PEPPER

PEPPER

HISTORY & SPICINESS

Pepper arrived in Europe in 1493 after Christopher Columbus's second voyage who supposedly discovered it on a Caribbean island. It diffused rapidly throughout our continent, especially due to its capacity to adapt to the hotter climates of the Mediterranean. Perennial shrub in its native regions, it is cultivated an annual plant in our climates. It belongs to the solanacee family, much like the tomato, potato, and eggplant. Its genus, capsicum, is known for the sweet and spicy species that derive from it. The pepper's spiciness, which depends on the presence of an alkaloid substance in the fruit called capsaicin, as well as from an additional four natural, correlated substances is its most particular characteristic. Capsaicin determines the level of spiciness in that it stimulates the thermo receptors present in the mouth and in other parts of our body (digestive system, mucous membrane, etc.). Capsaicin is produced in the upper part of the bacca and it diffuses in the tissues; the highest concentrations are not in the seeds but in the placenta, the internal part to which they are attached. The purpose of peppers' spiciness in nature could be linked to the fact that birds are not sensitive to capsaicin and could potentially be the only ones to able to enjoy the spicy peppers without "harm", contributing to the diffusion of the seeds that pass through their digestive system without being nicked. Peppers are distinguished by the diverse presence of capsaicin that is empirically measured according to the Scoville scale which goes from 0 to 10 degrees, and quantitatively by the Scoville unit (SU), based on the presence of capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin. In this way it has been determined that the sweet pepper has zero Scoville units while the habanero, one of the most spicy peppers in the world, has almost 600,000 and the record goes to the Bhut Jolokia pepper, an Indian chili pepper that has nearly a 1,000,000! The burning sensation becomes painful when the SU's exceed 250,000. Drinking milk or eating yogurt or soft cheese, calms the pain insofar as the casein present in milk and in other dairy products has the ability to agglutinate the capsaicin by removing it from the thermo receptors.

CULTIVATION

Peppers grow well at elevated temperatures. Their cultivation must occur during the hottest months, from spring onward and for the entire summer. The plant stops growing just around 10/12 °C and, during the day, it takes advantage of temperatures between 22/28 °C. It prefers soil rich in organic substances but well-drained, because the presence of stagnant water brings diseases that attack their collars and rootage.
To avoid this, it is preferable to plant the pepper on the high part of the soil placed in prose (strip of land between two furrows). Regarding the light, it can be exposed to the sun, but if the foliage is not sufficient, the fruits can burn.

FERTILIZATION

During fertilization, one should be aware that it is a species that grows and produces a lot; it can easily reach up to 6 kg of product per square meter. To produce this amount of product, the pepper removes the main elements (N, P, K) according to the following ratio 1:0,3:1,4, from which it is deduced that the crop requires large amounts of nitrogen and potassium. Based on the aforementioned, prior to transplantation, one should add about 1-3 kg / sqm of organic compost, accompanied by 30 g /sqm of triple superphosphate, and 50 g of potassium sulphate. On top of the soil, during cultivation, one should then add about 150 g of ammonium nitrate (distributed in three separate times). For those wishing to go organic, they can double the amount of compost and, if on top of the soil, add three counts of natural guano of about 100 g / sqm each time, taking care not to scatter it on the leaves and to follow the fertilization with a copious irrigation.

CULTIVATION CARE

For its cultivation, it is best to start by planting the seedlings, because seeds planted in the open field require relatively high temperatures and long periods that expose the seedling to parasitic attacks. The distances between transplantations vary depending on the variety, but in general one places 3-4 plants per square meter. Later, when the plants have reached 30 cm in height, it is wise to place supports consisting of single rods to tie to the stem of the plant.

ADVERSITIES

During cultivation, the pepper can be affected by several fungi, including Phytophthora capsici and Verticillium dahlias, which attack it at the foot, while the aerial part can be affected by Botrytis, Cladosporium, Alternaria, and also bacteria such as Pectobacterium Carotovorum. To prevent these diseases, there are effective copper-based treatments found in various forms (copper hydroxide, copper oxychloride, copper sulphate tribasic, copper oxide, and copper octanoate). For powdery mildew attacks, on the other hand, there are useful treatments with sulfur derivatives. With regard to insects, the white butterfly is particularly harmful (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) as well as the European corn borer. Against the former, one can use natural pyrethroids or screen attractants or even throw insect predators (e.g. Chrysoperla carnea, Aphidoletes aphidimyza, Aphidius colemani, and Harmonia axyridis). For corn borers, the biocide Bacillus turingensis has proven very effective in fighting it. A final warning should be given with regard to the attacks of red spider mite. These can be countered by introducing the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis.

HARVEST

The harvest usually takes place about 60 days after transplantation. One can pick green peppers or wait until their colour has veered to red or yellow.