Each season one particular vegetable seems to out-do all of the rest. This year, the award for most amazing production in my garden goes to the poblano peppers. I planted three poblanos transplants in early April. By late May the plants had grown to about three feet and were beginning to provide me with a steady supply of very tasty and pretty spicy peppers. These plants produced well through the heat of July and August. Then, when the temperature dropped slightly in September, pepper production sky rocketed. I am now harvesting (and sharing) a grocery bag full of peppers every week.
If you have never grown poblanos I highly encourage you to try them. They are easy to grow, fairly resistant to pests and they have an excellent taste that falls somewhere between a banana pepper and a jalapeño on the hotness scale. These peppers are great chopped into a salad or incorporated into your favorite soups. Grill them until their skins blister and they become a soft spicy addition to you burgers. Cook them in hot oil on the stove and then use them to make your eggs, omelets and breakfast burritos really shine. Plus, they are big enough to be stuffed with just about anything you would stuff into any other pepper.
The poblano pepper originated in the state of Puebla, Mexico. It has become a very popular pepper throughout Mexico. Most of us gringos learned about these peppers when we ordered our first chile rellenos. Poblanos are often used in mole’ sauces and each year they help Mexicans celebrate their independence as the green ingredient in the red, white and green dish called chiles en nogado. Poblanos are sold both fresh and dried. In their dried form they are called ancho chiles. The dried ancho is often much hotter than the fresh poblano. Because of this, the dried peppers are often ground into a spicy chili powder that is used in many dishes.
Growing –Pepper seeds will not germinate until the soil warms up to about 70 degrees. In order to get their peppers producing as soon as possible, most pepper growers start their seeds inside about three months before soil temps reach this level. For me, this is early January. Eventhough my Poblanos were transplants, I regularly grow several varieties of tomatoes and peppers from seed. I use special planting trays that have little indentions that hold those dried peat pellets that expand with hot water. To start my peppers I make sure the pellets are fully expanded and then I use tweezers to put three seeds in each pellet. I then place the clear lid over the tray, place in a sunny window and wait.
The seeds can take 10 to 14 days to germinate. I leave them in the trays until the end of February. At that time I take little scissors and cut out the smallest plants, leaving only the sturdiest. I move the plants into a four inch pot filled with a high grade potting mix. Once they are in the pots I put them in a tray saved from previous plant purchases and then place the tray in a large, clear plastic storage bin. This bin allows me to water with abandon and also allows me to easily harden off the shoots by moving the plants outside on warm days. The sides of the container also protect my tender seedlings from wind damage.
Sometime in early April, when soil temps are right and night time temps are staying above 60, I plant my pepper (and tomato) transplants. Peppers require full sun. They also need at least an inch of water per week and a well drained soil that is very well worked with organic matter. If the soil, sun and water are right, you can expect to start harvesting your first peppers 45 to 60 days after transplant. Peppers will produce well until temps go above above 90, then their production will fall. If you add more organic material at this time and continue to water, your peppers will continue producing right up to the first freeze.
Harvesting-Poblanos are ready to harvest when they are 4” to 6” long and their skin has a glossy sheen to it. Technically, poblanos at this stage are immature. That is fine though because they are less hot when they are green. However, if you want to dry or smoke your poblanos, leave them on the bush until they turn red. If you leave them long enough they will eventually begin to shrivel and turn a deep purple.
A ripe poblano will snap right off into your hand when it is ready to be picked. However, pepper limbs are brittle and if you try and pull a pepper that is not ready you can get a lot of foliage along with your pepper. For this reason I always use a sharp pair of shears or scissors to harvest my peppers.
Pests-Aphids, cutworms and hornworms can all be a problem for peppers. Aphids can be controlled by regularly applying a good shot of water to the underside of the leaves. Cutworms can be controlled by “wrapping” the stems of the young plants in cardboard. Simply cut a toilet paper or paper towel roll into three inch sections. Split these up the sides. Loosely wrap this around the base of your plants after transplant. Stick an inch or so of the tube into the ground and leave an inch or so above ground. Hornworms are always a double problem for me. I know they can wipe out my tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. However, they are the immature form of the hummingbird moths that I love to watch feed on my datura. Regardless of my fondness for hummingbird moths, I pull all hornworms that I find and quickly squish them. If you have a bad infestation you can apply BT but is is really only effective if applied when the caterpillars are small.