Joy Michaud

All peppers, that is chilli peppers and sweet peppers have an unripe colour that changes as the pepper ripens up to another colour. There are several unripe colours, the most common are green (dark to very pale green), yellow and purple, and ripe colours include red, yellow, orange and brown. The most common colour change, of course, is from unripe green to a ripe red. However, there are several other colour combinations.

Why is it important to know whether a pepper is ripe? Firstly, the flavour of a pepper is quite different between ripe and unripe (think of the difference between a ripe and unripe tomato) – the ripe being sweeter. Secondly, for chillies the fruit will be at their hottest when they are fully ripe.

At what stage should you eat a pepper? There are no rules, a pepper can be eaten at any stage of maturity and ripeness, it is entirely up to you.

For more information and a great selection of chilli seeds please visit Sea Spring Seeds

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The Dorset Naga Challenge

For the last two years we grew a Dorset Naga plant that produced over 700 chillies.This year we wanted to see if we could do better, and just find out what a Dorset Naga plant is capable of producing. So, in May this year, we potted up three January-sown Dorset Naga plants.

They were selected from the batch of plants that we had raised for selling on, i.e. up to this point they had not had any special treatment. One plant went into a 160-litre pot, the other two went into 100-litre pots. The plants were kept in an unheated polytunnel, and watered and fertilised along with all our other plants.

At the same time we challenged other growers to see how many chillies they could get off their Dorset Naga plants. The rules were:
1. The plant must be a Dorset Naga
2. The plant must be sown in 2013
3. Only red fruit count
4. The fruit can be picked at any time, but records, e.g. harvesting records and photographs, must be kept – this competition is based on trust, but we don’t trust people to remember 100% accurately.
5. Deadline: 15th November 2013

We have offered a token prize of £15 worth of chilli seeds to the grower who harvests the most chillies off their plant. And if the winner beats us and gets more chillies than we do we will double the prize.

We will harvest our plants on 9th November, and are very pleased to announce that the Clifton Chilli Club has agreed to be the official observers to guarantee that the counts are accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With just a month to go before the deadline, here is an update of our three Dorset Naga plants, which are now exactly 9 months old. The photos are of the three plants, but the video is of the one in the 160-litre pot, the largest by far.

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Aphids are serious pests of peppers. Colonies are capable of phenomenal growth, and can devastate a single plant or a whole crop in what seems overnight. As soon as an infection is noticed it should be dealt with – never delay and hope the aphids will go away, they won’t.

Aphids are small, oval-shaped sap-sucking insects. They normally have a green body, but they can be black – hence the common names “greenfly” and “blackfly” – and some species also occur in a red form. A large number of species are found in British gardens, and 14 of these have been identified on chilli and sweet pepper plants. However, three particular species are commonly found on pepper plants. The most widespread of these is the Peach potato aphid (Myzus persicae). This species has a plump oval shape, and the adults are up to 2 mm long. They are normally green, but red versions do occur. Increasingly, another, slender, but longer bodied species is being found in greenhouses and polytunnels where they can have a devastating effect on pepper crops. This is the potato aphid (Macrosiphum euphorbiae). These are large (1.7–3.6 mm), most are green and some may have a dark green strip running down the centre of their back. And finally, there is the glasshouse potato aphid (Aulacorthum solani), another large aphid measuring 1.8– 3.0mm.

A colony of peach potato aphid on the underside of a pepper leaf, with adult and juvenile aphids.

A colony of peach potato aphid on the underside of a pepper leaf, with adult and juvenile aphids.

Life cycle

Aphids have a complicated lifecycle, which includes both sexual and asexual reproduction, viviparous (giving birth to live young) and egg laying adults, and winged and unwinged forms. For the pepper grower it is important to understand how the pests overwinter, but a detailed understanding of their life cycle is only essential over the growing season.

In Britain the three main aphid species that attack peppers are polyphagous (feed on many different plant species). As long as temperatures are suitable, they may remain within the polytunnel or greenhouse residing on whatever plants are available – which often means using overlooked weeds. They also overwinter outdoors on whatever alternative host suits that particular species. For example adult peach potato aphids lay eggs on twigs of peach, plum and other related species.

During the growing season most greenhouse aphids are female and do not need a sexual encounter to reproduce. They do not lay eggs, but rather give birth to live young that are a perfect, though small, replicate of their mother. Not only are these new-borns fully functional sap-sucking pests, but they are also pregnant – they actually have young developing inside them as they are being born themselves. In warm conditions the young aphids take about a week to grow and mature, before they too start giving birth to live young.

Each aphid will give birth to about three to ten young every day for up to four weeks. Given these figures, in good conditions aphid populations can grow at alarming rates. When a grower notices signs of aphids on a pepper plant they should be dealt with immediately. If left alone it will not be long before there are thousands of aphids, and then hundreds of thousands.

The majority of the aphids in a population are wingless, and they spread simply by walking from leaf to leaf and plant to plant. However, under certain conditions, particularly overcrowding, some aphids are born with wings. These can then fly away and infect a new plant elsewhere.

Damage caused by aphids

Aphids cause damage to the plants in several ways:

1. They feed by sucking the plant’s sap. Sap is a sugary solution that is passed around the plant. It is the plant’s food, and any loss will reduce growth.

2. The aphids suck up large quantities of sap, and excrete the excess as “honeydew”. The falling honeydew lands on the leaves and fruit below, which causes problems for the plants in two ways:

  • The honeydew is sticky, and when it covers the leaves they collect dust.
  • The honeydew is very sweet which attracts sooty mold growth, making the leaves turn black.

The effect of the dust and black covering of sooty mold on the leaves is to reduce the amount of light reaching the leaves. Without light photosynthesis cannot occur. Photosynthesis is the process within the leaves that makes the plants’ sugars, and is essential to the health and growth of the plants. In serious infestations no light can reach the leaves and photosynthesis will be stopped altogether.

Blackened leaf from sooty mold on the fallen honeydew.

Blackened leaf from sooty mold on the fallen honeydew.

The sticky honeydew also reduces the quality of the fruit.

3. But this is not the whole story, aphid saliva is also bad news for the plants:

  • The saliva contains toxins that cause the emerging leaves to be deformed. This happens more with the glasshouse potato aphid than the other species.
  • The saliva can carry viruses, and an aphid can transfer a virus from an infected plant to a healthy one.

Symptoms

Aphids congregate within the young leaves in the growing tips of peppers and on the underside of the mature leaves. This means they are well hidden, and go unnoticed when infestations are at an early stage. However, there are certain tell-tale signs that always indicate their presence:

  • Distorted leaves emerging from the growing point.
  • Scattering of white skin casings under the plant.
  • Ants very actively running over the plant.

The fallen white skin casings are a very clear sign of aphids; they are also the cause of a very common misdiagnosis. Young aphids shed their skins as they grow. Generally each juvenile will shed its skin four times before it reaches maturity. These skin casings fall to the leaves below, and as they dry they turn white. Many growers see these white forms on the plant and assume they have a whitefly problem. Though whitefly can attack peppers a serious infestation is rare – after growing chillies commercially for 18 years we have not yet had a whitefly problem on our peppers but we do regularly get whitefly on our tomatoes.

White skin casings that are often confused with whitefly.

White skin casings that are often confused with whitefly.

A simple test is shake the plant. Whitefly are actually white flies, and if the problem is whitefly the adults will fly up when the plant is shaken.

Ants are often found near aphid colonies as they feed on the fallen honeydew. To protect their food source ants actively look after, or “farm”, the aphids, protecting them from insect predators.

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This is the 2nd part of a 2 part article click here to see the 1st part if you have not already read it.

Preparing for the plastic

Before the plastic can be fitted over the polytunnel frame there are still a couple of jobs to do:

Applying the insulating tape.

28. The metal hoops in a polytunnel tend to get very hot and over time will make the plastic on a polytunnel become very brittle. To prevent this happening an insulating tape should be stuck on the top of the hoops so the plastic and the metal hoops never touch.

Hotspot tape

29. Sticking hot spot tape to the tunnel to ensure the plastic never touches the metal hoops.

putting on hot spot tape

30. Every part of the tunnel hoops that might touch the plastic should have hot spot tape.

hot spot tape on all tunnels

Digging the ditch

A ditch has to be dug right around the tunnel frame. This is for burying the plastic sheet, thereby securing it firmly into the ground.

31. The ditch should run a few inches away from the posts. A 2x4inch plank of wood placed flush against the posts is ideal for acting as a guide. Using a flat bladed cutting spade the soil can then be cut along the edge of the wood.

use wood to dig ditch

32. The ditch should be about 8 inches wide. The spade should be used to cut the outer side of the ditch.

cut ditch

 

33. With the sides of the ditch already cut the soil can simply be cut out. The ditch should be about 8 inches deep. digging ditch
34. Move the wooden plank as the ditch progresses. A neat, carefully dug ditch makes the burying process easy and helps in achieving a well-covered tunnel. ditch
35. The ditch goes all around the polytunnel frame except where the doorframes are.

tunnel and ditch

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