Thursday, April 14, 2011

Man vs. Misery

Mention the Ghost Chile to most people, and you’ll probably get an uncomprehending “huh?”

Mention the Ghost Chile to select males, however, and you’ll be greeted with a guttural “OH YEAH!” accompanied by the wagging of eyebrows and maybe even the crushing of a can on the head. 

Recognized as one of the hottest chile peppers in the world, the Ghost Chile's burn registers at 1 million Scoville units, compared to the puny 3,000 to 4,000 units scored by your average jalapeno.

Those of you already familiar with this villainous vegetable may have learned about it the way we did: through the daring example of Adam Richman, Food Network personality. Richman groaned and sweated his way through a cheeseburger laced with Ghost Chiles in a popular episode of his show: Man Vs. Food.

But the Ghost Chile, officially known as the Bhut Jolokia, doesn't just count its victims among television celebrities.

Oh no.

The ever-growing roster of crazy  brave people who see food as fighting and want to Bring It On include:





Oh yes, and the list will now likely include my husband, Steve, and his good friend, Todd.

Though neither of them is the Flex-Biceps-And-Roar type, they both enjoy that peculiar type of male bonding called Shared Pain.

To speculate here about the origins or functions of this behavior would definitely put me way beyond the scope of a garden blog.

Growing a ghost chile, however, is right up my alley. Which is exactly what I'm setting out to do.

Let me say right now: I have no attachment to my husband actually eating this wicked pepper, and furthermore, I would in fact be relieved if he decided to forgoe the madness completely. (I love you, sweetie.)

Now, Todd got us started last November by giving my husband a kit to grow a Ghost Chile plant in a can for his 37th birthday.

(As a quick aside, anyone who has noticed that the Magic Plant company spells their product Ghost Chili and I spell it Ghost Chile can be assured my spelling is intentional. As someone proud to have been raised in New Mexico, I know that a spicy pepper is a "chile" and a spicy stew made with meat and sometimes beans is a "chili." 

The top of the can showed an image of the sort of plant we can expect if we follow the directions and give the can proper care:

See how this mature, fruiting plant is clearly growing out of the top of the can? Given the size of pots I've used to grow container peppers in my yard (which measured at least 12 inches across the mouth) I'm skeptical. It takes some effort for a plant to produce fruit, and I'm not sure this beverage-sized can will allow enough root expansion to cut it.

No matter, I proceeded to follow directions. After taking off the paper wrapper, I opened the bottom of the can, which opened like a typical beverage can, to create the drain for the planter. Here's what it looked like after I opened it.

The material you see in the opening is some sort of fabric to allow water to pass through without losing any planting medium. Keep in mind this is the bottom of the can.

The top of the can opened like a modern soup can, with a ring that peeled back the entire lid.

What I saw when I opened the can brought my skepticism to all new levels. The planting medium filling the can resembled nothing if not tiny little beige and green Styrofoam peanuts.

I can only assume that this is because 1) it makes the can nice and light for cheap shipping and 2) the peppers appreciate exceptional drainage.

But as I stared, mouth agape, at this planting medium, I couldn’t ignore the voice in my head screaming “GIANT FUTURE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS” for any Bhut Jolokia grown here.

It’s not that I don’t believe a plant could get started in this can. I absolutely do. But, I’ll say it again: The notion that a pepper plant could produce fruit in this can seems laughable. So laughable, in fact, that it makes me wonder whether the company avoids litigation for pain and suffering inflicted by the pepper by poorly designing this kit. In other words, designing the kit to produce a darling plant which, conveniently, refuses to fruit.

Some of you may be wondering, at this point, why not just transplant from the can to a more suitable place?  Yes. Great question. But how would we get the plant out?

I posed this problem to Todd, who purchased a Ghost Chile kit for himself, as well as for my husband. Todd said when the plant seemed ready to outgrow the container, he would saw it down the side (with an adequately manly power tool) and then move the plant.

I liked this idea, except for one problem: As far as I know, when you move a plant in its active (non-dormant) state, success usually lies in disturbing the roots as little as possible. So you carefully protect the clod of soil surrounding the roots as you move them to their new digs.

But how could we achieve such a thing with nothing but loose pellets surrounding the roots? Another conundrum to be filed under the heading of  “protection from liability for Magic Plant kit company."

I could think of only one solution. And I’d never tried it before. And it seemed really sketchy.

After I had germinated the can on the windowsill, and I had two sprouts poking out of said can:

I very gently pulled the smaller of the two sprouts out, being extremely careful not to sever the stem.

Then I quickly nestled it into a peat pellet I had moistened for the occasion. (Note the bit of planting medium clinging to the roots.)

It worked. Three times.

Here is a picture of the can with the original sprout, along with three additional sprouts transplanted into peat pellets.

I’ve left a sprout in the can because I’ve decided, after all my ranting, to try my best to make it fruit there. If it works, I promise a full apology, in writing, on this blog, to the Magic Plant company. Either way, I’ve increased our chances of producing the dreaded chile, and the chances that Steve and Todd will become the Bhut of everyone's Jolokia.  

Stay tuned for updates….

P.S. I found out yesterday that Todd opted not to employ the power tool method for transplanting his peppers, and successfully moved them by tipping the can on its side and gently shaking his sprouts out of the planting medium. Then he quickly moved them to peat pots filled with soil. As of yesterday , he had several ghost pepper sprouts sitting under a table lamp. Our chances of producing deadly hot peppers is on the rise.....


  1. I would never be brave enough to try one of these chiles...I love New mexico and have a great friend who lives there appetite for green chiles is such that this year I ordered Hatch green chile seeds and am starting them indoors to then move into my NY garden in hopes of a fall harvest...then roasting...mmmmm

  2. Hi Donna!

    My mother mailed us a box of Hatch green chiles last fall and we were lucky enough to have a friend with a roaster. We're still happily working through the stash in the freezer. There aren't many dishes that don't taste better with roasted chiles on top!

  3. This sounds like fun...So how long before these chile plants are supposed to produce? And does this mean that you and Steve are having a chile tasting party this Summer? We'll bring the milk! :)

  4. Hi Aunt D,
    I assume they'll produce sometime this summer! We'll keep you updated.

  5. Hi Bel, well it looks like you are well on your way to having way more super hot chiles than you will know what to do with! To think those little seedlings look so sweet and innocent :)
    An apolgy from me too - I did get your invitation to join the reading challenge and had the very best of intentions to join in...but all I did was procrastinate! Sorry for that.

  6. Hi gissplandgardener!

    Yes, they do look quite charming now, don't they. We'll see how they develop.

    No worries on the Earth Day Reading project. I'm wondering if I'm going to get my act together myself!


Thanks for reading!