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 December through 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 Annum 

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 look very healthy and usually won't 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, Capsicum Chinense and Capsicum Frutescens 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: 
Unfortunately, most of the Capsicum Annuum peppers require intervention in order to fight the bugs and win. Winning means they stop eating the tiny, emerging flower buds and tender leaves so the plant can produce fruit.

The Secret Weapon

Down to Earth Neem Seed Meal is $20 for a small box at Kula Hardware. Neem Cake is also available in bags at Kula Hardware for $50. I amend the Capsicum Annuum peppers with 2 to 3 protein powder scoops at 1 month intervals during the spring/summer, and 2 months intervals during the fall/winter, to keep the plants growing and producing flowers and healthy fruit. Previous to using the neem seed meal, I tried numerous OMRI sprays but they didn't appear to be any more effective than spraying the plants with water every day.

Peppers will grow all year in the lower elevations in Hawaii. Some peppers are perennials  and will continue to grow and produce indefinitely. In the islands the Bird pepper varieties, when planted in the ground, will grow into a 3 to 4 foot tall bush that will produce for many years. Birds really do eat the hot Bird peppers.

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

Corno di Toro
a sweet Capsicum Annum

Corno di Toro was one of the more productive and heat resistant varieties of the sweet 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. Corno di Toro, Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian, Red Marconi, Rosso Dolce Appendere and Sunrise Orange were the most flavorful of the sweet bell and Italian frying peppers I've grown.

Aji Amarillo

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

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 and 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 & Problems

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. Out of the 5 summers that I've grown peppers in Keonekai, I only had problems with the pepper weevil during the summer of 2011. 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 plants with bird netting, organza drawstring bags or small paper bags.

Sweet and hot pepper seeds are widely available. Tomato Growers has several of the milder non-Capsicum Annuum seeds. Trade Winds Fruit has a great selection of the hottest pepper seeds available.

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