Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed
for the last 20 years in various capacities from
farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and
rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf,
etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver,
all around repairman; Jose España, head
harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root
crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes,
garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1
farmers market, with a small number of carefully
selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover
cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
July 14, 2005: Every plant I grow seems
to serve as a host for some kind of rasping, chewing, or sucking
insect, but my newest experimental crop may prove to be most
effective at attracting bar flies. I’m talking about
a pepper plant that grows as large as a small tree, even here
along California’s foggy central coast.
Most pepper plants grow no more than waist high. They have
little, unobtrusive, white flowers, and are typically sensitive
to cold, wet, weather. Farmers in my growing region usually
start their pepper plants in heated greenhouses in mid winter
and don’t transplant them out into the field until after
April 15th when they can presume the danger of frost is past.
After the first hard rains and freezing temperatures of November
we’re used to seeing our pepper plants all blackened
and broken. But the Peron pepper, that hails from Michoacan,
Mexico, is hardy enough to grow all year long and bear a load
of hot, yellow peppers well into the winter. I learned about
Peron chiles from one of my employees, Manuel Esquivel, who
originally came from Uruapan, where this pepper is a local
favorite. The Peron chile will grow up to fifteen feet high
with a main trunk as thick as a wrestler’s forearm,
and its fruits pack a wallop. In it’s native habitat
of Michoacan, the Peron chile often grows in the shade of
larger trees, and its sprawling branches find support in the
Here, in our northern latitudes, the sun doesn’t burn
so bright, so, against the advice the Michoacanos on my crew,
I’ve chosen to grow my Peron peppers under full sun.
For protection against wind, which could smash the plant’s
rather brittle branches, I’ve planted the Peron peppers
in an unheated hoop house that is open to ventilating breezes
on both ends. My Peron plants seem to love this treatment.
Since being set out in the ground in early February, the plants
have already grown to four and five feet tall and they’re
covered in purple flowers.
Most of the growers producing Peron peppers around my home
town of Watsonville, California, are selling their harvest
to the little fruterias that cater to expatriate Michoacanos.
Like the more well known Habanero pepper, the Peron pepper
is “muy bravo”. I’m not sure how many Scoville
units the Peron pepper weighs in at but, as an afficionado
of piquancy, I can assure you the Peron isn’t as hot
as the Habanero. The Peron pepper is delicious minced into
tomato or fruit salsas or shaved paper thin into fresh onion
salads. With its lovely purple flowers and golden fruits,
the Peron pepper even has the potential to be an intriguing
ornamental plant for adventurous gardeners in temperate regions.
Manny Esquivel, who manages my green houses, has told me
how to market this spicy pepper beyond the narrow confines
of the ethnic Michoacano market and into the upscale bars
of San Francisco. A Peron chile is the size of a shot glass.
A bar tender has only to slice off the stem and calyx at the
top of the fruit, knock out the seeds, and press the sliced
end of the fruit into a saucer of sea salt and, presto! A
shot of tequila can be poured into the empty chile that’s
all frosty with salt, and left for a minute to become infused
with a little heat. (For a refreshing nonalcoholic treat try
sipping fresh squeezed lemon juice from a Peron chile. I’ve
tried it and I find it delicious. Manny has Shirley Temple
style lemon shooters for lunch sometimes.)
The novelty of knocking back tequila from a hot pepper sparks
interest in a certain breed of drinker who may be too macho
to listen when the bartender tells him not to eat the chile.
As the tequila goes down the bravado flares up. Other bar
patrons watch to see what’s going to happen. If the
drinker insists on eating the chile he may end up buying a
cold beer or three in a hopeless attempt to put out the fire.
Either way the bartender and the pepper farmer both do good
business, and there’s no shot glass to wash. That’s
the theory, anyway. We’ll see what happens when the
harvest moon rises for my Peron pepper crop during happy hour.