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May 1, 2000

Heirloom chile peppers featured at Farm & Garden plant sale May 6-7

By Jennifer McNulty

Heirloom varieties of chile peppers that date back to the 1500s are among the special plants being featured at this year's UCSC Farm & Garden spring plant sale on Saturday and Sunday, May 6-7. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day in the Barn Theater parking lot at the intersection of Bay and High Streets at the base of campus.

It must be spring if the Farm & Garden is hosting its annual plant sale.
Photo: Don Burgett
The plant sale features a wide selection of organically raised plants, including more than 200 species of vegetables, flowers, landscape plants, herbs, and "everlastings," or dried flowers. All plants are proven to grow well in the local area.

Known as land race peppers, this year's featured varieties of chile peppers have been cultivated in the Native American pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico since the 1500s, according to Orin Martin, manager of the Alan Chadwick Garden at UCSC. Some of these varieties bear the names of the pueblos that grew them originally, including Chimayo, Isleta, Jemez, Santo Domingo, and San Felipe. Today, most pueblo residents have abandoned the crop, and the future of these varieties is uncertain. Land race peppers are historically and horticulturally distinct from showier hybrids, maturing to a brilliant black-tinted red even in cool summers such as Santa Cruz experienced in 1998 and 1999.

All varieties feature short plants that need no staking and are loaded with small, somewhat crooked, crescent-shaped red pods with thin skins and a subtly sweet flavor and moderate to spicy heat that often varies among pods on an individual plant.

"My strong feeling is that it is an honor to plant these varieties, and no doubt if you plant them with joy, they will grow for you," said Martin.

Land race varieties that will be available at the plant sale in three-inch pots for $1.50 each include:

  • Chimayo: Tasty 4-5" pods are traditionally strung into ristras.

  • Escondido: A hot/sweet chile from New Mexico; fruits are 2-5" long.

  • Isleta: A medium hot chile with sweet and smoky undertones; traditionally grown near Albuquerque, New Mexico; used for ristras and chile powder.

  • Jemez: From the Jemez Pueblo along the Rio Jemez, a tributary of the Rio Grande; medium hot chiles are 4-5" long.

  • San Felipe: Grown with irrigation along the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico; bears medium hot fruits that are 5" long.

  • Santo Domingo: From northern New Mexico, these 3-4" pod chiles are hot and often dried and strung into ristras, then ground into chile powder.

  • Zia Pueblo: A typical New Mexico native chile, about 2" long, hot to mildly sweet and thin fleshed, with many seeds.

Other hot/mild peppers that will be available are Big Chile, Casados, Chilaca, Coban, Del Arbol, Delicias, Early Jalapeno, Negro, Nu Mex Joe Parker, Super Chile, Super Serrano, Thai Dragon, Tobasco, Vallero, and Yellow and Red Cayenne. Sweet peppers for sale are Antohi Romanian, Cascabella, Corno di Toro, Czech Black, Gypsy, Kolasca, Lipstick, Paprika Supreme, Quatro D'Oro, and Valencia.

Among the lovely perennials that will be available are columbine, coral bells, statice, Japanese anemone, blue globe thistle, and cupid's dart. The flower selection will include a wide variety of lavenders, salvias, sunflowers, yarrows, zinnias, alstroemeria, roses, and penstemons.

The vegetable selection includes six-packs of salad mix, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, Asian greens, and an array of tomatoes, including Early Girl, Camp Joy cherry, Orange Sungold, Crimson, Carmello, Pink Brandywine, and Dona.

Medicinal and culinary herbs will also be available, including echinacea, lemon verbena, pineapple sage, French tarragon, rosemary, and several varieties of basil, mint, sage, thyme, and oregano. A full list of plants that will be available at the sale can be found on the Web, with the list of perennials followed by annuals, at: http://zzyx.ucsc.edu/casfs/

Sponsored by the Friends of the Farm & Garden and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the sale will benefit the UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. Members of the Friends will receive early entry (from 9 to 10 a.m. each morning) and a 10 percent discount on purchases; memberships will be available at the sale beginning at 8:30 a.m. For more information, call (831) 459-3240.

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