Evaluating hot pepper varieties for yields under low tunnels and customer preferences
We applied for a SARE grant with the goal of evaluating and refining our production of hot peppers of the Capiscum chinense varieties. Specifically, we wanted to compare different varieties of C. chinense for customer preference as well as look at productivity in the Northeast region using different growing methods. Hot peppers, most notably Scotch Bonnets, are a signature West Indian crop that is often requested by our customers and represent a potential area of growth for farmers selling to the West Indian community.
The UCC Youth Farm is a project of East New York Farms!, an urban agriculture project that aims to increase food access in the East New York area of Brooklyn. We farm on about ½ an acre on land owned by the New York City Parks Department, growing 70 different varieties of 35 crops. In addition, we support a network of over 80 urban growers who are raising a range of crops for our two farmers markets.
Besides the farm manager, other participants in the project were John Ameroso, youth interns from our project, and Wayne Miller, farm manager of Eckerton Hill Farm. John Ameroso served as the Cornell Cooperative Extension agent for New York City for many years and retired in 2010, but still remains active in the project. John grew the seedlings for the project in 2010 and 2011 at a heated greenhouse in Staten Island and provided advice on setting up the study. The youth interns from our project took part in planting, irrigating, harvesting, weighing, and selling the peppers, as well as conducting surveys with customers on their preferences. Wayne Miller, farm manager at Eckerton Hill Farm in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, hosted a farm visit and offered advice from his eight years of experience growing peppers and tomatoes for the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan.
The first year of our project was spent conducting the research on varieties of C. chinense. We grew five different varieties of peppers using two different methods and measured the days to first harvest and the yields. Customers were surveyed to find out which varieties they prefer, their buying habits, and the varieties they would like to see grown in the future. I visited Eckerton Hill Farm in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, combining it with a visit to Meadow View Farm in Bowers, PA, where I collected seeds of fifteen more varieties of C.chinense.
In our second year, we focused our efforts on increasing the variety of peppers that we grow and refining our growing practices. We planted 12 varieties of Capiscum chinense, allotting more space to the most successful varieties from the 2010 trials while still incorporating promising new strains. The peppers were planted in black plastic mulch with no row cover, and we experimented with a weave trellis method to facilitate harvest and support plants that grew up to 4’. We also recorded our largest pepper harvest ever; initial calculations show a 30% increase in sales of peppers at our farmstand. We were able to begin selling at three restaurants at the neighborhood with our excess production.
We have continued our search for varieties of C. chinense that are productive and popular. Chocolate habaneros were one of the most popular new varieties that we grew in 2011. We also saw market potential in two areas that are new to us: seasoning peppers and ultra-hot peppers. Upon the recommendation of Wayne Miller, we grew four new varieties of C. chinense known as ‘pimentos’ or ‘seasoning peppers’—these peppers have the same shape and distinctive aroma as Scotch Bonnets, but without the heat. We have been growing aji dulce, a Puerto Rican seasoning pepper, for the last six years, but the West Indian varieties were new to the farm. The small amount of seasoning peppers that we grew consistently sold out, so we are looking forward to a larger planting in 2012.
In 2011 we grew two ultra-hot varieties of peppers: bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) and Trinidad Scorpion. The bhut jolokia originated in India and is a cross of C. chinense and C. fructens, and it is one of the hottest peppers on record. Trinidad Scorpion is C. chinense also ranks among the world’s hottest. We planted these more for novelty than for production, but customer reception was positive and we plan to plant more for 2012. The bhut jolokia that we grew using seed from Eckerton Hill Farm was especially hardy and prolific in our climate (USDA Zone 7b), and we were harvesting fruit through November. Though neither of these are traditionally popular West Indian varieties, their extreme heat is in keeping with customer preference. Additionally, the increasing notoriety of the bhut jolokia makes it popular outside of the traditional pepper customer base.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Public outreach about our pepper trials has happened on several different levels. We provided over 30 urban growers in East New York with pepper seedlings for the 2011 season and followed up with them about the success of the different varieties. We hosted over 700 people on the farm during the course of the season and taught them about the varieties of crops that we grow. In October we presented our pepper selection trials at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Chile Pepper Fiesta. We also hosted a Chile Festival at the East New York Farmers’ Market with informational tables about pepper varieties and value-added pepper products.
The last remaining part of our grant is to print a handout on growing Caribbean peppers that will be distributed this spring to our network, uploaded to our website, and given out at the conferences that we will be attending this spring.
Extension agent (retired)
Cornell Cooperative Extension
10A 3rd Place
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Office Phone: 7183631016