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Here’s a look at how farmers grow chili peppers

When it comes to picking chili peppers, farmer James Weaver can do it without gloves but some of his customers need protection from the capsaicin, the chemical that makes the peppers hot and can give a burning sensation.

“My hands are pretty calloused so it doesn’t bother me but I’ve seen some guests who come here wearing gloves,” Weaver said.

Weaver owns Meadow View Farm in Maxatawny Township.

For 25 years, hot pepper aficionados have flocked to his farm for excursions as part of the annual pepper festival. Meadow View’s you-pick opportunities predate the popular festival in nearby William DeLong Park.

He has 250 varieties of hot peppers and 75 varieties of sweet peppers across four acres.

All told Meadow View has 15 acres of vegetables, including 30 varieties of eggplant and 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Meadow View also grows greens popular on Middle Eastern and African tables including sour sour and jute.

Chili peppers are the focus of the 25th annual Bowers Chile Pepper Festival, which is set for Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but for area pepper farmers like Weaver the focus goes beyond a few days.

“Chili peppers have a very long growing season, and the harvest is a short window (just 6 to 8 weeks), so you really have to do a lot of planning,” said Robyn Jasko, who farms 3 acres of peppers for her Homesweet Homegrown brand of hot sauces, pepper extracts and fresh peppers.

“I order my seeds over the winter, start them in March, handplant them in May, and we don’t start harvesting until September, usually,” Jasko said. “So timing is everything. As soon as frost hits, they are toast, unless you cover them or grow them in a greenhouse. Chili peppers need a lot of care in the beginning but as soon as they are established, they take off pretty quickly. I love that they form a canopy and actually help protect each other from weeds and harmful insects … nature is amazing!”

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Interestingly, new varieties can be developed from happenstance in the field.

In 2010, Weaver said his son, Jay, cultivated what became Jay’s Peach Ghost Scorpion pepper from a cross breeding between a ghost pepper and Trinidad scorpion pepper that happened in the field. It took about five years to cultivate the plant that they now grow and sell that is described by the website pepperjoe.com as having an immediate burn that slowly climbs from the back of your throat to your sinuses.”

Jay’s peach ghost scorpion (sometimes just called JPGS) is very much hotter than a jalapeno pepper.

Weaver said hot peppers are easier to grow than sweet peppers.

To get beautiful, tasty sweet peppers, you have to baby them, he said. Sweet peppers have lots of flowers that become the fruits so you need to harvest some when they are young so others grow big and beautiful.

“You let the perfect ones grow,” he said.

Weaver said chili peppers can suffer from a disease but he has used all natural biologic product for the last six years.

The product uses beneficial bacteria to battle plant-killing disease. It’s worked so well that he uses it on tomatoes and other vegetables, too.

Hot peppers require a lot of nitrogen, almost as much as corn. Jasko said she balances the soil by with organic straw.

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Climate change can definitely affect the peppers and thus change how farmers must cultivate them.

“Peppers don’t like wet feet,” Weaver said.

And heat can hurt them, too, according to Jasko.

“If it’s too hot (like in the high 90s), they drop their flowers, and then you will have a later harvest,” Jasko said. “If there are pods already on your plant, and you have a dry spell, it can actually make the peppers hotter! Each year, the peppers taste a little different depending on the weather conditions and the terrain.”

Get your hot pepper fix

Meadow View offers you-pick peppers and vegetables during the Chile Pepper Festival and through the fall at 371 Bowers Road. It is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more details: 610-682-6094

Homesweet Homegrown offers a do-it-yourself hot sauce class on Zoom through Uncommon Goods that includes fresh hot peppers. For details go to: https://bit.ly/3tohkSQ.


Source: Berkshire mont

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