Grow the Enchanting Fish Pepper: A Unique Heirloom Vegetable

Have you ever tasted a fish pepper? Let me tell you, it’s an experience like no other. These medium-hot peppers possess a fiery bite that falls somewhere between a jalapeño and a cayenne. Growing fish peppers is not only easy but also a visual delight. With their variegated leaves and fruits, these plants add a touch of ornamental beauty to any garden or container.

The fish pepper is an African-American heirloom variety with a rich history dating back to the 1800s. Its unique leaves range from fully white to part green and white to fully green, adorned with cream-colored speckles that create an eye-catching display. But it’s the peppers themselves that steal the show. These bi-colored peppers grow to be two to three inches long, with cone-shaped fruits that transition from green to orange to red. And just like the foliage, the fruits have white streaks that fade as they ripen. If you’re a fan of hot peppers, the fish pepper is a must-have in your garden.

Fascinating Facts about the Fish Pepper:

  • Days to maturity: 80 days from transplant.
  • Plant height: 24 to 30 inches.
  • Plant width: 24 inches.
  • Fruit size: 2 1/2 to 3 inches long, 1 inch wide.
  • Scoville units: 5,000 to 30,000 (medium-hot).
  • Included in the Ark of Taste of Slow Food USA.

Ornamental variegated foliage

Cultivating the Fish Pepper:

To enjoy a bountiful crop of fish peppers, start by sowing the seeds indoors under grow-lights or in a sunny window 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost. Plant the seeds in pots or trays with a high-quality potting mix. Keep in mind to sow the seeds shallowly, around a scant 1/4 inch deep. Cover the containers with plastic wrap or a plastic dome to create a warm and moist environment for germination. Providing a bit of bottom heat, such as placing the trays on a heat mat or on top of the refrigerator, helps speed up and improve germination. Once the seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover to allow air circulation.

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During the seedling stage, it’s crucial to remove any plants with completely white leaves as they won’t be able to photosynthesize. As the fish pepper plants grow, keep them under grow-lights for sixteen hours a day. Enhance air circulation and prevent damping off, a common fungal disease, by placing an oscillating fan in the seed-starting room.

Regular watering, maintaining lightly moist soil (not wet), is essential for healthy growth. Fertilize the plants every 7 to 10 days with a diluted liquid organic fertilizer, such as fish fertilizer. Once the danger of frost has passed, harden off the seedlings and transplant them to containers or garden beds, spacing them 24 inches apart.

Growing hot peppers

Thriving in Containers:

Fish peppers thrive in pots, making them an ideal choice for container gardening. Choose a container with a diameter of twelve to sixteen inches, ensuring it has proper drainage. Fill the pot with a mixture of high-quality potting mix and compost, roughly two-thirds potting mix to one-third compost. It’s also possible to use a compost-based mix like FoxFarm Ocean Forest potting soil.

Plant the seedling in the container, ensuring it is well-watered. To support the branches, which may become heavy with fruits, place a tomato cage around the plant during planting. Position the pot in a location that receives at least eight to ten hours of sunlight daily.

Container-grown fish peppers benefit from regular applications of liquid organic fertilizer. Another option is to top-dress the soil with a thin layer of worm castings or a slow-release granular organic fertilizer, which offers convenience and consistency.

Caring for Your Fish Peppers:

Approximately six weeks after transplanting, apply a thin layer of worm castings or compost around the plants in the garden beds to promote healthy growth. Mulching the soil surface with compost or straw helps retain moisture and deters weed growth. It’s crucial to pay attention to potential pests that may harm your fish peppers.

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Pepper plants in the garden

Three Pests to Watch Out For:

  1. Aphids: These soft-bodied insects are the most common pests in vegetable gardens. They come in various colors, including green, gray, and brown. Excessive feeding from aphids can distort and damage the fresh growth at the tips. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it promotes tender growth. Beneficial insects like ladybug or lacewing larvae often prey on aphids, so observe and let nature take its course. If necessary, you can spray aphids with a strong jet of water to knock them off the plant.

  2. Slugs and Snails: These pests can cause significant damage, particularly to small and vulnerable plants during the moist spring season. Use diatomaceous earth and handpick slugs and snails, preferably in the early morning. This can help reduce their impact on your fish peppers.

  3. Spider Mites: These tiny pests hide on the bottom of pepper leaves, causing a stippled appearance and potential webbing. To combat spider mites, spray the leaves regularly, especially the underside, with water using a spray bottle. Water misting and spraying can discourage spider mites and prevent the spread of plant diseases.

Hot pepper harvest

Harvesting and Enjoying Fish Peppers:

Fish peppers can be harvested when they are still green and white, or when fully mature and red. Due to their spiciness, it’s advisable to wear gloves when handling the fruits. The peppers typically break easily from the plant, but if needed, you can use snips or pruners for a cleaner harvest.

At the end of the season, when there is a surplus of fish peppers, freezing them is a great way to preserve their flavors for winter. Rinse and dry the green fruits before placing them in labeled freezer bags. Mature red fruits can also be frozen, dried, or dehydrated, and ground to create a spicy chili powder.

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If you’re intrigued by the allure of heat-loving vegetables like fish peppers, check out our other informative posts on growing hot peppers, tomatoes from seeds, sweet potatoes, and cucamelons in a vegetable garden. For more insight into growing peppers from seeds, PepperJoe offers a comprehensive guide.

Do you want to add the enchanting fish pepper to your vegetable garden? Get ready to embrace the beauty and flavors of this unique heirloom vegetable.

How to grow the fish pepper in gardens and containers

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