Heirloom Vegetables: Thai Dragon Peppers
All peppers originated in Central and South America. After European colonization, peppers and other native American plants were spread around the world where local people bred them to suit their own cuisines. The peppers known as chili peppers were brought to Southeast Asia by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Thai Dragon peppers are an heirloom variety dating from the nineteenth century. They are hotter than jalapeno peppers which are rated 2,500 to 5,000 units on the Scoville Scale which measures pepper hotness. Thai Dragons are 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville units. They are not as hot as Habanero peppers which can reach 325,000 Scoville units.
The plants are compact, 15 to 18 inches tall and 12 to 16 inches wide, perfect for a container. The fruit grows upwards rather than hanging down. It starts out green then matures to bright red. A single plant can yield up to 200 3-inch peppers. The fruit can be used fresh or dried. Be sure to use the fresh peppers within a week for the best taste and hotness.
Thai Dragon peppers are tropical plants. Even mild cold will negatively affect them. Temperatures below 55⁰F will slow the plant growth and turn the leaves yellow. If a light frost is forecast, protect your plants with a blanket thrown over them. They have a long growing season so you will need to start your seeds indoors.
Start your seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. Plant them ¼ to ½ inch deep. Ideally you should use a heat mat. The soil temperature should be 75⁰F to 90⁰F for germination which should happen within 2 to 6 weeks. Cool soil will delay germination. Keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden when the outdoor soil is above 60⁰F.
Harvesting the peppers should always be done with pruners or a sharp knife. Cut them from the branch leaving a small nub of the stem intact on the fruit. Pulling the fruit from the plants can result in breaking the stems. If the stem breaks off from the fruit, it will start to rot.
Store the fresh fruit with the stem intact for up to a week. Alternatively, the fruit can be dried by hanging the branches upside down with the fruit attached. Dried fruit will keep for up to 6 months before it starts to lose flavor and heat.
© 2016 Caren White
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