Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Growing Sweet & Hot Peppers in Kihei

Santa Fe Grande, Guyana and Cyklon 
Fabulously fruity hot peppers

Peppers can be challenging to grow in Kihei. They're affected by mites, aphids, white flies, pepper weevils, powdery mildew and the hot summer sun. Although pepper seeds can be planted at any time of the year, I've found the ideal time to plant seeds is from late November through mid-February. When planted by early February, most varieties of peppers will produce an abundance of fruit that will turn color by June, just prior to the hottest months of the year.

Long Red Slim Cayenne
a medium hot Spanish Capsicum Annuum 

Most sweet and hot peppers are part of the Capsicum Annuum species. These are difficult to grow in Kihei due to the heat and bugs as they seriously damage the tender emerging leaves and flower buds. The plants will grow but won't always look healthy and produce many peppers. The bug population increases significantly in my garden during the summer months as the surrounding area becomes very dry due to lack of rainfall.

Red Habanero
a very hot Capsicum Chinense

The peppers I've grown that the bugs didn't seem to bother were the Aji group, Bird Pepper, Guyana, Habanero group, Kaleidoscope, Nepalese Bell, Rocotillo, Tabasco, Tobago, Trinidad Perfume and Zavory. These peppers are from the Capsicum Baccatum and Capsicum Chinense species.

 Aji Chinchi Amarillo
a hot Capsicum Baccatum

Although most are small, not all are scorching hot. Aji Dulce, Kaleidoscope, Rocotillo, Nepalese (Christmas) Bell, Trinadad Perfume, Tobago and Zavory are mild or mildly spicy. A good description of the different capsicums can be found here: 

Peppers will grow all year in the lower elevations in Hawaii. Some peppers are perennials, especially the baccatum group,  and will continue to grow and produce indefinitely. In the islands the Hawaiian Bird pepper, when planted in the ground, will grow into a 3 to 4 foot tall mini-tree that will produce for several years. Birds really do eat the hot Bird peppers.

Medium Length Peppers Protected From Birds with Organza Bags

When transplanting the seedling plants into my garden bed I use a disposable plastic cup,
with the bottom removed, as a sleeve to protect the young stems from being chewed apart
by slugs or snails.

Longer Peppers Protected with Paper Lunch Bags

Peppers are more sensitive to the solar cycle than tomatoes and thrive in increasing daylight. Not all varieties of perennial peppers will fruit year round - some don't produce during the fall and winter months.

Corno di Toro
a sweet Capsicum Annuum

Corno di Toro was one of the more productive and heat resistant varieties of the sweet annuum peppers. They grow 7 to 9 inches long and make great Italian fried  peppers.

Many of the sweet peppers I've grown haven't been very flavorful and that might be due to the hot Kihei climate.

Aji Amarillo
a Capsicum Baccatum

Peppers grow well in containers - I grow most of my peppers in large self watering containers. I amend the potting soil with green sand, OMRI agricultural epsom salt (for magnesium) and an organic all-purpose fertilizer. The water level in the containers should be checked every day especially during the summer months. If planting in regular containers, the peppers usually need daily water. I fertilize pepper plants with fish emulsion twice a month or an organic all-purpose fertilizer once a month.

If the plants have yellowing leaves, they may be low on magnesium. I recommend watering or spraying the pepper plants with 1 or 2 Tbsp of OMRI epsom salt diluted in a gallon of water. More information about using epsom salt can be found here:
How to Fertilize a Garden with Epsom Salts

Aji Angelo
a Capsicum Baccatum

The baccatum peppers grow well in our acidic soil. I add a generous amount of an organic all-purpose fertilizer and a hand full of OMRI epsom salt prior to transplanting. Then add organic all-purpose fertilizer at one month intervals. Surprisingly, they haven't been negatively affected by the root knot nematodes that live in our Kihei soil.

For help diagnosing problems and insects that affect peppers:
Chili Pepper Pests & Diseases

In the late summer and fall, peppers can become infested with aphids and white flies. The aphid population escalates during the summer due to the heat and lack of rainfall. Sometimes during the summer I've had problems with the pepper weevil. Birds can be another problem as they'll attack the fruit just as they're starting to change color. For birds, I think the best solution is to cover the fruit with organza drawstring bags or small paper lunch bags.

Sweet and hot pepper seeds are widely available. Tomato Growers has several of the milder non-Capsicum Annuum seeds. Trade Winds Fruit and Reimer Seeds have great selections and some of the hottest pepper seeds available.

More information about the peppers I've grown successfully can be found on my blog