Exotic Peppers Spice Up Gardens

comments (0) March 18th, 2019

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WesternGardener Jodi Torpey, contributor
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Pumpkin Habanero peppers look like miniature pumpkins, but have a citrus-like flavor and a mild heat. The peppers were bred as part of Rutgers Exotic Pepper Project.Click To Enlarge

Pumpkin Habanero peppers look like miniature pumpkins, but have a citrus-like flavor and a mild heat. The peppers were bred as part of Rutgers Exotic Pepper Project.

Photo: Jodi Torpey

When I read an article about a new chile pepper that looks like a pumpkin, but tastes like a tangerine, I had to find out more. The Pumpkin Habanero peppers are part of the Rutgers University Exotic Pepper Project

These hot peppers are a combination of African and South American habaneros planted in the same field and allowed to cross on their own. The result is a pumpkin-shaped habanero pepper with a citrus taste and a jalapeno-like heat. Instead of a typical 300,000 Scoville heat units of a Scotch Bonnet pepper, these are only 50,000 heat units.

The exotic pepper project began about 9 years ago as an agricultural project to create new pepper varieties that were missing in the marketplace. The program began as the brainchild of Albert Ayeni, professor of plant biology, alongside professors Tom Orton and Jim Simon. They began their work at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES).

I especially like the tagline on the seed packets: New Crops for a Changing World.

The experiment had two main goals: producing peppers that met the needs of New Jersey's immigrant populations that had a difficult time finding peppers with the right taste, and producing peppers that would grow well in New Jersey's climate. 

The Rutgers NJAES Pumpkin Habanero pepper is a small ribbed pepper that has a sweet flavor and a good crunch. Plants are perfect for patio gardens because of their size (12-18 inches tall). Apparently, the plants are productive with a high fruit yield of 100-220 peppers per plant.

You can order seeds now to start indoors and allow at least 8 weeks before transplanting into the vegetable garden. According to the seed packets, green fruits will be ready at the end of August, with the fruits maturing to orange and ripe in September and lasting until the first frost.

Seeds are $2.50 per pack; approximately 20 seeds in each pack. Plant tags are $.20 per tag and there is a $6.00 shipping & handling fee. A check must be included with the order. Make check payable to: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Attn: R-PMK. 

Mail the order specifying the number of packets and tags, along with the shipping fee to: R-PMK Seed, c/o Albert Ayeni, Foran Hall Rm 268, 59 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

I'm looking forward to trying these exotic new peppers in my high-altitude vegetable garden this summer. I hope you'll join me!


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