It is always hard for us to choose which pepper seeds to start first. It would be wonderful if we had the space to start all our peppers in the very early spring, but that cannot be. So we select the ones we think our customers will be the most eager to buy for transplant in late April or early May. In general, those are bell peppers (thick walled), Italian frying peppers (thin walled), and the basic salsa peppers such as Jalapenos, Serranos, Anchos and Fresnos. Once we get a good inventory going with those, we branch out into the hot peppers such as habaneros, Thai and Indian varieties, and the really rare and unique ones like the Zimbabwe Bird, Fish, Pequin and many more.
Pepper plants are very pretty in the garden and as part of the landscape. Some of our gardener friends plant the ornamentals as border plants. They do well in raised beds or in containers where they can be kept warm and a dark mulch helps hold the heat in the soil. They like a little more attention than a tomato - a little more water, slightly richer soil, more consistent heat. There are some types of pepper plants that have adapted to higher elevations and the lower temperatures consistent with our coastal climate. The Manzano is an example of a unique, hot pepper that grows very well in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. It is also known as rocoto and is common in Ecuador and Peru. The pepper is apple shaped with a thick wall and unique black seeds. Most are red though there are orange and yellow varieties.
As peppers begin to ripen, they need to be picked to encourage more productivity; in the same manner as cucumbers and eggplant. If you have a pepper plant that does well in your microclimate, it is useful to save seeds for future generations. This only works if the plants is well away from another pepper plant that flowers at the same time; peppers cross pollinate easily and often. This year's Pimiento de Padron may more resemble last year's Red Hot Mama or Biker Billy if they were within 300 feet of one anther when they flowered.
A lush, healthy and productive pepper plant is a source of great pride to many Bay Area gardeners. It is a dramatic, often elegant plant that produces a fruit that lends spice to favorite recipes. It is cool to grow your own.