By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Shelley Swenson, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
Wakulla County’s gardens are still producing in August. Granted, the choice of crops is limited to a few stalwarts able to handle the 90 degree temperatures, high humidity and the chronic rains, some of which have been brutal in their hammering abuse of vegetable plants.
While many plants planted in the spring have end of their seasonal run, peppers at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County demonstration garden are still delivering their tasty, and in some cases fiery, delicacy. This popular vegetable grows well in Wakulla County and is a popular addition to fresh salads, the basis for many secret hot sauces, and a staple for stir fry and other ethnic dishes.
Peppers, both sweet and hot, common to Wakulla County are part of the Solanaceae plant family which includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. This family also includes nightshade which is toxic.
Historically, peppers have been part of the human diet in the Americas for almost 10,000 years. Archaeologists who specialize in botany think the chili pepper was domesticated and deliberately cultivated over 6000 years ago in South America.
Bell peppers are thought to be native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. They proved so popular with the early explores that the seed were carries back to Spain along with all the gold, silver and new world emeralds.
Cayenne peppers, native to the north east coast of South America, were processed differently with they fell into the hands of French colonist. It was commonly ground into a fine powder and used as a seasoning agent.
The name Cayenne comes from a town name in French Guiana of the same name were these hot specialties were once commonly grown.
Over the years pepper cultivars have made their way around the globe and into numerous local specialties and nationally known cuisines. Each move resulted in local plant breeders “fine tuning” the plants to fit local taste.
Today’s gardener has an excellent selection of pepper cultivars from which to choose. They can be cultivated using either seed or transplants.
Pepper plants are a relative hardy garden vegetable with the potential to last, and produce peppers, for several years. Cold and frost will kill them.
Transplants will take 70 to 90 days to produce peppers. Seed will take a week or two longer. The plants require about an inch and a half of rain per week during their growing season, and pollinators are very important to insuring the plants successfully set.
Stinkbugs and leaf-footed bugs can damage the plants, but are more likely to injure the vegetable itself. Disease pressure in Wakulla County is not a common problem.
Peppers are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient which is needed daily by the human body. Additionally, they are an excellent source of antioxidants, especially Lycopene.
The UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension currently had Cayenne, Bell and Sweet Wax Peppers producing. Anyone interested is encouraged to visit during normal business hours.
To learn more about growing and using peppers in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/