Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hot diggity!

For years, my mom has grown these wonderful hot pepper plants.  We call them pili pili from when we lived in Africa, but in looking it up online, they are also called African bird's eye chili. They look a lot like Thai chilis, only smaller. They are only about an inch or so long, and thin. And they pack a punch. Not quite as hot as ghost peppers or habaneros, they are still pretty much up there in the heat factor. 
So,  my mom, she would harvest the peppers, dry them out, and then grind them into a fine powder. For a while, she had so many peppers that she had a few jars of this stuff in the pantry. I mean jars as in 32 oz jars. We would easily give it away because a little goes a long long way. These peppers are hot! The lifespan of the plant would be a couple of years, then my mom would replant from the peppers and the cycle continued. 
Until it didn't. 
All of a sudden, the seeds, which always grew so easily, no longer grew so easily. They would sprout, grow to maybe an inch or so, then die. In the meantime, the older plant from which we harvested the seeds was beginning to fade. One year, my mom had about 4-5 seedlings that were doing pretty well and she gave them to me to take care of while she went out of town. I brought them home, and put their little pots outside next to some other potted plants. Everything was going well at first. Then one plant disappeared. And another. Something was eating them!! No!! 
So I moved the few remaining ones to another area, which worked for a few days. Then, another disappeared. And the last remaining survivor started wilting. When I looked closer, I noticed that it had been chewed at the base. Nothing more to be done. It was dead. 
And the stockpile of dried powder went down. I had given some seeds to friends, who grew it easily, but whenever we got a plant growing, it faltered where once it thrived. We were stumped. 
So, this year, I grabbed one of the few peppers that the old plant produced. I bought these nifty little pods for seedlings, and followed instructions. Put 2-3 seeds in each pod, water, and keep covered (the little kit came with a clear plastic lid) in a well lit area. I did all this and since the weather outside was still fluctuating too much, I kept them inside in my kitchen under the lights. And I waited. And waited. Finally, after a few weeks, the first little sprouts peeked out. Eureka!
I would check them every day. At first it was just 1 or 2. Then another. And another. Soon, I had 17 little baby plants. You can see them below (obviously, I took the lid off to take the picture.)

Soon, my babies were getting tall! They were beginning to reach the top of the lid. I tried leaving the lid off one day. I had my misgivings as my cats love plants. In fact, I no longer have any plants inside the house precisely for both the plant and my kitties' protection (some plants are highly toxic to cats.) I had hoped that being on the counter, towards the back of the counter, that the kitties wouldn't get to them. But no... I came home and found that three of the babies had been sacrificed. Back on with the lid, at least until I could get another solution, which actually presented itself at work! 
We have these large plastic jars of pretzels available for snacks. Bingo!! The mouth of the jar was big enough to fit the plants and the whole jar was big enough to hold the whole little kit and give my seedlings room to grow without getting eaten by the cats. 

They stayed in there for a while, growing happily. I poked a few holes in the top of the jar, and as the weather got warmer, I'd put them outside in the shade to start getting them acclimated. Always with the lid on to keep them from being eaten by whatever critter could possibly be outside. I didn't want them to end with the same fate as their previous siblings. At night, they would come inside. If it was cold out, they would stay inside. Soon, it was warm enough that they were outside most of the time. The jar acted as a really great greenhouse. Finally, it was time to transplant them. 
As usually happens, a few died during the transition. They just weren't strong enough. I placed the surviving plants on a small table away from most of the other plants. I also put a few things in front of them to deter any curious squirrels. I also placed coffee grinds in front as I'd read somewhere that it acts a bit as a deterrent to bugs. Whatever might help. 

When watering them, I would use the mist option, spraying the whole plant. Call me crazy, but I think it's better for the plant, as that's how they would normally be watered in nature (ie rain.)At first they were a bit weak, whenever I watered them, they would flop over under the weight of the water on their leaves. I figured they need to get stronger and eventually they'd be able to hold their own. 
And they grew. 

I kept them watered, and protected. Off the ground, in a safe area. They would get the morning sun and by afternoon, when the sun gets super hot, they would be in shade, still getting plenty of light. 
And they grew.

Now, nearly 5-6 months later, they are doing so well. Some of the pots are smaller and dry out faster, but soon it will be time to give them bigger homes yet again. 
Look how they've grown!

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