Story and Photos by Steve Foster
I'm soon to be 58 years old and have been enamored with growing chile peppers for a number of years! Living here in the farmland of central New York, Cortland actually. I discovered a long time ago that in order to have enough time to bring in a decent crop of chiles in my short growing season I had to adapt the process by cheating Mother Nature a bit and have developed a few ways to do just that!
Area 51 Ready for Transplanting
I start my seedlings under standard fluorescent lights in my basement that I jokingly call "Area 51" and then continue to pamper them by placing them in my hobby greenhouse as soon as it is warm enough to do so to take advantage of the solar heat--usually by April! I plant the garden around the first week of June, weather permitting, and by then I can introduce to the garden plants that are already blossoming ! I have seven terraced garden beds devoted to just chile peppers...about 1600 square feet in total that allows me to support about 300+ plants! The beds are covered totally with black plastic to retain solar heat and keep the soil warm, moist and relatively free of weeds!
Garden Bed Containers, Too!
I grow my peppers organically and have never used any herbicides or pesticides. My only fertilizer is composted cow manure which I prepare myself on a year-round basis in several stages, retilling and amending the beds every three years with the compost I create myself!
Composted Cow Manure
For about the last ten years or so, initially because back then there were few varieties of seeds available to the common hobbyist, I began to cross peppers to create a few of my own varieties, as per heat, flavor and vigorous growth characteristics. I discovered I could increase the per plant yield and also the pod size by employing a few simple practices such as choosing individual seedlings of the largest and most favorable growth characteristics and then when I began crossing varieties choosing seedlings that show distinguishing hybrid vigor! I know that my practices are too time- and labor-intensive for the commercial grower but when it comes to producing prolific plants with large pods, it works well for me in my short season!
Red Scotch Bonnet
It has been a lot of fun and very informative for me to have been involved in a few Internet forum groups these last six or seven years and I've been privileged to have met some fine folks of which I share a common interest! As you know it is not uncommon to use aliases or monikers on the net and since becoming involved I've been known as "Riser" and recently S.B.S. which simply stands for Scotch Bonnet Steve!
When I met Allen Boatman about six years ago on the net we started (due to his contributions) a worlwide chile peper seed distribution network we jokingly called the "Coast To Coast Pepper Company" and I distributed about 200 mailings of seeds worldwide in just that first year! That was when a group of us started the Hot Pepper Forum on MSN! Every year a different member took on the responsibility of distribution (totally for free on a non-profit basis) and it has been fun to watch it grow! Recently MSN has informed us that as of Feb. '09 they will no longer sponsor us so a good friend and I (Tim Osborn from San Diego) started a new forum which is doing very well! A link to the Coast to Coast Pepper Forum is here.
Here is a link to my photo site and may give you addional insight into just how crazy I have been about growing, breeding and the subsequent processing of my chiles!