It is blustery and cold and downright soggy outside here in Southern Oregon. Gardening season is tapping us on the shoulder hoping to wake us up from this mid winter lull. Seed catalogs have started to pour into my mailbox, including our 2024 Siskiyou Seeds catalog and just like that it is time to get ready for the warm months ahead.
What better way to shake off my winter blues than to day dream about hot summer days. Days full of basil, melons and peppers. It is just the right time to start planning this year's pepper crop. We generally plant chili seeds here at the farm in late February to early March.
Pepper is a colloquial term given to sweet chilies from the genus Capsicum. They are not in the same plant family as black peppercorns. The more proper term would be chili but I generally refer to sweeter varieties as peppers and spicy varieties as chilies.
So, what are you looking for? Sweet peppers for roasting and snacking or are you looking for something spicy in the future. We have a little bit of a chili obsession here at Siskiyou Seeds with almost 50 different varieties to choose from.
When I am planning out this year's crop I try to pick a little of everything. I really enjoy incorporating pepper and chili into my cooking and each variety lends something different. Whether it be sweetness, crunch, a perfect delightful earthy tone or an added kick from hotter chilies. I usually choose a snacking pepper, a chili for drying to use as powder and a chili to make into hot sauce. Then I have three different varieties to use when making salsa, one of my summer preserve staples.
Let me share what I am excited to grow this year with you.
First off, a new variety to our catalog, a Korean chili called Gochugaru. I don’t just want to grow this because it is new. Although that may be part of the reason, I am really interested in trying to make Gochujang. Maybe you have seen this amazing fermented chili paste around at restaurants, grocery stores or in recipes because it is definitely having a moment in the culinary spotlight. Mildly spicy, sweet and savory all at the same time, Gochujang is truly delicious. Gochugaru is a perfect chili to grow if you also want to try to make this yummy sauce. It doesn't stop there though, this chili works well for chili flakes and is also used when making Kimchi.
Plants will have prolific yields of 4 inch long chilies and have a Scoville scale of 1000-2500. In case you’re wondering, Scoville is an organoleptic test used to determine the pungency of the fruit. It basically measures how much Capsaicin is in a chili. The higher the number the spicier the chili will be. Gochugaru is similar on the scale to one of my absolute favorite peppers, the Aleppo pepper from Syria.
Next up is Kalocsa Paprika, a wonderful heirloom from Hungary. I have been waiting for this seed to come back in stock for a few years. We were able to grow it on the farm last year so now there is plenty available. In the past couple years I grew the Alma Paprika. It has a really nice flavor but I grew Kalocsa 5 years ago and loved the smoky sweet heat of it when it was dried. Kalocsa is known for being a bit on the spicier side than other paprika varieties. I just made Chicken Paprikash for the first time, an amazing Hungarian dish with about 3 tablespoons of paprika in it. I would love to make it again once I have a nice stash of Kalocsa Paprika in my cabinet. Plants will grow to 24-36" tall and produce lots of beautiful 6" long by 1 1/4" wide fruits that mature to a deep red.
Last but definitely not least, a garden staple… As always, I will be growing Shisitos. If you have not grown these before please do. You will thank me. Super easy to grow and such fun to cook and eat. Shishito, also known as Shishitōgarashi, is a pepper from Japan. The peppers are slender with thin walls and perfect for snacking. A common way to eat them is to blister the peppers in a hot pan with a little oil and salt. I also toss them in salt and oil and put them on the grill. A perfect accompaniment to summer meals.
Every once in a while one of the peppers will be hot, say a 1 in 20 chance. But not too hot! In the end of summer when they start to turn red on the plant the peppers tend to get spicier. A lot of chilies tend to be spicier when they are fully mature with the exception of mild sweet peppers. Shishito do well in Oregon outside of the greenhouse and will produce tons of fruit. I think 4 plants is a perfect number to have of these. It is a lot more cost effective to grow them in your garden if you have room then to buy them at the store.
There are so many fun peppers and chilies out there to try but these are a few that I am looking forward to enjoying this year. If you can not decide which varieties to grow you can also check out our Chili Lovers Collection which has 8 different chilies ranging from 500 to 400,000 on the Scoville Scale.
How to Start Pepper Seeds
Chilies require temperatures between 80-85 degrees to germinate. The easiest way to achieve this is to use a heating mat. Heating mats are a great addition to your gardening tool shed. They heat the tray of potting soil from the bottom. If you want to be more precise you can purchase a heat mat rheostat which allows you to set specific temperatures. Rheostats control the wattage of the device you are using. If you have trouble with germination of heat loving plants this is a good way to go.
Due to space limitations I plant chili seeds in open flats of potting soil. Fill the open flat with potting soil about 1.5 inches deep and tamp down. Use your finger to draw trenches about a ¼ inch deep across the soil. Place the seeds in the trench and then gently cover with soil and tamp down. Since chilies can be tricky I usually plant about twice as many seeds as the number of plants that I want. Label each variety with a plant label/marker. Put the tray on the heat mat and set the heat temperature that you want on the rheostat.
Chilies can take up to two weeks to germinate so be patient! Once the seedlings erupt from the soil, wait until they have their first set of true leaves. After they have their first set of leaves you can transplant the seedlings into 4 inch pots. Gently dig out the seedlings from their rows with your fingers. Be careful not to damage the roots.
To transplant, fill a 4 inch pot with potting soil. Make a small hole in the top of the soil and place the seeding into it. Gently fill in the space around the seedling with soil. Make sure it is snug in place. Roots need to be fully covered and the soil should not be too loose around the seedling.
Water the seedling gently after transplanting. If you can provide air flow around the transplant this will help with issues such as damping off. Damping off is a fungal disease that causes the death of young plants. When you start seeds early in the year in a greenhouse if it is cold and wet outside they are more susceptible to this disease. A simple fan in your propagation area will suffice.
Lead Seed Coordinator, Siskiyou Siskiyou Seeds