Southern New Jersey Pepperhead

Hiya all. Apparently I'm a bit of a pepperhead and my pepper garden has consumed me (and a good portion of my yard). 
So I lived in California during the dot-coms and had a few Jalapeno plants in my back yard. It was great to grab a fresh pepper anytime I wanted. I didn't finish the kitchen until a few months before selling the house and moving back to New Jersey. Once I got back things were busy with family and work, etc.
Five years ago I bought a house in Cherry Hill and spent the first summer remodeling (2012). The second summer (2013) I bought a metal buck with some "tomato" seeds from Target and a Burpee packet of "hot peppers." both types of plants grew like you'd never believe. The small little 3' x 4' section I planted them in soon was overwhelmed with plants and spouting tons of fresh produce. My next door neighbor has an open plot of land that he "farms" and I do mean farms. He's usually got 40-50 different tomato plants, cucumbers, corn, potatoes, eggplants... basically anything. So I took some advice from him, and borrowed his rototiller the following year (2014) and made a true garden area. 
I had a 50 foot plastic fence around the garden, mostly to keep the dog out. The fence touched at each end, so the garden was roughly 10 x 15. I bought various different pepper seeds from the local home improvement stores, and started them seeding inside in February or March. I also searched smaller garden centers and found a few various other varieties. Some of the plants I was growing were lemon drop habanero, tabasco, dragon cayenne, Big Jim, jalapeno and pablanos. I loved being able to grill burgers and grab a fresh pepper off the plant and grill it too; of course that didn't account for the other peppers I was picking! So I started researching what to do with hot peppers and started making some sauces. I'm a fat italian guy who used to own an ice cream shop, so this has been a blast. Fresh tomatoes processed and cooked down with fresh peppers to make a BBQ sauce is absolutely incredible. a few years ago I bought a dehydrator and started drying some of the peppers too so I had something in the winter.
Then the big seedling catastrophy of 2016 happened! I planted all my seeds as usual, had the plastic trays on top of the microwave and watered and rotated them every few days. All the seeds started sprouting, as expected; I had way more plants than I needed and they were growing well. Then all of a sudden, probably about mid to late April, the seedlings all died! I'm not sure if I over-watered them, or they were too close to an air conditioning vent, but every last seedling wilted over and died. I had already been looking at the different hot pepper shows in the area, and the Berks Pepper Jam listed a plant grower as one of the vendors, so Friday of Memorial Day 2016 I drove the 3 hours in traffic out to where-ever Berks County is and found the vendor selling plants! I figured this was going to be my only option other than the standard jalapenos and cayenne plants sold at Lowes and Depot. I don't remember the exact price, but I remember being able to select 8 different plants. I figured that would be a good amount for the size of the garden. Well heck since I'd driven all that way, and I knew I could get some low heat peppers from the local stores, I picked some of the super hots he offered. 
Last year my plant list was awesome and ridiculously hot! Jalapeno and Dragon Cayenne were the low-end of the spectrum. I had a Habanero plant that must have produced over 1000 peppers last summer; my baskets were always filled with some of the pretty orange fruit. I also had white habanero, lemon drop habanero, tabasco and fatali plants in the middle of the spectrum that also were great producers. And what the heck, since it was something like 8/$20 when I bought the plants, I figured I'd try some of the "hot" ones... TMI Scorpion, Peach Ghost and Chocolate Ghost... What was I thinking!!
I made a "double-chocolate sauce" kind of a mole, with 3 of the chocolate ghosts and it was almost impossible to eat. While cutting the ghosts to put in the dehydrator I ripped my glove and figured, "I'm only slicing them in half, I can get by without using a glove." That almost resulted in a trip to the emergency room - my hand swelled and my entire arm was tingling. Needless to say I dehydrated most of the ghosts and ground them up. I've been giving them out to friends and enemies for the last year. I still have 2 jars filled with the toxic powder!
So this year I figured I needed to be a bit more methodical about all this. I had seeds saved from last year's peppers, and some from the prior year. I also went to a pick your own hot pepper farm and saved some of the seeds from those plants. I ordered some seeds from the same grower and started researching proper seed starting procedures. I moved the containers to the laundry room and made a grow light for them. The seedlings all grew and looked healthy, but somewhere along the line I mixed up the rows of seedlings and I lost control of what I had. Now I had 2 containers with 25 dirt cups with multiple pepper plants in each and I had no clue what type of plants I had, so the only decision I could make was, how large should I make the garden this year?" Well, I had to buy another 50 foot plastic fence for the other half of the garden. It's now expanded to about 20 x 25 feet. I have 2 squash, a watermelon and a tomato plant - the rest are all peppers! I've changed to rows of peppers this year, to match what I saw at the pepper farm, and figure they can be closer together than what I was doing before, because I should hopefully have multiples of each plant this year.
So that's basically what lead me here. I'm aparently pretty good at growing peppers, and my friends tell me they like my sauces. So I want to learn more about what I'd doing and stop making silly mistakes. I'm not sure if I'm going to shrink the garden down again next year, or try and turn this into some sort of side business! I figure this is the year to kind of figure that out. Either way, this is fun and I want to learn more. Maybe even learn how to make a fermented sauce and not just grow mold in a jar! 

Last year with the Scorpion...

2017 garden

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