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  • Larry Stebbins

A word from The Garden Father

By Larry Stebbins:

Love Peppers: Some Love Mild, Some Medium, and Some Inferno Hot!

So, how hot is too hot and how do you know? The answer is not easy since most individual varieties will vary in their heat content (amount of capsaicin), depending on a little bit of genetics, soil, and growing conditions. We do know that within that degree of variation we can make some good decisions.

For example, green bell peppers are always very mild with no detection of heat. On the other end of the spectrum, the Carolina Reaper will always be extremely high in heat to the point of pain! But what about all the ones in between? Let’s take a look at the chart below for comparison. Keep in mind, that some Jalapeño peppers can be mildly hot and some will be moderately hot. The chart will give you some guidelines but how they are grown and where they are grown can make a big difference. In Colorado Springs we have a hard time growing really hot peppers but gardeners in Pueblo find it quite easy (different location, different growing conditions). Reference the Scoville Scale below.

Here is the back story and some science info on the Scoville Scale, named after the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in the early 1900’s. Scoville wanted to measure the heat level of peppers so he ground up dried chilies, mixed them with sugar water, and a group of testers tasted the solution. The solution was diluted until the tasters could no longer detect any heat. For example, let’s say you have a chili rated at 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU’s). This means that you would have to combine a tablespoon of dried pepper with 10,000 tablespoons of sugar water to dilute the concentration until you no longer taste any heat (so a Scoville rating of 10,000).

Today it is done with more precision. The quantitative analysis uses high performance liquid chroma-tography. This method measures the exact amount of capsaicinoid. Green peppers are given the lowest rating and Carolina Reaper one of the highest ratings. All those in between are given a relative ranking on the Scoville Scale.

A little personal disclosure here. I can usually eat most Jalapeños and enjoy a sprinkle of cayenne on some dishes but that is my level of comfort. For those Ghost and Carolina Reaper eaters... well, you are just tougher than tough in my opinion.

Sure, Add Organics to Your Soil But What About Minerals?

I think we are aware of the importance of adding organic material to your garden beds. These often include homemade compost, cotton burr compost, well composted animal manures, sea weed (kelp), fish emulsion to name a few. But what about the minerals and trace elements? Yes there are some in our organic material but our soils need more! These minerals can be added back to the soil by using rock powders/dust that are high in minerals and many trace elements. To accomplish this we recommend the product, Azomite. (NOTE: there may be many rock powders/dust on the market that are equally or perhaps better, but I am familiar with this brand.)

As you know, our backyard gardens (and farms) are highly extractive. We grow and harvest (extract) and then remove our old withered plants once they are done producing (extract). Let’s take a tip from Mother Nature. In our fields and forests, plants grow, and produce fruits and seeds. These attract wildlife that feed on the fruits and seeds. But wait, you may be asking, isn’t this extractive too? Well, yes but what is really happening? As those animals are dining on nature’s goodies, they are leaving behind their feces and many of the seed hulls and fruit rinds. Also, many of the seeds and fruits never leave the site where they were grown. Some drop down into the soil. Some germinate and continue the life cycle. Some decay and are returned into the soil with the help of all those wonderful soil microbes and macro organisms (pill bugs, millipedes, earthworms etc). At the end of the growing season, the leaves drop (from the deciduous and annuals), the stems fall back onto the soil (from the annuals and some perennials). All this and more replenishes the soil far more than the wildlife extracts. The proof is that our forests have been growing nicely, for millions of years, without our help.

Since our veggie and herb gardens are extractive, we must replenish. And not just the organics but the minerals and trace elements. Think of it as nature’s vitamin pills. Sure, we can take a multivitamin (refer to organics) but we also need to take minerals (refer to mineral rock dust) as well.

Each fall or early spring I add about 2 cups of AZOMITE (or other rock powder/dust brand) for every 4 ft by 8 ft garden bed. The minerals need to be ingested, metabolically worked, consumed with the organics etc. by the soil biota, then excreted, in forms of the minerals that are bio-available (ready to use by the plants). That is why I like to add them in the fall (but add anytime if you haven’t already).

Let’s consider this. You can not chew on a nail to get your iron. It needs to be in a form, chelated perhaps, to be used by us and plants as well. Chelation is a process where some elements, such as metals, combine with other elements and compounds in the soil to form a larger but more bio-available molecule. This process takes time. The microbes and macro-organisms assist in this process. So gardeners, don’t forget the rock powders/dust when amending your soils.

Reprinted with permission from The Garden Father Blog by Larry Stebbins,

Larry Stebbins is a botanist, author, radio host & educator who has taught organic classes to thousands of gardeners over the last 10 years. He founded Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and under his guidance over 12 new community gardens were built in and around the Pikes Peak region.



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