Dec 4, 2008

Indoor pepper farm

At any given time, I have a bunch of edible plants growing in my apartment in Beijing. It's not easy to grow things in an apartment window that only gets partial sunlight. Not to mention, it's tough to have things survive through the Beijing winter with the low humidity, coldness, and limited sun.

Right now I'm growing two types of basil, some chives, some Italian parsley, two types of mint, and two kinds of hot peppers. I chose these specific things because I like to eat them. It turns out that they smell nice, and your apartment seems nicer with some live plants around. Also, for the most part, the vegetables I'm growing are hard to find in China. You can usually find some basil leaves and occasionally some mint at Jenny Lou's, an overpriced import grocery store. If you grow things yourself, though, you can always have fresh basil on hand, not to mention, different varieties of it.

I grow all my plants from seed. No nursery transplants here. Dill was the only thing that I've not had very much success with in my windowsill garden. I was able to grow it to about six or eight inches during the summer, but it needed more sunlight than I could offer and it eventually died out.

As far as hot peppers go, I've only seen habaneros on Hainan island in the south, and I've not seen fresh jalapeños at all in China. Typically, the hottest fresh pepper you'll see at produce markets in China is the Tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens, 朝天椒). To give you an idea of the heat of each of these peppers, check out the Scoville rating comparison:
It's clear that the Tabasco pepper typically used in spicy Chinese dishes is just average, not even in the neighborhood of the habanero. Which is exactly why I had to grow my own.

I'm really pleased with my pepper plants. Here are some recent pictures of my jalapeño plants and habanero plants.

Below: mature habanero pepper, ready to eat:




Below: habanero pepper, still ripening:




Below: jalapeño pepper, already turned red:




Both of these types are tropical peppers that would do just fine growing in the dirt in Mexico, but it's pretty hard to get them to thrive and produce peppers in a windowsill garden. To facilitate better pollination of the pepper plants, I use a small paintbrush to artificially inseminate each flower. I'd say about 90% of the flowers ended up producing peppers. The ones that didn't were usually because I got to them too late.

4 Comments:

Blogger George said...

Eric Im interested in your peppers in china specialy the tabasco you mention is used fresh can you send picture
George

4:36 AM  
Blogger John said...

Hello Eric. My name is John, and I am traveling in Beijing for the winter. There is a girl here who's been doing household work for my relatives for quite some time. She's been very kind to me when I've visited, and now she's leaving back to the countryside for good. She's from Hunan and is very fond of peppers. I once told her about the habanero and how it was the hottest pepper in the world. She's very curious to see it, and I promised to get her some. Alas, I forgot that fresh fruits and vegetables are not allowed to cross borders, and so I have not been able to fulfill my promise. I was wondering if you could help me by giving me a pepper. If this is something you are able to do, please write me at johnzhu@math.berkeley.edu Thank you for your time, and happy new years!
John

6:21 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

@George:

Tabasco peppers are very common, you can get them in China and the US. Look at the wikipedia page for more info.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

@John:

Unfortunately I don't have any peppers to send at the moment, but you can probably find a vendor from Hainan Island to send you seeds, fresh peppers, or hot sauce.

5:52 PM  

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