This spicy little pepper, commonly thought of as a vegetable, is actually a type of fruit! Named after the town of Jalapa, Mexico, the jalapeño has garnered immense popularity outside of Mexico and is the most commonly consumed pepper within the US. Accustomed to hot, dry climates, jalapeños are a relatively versatile crop that will grow in most climate zones. Normally picked while they are still young and green, jalapeños will take on a beautiful, vibrant red color if allowed to mature. Levels of spice for these fruits will vary based on how much stress they endure. If grown in more difficult environments and allowed to stay on the stem longer, the level of heat tends to go up, so be sure to pamper your plant if you prefer milder flavors!
This pepper, like riding a Harley, is not for the faint of heart! The Biker Billy hybrid jalapeño is a bit larger (3 1/2–6″ long) than the standard variety and is considered to be the hottest jalapeño in town. Mature, red peppers are considered by some to be hotter than the green (though the science on this is iffy); that said, more mature peppers tend to take on a bit of sweetness when red, so test your homegrown peppers at different stages of their growth. The range of heat spans 5,000-30,0000 SHU—quite the jump from pepper to pepper! In most climate zones, peppers will develop fully around mid-June and will produce anywhere from 20–40 peppers in a season.
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 12–18″
Space Between Rows: 3′
Germination Soil Temperature: 65–80°F
Days for Germination: 10–25
Sow Indoors: 8 to 10 weeks before average last frost. In USDA Zones with warmer climates, such as 9–10, you can also sow in late summer for a fall/winter crop. Sow in soil or germinating medium, such as rock wool.
Sow Outdoors: 2 to 4 weeks after all fears of frost have passed. Outside temperatures must be at least 70°F and soil temperature at least 65°F.
Vegetative: Peppers can be propagated/cloned from stem cuttings but are most commonly grown from seed.
Thrives in environments with warmer daytime temperatures and cool, humid nights. Zones 8 and above are suggested as the most suitable outdoor growing conditions but peppers will still grow in cooler climates. That being said, the pepper plant will not produce an abundance of fruit when temperatures are over 90˚F.
Natural: It’s best to supply your jalapeño with a source of shelter that provides a mixture of full sun and partial shade. Areas of intense, all-day sun will not be valuable places to plant your jalapeño.
Artificial: 14–16 hours of light under a fluorescent or HID lamp will be sufficient for growing peppers indoors. Total darkness, or night periods, are required to induce flowering and therefore fruiting.
Soil: Prefers loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0-6.8. Drainage is very important with this pepper, as they are susceptible to root rot in heavy clay soil, and root systems will not thrive in sandy soils. Peppers do not like salt, so areas near oceans or beaches may not be ideal. Also, transplant shock is common in pepper plants, so transplant in the evening in well-tilled, fertilized, moist warm soil to lower losses.
Soilless: Does well in clay pellets that allow good drainage.
hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems, especially deep water culture.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems. Due to the fact that peppers enjoy good drainage to avoid rotting, they do not like to have dry feet. Aeroponics is a superb way to grow peppers to keep them at a constant state of average moistness and nutrient availability.
Water: Peppers like wet roots but need to become dry between watering. They can’t stand to be waterlogged, so an even watering at the soil level 1–2 times per week will be sufficient. Watering is especially important during the fruiting process, so when flowering beings, increase your waterings to 2–3 times per week until maturity.
Nutrients: Add compost or manure to increase nutrient availability and aid in drainage when planting or transplanting. Additions of phosphorus and potassium will aid in flower and fruit production, but over-fertilization can be devastating, so watch out!
Foliar: A bio-activator, such as kelp or seaweed, applied a few times during its growing season may contribute to growth and development.
Pruning: To promote wider and bushier growth that provides more area for flowering and fruiting to occur, pinch off a few of the new growth tips when about 6–8″ tall.
Mulching: Mulching will maintain a soil warmth that is necessary for your jalapeño as well as offer a beneficial blockage of excess weed growth.
Other: Proper air circulation is key. If outdoors, space plants about a square foot apart in areas that are not blocked or surrounded by dense brush to encourage air flow. If indoors, install fans.
Deficiency(s): Phosphorus deficiency in the jalapeño will cause stunted and reduced yields of fruit.
Rotation: Crop rotation, although not mandatory, can be beneficial to reduce excessive growth of soil parasites.
Companions: Marigolds make an excellent companion to the jalapeño, as their roots deter damaging pests such as nematodes. Also grows well with basil, oregano, parsley, and rosemary, all of which deter pests and insects. Other companions include tomatoes, green peppers, eggplants, and okra (all close relatives to the jalapeño in the Solanaceae family). Avoid planting with members of the Brassica family.
Harvest: Harvest when fruits are swollen and glossy. You can usually tell when ripe because they will easily pluck off from the plant. If you are pulling the fruit and the plant tugs with you, peppers are not ready to harvest. Small cracks near the top of the fruit will indicate proper ripeness. You should plan to harvest your jalapeños in 3–4 months time from transplanting a seedling.
Storage: The best way to store your fresh jalapeño peppers is to put them in a container in the fridge.
History: Believe it or not, this pepper was actually developed by a vegetarian biker, chef, and food show host named Billy Hufnagle. The story goes that Billy was looking for a pepper that would add some real flavor to his meatless recipes. The result was a relationship with Burpee seeds and the creation of the Billy Biker hybrid!
Preserve: Jalapeños can be dried, pickled, canned or frozen. See Helpful Links for specific ideas.
Prepare: Mexican cuisine often utilizes the jalapeño. Freshly sliced or pickled peppers are added as a garnish or ingredient in many dishes such as sopes, tacos, and nachos. Chopped jalapeños make a great and exciting addition to any salsa or guacamole. Chipotles are made from smoking fresh jalapeños. They are often stuffed with cheese and served as a yummy appetizer. The Vietnamese serve freshly-sliced jalapeño alongside other dressings for their delicious brothy soup known as Phở.
Nutritional: Peppers are a natural source of vitamin(s) A and C.
Medicinal: Capsaicin, the phytochemical responsible for the ‘hotness’ in peppers, has shown many valuable qualities in the medicinal world. Capsaicin is most commonly seen on the medical market as a topical ointment that relieves minor pains associated with muscles and joints. More recently, the effects of capsaicin have been effectively used against the pain associated with neuralgia and fibromyalgia.
Warnings: Jalapeños’ capsaicin content is irritating: do not touch eyes or rub on areas of sensitive skin. Wash hands before using the bathroom please!
Try this vegan Carrot and Jalapeño Soup with your next batch of Biker Billy Jalapeños. We bet the heat heads in your life will love you for it!