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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Chili peppers could be next hot crop

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Roger Corrales, manager of the UH field station in Waimanalo, examines various types of chilies. For small farmers looking to diversify, peppers could be the answer.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

And the really hot foods for 2001 are ... Super Chili, Inferno, Volcano and Hot Green.

Those were a few of the best producers in a new test of chili pepper varieties grown by researchers at the University of Hawai'i's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

"There are literally hundreds of varieties out there, and part of the excitement of gardening is to experiment with new varieties," said Hector Valenzuela, a UH horticulture specialist in vegetable crops. "Eventually, one will run into a favorite variety that is well adapted to one's location."

In the latest trials, Valenzuela and his crews grew 17 varieties for three months in Waimanalo and Poamoho, then harvested the crops over several weeks to determine which peppers do best here. The researchers hope that several local farmers will pick up on their efforts and try to grow the most prolific ones commercially, widening the pepper market in Hawai'i stores and restaurants.

"We're just trying to show the farmers that they don't have to grow the same old thing," he said. "Peppers aren't going to be a real big money crop, but they can help a small farmer diversify a bit."

Valenzuela said chili peppers are easier to grow in Hawai'i than mild green bell peppers. For those interested in growing chili peppers in backyard gardens, Valenzuela suggests first starting between spring and fall, planting the chilies first in pots for about five weeks, then transplatning them to the garden. They should be planted in rows 15 to 18 inches apart, with plants staggered between the rows. Soils with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8 produce the best results; optimum temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees.

After planting, pepper plants like frequent watering and respond well to mulching. The plants are susceptible to a number of insects and diseases, which can be fought with disease-resistant varieties and, if necessary, an all-purpose commercial pesticide.

Among the chili peppers that did well in the latest and previous tests in Hawai'i are:

  • Small-fruit varieties: Super Chili, Hawaiian Chili, UH Waialua.
  • Jalapeno type: HMX-3677 (from Harris Moran), Mitla, Jalapa.
  • Serrano types: HMX-3672 from Harris.
  • Long yellow, wax or banana types: Inferno, Volcano.
  • Long green types: Long Red, HN Anaheim, Hot Green, New Town.
  • Ancho or poblano types: Ancho Villa.

Many of the varieties may be available only through mail-order or Internet sales from seed companies on the Mainland, Valenzuela said.