Week 19 from Valley Flora!

  • Curly Parsley
  • Leeks
  • Sweet Peppers from our 2023 Pepper Trials:
    • Rio Grande - colossal, thick-walled green-to-red pepper
    • Petit Marseillais - small, thin-skinned yellow frying pepper
    • Tatli ücburun - small, thin-skinned red frying pepper
  • Head Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Acorn Winter Squash
    • Starry Night
    • Night Shift

On Rotation:

  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Romanesco 

2023 Sweet Pepper Trials in Full Swing: the Story of a Pepper Named "Glow"

Joy and heartbreak are built into the fabric of farming in roughly equal parts. Crop failures lay you flat but a surprise rainbow arcing over the farm lifts you back up. You delight in the miraculous germination of seeds and then find yourself crestfallen when you walk into the greenhouse one morning to discover that all your seedling babies were decapitated by a mouse the night before. You fall head-over-heels in love with a specific variety, and then the seed company discontinues it without warning for no apparent reason.

That last bit is the story of "Glow," my all-time favorite sweet pepper, which we discovered years ago after doing a round of outdoor pepper trials. Outdoor pepper production is possible at the farm, but given our cooler climate we have to be selective and choose shorter days-to-maturity (DTM) varieties (ones that will ripen in, say, 60 days as opposed to 90 days). This means that heavy-walled bell peppers (which can take at least a month longer to color up) are not so much our forte, but Italian and roasting types thrive at Valley Flora.

Bets does most of the pepper production on the farm in high tunnels, which gives her a month+ jump on the season. She starts picking some of her indoor peppers as early as July, with the peak of pepper season hitting by September (ahem, as you may have noticed in your CSA share the past month). But meanwhile, I also have a smoldering passion for peppers (the colors! the flavors! the mind-blowing array of genetic diversity! the snap of them coming off the plant; the plunk of them landing in the bin; the snack-time perfection of biting into a juicy ripe pepper anytime, anywhere!). As a result, I usually plant a bunch of outdoor peppers each season, in order to have my own endless supply of pepper snacking AND to see if I can discover any new varieties that do well in our coastal conditions, specifically outdoors. It was one of those trials that led us to "Glow," a variety that, true to its name, shone forth with everything I crave in a sweet pepper: juicy, flavorful, sweet, productive, early and orange. (What can I say, I've got a thing for orange peppers above all.) Not only was Glow the first to ripen of any of the outdoor peppers, it was also the last to give up its final fruit, often yielding into November. 

We all started growing it and Glow became a staple variety in Bets' hoophouses, in my outdoor beds, and we turned lots of farmer friends onto it as well (including friends who farmed in much warmer climates and didn't need a "cheater" pepper with short DTM like Glow). Nevertheless, Glow became their favorite variety as well, eclipsing the rest of their pepper lineup with its beauty, reliability, flavor, and juiciness.

And then, just like that, it disappeared from the seed catalogues this year. None of our seed reps could explain why, and we couldn't source it anywhere on the big world wide web. Because it's a hybrid we also couldn't save our own seed and expect to get the same pepper. It was like losing a friend.

And so were born two connected initiatives: The Great Pepper Trial of 2023, and my first-ever seed breeding project to try to dehybridize Glow into a stable, open-pollinated variety. 

The Great Pepper Trial of 2023, currently in full swing, is an effort to try to identify a substitute variety for Glow (and an excuse to try out a bunch of other peppers we've never grown as well). Jen, who joined us last spring through Rogue Farm Corps, has taken on the pepper trials as her special project and is waist deep in Capsicum annum these days: harvesting, recording yield data, sorting, making observations and setting up taste tests with the crew (October is the peak of outdoor pepper season for us, which times out well for the CSA totes as greenhouse pepper production peters out). We're glad to announce that we think we've found a temporary replacement for Glow, a variety called Corinto Arancia (slightly smaller and less lobed than Glow, but similarly early and productive with great flavor and sweetness). We've also been having fun with a dozen or so other varieties, some of which are showing up in your share this week. You've got a couple of frying peppers - one from France and one from Turkey. Thin-walled peppers are not well appreciated in the States, but you'll find that they shine in culinary applications: great for seasoning rice, sauteeing, stuffing, pickling, and frying. 

Simultaneously, my Glow dehybridization project is underway. We grew out our last 100 seeds of Glow F1 that we had on hand and planted them in isolation in our far-west field, a quarter mile from any other pepper plants. I've been selectively harvesting the ripe fruit for seed-saving, and next year we'll grow out the F2 generation. It will likely be a year of dramatic genetic instability, when all kinds of traits are expressed. My job will be to select for the best Glow-like traits I'm looking to preserve and save the seed again, with the end goal being to stabilize the genetics to the point that our saved seed reliably produces a pepper like Glow. It's a process that can take anywhere from a few years to fifteen. For the love of a pepper, stay tuned for the next decade! And in the meantime, you'll likely be enjoying Corinto Arancia in your Harvest Basket this time next year :)

P.S. Enjoy the first of the winter squash, leeks and romanesco this week! The two acorn squash varieties are also the result of ongoing variety trials at VF. Let us know which one you like better: stripey Starry Night or the ink-black Night Shift!