While we love raising the usual chile suspects, adding unique and rare pods from around the world can add some excitement and abundance to your patch.
By Janie Lamson and Fernando Villegas
As we look forward to the upcoming growing season, part of the fun is just deciding what to grow. Now is the time to plan! Readily available varieties found in local shops are indeed…common. Yes, we need the standards, but there’s a whole wide world of peppers out there for us to enjoy. Since peppers are cultivated throughout the globe, there are plenty of unique pods you’re probably unfamiliar with that are fun and easy to grow. And the best part is, there are so many to choose from!
Some varieties produce more than others, so a good start is to find those marked as prolific, or productive, to ensure a bountiful harvest. Of course, proper fertilization and growing practices are required to reap a decent crop. Growing organically by using organic fertilizers and pesticides will not only feet the plant, but also the soil—and our planet, too. Treat your soil well, and you will be handsomely rewarded with more delicious and nutritious fruits.
Season length must also be taken into consideration, as those in northern states will run out of warm weather much earlier than those in the South. The dates of maturation (i.e., early season: 60 to 70 days; very late season: 90-plus days) indicate the time needed for the pods to produce and mature. The clock starts ticking when the transplants, not the seeds, are planted in the garden or final growing container.
Read on for our guide to some of our favorite prolific varieties.
- ‘Bermuda Hot’ is a mild, early season variety that produces three-inch, chubby, upright pods in 60 to 70 days. These juicy fruits are great for salsa.
- ‘Petit Marseillais’ is a mild variety from France with large yellow, four-inch blocky pods that are very sweet with a trace of heat.
- ‘Josephine’s Jewel’ has an open-cluster habit, and gets loaded with three-inch, upright slender red pods, lovely for stringing for winter use.
- ‘Wenk’s Yellow Hots’ are three-inch, medium-heat, short wax types with greenish-yellow pods that mature to orange, and then red. This heirloom from New Mexico is perfect for canning or salsa.
- ‘Yellow Bedder’ grows upright in clusters with three-inch, bright-yellow slender pods on compact plants. These peppers have a hot, but slightly sweet flavor.
- ‘Chinese’ has 1.25-inch upright piquin-type pods that simply smother the six- to 12-inch plant, which makes it wonderful for a container.
Native to South America, this species, which includes the Andean Ajis, is practically unknown in the U.S., possibly due to its longer growing season of 80 to 90-plus days. However, there are midseason prolific varieties that mature in 70 to 80 days, including:
- ‘Aji Omnicolor,’ a real eye-catcher with pods that mature pale yellow to purple, yellow to orange, and finally, to red, with all colors on the plant at the same time.
- ‘C.baccatuum Gold’ is a dependable producer of medium heat; it’s medium thin-fleshed, three-inch-by-0.5-inch-pendant pods ripen from green to gold in abundance;.
- ‘Dedo de Moca,’ or “Ladyfinger,” develops bright-red three-inch pods that hang in clusters. Their slightly sweet flavor makes them ideal to use in chutneys.
- ‘Aribibi Gusano’ from Bolivia, aka “Caterpillar Pepper,” appears covered with pale-yellow, wrinkled and twisted caterpillars. These skinny 1.5-inch superhot fruits pack a stinkin’ hot punch.
- ‘Petenero’ is a rare hot variety from Guatemala full of flattened 1.25-inch round pods that mature from green to golden orange.
- ‘Malaysian Goronong’ is draped with superhot, convoluted 3.5-inch twisted pods that ripen from pale-green to yellow.
- ’Beni Highlands’ from Bolivia has hot, two-inch, dark-green to golden-yellow fruits. This unusual early season variety is ready in just 60 to 70 days.
There are also habanero types with very little heat called “seasoning peppers.” While the perfumed and fruity aromas are quite apparent, the heat is just barely there.
- ‘Biquinho Yellow’ is a stunning plant from Brazil with mild, nipple-shaped, yellow fruits that load the plants.
- ‘Trinidad Sweets’ are for those looking for a spicier seasoning pepper. They produce lots of medium-heat, 1.5-inch bright-red pods that look like small bells.
With so many peppers from around the world to choose from, why settle for the same ones year after year? Try some new, exotic varieties, and add some new growing fun and delicious harvests to your life!
Janie Lamson and her husband Fernando Villegas are owner-operators of Cross Country Nurseries and ship out 500 varieties of pepper plants each spring via their website, chileplants.com. Raising peppers since 1993, they love growing and sharing unique varieties for all to enjoy.