Overwintering Peppers



Last year, I had amazing luck with starting about two dozen pepper plants from seed. It was the first year I was ever truly successful in not only starting them from seed, but keeping them alive long enough to produce fruit in our short-for-capsicum New England summers. All of my plants bore fruit, specifically the very hot chiles, but I always have trouble keeping the sweeter peppers alive long enough to really be a good plant – at least long enough to dedicate the garden space to them.

I had once heard a rumor that pepper plants, in warmer climates, can be considered perennial. For us, in the North, they’ve always been considered annuals, of course, because a pepper plant could never withstand even our fall temperatures, less our winters. So this last fall, I decided to try an experiment: Bring one pepper plant in and nurture it until it is warm enough to go back in the ground, in effort to have a sturdier, more productive plant for the coming season. This plant is called a “Peter Pepper” and it has an almost pornographic-looking fruit. It is a hot pepper, but also very tasty (ahem) and it was a very slow grower last year in the garden.

So far, it seems that the plan is working. I will say, however, that I had a long (but ultimately, winning) battle with aphids from about November to late January. I still see a couple of the little buggers from time to time, but they are no longer an infestation.

Next to the pepper plant, I have a small, potted rosemary bush, which it seems that aphids don’t much enjoy. I have found through my own experience that most “pests” do not care for strong scented herbs like rosemary, garlic or onions, so it’s a good idea to keep those around. I’m sure there’s some science to solidify my experience on it, but I don’t have it.  Once I moved the rosemary plant closer to the pepper plant, the aphids, while they still hatched  babies, were fewer. Now, when the weather is nice, I take the pepper plant outside and spray it down with forceful water.

I have been lightly fertilizing the pepper plant with my spent coffee grounds. It turns out that coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen; at least that’s what the interwebz declares. A little note about it, though, and why I think it works when I do it and why it may or may not work when you try.

Our morning ritual is pretty standard. Every morning we make coffee using a double-walled steel french press (it’s actually German and was a very kind gift from our friend Reed Altemus, who is an amazing digital collage & copy/toner artist). French press coffee extracts more of the oils from the bean than, say, an automatic drip or whatever it is other people use to make coffee. After we have our first cup of coffee, we boil more water, lift the plunge and brew a second batch out of the same beans. What that means is that our grounds are truly spent and not very oily at all. So they make a pretty good low-grade fertilizer.Otherwise, we compost our coffee grounds along with every other compostable thing… a subject  I’ll talk about another day.

The spent grounds have been proving to be truly amazing! Not only does the slight acidity seem to benefit the overall plant, the need to water has reduced significantly because the grounds act as a sort of mulch. Since I’ve been doing this (about once every 10 days, and only twice) I have seen blooms prepare to bud. Case in point at photo (left).

In the Northern winter, it’s important not to water too much, anyway, because there just isn’t enough light to initiate photosynthesis.  In all reality, I really shouldn’t be fertilizing right now, either. But it’s been a very mild winter and I probably will not add any more grounds until late April, unless the plant tells me otherwise.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but if the plant holds up in its southwest-facing window until Memorial Day, we are in business. And if that’s the case, I will start pulling up all my pepper plants in late September, potting them and, thus, nursing them for the following summer.






One response to “Overwintering Peppers”

  1. […]  In the fall, we collect the most ripe peppers, pot up the plants and bring them home for “overwintering.”  This fall was pretty warm, so we had a good bunch of peppers that had grown, but not […]

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