to 8,000. Commonly picked and used while green, it can be left on the plant to ripen and turn red, orange, or yellow. It is wider and generally milder than the similar Serrano pepper.