Growing Chile, Part Two: Starting Seeds

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Today I was delighted to find my order of seeds had finally come through the mail. I combed through internet and catalog trying to find the right plants. I finally found the gold mine in Native Seed Search, an awesome and inspiring organization. Here is their mission statement: “Native Seeds/SEARCH conserves, distributes and documents the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico. We promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by gathering, safeguarding, and distributing their seeds to farming and gardening communities”.  Under the guidance of Jan Smith, Farm leader and former Island Seed and Feed nursery manager, we created a seed starting mix consisting of what we had on hand: 2 parts screened compost, 1 part sand, and some leftover coco pith (coir)  fiber. Ideally we’d use 2 parts screened compost, two parts coco pith fiber, one part sand, and 5% worm castings.

It is very important to keep the seeds of the peppers, so we created a plastic cloche inside the greenhouse. The cloche will increase the heat by sinking more of the sun’s energy into the seed trays. In a study published in the Complete Chili Pepper Book  , seeds germinated in increasing proportion as temperatures increased all the way up to 80 degrees.

Chile are grouped by species, of which there are five (we only planted Capsicum annuum because of our climate, and short season). Beyond species we narrow to “Pod Type”. Varieties are the individual types of chilies that are categorized within the pod type. The variables of pod type  include shape, size and color.

These were our choices taken from climate compatibility and culinary preference:

New Mexican pod type: Alcalde, and Chimayo. Both are chilies from small communities in northern New Mexico, require short growing seasons, and are rich flavorful fruit, good for green chile and dried powders.

Pod type: Del Arbol: Chile del Arbol. This one has been called the classic of street salsa in Mexico city, and is a long thin walled chile similar to cayenne.

Pod Type: Jalapeno: Early Jalapeno is a Classic Jalapeno that ripens early, and will be made into chipotle, a house favorite, by smoking and drying.

Pod Type: Ancho: Good for stuffing in Chile rellenos and drying into rich, dark, smoky powder.

Pod type: Chiltepin: Sonoran Chiltepin, South Texas Chile pequin. Both are wild ancestors of the modern cultivated chile, very spicy and often pickled green in Sonora, Mexico.  This Chile is adapted to forest understories  and will be mimicked at Quail Springs around Pome fruit, Mesquite and locust forest edges.

One warning we offer from hard earned experience, stick on your mouse traps because rodents love pepper seeds!


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