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Jalapenos at a farmer’s market.
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Heatless hybrid Felicity jalapenos set abundant long, tapering fruits.
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Jalapenos for jam, pickles and freezing.
If Peter Piper had come to my garden this summer he could have picked a lot more than a peck of peppers, though he would have had to pickle them himself. It was a good year for peppers in general; it was a great year for jalapenos. Last spring, I was particularly determined to start jalapenos, because the year before I’d counted on buying starts, and then couldn’t find any – until late in the season when I bought a single overgrown, over-priced plant that performed miserably.
I generally grow two kinds of jalapenos – hot ones used in salsas, pepper jelly and Mexican cornbread, and a heatless variety. I grow the latter because I like the taste but sometimes not the heat of jalapenos – and because my garden refuses to produce bell peppers. (The plants grow thick and lustrous foliage, but no peppers.)
To make up for that lack, I freeze heatless jalapenos for winter use when store-bought bell peppers soar in price. I usually start more seed than necessary, counting on gardening friends to take the excess seedlings off my hands. And because my seed for the heatless variety was three years old – the packet warned that “usual seed life” is two years, and noted that even with fresh seed, “germination may be slow and erratic” – I applied that seed to the potting soil with an extra heavy hand.
I needn’t have. Virtually every seed must have germinated. And what beautiful small plants they became! I could not bring myself to throw any away when I transplanted them into larger containers – and began my search for foster parents for them and the hot variety, which had also germinated well. My neighbor Helen, who had never grown jalapenos before, took two of each; other friends relieved me of a few more. But I still had five of each kind to cram into a space I’d reserved for, at most, six pepper plants.
That forced me to plant them closer together, not a good idea in a sun-challenged garden for a crop the requires a minimum of six hours of full sunlight/day. Even that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. Both varieties flourished – and cranked out astonishing numbers of peppers. I’d been a little apprehensive about the heatless variety, one I had been forced to buy when Territorial Seed, the company I order seed from (it’s not easy to find seed, and virtually impossible to find plants, for heatless jalapenos at local garden centers) replaced a reliable producer with Felicity Hybrid. I’d mistaken the catalog description for hype. Territorial called Felicity “a joyful development in a longtime favorite,” that sets “copious amounts of thick-walled, large peppers.”
Copious and large they turned out to be. Most jalapenos grow to about 2-1/2 to 3 inches and are blunt on the blossom end. Felicity’s fruits are 4-5 inches long and taper to a point. The hot variety was also an excellent producer. Between the two, Helen and I were richly supplied with jalapenos from August on. I chopped and froze bags and bags of them. We used the hot variety in fresh and canned salsa and pickled jalapeno rings. I made three runs of hot pepper jelly. Helen made poppers to eat and freeze. We used both kinds in Mexican cornbread. We snuck them into everything we could think of – and gave them away by the Peter Piper Peckful.
a few jalapeno facts
• Jalapenos are named for the town of Jalapa (Xalapa) in Mexico, where they were first marketed.
• The amount of heat produced by different varieties of hot peppers is measured in Scoville units. Jalapenos generally fall in the 2,500-5,000 Scoville unit range (except for heatless varieties). For comparison, very hot chiles like Habeneros can measure between 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville units.
• Jalapenos are the most commonly smoked chiles (known as chipotles). In this country we’re just developing a taste for chipotles, but Mexicans have been enjoying them since the 16th century.
• Jalapenos have been grown commercially in Mexico since the early 20th century. Currently about 40,000 acres in Mexico are given over to growing jalapenos. There are four recognized Mexican types, but cultivars developed in the United States are also grown in Mexico. Texas and New Mexico are the leading states for jalapeno production.
• Jalapenos are fat- and cholesterol-free, low in calories and sodium, and high in vitamins A and C. –ECH
• Plant jalapenos inside under lights or in a cold frame, 6-8 weeks before your final frost, ½-inch deep in a sterile growing medium. Keep it uniformly moist (but not soggy). Like other peppers, jalapenos are slow germinators, emerging in 8-25 days.
• Transplant into the garden at the same time as eggplants (late), after all danger of frost is past, when soil temperature is 60-65°, daytime temperatures are at least 65° and night temperatures stay above 55°. Harden off first, by exposing them gradually to more light, over a 1-2 week period.
• Supplement soil with organic matter, especially well-rotted compost. Set plants 12-18 inches apart, in rows two feet apart. Plants need well-drained soil, a pH between 6.0-8.0, and at least 6 hours of full sun per day for good yields. Site should be protected from high winds, as the plants are brittle. Don’t plant them where you have previously planted members of the nightshade family (eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers).
• After transplanting, water frequently so soil stays moist (but not soggy). Apply mulch (but keep it away from plant stems) to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Cage and stake if necessary. –ECH
I’m sold and so is Helen. She’s already put in her order for “two plants of each kind next year.” There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be able to fill it.