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The Balance: size, season and species

12th May

May is a busy month. Every day I’m potting up, planting out or moving the peppers. They’re all growing slightly differently. I began by moving the Cayennetta up to a larger size pot. The Cayennetta are big and boisterous plants and since moving them up a size they’ve turned a more luscious, deeper shade of green and look terrific.

I’m also moving up the Habaneros and Rocotos this weekend, which are not tall or big but a couple of plants are showing signs of stress - one Rocoto has been quite droopy for a week or so, while a couple of the Habaneros have a bit of leaf curl at the top. There are several things it could be - too much or too little of anything - but I suspect it’s because while they are quite small plants nevertheless they have surprisingly developed root systems and need more nutrients and space. They have been in these little pots since they hatched. These two species want almost opposite conditions in many ways - one will take all the warm and sun you can give it while the other wants a bit more cool, a little less sun. But both grow quite large and need longer to mature.


So as I pot these plants on I’m thinking about the following

  • How tall the plants grow

  • How long a season they need to ripen

  • How large they are

  • How healthy they look

  • How developed their roots are


If I wanted the plants to grow as big as possible I’d put them in the ground or in the largest container I can find. But while the Rocoto in particular would love this and could grow huge, this would mean the plant would keep growing roots and leaves and would not put its energy into flowering and fruiting, so the fruits would arrive later and might not ripen before the UK frosts arrive. To bear fruit, the Rocoto needs to be forced a little.


So the balance to strike is between optimising the growth of the root systems and encouraging the peppers to mature and fruit at the right time.


A smaller container will mean a smaller root system , which will mean a smaller plant with a smaller yield of peppers. We don't want that, do we? But, the smaller pot will force the plant to flower and fruit sooner, so the peppers will ripen earlier. By doing this to the Rocoto and some of the Chinense species we may not get as good a yield as warmer climates, but at least we should get a yield before the Autumn frosts.


The Habaneros are going up to 2L pots this weekend. It is still too cold for them at night so I need to bring them inside. The Rocoto, however, come from cooler environments and I think they might be able to take it, so today I moved up the first couple to 11 litre grow bags. These are the bags I am calling Medium. I also have 15 or 16 litre grow bags (Large) to play with.

Another consideration is the size of the plants themselves. The mature Cayennetta will be smaller and bushier than most varieties and can go into a smaller final pot and still reach full size. So I won’t be putting any of these in the Large grow bags. It would be a waste of soil and space.

I am going to try different approaches with the Rocoto as I have a hopeful suspicion that treated properly this might be the best variety for our climate. Cornwall Council has just introduced a new bin collection system that has made our old metal bins redundant, so I’ve drilled holes in the base, added some rocks and gravel to help drainage, and I’m going to plant a Rocoto or two outside to see how they go.


A consideration in the greenhouse is which plants to place where so that the large ones won’t shade the smaller ones. It’s quite straightforward planning. The Ring of Fire, Jalapeno and Cayennetta are relatively compact plants, maybe reaching two or three feet, the Peach Stripey should make it to about four feet, and the Habaneros might well go over 5 feet, so they can go at the back - the North side of the greenhouse. I’ve no idea what to expect from the Rocoto. I’ve never seen the plants in Cornwall before and online there are people who claim they’ll grow to two feet and people who claim ten feet.


Stakes! I forgot to do the stakes. I’ll wrap this up and put the canes into the grow bags. When they’re large enough then I’ll strap them to the canes. I found a roll of Velcro tape that’s perfect for this as you can pull it off and adjust it, so a little goes a long way.


So here we are. Pots ready, labels written, stakes… on their way.

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