September 16, 2022
During the hot months of summer, I tried to keep my container vegetables watered to save them from the heat. Like most gardeners in my area this kept my plants alive but only sporadically resulted in fruit. When it began to cool off and we received a period of rain I backed off and let nature do its work. I got a few small peppers (sweet and hot) and an occasional tomato, but they plants seemed to be giving up. While we have not gone back to the extreme heat of the summer, we are still predicted to get into the high 90’sF (35+C) through next week. I continue to get few blooms and even less fruit and the bottom leaves of all my plants have wilted and several plants have died. Since peppers are classified as a perennial, I wondered how long they could continue to produce.
When I looked online, I found the jalapeño is a medium-sized chili pepper pod type cultivar of the species Capsicum annuum. A mature jalapeño chile is 2 to 4 inches (5–10 cm) long and hangs down with a round, firm, smooth flesh of 1 to 1½ inches (25–38 mm) wide. It can have a range of pungency, with Scoville heat units of 4,000 to 8,500. Although commonly picked and eaten green, if allowed to fully ripen they will turn red, orange, or yellow. The growing period is 70–80 days. When mature, the plant stands 2 ½ to 3 feet (70–90 cm) tall. During a growing period, the plant can be picked multiple times and will produce 25 to 35 pods. The plants will crop continuously from the start of July through to the end of September when the first frost hits. During this period, it is recommended that you regularly harvest the fruits as this will encourage the plant to continue to produce flowers. Once picked, individual peppers may turn to red of their own accord. The peppers can be eaten green or red. Although usually grown as an annual, peppers are a perennial and if protected from frost can produce for multiple years, as with all Capsicum annuum.
When I checked my notes, they indicated the vegetables in my containers began to wilt and die last year (especially the tomatoes) by mid-September and even the peppers were gone by the first week of November. While the plants had continued through these times, they had stopped producing flowers before they began to wilt. I realize if I want them to continue producing, I really need to continue to actively water the plants and reapply fertilizer. As the season drags on and little fruit is being produced, I wear down and no longer check them as often as I do early in the season. I do not treat these vegetables as perennial, and even welcome the break after the frost. Once again, if I were going to rely on the plants as a subsistence food source, I would need to be more attentive.
THOUGHTS: I have mentioned that I had grown 15 tomato plants for my horticulture arrow as a cub scout. These were grown inground and flourished. They produced more fruit than our family could use or than I knew what to do with. I started the spring plant strong but was tired of taking care of tomatoes by mid-summer. They still refused to die, and I was made to continue to harvest and distribute them. I think I would have been devastated to find out they were a perennial. I know to effectively use the vegetables I grow now, means deciding how to save (can, dry, freeze) them for later. Last year I chopped and froze jalapeños, peaches, and strawberries, and there are remains of all three in my freezer. While I have not thrown this food out, I do not seem to use it either. Despite over 42 million Americans living in food-insecure households, collectively we manage to throw out an estimated 80 billion pounds of food. The average household throws out $640 of food or almost 16% of the food we buy each year. The country buffets where I used to dine always had a sign that said, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” Those may still be words to live by. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.