Overwintering Peppers and Tactical Nukes

16 12 2012

It’s been a while since I updated the blog, but strap yourselves in because this one’s a doozie.

Our story starts with my obsession with growing warm weather crops year round in a climate that freezes over the winter. That, and my frustration that my pepper plants didn’t really start producing this year until late September, early October. Can I keep the peppers going throughout the winter? Yes and no. Yes if I move a few garden zones closer to the equator. While we’re at it, get me a frosty beverage while I lay by the pool in my tropical paradise. I open the bottle… young models in bikinis carrying even more beer walk out of the pool as Van Halen music starts to play. This post is starting to sound like a beer commercial. Anyway, peppers will do fine during a hot, hot summer. Winter in my back yard, probably not.

I read some articles about hot peppers being perennials in hot climates and decided that at the very least, we’ll keep some hot pepper plants indoors and alive this winter. That will give us an early start in the spring/summer next year. There was no mention of overwintering sweet peppers though. Why not? It seems as though nobody tried. Is this information being suppressed? I smell a conspiracy…

([start dream sequence] Secret meeting of Thurston Burpee, Montgomery Parks, and Johnny Moneybags from their respective seed companies. While we’re at it, let’s include George Soros, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates at the meeting to make the conspiracy complete. [dreamus interruptus]

As an aside, are you angry at that big bad 1 percent? Do you have the average US household income? If so, you are the 1 percent. You have the top 1 percent of income in the world. Minimum wage? Top 13 percent of household income in the world. Don’t have the new iPhone? Neither do I. Your computer is soooo slowwwww that your Facebook status updates are taking 2 whole minutes? Half the planet is spending their day searching for food and drinkable water. You have First World problems? Here’s a straw, suck it up. Enough of my rant… I’m just grateful for what I have. Time to put the tin foil hat back on…

[return to dream sequence] They are in the back room smoking cigars, drinking scotch and wearing their top hats and monocles. — “Why yes, let’s make them grow new plants every year. Then we can sell them seeds every year. The idea is so evil, it’s brilliant! Bwahahahaha!”) [end dream sequence]

Peppers in the basement

Peppers in the basement

In an effort to discover the truth about keeping peppers over the winter, I dug up some sweet peppers and some hot peppers just before the frost hit in October, planted them in large pots, and moved them to the basement under grow lamps. By large pots, I mean I went with 10 inch terracotta pots. Try to keep the roots intact when you dig them up. Prune back a lot of the growth; you don’t want the plant expending extra energy to support excess branches and leaves. The plan is to get new ones to grow in the Spring. It’s a good idea to skip the garden soil, and go with some bagged potting mix. I went with some peat moss, some bagged compost, and since I was running low, some soil from the garden and the yard. More on this later.

The plants seemed to survive the shock of the move. Then all the leaves fell off. What’s the deal with that? Too much testosterone? Needing some plant Propecia? Doubtful. Imminent plant death? I sure hope not. Maybe the plants aren’t dead. Maybe they’re “just sleeping.” Actually, it’s not all doom and gloom. The stem remained green, and within a week I noticed some new green things on the plant. Could it be… leaves? Why yes, patience my boy. The plant was getting back to growing. All was well in the plant kingdom. Now that we’re gently lulled into a false sense of confidence, it’s time for the excrement to hit the air conditioning.

The hot peppers are taking their time growing new leaves but the sweet peppers are having a great time with their new sprouts and leaves. Another 2 weeks and what do I see? Even more green. The green is moving. That’s right, it’s moving. Leaves do not move of their own volition. What the <bleep> is going on here?!? These peppers are being invaded by a town of aphids. It’s like they’re having a party. Do I see a teeny tiny swimming pool? And do I hear Van Halen playing out of some teeny tiny speakers? Great, we’re in an aphid beer commercial. And here I was thinking this was pure, clean garden soil.

What does ivory snow and my soil have in common? More than you would expect.

What does ivory snow and my soil have in common? More than you would expect.

Off topic- Have you ever heard of Marilyn Chambers? She was the young lady on the cover of the Ivory Snow soap boxes in the early 1970s. Her bright smile and wholesome good looks were used to advertise the purity of the product– 99 and 44/100% pure. Unfortunately for Proctor and Gamble, she decided to become a porn star, making some of the filthiest films of the time. So that lawn and garden soil that I thought was so pure was more of a Marilyn Chambers kind of 99 and 44/100% pure.

There are two types of bugs that feed on garden plants. They are chewing bugs and sucking bugs. Aphids are sucking bugs, not only because it sucks so much having them on your plants. Aphids treat the plant like their own giant Slurpee, pushing their mouths into the leaf to suck out the juices. This weakens the plant, and if you’re really unlucky they’ll transmit fun plant diseases in the process. If little miss aphid had gotten around a little more, a trip to the clinic wouldn’t save the plants. They would be goners. In this case we were fortunate, and no disease appeared on the plants.

But how do you get rid of these pests indoors without killing yourself, the wife, the kids, and the neighbor’s dog? Here are a few options:

  1. Spray them off with a strong stream of water; they won’t be able to find their way back to the plant. Two problems with this approach. First, I am not going to spray a strong stream of water in my basement. Second, these plants are the only game in town. The bugs will find their way back
  2. Squash them; this will serve as a repellent. Two problems with this approach. First, I’m not going to get them all. Second, these plants are the only game in town. The bugs will stay. Not to say I didn’t try. The aphids hide in plant crevices. Hurt the aphids and you take out part of the plant.
  3. Insecticidal soap- What’s this? A product that’s safe for people, safe for pets, and will help control the little buggers. It will dry up and kill the invaders. Let’s give it a try…The insecticidal soap works like a charm. For a day. If that long. Unfortunately, the label states that it is only effective with direct contact. You miss one side of one leaf where they are hanging out, and they’ll be back in business quickly. I pull out the magnifying glass. Are they wearing shower caps? What does it look like when a bug is smiling, flipping you the bird? Time for another approach.
  4. Beneficial insects- Don’t get me wrong. I love the ladies. Ladybugs, that is. But I don’t love the idea of replacing one infestation for another.Aliensaphids
  5. I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure…
    But it will vaporize the plants, the family, the house and the neighbor’s dog.
    Give me a few minutes while I put myself in a fetal position and suck my thumb in the corner.

  6. Neem oil- what is neem oil? It’s oil extracted from the neem tree. Obviously. It is used as an organic insecticide. I bought Garden Safe brand. I think their products are called Garden Safe because that is where they store all the Garden Money I have been paying them. At this point I am willing to try anything. Disclaimer. I did not buy the neem oil extract. Rather I bought an organic fungicide/insecticide that contains neem oil. May as well protect the plants against other damp basement threats while I’m at it.
    Anyway, time to start the treatment. Bombs away! I love the smell of neem oil in the morning. Wait a day, and what do I see? No aphids! Wait 3 weeks and what do I see? Plenty of aphids! Maybe next time I will finish reading the instructions. You need to follow up every 7 days for effective treatment. Let’s see what happens after treating every 5 days. I will let you know.