Boonie Peppers


I have a long series of articles about the Guam boonie pepper, a small hot pequin style pepper native to the island of Guam. This pepper is not (despite unverified claims in the Wikipedia) the same as the Thai ornamental pepper, but is instead a separate species, closely related to the tepin of Mexico. The pepper is used in Chamorro dishes, most notably the ubiquitous finadene sauce.

To update the status of my plants: I recently posted that one of my four peppers was flowering. This year, all four flowered and it looked like I was going to have a record crop. Then pests started taking bites of my peppers, and I’d lose all but a few seeds.

In mid September we took a trip, and I had to bring my boonie peppers inside. Outside, they could easily have dried out in two days, and the trip was longer than that. The results?

Being inside allows for a more relaxed watering schedule.

Not only has the crop grown larger, they’re not subject to predation and can stay on the bush longer, turning a full red instead of orange. It’s been successful so far. The question now is, will all 4 plants winter well?

Footnote: a video of people eating Guam Boonies is here. The man shown stopped at 11 peppers.

As my boonie peppers are turning red, if I don’t harvest them quickly, they’re turning out like this:

Something is eating the tips off my peppers.

I still harvest the half eaten peppers, because they have valuable seeds. 2 or 3 of those tiny seeds can grow into a 6 foot plant. So I dry what remains, and collect as many seeds from the pod as I can.

I don’t think hornworms are doing this (though I found at least one hornworm on my plants), and all the boonies are flowering these days. It’s been an unusually wet summer, almost semitropical in character. The peppers love it.

I speak often about the Guam Boonie, a pequin style pepper related to the tepin so lovingly described by Mark Miller. They’re native to the Marianas Islands, and are used for things like finadene:

Home made Finadene sauce.

Thing is, in Georgia, my plants have never flowered in the spring or summer, but only in the fall, until now. One of my four plants is not only flowering, it’s also growing peppers.

You can see a flower about to bloom, a flower after it has bloomed, and a green pepper in this photo.

They’re aren’t many on this plant, but some are better than none. I’m working hard to keep this plant watered and producing. In pots like the ones I use, in Georgia heat you have to water these every other day.

I haven’t spoken much about my boonie peppers this year, perhaps because they sprouted and grew, but not spectacularly. I didn’t fertilize them much after the spring, because I wanted flowers, of which I saw not a one all this year.

But I just took them inside, after the recent freeze, and within one day after taking them inside, every last boonie pepper now has flower buds. If I had to guess, it was a temperature thing. The summer was too hot, and the fall too cool to trigger any flowering.

It suggests next time taking the plants inside earlier, to trigger the growth of peppers.

Update: the lighting tools we’re using to grow peppers inside are described here and here. 4 desk lamps with grow bulbs as described in the links are being kept on a 16 hour cycle.

It’s a blessed mess of green back there. I’ve been moving some of the twistier tomatoes to beside the chain link fence, to see if they’ll grow into it. 11 tomatoes still sit on the deck. Some of them even have fruits.

I had four boonies sprout, of which one died, one was cut off by some worm before it could get anywhere (still alive though), and the other two look pretty healthy. This photo is of the best of the new year’s boonie peppers. I don’t expect any crop until late fall.

I’m not entirely used to the idea of replanting tomatoes when you grow them from seeds. The technique (here for example, or here) is so different from what I developed for boonies. With boonies, you sprout them, and there is no concern about darkness for a new days. You fertilize with an indoor strength fertilizer from the start, and keep the plants warm and in soda bottle greenhouses.

Tomatoes, by contrast, you must watch like a hawk when they sprout so they don’t  grow too much. You don’t fertilize until they have true leaves, and then only once or twice. Water is otherwise enough. You replant 2-3 times perhaps, every time they outgrow their “container”. You replant most of the plant into the ground in order to  create a deeper stronger root system. The final pot depth should be a minimum of 12 inches deep. (I think my tomato pots last year were at best 6 inches deep. Oops.)

By the end of the weekend, I want all my tomatoes into 6 inch pots.

The new boonie peppers are getting sizable enough that I should consider replanting them at some point, try a more tomato-like technique.

As I read my planting books, I get the impression that when the night time weather gets to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4 degrees C) it’s safe to plant outside. For some days it’s been looking as if that day might end up being March 6.  But as of this morning, that hope seems to fade. This is what weather.com looked this morning for someone in my area code.

An interesting look at planting dates in a nearby region is here. Just note that Texas tends to be warmer than northwest Georgia, which is in the foothills of the Appalachians. Another look at planting dates is provided by the online Mother Earth site.

Two are visible in this picture. Looking through some older pellets, we found another that sprouted. Using Jiffy 7 pellets, a heating strip, and 2-3 seeds per pellet, every pellet produced this time.

Note: A recent thread on the hotpepper.com site made reference to the Food Near Snellville article, “The origin of the boonie pepper.” Nice to see people making use of what we’ve found.

A bunch of seeds have arrived. They were slowish to ship, but arrived within a day or two. I’m happy to see them.

I purchased heirloom tomato seeds from Tomatofest and then bok choy, chinese broccoli and some petite eggplant varieties from Evergreen Seeds. Tomato varieties were those recommended by Gardenweb planters in a previous post, the Asian greens were varieties recommended by the book McGee and Stuckey’s Bountiful Container:

I’ve added additional lights to the basement, adjusted light times to give a 16 hour light cycle (tomatoes prefer that, according to the tomato seedling FAQ on Gardenweb), added lettuce and Super Sweet 100s to the mix. Planted and down there are:

  • 3 Jubilee seedling groups (2 look bad and probably will be pared out)
  • 3 Cherokee Purple groups (in soda bottles)
  • 4 Sweetie pellets (1 looks bad)
  • 3 Black Krim (looking good)
  • 3 lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson, experimental)
  • 3 Super Sweet 100
  • 1 Boonie pepper (in soda bottle)
  • 1 uncertain (probably Jubilee)

With the additional seeds I need to count what I have, what I can add, what makes sense, what I should save to next year.

I have 16 new plastic 12″ pots for the tomatoes. The Bountiful Container says that tomatoes are deep rooters and that they prefer a minimum of 12 inches within which to root. I had okay tomatoes last year in depths far less than 12 inches, so it can be done, but I’d like better and more tomatoes than last years.

Of the remaining containers, I have 10 6″ – 10″ pots that I used last year. I went through the yard, found 5 clay pots in corners, 5 old clay pots too fragile to move or really use, a longish plastic planter and a really deep drum  that could be used for a large tomato or a small citrus plant. I have 7 unused 2 liter bottles and “enough” common water bottles.

Other notes. In this climate, tomatoes and  peppers probably should not go outside until April, until night time temperatures are closer to 55 degrees F than 35. That explains why I lost so many boonies last year. I put them out early. It also means my call to start plants in mid-January is about 2 weeks too early. 6-8 weeks ( 50-70 days) before April 1 is more like January 20ish to February 15 or so.

Greens, however, can go out sooner (35 degree nights) . So that’s why I want some lettuce to try, and perhaps also bok choy and/or Chinese broccoli.

With the Tomatofest seeds comes a page of good planting advice. Comparing it to the Gardenweb FAQ, one major differences are in the amount of time plant seedlings should be exposed to light. The Tomatofest sheet has very useful advice for starting seeds and seedlings in windowsills that the FAQ doesn’t.

My Black Seeded Simpson seeds and Super Sweet 100 seeds came from the local Home Depot. Seeds and seed starting supplies started arriving in the large home improvement stores last weekend.

Normally when I put plants in soda bottle greenhouses, I keep them upstairs (warmest spot in the house) along a window sill. This time we’re going to try moving them into the basement by the boonie pepper, because we’ve set up timed lighting there. The light intensity is better and it’s a little cooler. I’m catching hints that once sprouted, tomatoes might grow slower and better in a cooler environs.

The larger plant is the Japanese eggplant my daughter insisted I save. It’s not weathering over as nicely as the pepper.

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