Seed Sense: Pepper Prowess

by Ken Greene

We're just now getting another (!) burst of heavy rain and we're rooting for it. Why? With just another 1/2 inch or so of rain this will be the #1 wettest June on record, ever, with the last rainiest June occurring over 100 years ago. So, if we lose any crops, or the tomato blight is particularly bad, we can truly blame the weather. It's harder to justify blaming the second rainiest June.

Despite the rain, many plants are doing just fine including our peppers. Here's what we're doing now that the peppers are getting ready to flower.

Seed Sense: Pepper Prowess

Gardeners can learn much of what they need to know about seed saving by becoming keen observers of their plant's full life cycles. The best place to look to find out whether plants cross-pollinate or not (in addition to Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth), is the flower. Out-crossing flowers are "easy access" flowers, it looks easy for an insect to crawl in and get out.


Matchbox Pepper Flower Matchbox Pepper Flower

Their open form attracts pollinators, making it easy for them to carry pollen from flower to flower.  This means that they can cross pollinate between varieties. As the "hot gene" is dominant, sweet peppers that cross with hot peppers tend to inherit some heat. In order to make sure that the peppers don't cross-pollinate in your garden, you need to isolate them from each other. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Distance: If you search online or look at a few books, you would find that there is a wide variety of recommendations for how far apart peppers should be planted. Isolation distances range from 50 ft to one mile. It's important to keep in mind the intended purpose behind the number. Smaller distances are more for home gardeners saving seed for themselves with limited space vs. larger distances for seed companies growing commercial seed on expansive farms. Many of the gardeners in the Seed Library have small gardens and can't afford even 50 feet of separation between varieties.

Caging: We recommend caging peppers, and that's just how we do it here on Seedy Farm. Caging is a simple way of preventing insects from visiting flowers between varieties. You can use your own creativity and simple materials to make an isolation cage. Cages can be made in any shape out of materials that let in sun and rain such as screening. We use row cover, which also has some insulating properties. The peppers love to be hot!

Hoop Caging: Here are some pics of the hoop-la before the thunder and rain drove us inside.


Simple wire hoops every 2-3 feet Simple wire hoops every 2-3 feet


Heating up under the row cover Heating up under the row cover


Doug weighting down the cover with rocks Doug weighing down the cover with rocks

Here are some plans I found online for a DIY pepper cage.