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Feel the Burn: 2004 Hoop House Hot Pepper Trial

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Consumer demand for fiery food is on the rise, and increased consumption of hot peppers is primarily responsible for this trend.

Hot peppers are eaten fresh, stuffed, dried and as an important ingredient in salsa, chili, hot sauce and a myriad of Mexican, South American, Indonesian, African and Asian dishes.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hot peppers make great additions to a healthy diet. They are cholesterol free, low in sodium and calories, rich in vitamins A and C and a good source of folic acid, potassium and vitamin E.

In response to this craving for all things hot, market gardeners are expanding their offering of hot pepper varieties.

Like their cousin, the tomato, hot peppers respond favorably to growth-enhancing technology. To get a jump on the competition, progressive growers set hot pepper transplants into plastic mulch-covered raised beds during early spring. Floating row covers and low tunnels are commonly used in conjunction with plastic mulch to provide additional protection and growth enhancement.

Hoop houses (high tunnels) are preferred over floating row covers and mini (low) tunnels because they are more user friendly and offer greater protection and growth enhancement.

Over the past nine years, performance evaluations have been conducted on many vegetable crops, including bell peppers grown in the Noble Research Institute hoop houses. Our first hoop house hot pepper trial was conducted this past summer.

On March 18, transplants of eight hot pepper varieties (see Table 1) were set into four 40-inch wide beds equipped with drip irrigation and black plastic mulch. Plants were spaced 18 inches apart in the row and between rows with two rows per bed. Each variety (treatment) was replicated four times, with each bed serving as a replication. Each treatment contained 40 plants, 10 per replication. Treatments were placed randomly within each bed. Preplant fertilizer was applied according to soil test results. Nitrogen was applied weekly based on a University of Florida fertilizer schedule.

Harvest began on June 10 and ended Aug. 17. It should be noted that the trial was terminated not because production ceased, but because the house needed to be prepared for another study in September. Due to the unseasonably cool growing conditions, plants continued to set fruit until the trial was concluded. Fruit was harvested in all stages of maturity from mature green to uniform red.

Table 1 summarizes the performance of all eight varieties. The poblano type "Ancho Villa" was the top-yielding variety (6.46 lbs./plant). It also exhibited the greatest early yield (3.9 lbs./plant). Generally speaking, the large-fruited types, including poblano Ancho Villa and Anaheim "Novajoa" yielded more than the small-fruited types such as serrano "Tuxtlas" and habanero. The most noticeable exception was "Hybrid #7," a jalapeno variety that out yielded the larger-fruited Novajoa, an Anaheim variety.

The extent to which a grower can capitalize on higher prices for early-season hoop house hot peppers will vary depending on demand, market type and location. A price check at a local supermarket during June showed prices for hot peppers ranging from $1 to $2.50/lb.

These initial results suggest that hoop house hot pepper production can be profitable, particularly if the higher yielding varieties are produced.