Pepper (Capsicum annum) Cultivation, Conservation, and Soil Ecology in Low-Input and Certified Organic Agricultural Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2011: $19,585.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Loretta Sandoval
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: peppers


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop, youth education
  • Energy: energy use
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, riparian buffers, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, botanical pesticides, competition, cultural control, disease vectors, field monitoring/scouting, flame, integrated pest management, mating disruption, mulches - living, mulching - vegetative, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops, traps, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities

    Proposal summary:

    Landrace chile peppers (Capsicum annuum var. annuum, family Solanaceae) are descendents of chile peppers historically taken through the Spanish and Portuguese trading routes in the time period of 1492 to 1590 (Andrews, 1984). The landrace peppers were also believed to be brought to New Mexico by the Spanish explorers from Mexico in the late 1500s to early 1600s. Landraces are crops that result from long-term cultivation of the crop within a given farming system (Zevin 1998) and are grown and collected in Northern New Mexico by individual families. These specific “races” are tied to the land area they are grown in for decades or hundreds of years. Zevin also describes landraces in general as having a high capacity to tolerate local biotic and abiotic stresses and have stable and intermediate yield levels even when grown under low-input agricultural systems. In recent genetic research, Bosland, et al, (2005) of New Mexico State University determined that landrace peppers from New Mexico also retained genetic characteristics similar to South American ancestral accessions. In high elevation villages such as Dixon and Chimayo, New Mexico, the landrace peppers have retained morphological and potential medicinal characteristics of the original peppers. The peppers are also an important part of both the indigenous Native American tribes and Hispanic diet in New Mexico. Bosland had also estimated that as much as 21% of the New Mexican Heirloom landraces have been contaminated by gene flow from improved open-pollinated (OP) cultivars (cited by Nabhan 2008) such as New Mexico “Sandia” or “Espanola Improved.” OP cultivars are homogenous and are bred using traditional plant breeding methods (Bosland 2000). According to Bosland, landraces are heterogeneous, genetically diverse and well-adapted to the locations where they have been cultivated.

    These seed collections would be good candidates for sustainable, low input systems. In New Mexico and Southern Colorado, seed conservation groups have initiated efforts to stabilize landraces and are collecting historical and current cultivation data. They are important nutritional and genetic resources for traditional farmers that have cultivated them in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona and also for plant breeders. The landrace pepper seed banks and the nutritional source for traditional farmers are currently at risk of being lost, and fewer traditional farmers are growing these peppers in New Mexico.

    Our research focus is conservation, sustainability of traditional food crops and growing landrace varieties (LR var.) using both certified organic and low input agricultural field areas. Trials will be performed to determine if sustainable inputs (cover crops, rotation, low input agricultural practices) result in differences in plant yield, seed quality and vigor. Both LR var. and OP cultivars (OP cv.) will be grown side by side in one field area (certified organic) using a statistical split-split plot design. Four other field areas, two certified organic and two low-input pesticide-free fields, will be used to grow related LR varieties (cultivated within one mile radius historically) using a systems approach (Ikerd 1993), with sampling selected randomly for analysis including nutrient density. Plant growth, maturity date, disease prevalence and antioxidant profiles for the LR var. plants and pods will be measured in each field trial to determine plant vigor and health in each field situation. These data could be used to determine which types would be most suited for conditions including high altitude (6,000 ft.), low-input agricultural, organic and sustainable practices. These plots also will be used as experiential teaching tools in field days for area farmers and to encourage growing and conservation of these seed banks regionally.

    In year 1 (2007), Zulu's Petals and Rancho Arco Iris certified organic farms collaborated to conduct research with two landrace pepper varieties. One was donated by the former owner of the agricultural field where this variety was grown for more than 150 years called 'Canoncito' var. and also a 'Chimayo' var. type. We compared the landraces side by side with OP cultivars and observed specific growth characteristics, including uniformity of the seedling stand both in the greenhouse and in the field, morphology characteristics, germination percentage, maturity time and incidence of disease in field areas. In 2008, a larger plot was grown in another field area growing direct seeded and transplant seedlings of both the LR var. and the OP cv. side by side. Seedlings studies were also continued for additional LR varieties and OP cultivars. The results of this study are contained in Landrace paper 1. Finally in 2009, the 'Canoncito' LR var. was grown by itself, both direct-seeded and transplant to observe differences of this type with different growing methods for maturity time, disease prevalence and overall plant health and to conserve and increase this seed bank in isolation. Other research was also conducted with five different LR var. in an adjacent field using low-input certified organic plots.

    Overall our research focus is to understand the nutritional needs of landrace peppers for organic crop production, seed and soil conservation of the landrace varieties, and compare these with OP cultivars in specific field situations. With this information, our goals is to improve sustainable organic practices in place for field ecology. With these goals we can share the information with local and regional producers to potentially improve their production practices.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1:

    To compare each producer's cultivation practices and individual landrace variety (LR var.) at their own farm site (two certified organic, two pesticide free). Each seed collection will be propagated in the greenhouse to determine seedling uniformity and vigor. Propagation trials in the greenhouse will be replicated three times. The landrace seedlings grown in the greenhouse will also be transplanted in a row adjacent to each direct seeded field area to observe growth differences of direct seeded versus transplant (minimum 100 plants).

    Year 1 and 2: Measures for the farm site trials will include random sampling in the five field areas for fruit capsicum and antioxidant level testing, pod fresh weight (green) and pod dry weight (red) and pod counts per plant on 50-100 plants per field area. Disease prevalence, maturity dates and overall vigor will also be recorded. Fertilizer treatments that each individual producer adds independently in their respective field areas, if any, will be recorded for the season before and during the trials. No suggestions will be made unless the producers request general information for cover crops or organic fertilizers before the trials begin. Any applied fertilizer treatments or other beneficial soil additives (Cover crops, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, minor nutrients, humates, rhizobacteria or fungi) will be documented for each field area. These data would be collected for two seasons. Soil will be analyzed for baseline nutrient levels before the study begins.

    Objective 2:

    To compare two pepper types in one field area, one landrace variety (LR var.) from composition of all seed collections used in Objective 1 and one open-pollinated (OP cv.) cultivar. Two fertility treatments will used: control (no inputs 2011) and a fertility program (cover crops and rock amendments P, K, micronutrients, beneficial mycorrhizae ); two propagation treatments will be used (direct seed versus transplant). This results in a total of eight treatments. Treatments combinations will be replicated three times using a split-split plot design. Main plot will be fertility program, propagation method will be subplot, and pepper type will be sub-sub plot. A pepper type sub-sub plot will be a single row of 20 plants in 20 feet. Measures will be same as Objective 1.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.