Gary L. Simmons  rev 10/10/08
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Chili Pepper Gardener's Diary

Crossed chilies

Nothing speaks louder than actions so I've decided to start a Chili Pepper Gardeners Diary. What I'm going to do is to keep an online journal on how I proceed through the growing season by chronicling a year's worth of gardening activities. Maybe more than one year if this seems worthwhile and you guys don't make my head asplode .   If you have any questions or suggestions then I'll be happy to hear from you. Keep in mind that I've had tremendous success over the years with the process I use and I'm a cantankerous old fart set in my ways. I'm able to keep myself and my friends in chilies and hot sauce with plenty to spare by farming only 24 five gallon pots.

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The Harvest Count For The 2008 Season
Thai Chilies
Caribbean Red Habañeros
No plants this year

January 2008

1-11: OK, new year but we aren't done yet! The pepper bushes are still loaded with fruit. For example, yesterday I harvested 325 Thai chilies and 330 Red Caribbean Habañero's and there are plenty more on the bushes slowly ripening. January 14 last year the crop was wiped out by a hard frost but the weather channel says that it isn't going to drop below 41 degrees. I might even wind up planting seeds BEFORE I pull up the old plants. They DO have to go though, I'm not going to winter over any of these plants. Although they may well survive, they are spent. The plants I'm growing are technically annuals and to force them to be perennials would be a mistake.

The journal for 2007 has been archived. There is a link at the top of the page just above the Harvest Count.

1-13: Another mid-winter harvest of chilies. Today I picked 311 beautiful red Habañeros. I'm not sure how hot these late season chilies are, I've labeled the bags that I put them in as "Fall 2007" in case they are flavorless or less hot. If so, I know exactly what chilies to throw into the green waste.

1-17: Thai Chilies got picked today. A nice batch of 264 red Thai Dragon chilies. I'm picking these green too, I chop up green chilies and soak them in Thai fish sauce. It goes excellent on rice or any other bland food that needs a little salt.

1-20: Holy cow. I had the mother of all Habañero harvests today! Good golly, I picked 515 Caribbean Red Habañeros, stemmed them, counted them, washed them with a vegetable brush, dried them, and finally popped them into the oven with the exhaust fan running. There aren't a whole lot more on the bushes, some but nothing like there was. This is probably it for the Habañeros this year. The Thai Chilies are still going strong however I only picked 25 green ones to go into my Thai fish sauce.

1-21: Today I've ordered more Jiffy peat pods for the desktop greenhouse and Thai Dragon seeds for next year, although I'm only going to be doing a few chili plants possibly only 3. Just enough to keep me in fresh green chilies. I have two full years of dried chilies to eat, and that's more than even I can handle in one year. Giving them away to friends doesn't help much, nobody is as insane as I am. I'll do my best to eat through my stockpile, I'll probably grow more the season after. I think I'm going to concentrate on growing normal sane vegetables this year. I'm looking at beans, peas, chard, tomatoes, onions and greens. I'll still be concocting new recipes and gathering chili facts as normal, just cutting back on the gardening aspect of it.

1-24: I have the peat pods and Thai Dragon seeds. All I need now is the caffeine and the right moment.

1-29: I got a nice big harvest from the Thai Dragon bushes today. 448 monster hot Thai chilies. Even my oven thinks they are hot! This might be the last harvest other than some green chilies. Oh the chilies are still growing and ripening, but it's time to start the new season's planting. Although the plants can live longer than a year, it's better to start with a new seedling at the beginning of the year.

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February 2008

2-08: 50 more green Thai chilies were harvested over the last couple of days. I could go on harvesting chilies but you know, I have 2 full years of dried chilies that are waiting for me. This may be the last time I harvest. I have to start eating the dried chilies or what was the use of going to all of that trouble? The plants are very beat up and have a little frost damage, about a quarter of the fruit is ruined by being on a dead branch or burned from frost. I have my seeds and my peat pods and my mini greenhouse. I think it's time to start pulling up the old plants and replenishing the soil for next season.

End of 2007 Growing Season

Beginning of 2008 Growing Season

2-13: OK, it's official. The new season has started. I've cut down all the Thai Dragon chilies and put them into the green waste. I'm living on dried chilies now! Actually I'm living on dried chilies from 2006, I have a full seasons harvest to eat through before I can start on this year's batch. They will last for YEARS dried and stored in a cool dark place. The official count for the Thai Dragon chilies this year is 8,657 or approximately 8 pounds dried. That my friends is a LOT of Thai chilies!

2-14: Today the Caribbean Red Habañeros were cut down and tossed into the green waste. Both the Habañeros and the Thai chilies had hundreds of chilies on them still. Sadly some of them were frost damaged, or on a wind damaged broken branch and shriveled or prematurely ripened. It's time to let them go and start a new season. I have way more than I can both eat and give away so it's not worth the work to keep harvesting. The official count for the Red Caribbean Habañeros is 3,329, or about 8 pounds dried. You can tell by the disparity of the count and weights, that the Habañeros are much much larger than the Thai chilies.

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March 2008

3-8: I should have started the seeds for the next crop of chilies in the middle of February. Your planting time will vary, you should plant your pepper seeds about 6 weeks before you estimate your last frost to be. I didn't plant early, this is going to be a light year for me for chilies. I plan to grow a lot of vegetables this year and only grow enough Thai chilies to provide fresh chilies to eat. I'll not be drying any this year as I have 4 large boxes filled to bursting with dried chilies. Much more than I can eat in a year. I have started the new pepper year today however by cleaning out the Jiffy brand Greenhouse 72 and setting up my florescent sprouting lights. I have a 4 foot shop light with green house bulbs in it set up on bricks. I have it so that it is just high enough that the temperature in the tabletop greenhouse is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I have aluminum foil taped to the edges of the shoplight that seal the air between the shoplight and the tabletop it is setting on. By adjusting the foil to seal tighter or looser, I can control the air temperature inside the greenhouse. The pods are inside the greenhouse now, soaking in water.

3-9: I planted the Thai Dragon chilies today. I soaked 9 peat pods and put 2 seeds apiece in them. I only plan on having 3 Thai chili plants in my garden this year but I want to make sure that I get 3 pots that have sprouted. Last year my Burpee seeds almost completely failed. I switched brands to Thompson & Morgan this year so hopefully I'll have better luck. Regardless, I plan on giving any extra sprouts to my friends.

3-13: Seeds are still just sitting there, germinating under the soil. Waiting...

3-21: Holy cow. It's another bad batch of seeds. They all should have sprouted by now and instead, there are only two sprouts, both in the same peat pod. I'm going to have to go to a Thai food store and buy a bag of dried Thai chilies then plant the seeds from them. It is too late in the year for this!

3-29: I have prepared the soil in 5 pots today. I forced the soil in each pot through a wire mesh sieve that removes rocks, roots and sticks. Then I added some peat moss, steer manure, Ironite, and Kellogg Soil Amend. This was run through the wire mesh sieve too, you'd be surprised how much junk is in there, especially gravel in the steer manure If you didn't do this than eventually you pots would be full of gravel!

3-31: I did 7 pots today finishing the back row of 12. I planted black-eyed peas and brussel sprouts in the back row. Remember, there is only going to be a few chili plants this year.

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April 2008

4-1: I did 11 pots today! That is a LOT of work! The middle row is finished now but I haven't planted anything in it yet. I still don't have any Thai chili seeds! WAH!

4-2: All of my brussel sprouts have sprouted but bugs have eaten the leaves off. I sprinkled the entire bed and the seeded pots with Metro Bug-Bait. I'm so stupid. I should have done this when I put the seeds down! Now I have to reseed the brussel sprouts.

4-15: Everything is planted now except for the damn peppers. I've given up growing anything from seed this year. All the Thai Markets that I knew about are gone now so I don't have any place to buy Thai chilies to get seeds from, and the gardeners I know who grow chilies depend on me for their seeds and plants. My wife picked me up a Thai Dragon chili plant from the nursery, it's about 4 inches tall. I'd like to find another Thai chili of a different variety.

4-18: OK, hopefully this will solve my Thai chili problems! I was looking for some tomato seeds that I saved from a particularly delicious tomato a friend gave me. I couldn't find them but I did find some Thai chili seeds from 2004! These were seeds that I got from buying a bag of Thai chilies at an oriental market. "Product of Thailand" was displayed on the package. Hopefully this is not too old to grow. They were in a cool dark place the whole time so chances are good that they will sprout. This is pretty late in the year but some fresh chilies is better than no fresh chilies. I am re-sterilizing the Jiffy greenhouse and will probably start the seeds tomorrow.

4-19: This morning I planted 12 peat pods in my Jiffy greenhouse with 3 seeds apiece. All I need are 3 plants. Here's hoping!

4-24: Nothing has come up yet but it has only been 5 days, and it usually takes at least a week for Thai chilies to sprout. I run out to the garage each morning to check if anything has sprouted like some kid on Christmas morning. I'm not quite sure if it sucks to be me, but if I suspect it, there might be hope for me.

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May 2008

5-1: Still nothing has come up yet. It takes around 2 weeks for the average Thai chile to sprout, but it's not looking good. At least I have one Thai Dragon chile from the nursery that is flowering.

5-9: Eh well, bad news, that last batch of seeds was a bust. I threw out all the pods, they were grown over with algae and 3 times overdue to sprout. Good news though, my wife found a couple of Thai markets in the town next to us and brought me home a bag of dried Thai chilies. But the bad news is that many of the pods were filled with a dark gray mildew like fungus. There is a bit of good news, I found several pods that were free of the fungus and used those seeds. Now it is just a waiting game.

5-11: The Thai Dragon chili plant has been flowering for a while and I saw my first tiny Thai chili growing.

5-15: Nothing from the new planting has sprouted yet. It's only been a week so nothing is amiss quite yet. I should have some sprouts by next Friday.

5-18: I have a Thai chili sprout! All I need is one or two more and I'm set for the season. It's a waaaay late start but at least it's a start!

5-19: Two more chili pepper pods have sprouted! This is all I need for this years crop of chilies. I only want some for fresh chilies to eat, otherwise I'll be working my way through two years of dried chili bumper crops. If more pod sprout, then I'll plant two sprouts in each dirt pot.

5-21: Another sprout brings the total to 4!

5-23: And one more is 5. All I need is just one more and I can put two in each planting pot. Although it grows less than a single plant, it is the same as growing a bushier single plant and bushier means more fruit starting points.

5-25: OK, so it turns out that two of those peat pods have double sprouts so I am set to go now with a backup plant even! I gave away the Thai Dragon chili plant that my wife got me from the nursery. I'm confident that I'll have enough plants from these sprouts to cover my needs.

5-26: Make that THREE of those peat pods have double sprouts.

5-27: It just keeps giving. Four of the peat pods have double sprouts!

5-30: 7 peat pots are triples and 2 are singles. I'm going to start setting these plants in the sun for an hour or two a day in order to harden them up. Then I'll plant them.

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June 2008

6-1: I've transplanted all the sprouts into pots. The 3 largest and most developed sprouts went into one of 3 five gallon planting pots. The remaining 7 went into small quart sized pots. I'm saving them as backup in case something bad happens to the plants in the big pots. When the danger of a bug or other pest destroying them in a night is past, I'll give away the backups. In order to help prevent an insect or mullisk from assassinating my sprouts I lightly sprinkled the soil in the pots with Metro Bug-Bait.

6-5: I have moved the transplanted sprouts into positions where they will receive full sun all day long. Now it's all up to them to absorb all the light they can and grow big and strong.

6-13: The peppers are coming along nicely. They are enjoying the full sun and good soil. I fertilized them again with Miracle-Gro For Tomatoes. Even thought the soil is rich with organic nutrients, it still makes a big difference to add a chemical fertilizer. Once every two weeks, as much as the soil in the pot will hold before draining out. That's approximately two thirds of a gallon per pot.

6-26: Today I fertilized the garden with Miracle-Gro. The person I gave the Thai Dragon chilies to report that they have chilies now. The re-seeding project will never catch up with the original planting but I've got some very nice starts. Here is a picture of the Thai chilies that I have set aside on the spa deck so that they would get full sun. They are each about 5.5 inches tall, or about 14 centimeters. I know this is not going to be a big year for me chili wise, but that was the idea in the first place. I've still got two years of dried chilies to eat and give away before I can seriously start cultivating chilies again.

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July 2008

7-4: It's all just a matter of growing up now. Keep them in the sun, watered, and fed.

7-9: Just for a wild hair I decided that I would fertilized the pepper plants every week instead of every other week. I don't have enough peppers to do a comparison test. It would be cool if next year I have a couple of non fertilized pots, a couple of every week fertilized pots and a couple of every other week fertilized pots.

7-15: I noticed flower buds today on all 3 plants!

7-16: I gave away the remaining peppers in the small pots today. Now I just have 3 peppers in large 5 gallon pots. The pepper leaves are a nice deep green, very healthy looking plants. Another fertilizing today.

7-23: Another fertilizing. I noticed that some the flower buds have opened on each of the 3 plants. It won't be long now before I'll be eating Thai chilies and fish sauce on my Jasmine rice!

7:30: I've fertilized just the Thai chilies this week. Grow you little hellions, GROW!

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August 2008

8-4: OK, it's official, there are a number of tiny Thai chilies on all 3 plants!

8-6: Time to fertilize the garden!

8-11: Hot dang! I just harvested 11 nice big plump chilies!

8-14: 9 more chilies harvested. I'm chopping them up and putting them into a small tupperware container then adding fish sauce. I put this on my Jasmine rice. I have to say that these chilies are much tastier than the Thai Dragons and are far superior for eating fresh. Once dried and made into chili sauces it really doesn't matter what they taste like as the sauces are overwhelmed with other flavors. So I'm trading flavor for pungency. Each in their own place.

8-18: I picked 10 chilies to go into my fish sauce. I'm still not getting as many as I want right now, but the pace of chilies ready to be picked is increasing so it appears that 3 plants is enough to keep me in fresh chilies. To me, the taste of these native Thai chilies is much better than the Thai Dragon, though not nearly as hot. I guess it's settled, I'm going to have to grow two types of Thai chilies: one variety for eating fresh and another for making hot sauce.

8-20: Another shot of fertilizer for the entire garden, not just the chili peppers. Doubling up doesn't seem to hurt the chilies and they are growing very nicely. The fertilizer box suggests "up to" every week but no later than every 2 weeks so I'm still within the parameters of the manufacturers instructions.

8-22: 10 more chilies were gathered and put into my fish sauce. Good stuff. I just love the taste of authentic Thai chilies as opposed to the Thai Dragon Hybrid. The Hybrid's are hotter by far, but it very much lacks in taste and is more suited for hot sauces where the flavors are enhanced and supplemented with other tasty ingredients.

8-25: The plants are now so loaded that I cannot keep up with them! I need some friends to share them with, and this from only 3 plants growing in pots! Today I harvested 20 of them and have been eating them in fish sauce on my Jasmine rice.

8-27: OK, even though I just complained about too many chilies... today I fertilized the chili plants again today. Call it habit, call it insanity, just don't call it when it is in the bathtub.

8-28: But it's not like I'm not eating them! I harvested 20 more today to chop up and put into my Thai fish sauce.

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September 2008

9-3: 20 chilies were picked, this time to give to a friend. I have way more chilies than I can eat, I've got to start giving them away because I'm probably not going to dry any this year. I still have 2 years of dried Thai chilies to work through first!

9-4: I've had to stake up all 3 chilies. They are so top heavy with fruit that they are making the plants droop over too much. One plant looked like it was starting to uproot itself.

9-5: ... and 20 more chilies for my fish sauce! I didn't fertilize the peppers this week. They are way ahead of me as it is.

9-12: This time 25 more chilies for my fish sauce!

9-17: I went with 30 chilies today. I can't keep up with them and they are starting to redden!

9-23: I've decided that I'm not going to fertilize any more this year. I've go way more chilies than I can eat.

9-24: I've picked 25 more chilies for my fish sauce. I got a new brand of fish sauce last weekend, Three Crabs brand and I've got to say that it is an improvement over the Thai Kitchens brand I was using. This tastes more like what you get in a Thai restaurant.

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October 2008

10-2: OK, now I have ripe chili peppers coming out my ears. I harvested 25 more for my fish sauce but about a quarter of each bush has ripened up to red. I'm not going to pick and dry them this year, I already have years of dried chilies stored away in boxes. I can only pick what I can eat. The bushes do look pretty though, I'll give them that. Christmassy even!

10-9: This might not be such a waste if only I had friends that weren't only on the Internet! I have chili peppers coming out my ears and nobody to give them to. Ah well, 25 of these chilies were spared the fate of drying on the bush then going into the green waste this fall. Of course that means they get eaten ... so which outcome is a fate worse than death for a chili pepper?

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