Sunday, October 14, 2012


This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
Part 2 is here
Part 3 (report of how it came out) is here.
* * *
Poking around the web about a week and a half ago, I stumbled across a site which tells how to make BonChi.  These are bonsai formed from fully grown chili  ("chi") pepper plants.  The full-grown plants are cut down, then re-potted and re-grown to look like classic bonsai, as miniature tree-form peppers.  The icing on the cake is that, next spring, these miniaturized peppers can be planted out after all danger of frost, and they re-grow into normal-sized pepper plants with a big head start on peppers planted as seedlings.  What a smashing idea--something to fool around with all winter, followed by early peppers next summer.

There was just one problem: I saw this at 11 PM.  At 5 AM the following morning I was due to leave town for four nights, while a big frost was expected the following night.

The rational side of my brain regretfully filed BonChi away in the list of things to try next year, and went to bed.  The gardening side of my brain had different ideas.

At 4 AM it woke me. "Get a flashlight. Go dig pepper plants.  You don't have to pot them up, just dump them in a wheelbarrow and wheel it into the shed.  Water the rootballs, then you can pot them when you get back into town. They won't freeze in the shed.  Get UP!"

"Are you kidding me?" asked the rational side of my brain. "Flashlight gardening? In October?  In Wisconsin? No. Further, even if it might possibly work with chili peppers, we don't GROW chili peppers, we grow SWEET peppers.  So fugedaboudit.  Isn't going to happen. Go back to sleep."  

Sounded logical. Over I rolled for another hour's sleep.

Yet somehow, five minutes later,  I found myself outside, shivering in my pajamas, pruning peppers.  Then, a flashlight in one hand, a shovel in the other, I whacked the poor mutilated things out of the ground and dumped them, rootballs and all, into a wheelbarrow.

Now, this sort of adventure is the sort of thing which makes my poor husband sigh and roll his eyes.  Simple solution: don't tell him, right? Yet he too, woke early. Although he isn't the world's most observant man, even he could not fail to notice when at 4:30 AM, the back door opened and in stepped his wife, dressed in a fetching ensemble of gardening boots and muddy pajamas. So yes, there was eye-rolling and sighing.

But so far, it seems to have been worth it.  When I got back into town, the pepper stumps were duly potted up into disposable plastic soup bowls--I buy my son these soups just so I can have the bowls when he's done. The soil is pro-mix, a soil-less potting medium. Have a look: the pepper stumps have been under grow lights for several days.

The pepper stumps under grow lights.  These are
are Gypsy peppers, a quick-to-mature variety. 

Although the stumps look barren, you can see new leaves forming.

New leaves sprouting.  The trunk isn't really
red: the grow lights distort color 

We'll see if this turns out to be anything--it's six months at least until the frost-free days of next spring, a long-ong-ong  time for any plant to thrive under grow lights.  Yet I don't think the whole thing is utterly hopeless for two reasons.  First, peppers can live for years, and do so in the tropics.  Second, this technique was developed in Finland, where the winters are even longer, and where, even in summer, it's too cold to put peppers outside: they must be greenhouse-grown.

In the meantime, though, what to call this experiment?  BonChi is a great name for chili peppers, but seems all wrong for sweet peppers.  How about BonSPi?
* * *
links, again:
Part 2 is here
Part 3 (report of how it came out) is here.


PS: The nights I was out of town? There was no frost after all.

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