Survival Plant Profile: Cayenne Peppers
When I take my wife out for Thai food, I order my meals “Thai hot.” If I’m not bleeding from my eyes and nose by the end of a meal, it wasn’t spicy enough.
All that said, I’ve never been much of a pepper grower for some reason. Sure, I’ve grown a few thai peppers, some habeneros, a few jalepenos, etc., but I’ve spent more time with fruit trees and root crops.
That’s not to say I don’t grow peppers every year: I do. I just don’t pay much attention to growing them since I always end up getting obsessed with growing something new and exotic. Instead of planning peppers into my garden, I usually realize sometime in late spring that we haven’t planted any, then pop a few in for the heck of it. They’ll keep producing in the heat and through the summer when tomatoes and almost everything else gives up.
Over the last couple of years, I have discovered one pepper that really manages to produce excellently and taste great with no care: the regular old cayenne pepper. Despite my poor planning, I’ve managed to grown them for the last three years without much preparation or thought – and I’m always glad to have their delicious smoky kick in Rachel’s stir-fries.
One of the reasons cayenne peppers rock: they’re perennial. Once you plant these guys, they’ll last multiple years and keep fruiting for you as climate conditions allow. If you get a nasty frost, they’ll die. I piled mulch over four of last year’s plants some time in December, then uncovered them in the spring. Two came back. (I also had a lovely red habenero pepper growing in one of my beds… I dug that one up and put it in a pot in the greenhouse. In the spring, I popped it back in the bed and it’s thriving and producing more habeneros than we can use.)
Growing Cayenne Peppers
To grow peppers, I plant the seeds in flats or in the ground
after the last frost date. They grow quickly and usually will bear
in about three months. Interestingly, I’ve had them self-seed
here and there around my gardens. Occasionally, I’d toss a rotten pepper aside, or throw some in the compost… and a little baby would come up. If I liked its location, I’d leave it. If not, I’ll transplant them
into a bed. My bet is that cayennes are pretty close to being a wild
pepper. They’re tough, and they’re attractive plants to boot.
|Even pepper pests are pretty.|
The only pest problems I’ve had with these guys involve stink bugs. They’ll ruin a few peppers here and there by punching their nasty mouth parts into them and leaving spots that rot – yet even with those losses, we end up with plenty of peppers for the spice cabinet each year. Five plants will provide you with tons – plant more than that and you may need to start your own hot sauce brand.
Something like “Smack Me On My Flaming Butt Of Death And Call Me Satan ‘Cause My Fiery Mouth Is In Hell” brand.
I don’t think that one’s taken yet.
Now let’s take a look at where cayennes fall in the wild world of peppers. For making salsa, jalapenos excel in juiciness and good raw flavor; in brutal heat and smokiness, habeneros are king. For a mild pepper for packing with cheese and rice, poblanos are tops. But the cayenne’s flavor… well, it’s good all around.
I said “good all,” not “Goodall,” dang it!
Where was I? Oh right… uses. The cayenne is a pepper that’s made for drying. It’s got lower moisture right off the plant, so if you string them up, they’ll usually dry pretty well. If you have a lot of humidity (like I do), you can stay safe from mold by putting them in a dehydrator to dry instead.
My favorite use for cayenne peppers is as ground red pepper. I picked
up a Braun coffee grinder at the thrift store for $1.75 and use that for turning dried peppers into homemade ground red pepper.
As a survival plant, this isn’t the best. You can’t live on them, but they sure do add flavor to the things you can eat. There are also proven benefits to consuming hot peppers, such as improved circulation and Looking Cool When Around Your Peers. Hot peppers can also be used to make insect-discouraging sprays for your other plants. They’re also a lot easier to grow than bell peppers, just in case you wondered.
If you haven’t done it before, add a couple of cayenne peppers to your next garden. You’ll be glad you did.
Name: Cayenne pepper
Latin Name: Capsicum annuum (cultivar)
Size: 24″ – 36″
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Fruit, green and red
Method of preparation: Raw, stir-fried, in stews, dried and ground
Storability: Good. Dry, pickle or freeze.
Ease of growing: Very easy