Those of you who have yew shrubs in your yard could avoid poisoning hooved wildlife by wrapping yews with burlap. I had thought it was 25 pronghorns that died from eating yew shrubs near Payette, but it was 50, fat and once-fit pronghorns. The sight of those carcasses is more than unpleasant, and none of us want that.
Last summer’s horrific fires in the mountains have reduced food supply for all ungulates (deer, pronghorns, moose and elk, primarily), and they’re looking for food in the city, not just the foothills. No area of the city is sheltered from their food searches. They have direct paths to the mountains beside the Boise river and the paths beside the canals that cross our city, and they seem confident strolling our streets, even heavily-trafficked streets.
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A friend said, many years ago, he had thought Japanese cuisine was the best in the world, but after he was introduced to Mexican food, he’d changed his “best” rating to Mexican cuisine. Mexican food has exploded in popularity in America, salsa outselling catsup, and piquancy popping up in the form of chiles and other “hot” stimulants in many other foods. Taco trucks and upscale restaurants are busy supplying those needs.
Those of us who grow edibles also love to grow chiles or peppers. Chile is the Aztec word, peppers the word of Christopher Columbus and his men who thought they’d reached the lands that grow other kinds of peppers, India and other Asian countries.
I think “chiles” suits our area best. I love to grow different varieties of chiles because they impart different flavors to food, and are nutritious in their own right. Folks new to gardening and new to chile culture should be aware that the fresh pods or fruits bear a different name than the same pods when dried. For instance, poblanos and mulatos are called anchos when dried, the pasilla when dried is called chilaca. Chipotles are small chiles such as jalapenos that have been smoked and dried. Jalapenos usually don’t dry well because the flesh is thick in relation to the skin, but do dry after being smoked.
People in Britain and some other parts of the UK call Capsicum pods “chillies.” Also, be aware that in South America, all “peppers” are called “aji” instead of chile, and in Continental Europe they’re called “pimentos.” These may be any shape and have any degree of pungency, and should not be confused with “pimientos” (notice the extra “i”), very thick-meated mild peppers that are often available in jars.
Heat or piquancy of a chile is often subjective, but the listener must know the heat tolerance of the person speaking. There is an objective scale available, called the Scoville scale. The hottest chiles rank above one million on the Scoville scale, and some reports put very hot chiles such as cayennes at 45,000, and habaneros at 350,000 on that scale. I think those figures are underrated.
Most chiles we grow are Capsicum annuums, although they are perennials. Whoever named them didn’t wait to see if they’d live more than one year (annuum). Other varieties are C. chinense (habaneros, for instance, definitely nothing to do with China); C. baccatum (usually very large plants and very small hot fruits); C. frutescens (tabasco); and C. pubescens (rocoto in South America, manzano in Mexico, flowers are purple and seeds are black).
Growing chiles in the garden usually starts with sowing seeds with bottom heat, especially if you are interested in exotic varieties, although some local nurseries are doing an excellent job of supplying many varieties of chile plants. I like to start them early so that they’re fairly sizeable with at least four leaves (in addition to the cotyledons, the small strap-shaped leaves that first emerge from soil) long before I plan to transplant them out. When they’re at least this mature, I like to nip out the growing point or top of the plant. This action sends growth hormones down the plant, spurring more branches and fruiting.
One expert chile grower compared this treatment with non-intervention, and found that the harvest of the top-pruned plant was double that of the same variety that had been left in its natural state.
Our garden soil is usually OK for growing chiles, and they need an inch of water per week. Most instructions call for full sun, but experts examining chiles growing in the Caribbean area noticed that those that received some shade during the day were more vigorous than those in full sun. Most soils in this area are lacking in magnesium, so if your chile plants don’t look deep green, give them a foliar feeding of Epsom salts, one teaspoon dissolved in a pint of water.
Don’t overdose on nitrogen fertilizer or you’ll grow leaves, not fruits.
Send garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83705.