Everyone tells me that different pepper species don’t cross.
That’s not been my experience.
Years ago I gave up growing our strain of Hot Paper Lantern Habanero because it got so crossed up with sweet peppers.
(That would be Capsicum chinense x Capsicum annuum.)
And last year, we started seeing a similar situation with our Scotch Bonnet peppers.
But this time I didn’t see this unexpected cross pollination as a problem but as an OPPORTUNITY!
Here’s the story of our Scotch Bonnet Remix
In 2018, I noticed something different in our patch of Scotch Bonnets.
There were two plants that didn’t look like Scotch Bonnets. Instead of the round ruffled bonnet shape with thin walls, these were longer fruits with thicker walls.
One plant had yellow fruits, and the other had red fruits.
They did not look like any of the other hot peppers we grow.
The seeds for these two plants must have been pollinated with the pollen from a Non Scotch Bonnet Plant. Probably a sweet pepper.
I cautiously tasted the fruit, starting with the tip of the fruit where there is usually less heat. It was definitely not as hot as a Scotch Bonnet or Habanero.
I tasted higher on the fruit and then a little higher.
Oh, there was that heat.
Yeah, it was hot. At least as hot as a Cayenne pepper. And those thicker walls made for a good crunch.
So I did what I do whenever I find something different in the garden.
I saved some seeds!
2019 Scotch Bonnet Remix Grow Out
This year we grew 100 plants from the crossed seed I saved last year. (This would be the F2 generation.)
Through the growing season I most left these plants alone occasionally peeking to see if there was fruit.
And then two weeks ago, it was harvest time!
We pulled each plant out by the roots and looked at the fruit set.
Each plant was different. There was a range of fruit sizes and shapes. Some plants also had a lot of ripe yellow or red fruit. And others were mostly green.
The first thing we evaluated was yield and earliness. We tossed any plants that weren’t heavy with rip fruit a pile.
We laid anything that had a lot of mature yellow or red fruit on the ground.
We had two rows of plants that met our yield/ripeness criteria.
Where’s the heat?
I noticed that someone had nibbled heavily on a few plants. I’m guessing a mouse.
I wondered, how hot could these be if mice were eating them?
I tasted a pepper from this nibbled plant. These peppers had no heat.
I tasted peppers from a few more plants and realized that several plants were mild. (Some were definitely spicy!)
Now we had a bunch of potential plants. And some might not be too hot.
We would have to taste any plant we wanted to keep for seed to see if it was spicy.
As long as the plants turn out to be mild, it is easy to keep tasting but as soon as we hit a spicy fruit we would need to take a break.
We had to narrow down the contenders.
(One unexpected thing was that the most nibbled on plant was amazing. It was so sweet and delicious! Not what I expected from this cross.)
Focus on the best
Here is how we proceeded with the next phase of selection
- choose your favourite plant based on appearance
- explain to the rest of the team why you like it
- taste with caution
If the plants were mild
- put mild plants in one pile
- taste your next favourite plant
If the plant was hot
- put hot plants in a different pile
- wait 10-15 minutes for your mouth to cool down before you can play again
At first we chose from all the plants in the selection area but the more we talked about the plants, the more we noticed different aspects of the plants and fruit.
We started to organize the remaining non tasted plants into groups to then tackled each group one at a time.
There was the smaller fruit:
The rounder fruit:
And a few other groups.
Where are the seeds?
We found a couple phenomenal individuals.
They had ripeness, they had yield, they had heat, and they looked beautiful.
But what they didn’t have were seeds. Or I should say they barely had any seed.
This is a challenge for a seed grower. It is hard to grow a seed crop out of a crop with no seeds.
I kept a few of these and we will see what happens after one more grow out. But I think their fate might be sealed.
The final selection
Once we chose the plants that met all our criteria, I harvested a handful of fruit from each plant. I placed all the fruit from each plant in the same pint.
There was one tray of yellow spicy fruit we liked.
There was one tray of red spicy fruit we liked.
And one tray of mild yellow fruit we liked (and the two red fruit with next to no seeds.)
What to do with the extra peppers?
When you start with 100 pepper plants and you only keep 20 pints for seed, you wind up with a lot of extra peppers.
Don’t worry, we’ve got plans for these extra peppers.
We will extract the seed from the remaining selected spicy peppers and list them this winter on our website as our Scotch Bonnet Remix.
We’ve stripped all the fruit from the plants that didn’t meet our ripeness criteria and we’re offering this to our vegetable clients who want bulk hot peppers.
I will also take out my crock shortly and ferment a huge batch of hot sauce.
And next year?
In 2020, we will grow 20 plants of each selection to see what happens.We will keep sweets isolated from the hots.
We will choose the most promising lines to keep working with.
Of course, I’ll keep you posted!
Do you have any mysterious crosses in your garden this year?
Did you save any seed?