My second year of growing Jalapenos has been a comprehensive learning experience. While highly rewarding, I've had to fight hard for these little green power pods that deserve pride of place on the Schmidt Pain Index alongside the various wasps and warrior ants. The first major enemy encountered was a truly biblical plague of aphids. These potent rabbits of the insect world demolish Jalapeno plants leaving them wrinkled, shriveled and broken. Like the bugs from Starship Troopers, aphids come in different shapes and sizes, from the green peach aphids with their promiscuous offspring to the bulbous white monster aphids with their acid fire breath. I started off spraying with good old Pyrethrum which is very effective against aphids. It became clear though that Pyrethrum only holds aphids back for a week at the most and that they re-establish quickly in its absence. In desperation I turned to one of the most powerful weapons in the gardener's arsenal; Confidor, or as I like to call it, 'Garden Napalm'. Confidor is a systemic insecticide that once absorbed into the plant is then sucked back out by the aphids. The result is NO APHIDS forever. It is seriously effective. Confidor may not sit well with the organic crowd , but firstly, I considered it a last resort and secondly I don't care. 99% of my gardening is completely organic, but I still feel the need to set aside that little 1% for my evil side. I must say I would prefer the excellent service provided by my loyal squad of preying manti and ladybird beetles any day. However, aphids reach plague proportions far quicker than these guys can eat and also their breeding cycles are not perfectly in sync. This means that the bulk of the aphid damage has occurred before the natural predators are on the scene. Next year I will be well and truly prepared. The seedlings will get Confidor as soon as they are old enough to see them through the aphids season and then they will grow tall as trees damn it!
Jalapenos were in my first greenhouse this year, which has definitely improved their growth. Even more importantly, it has sheltered them from the above-average summer rainfall which, like their relatives (the tomatoes), chillies seem to hate. I am suspicious that the hot humid climate in the greenhouse is even more conducive to Aphid breeding.
Now the aphids I could handle. Sure they caused me plenty of gardener's angst and did their fair share of damage, but they were nothing new. What came next was not only new and scary but also horrifying in the H. R. Geiger sense of the word. My big and strong Jalapeno plants had yielded a fine crop of glossy ripe dark green 'pods' (as they are called) but I started to notice a Mulder and Scully case inside. They were completely hollowed out! Their sizzling seedy and inter-connecting tissue innards had been replaced by mounds of black muck. There was no sign of the party responsible. Finally one night when I was in the greenhouse at 3am harvesting Jalapenos like a NORMAL PERSON, one of the munching, shitting pod burglars made the mistake of emerging in my presence. He got his own photo shoot and really worked it for the camera. Afterwards he got a new home unscathed in the green waste bin. It was the kindest thing I could manage. I don't know exactly what they are yet but the hunt is on to find the name of the beast and learn the secret of how to destroy them. I would say 20-25% of my entire crop was destroyed by these shitting shitters and I'm going to be ready for them next year.
Griping and moaning aside, it has been a splendid year for growing Jalapenos. Superior in every respect to last years crop. Its been one of those times when I've realized how much of a learning process gardening is. When things go wrong, you only have to nut out why and then there's always next year. I've pickled about 2 kilos of Jalapenos so far and there's still more to come. They're like eating molten lava and worth every minute of effort, suspicion, paranoia and pleasure that has gone into their growing.