Friends Drift Inn Farm – What We Grow
“Peppers are flavorful, nutritious, and ornamental. We southerners are lucky to have the long warm season that peppers need.” Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
We Grow Peppers for the Restaurant Trade
I eat bell peppers in the field like some folks would eat an apple. Crunching the crisp green flesh fresh from the garden is truly a summer joy! But when it comes to hot peppers, I will not touch them without wearing gloves! Seriously, even in the field skin contact with hot peppers can be very uncomfortable. Once gloves touch peppers, I wash the gloves at the end of the day, being ever so cautious not to allow the gloves to touch my skin. I speak from experience!
Peppers grow much like tomatoes. They like a rich well drained soil, consistent watering, and warm weather. Unlike tomatoes, you do not plant peppers deep. They should be situated at the same level they were growing in seed flats. We buy plants for our main crop of bell peppers and jalapeños from a provider who does not deal in GMO plants. We grow our specialty peppers from seed.
Pepper plants for field growing are put out in late April. If luck is with us, 75 days later we will be harvesting the first flush of bell peppers. Jalapeños are right behind them. Peppers, depending on the variety, generally produce up until frost.
During the season, we sometimes add soil amendments to help boost growth. While we are not certified organic, we strive to build our soil in a sustainable manner incorporating organic materials on a timely basis.
At Friends Drift Inn Farm, most of our sweet peppers are sold before they even mature. We primarily grow peppers for the restaurant trade. A few overages might be offered at the farmers market, but most are reserved for personal use. There is little profit in peppers. We would rather eat them, than give them away.
Because we enjoy a variety of heirloom peppers we grow specialty peppers from seed. Started on heat mats in early February, peppers are slow to germinate often taking up to two weeks to emerge. Many specialty peppers – including Tabasco and Thai peppers – are late maturing, standing in the fields well past our frost date of October 15. To protect their yield, we “tent” those plants under agricultural cloth such as Gro-Guard until they are ready for harvest. For our personal use we make fermented hot sauce and string peppers to dry from a mix of our hottest peppers.
In the state of Kentucky, the rules for drying peppers for consumable product are very strict. However, if dried and sold as home décor there are far fewer sales constraints. To accompany our fall pumpkin sales and winter market offerings, we intend to offer decorative ristras and wreaths at market in 2016. Specialty peppers are also used in floral arrangements.
In recent years, we have noticed more pests feasting on our pepper crops. Friends Drift Inn is committed to a bee-friendly farm. We have thus far avoided using pesticides on peppers. For the 2016 pepper crop, we are going to try planting a barrier crop of sunflowers around the perimeter of the pepper patch as suggested by the University of Kentucky. The premise is the “bad bugs” will munch on the sunflower foliage and be content; thus leaving the peppers to mature into beautiful pods. The bonus is our honeybees will have an additional source of food. If the experiment works, it is a win-win. If it fails, we will evaluate whether bell peppers and jalapenos will stay in our crop program in future years.
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