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Plant hot peppers in full sun in rich, deep soil

May 24, 2017

A legendary creature flew on the battle flag of the legendary King Arthur. It wasn't a bird of prey like America's bald eagle, but it could fly. It had four legs and two wings, scaly skin and best of all, it could spew fire out of its mouth. It was the dragon, and today the dragon adorns the flag of Wales. 

So it is fitting that the Dragon’s Breath pepper comes from Wales. This pepper, now the hottest on earth, burns at 2.48 million on the Scoville scale, which is even hotter than the 2 million Scoville pepper spray used by the military. 

Hot peppers get their punch from capsaicin, and the Dragon's Breath pepper is so hot that it contains a lethal amount of capsaicin. 

The chemical capsaicin is only found in peppers. When capsaicin touches pain receptors in your mouth they send a signal to your brain that there is a burning pain. To block the pain, the brain produces endorphins that numb the area. Very hot peppers make the body inflate liquid-filled blisters. The liquid-filled blisters will absorb much of the damage from the capsaicin. 

If the capsaicin is so strong that mere blistering doesn't help, and the capsaicin keeps activating the nerve endings, your immune system can go berserk as your body tries to put out what it thinks is extreme heat. This when you can go into anaphylactic shock and even close off your airways, causing death if left untreated. Milder forms of capsaicin heat can be alleviated by drinking milk. 

There's no need to grow super-hot peppers to get peppers’ many health benefits, including lots of vitamin C, B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and iron.

Plant hot peppers (Capsicum sp.) in full sun in rich, deep soil in the garden or in large pots. They grow best in soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.0. Space the plants 18 inches to two feet apart. Water the newly planted hot peppers well and then give them at least one to two inches of water every week. 

Hot peppers make good companion plants when planted near basil, tomatoes, parsley and carrots. Keep them away from fennel and kohlrabi. 

If temperatures go above 85 degrees F. pepper plants will drop their blossoms and not set any fruit. Beat hot weather with regular watering and a good mulch to cool the plants. You can get more fruits to set by adding a teaspoon of Epsom salt per quart of water. Use fertilizers such as bone meal that are high in phosphorus to encourage flowering. 

You may want to wear gloves when harvesting hot peppers. Always cut the peppers from the plant leaving a bit of stem. If you pull the peppers off, you may tear the branch or even kill the plant. 

Many hot peppers have a fruity taste. Try growing a variety such as jalapeno, habanero or pepperoncini. You can use hot peppers fresh, freeze them or dry them. Just don't eat too many or get them in your eyes, unless you're a dragon.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.