Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Pepper is Piqued - Sun Scald on Peppers

A photo of Shannon SaiaI’m convinced that Pepper has found my Vegetable Lover’s Diary. Why else would he be in such a snit all of a sudden? Sure his neighbors the tomatoes all have blossom end rot, so they’re getting a lot of attention lately, and maybe I do step over Pepper on my way to them, and okay so that one time I made a crack about how incredibly long it takes for his fruit to ripen, but hey, it was just a passing comment, and I’m okay with it. I really am. But what I am not okay with is these streaks of soft whiteness that are appearing on his otherwise lovely, elongated fruits.   

If you ask me, it’s pure temper. 

 I have never written a confession about Pepper. It’s not that I don’t love Pepper. I do! I particularly love Jalapeño, and yet there was a moment this year – just a moment – that I almost allowed a Jalapeño-less summer to unfold. It wasn’t my fault. It was because this stinking little rabbit found his way into the garden and ate the tops off of four of my pepper plants when they were still getting themselves established. And I didn’t know, at the time, for sure, that both of the Jalapeños were among the victims. Still, I have to admit that I suspected it. And I also have to admit that when I was in Big Box, browsing for peppers and squash plants to replace the damaged ones, I bought Carmen. I bought Anaheim. I bought Mini-Bell. But I did not buy Jalapeño. I tried to explain it to him. It was because I knew he would come back. I had already seen the tiny new leaves forming. But I think he has made a few pointed to comments to Anaheim and to Mini Chocolate Bell, and that they’ve all arranged some kind of protest against me.  

The thing that I hate about having to Google descriptions to see what’s wrong with any plant is that all too often it turns out not to be some disease that is beyond my control, but the result of some kind of relationship problem, by which I mean to say that so many things are my fault. The nutrients aren’t right. Or they’re not getting enough water. Or they’re getting too much water. Take blossom end rot. The first time I saw blossom end rot on my gorgeous heirloom tomato plants, I freaked out! I mean, there are all of those beautiful, ripening, multi-colored fruits, and whenever I would reach for one…well, it was kind of like a scene in a horror movie, or a nightmare, playing in slow motion. The tomato is a deep, rich, ripe-red. It’s hanging heavily from the vine. You’re coming at it from an angle at which it looks perfect. You reach for it. Your fingers get closer. Then your perspective shifts, ever so slightly, and barely a moment after it’s too late to prevent it, you see the flattened bottom of the fruit, and instead of a handful of luscious swell, you sink your fingers up to the first knuckle in mush. Can’t you just hear the Psycho music in your head right now?  

I hate mush. 

Before you know it, instead of harvesting tomatoes for your next meal, you’re running around the garden flicking the ones that are affected down onto the ground – and they’re all affected, and you go back inside with nothing but a shame-face. 

The first time this happened to me it wasn’t my fault, and it often isn’t a gardener’s fault. Blossom end rot can be brought on by a too-wet spring. As soon as the moisture level corrects itself – and it will, there isn’t really anything you have to do about it – the tomatoes will start to be normal – which is to say, wonderful – again. But this year, we have not had a wet spring. We’ve had an extraordinarily dry spring and summer, in fact. So dry, and so oppressively hot, that I have been outside with the hose every day, making sure that everybody gets a drink. And, well, what can I say? One drink is never enough when you’re lazing around on a hot summer day, is it? I mean, you think it’s going to be, but once you’ve got that one in you, a second doesn’t seem like a bad idea, and of course you invite Pepper to the party because, well, you love Pepper. And the next thing you know Squash is sucking down the water like she’s doing a beer bong because you know there isn’t enough water in the world to satisfy Squash, and Eggplant says, well, maybe just one more teeny, eeny sip, and Cucumber says, aim what Eggplant isn’t drinking over here, will you? And you do, because you know from bitter experience how awful Cucumber can be if he doesn’t get his drink on. And before you know it, you’re spraying yourself down with the hose too, and letting your daughter make mud mountains for her plastic dinosaurs in the space between the garden rows while the water just runs and runs… 

But I digress. 

I admit that in my zeal to ensure that everyone stayed cool and moist and happy this year, that I have overwatered my tomatoes and given them blossom end rot. Which is why, when I began to see the soft, white streaks on Pepper – and not just one pepper either, but all of them – I suspected that this, too, would turn out to be my fault. 

So I Googled “white streaks on peppers”. 

The first thing that came up was “sun scald”, but I was skeptical. Apparently sun scald occurs during the height of summer heat and humidity, and goodness knows we’ve had that going on around here. But Pepper’s cold shoulder and guilt-inspiring looks have got me feeling so paranoid that I’m sure that I must have overwatered him, so I tend to want to dismiss sun scald as a possibility. But I keep reading. And the more I read, the less that I think that it is sunscald. The article I’m reading is talking about plants developing sun scald that have been partially defoliated by insects, because they no longer have enough leaf canopy to shield them from the sun. But Pepper is not defoliated and I have not seen insect one on him. Still, I read on. The article says that the fruit will crack and split where the scald occurs, and that white scars of tougher tissues are formed at the scald site. So now I’m even more convinced that it’s not sun scald, because words like “crack” and “split” and “scar” and “tougher” do not seem to describe the softening and draining of color that is going on outside on these peppers. I’m about to move on to other possibilities, when, just to make sure, I Google “peppers sun scald images”. 

And there you go. It’s sun scald all right. 

So I troop out to the garden to take another look at them and they do, indeed look like the images. And though Pepper has not lost a single leaf to any kind of bug, I do have to admit that he looks a little, well, droopy. He has a lot of leaves, but they’re not exactly a canopy shading his fruit. And as I’m standing there, taking all of this in, Pepper takes his cheap shot. “See?” he seems to say. “My leaves are drooping. You lavished all of that attention on the tomatoes, and here I am with sun scald because you didn’t water me enough.” 

Even though I am now piqued as well, I can’t help but think of all that Pepper has done for me. Those quarts and quarts of last summer’s pickled jalapeños that we have enjoyed all winter – the nachos; the way that handfuls of him, diced up and cooked down with ketchup and a pork shoulder make the best and and most unbelievably flavorful pulled pork that you have ever had; the way that I used to roast Anaheim in the toaster oven and then peel off the black, de-seed him, and pop him into the freezer, and months later I could pull him out to add to a meal and he’d still be sweet and scarlet and perfect. 

Oh, Pepper. I know I done you wrong. 

I finish reading the article, and it recommends planting sun scald resistant varieties, and fertilizing when the plant begins to set fruit so that it has enough leaf growth to shade the fruit, and even erecting some shade for the plants if necessary. Still, I can’t get those droopy leaves out of my mind, and I can’t help but think that in my otherwise strappingly-healthy Pepper, a lack of water is really the problem.  

So if anybody needs me, I'll be outside with the hose. 

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