Bill McCarthy is a pepper breeder and relates, “Most of the time I am working on green bell peppers but at the end of their maturity when they create the seed, (which is what Bill is working toward) they turn to either red or yellow or orange color, so I learned to really enjoy eating the colored peppers. I felt that we as Americans were kind of missing out on the pleasures of colored peppers. When I started breeding 20 years ago, most of the colored peppers were coming out of the Dutch greenhouses. And they were pretty expensive back then. I kind of felt like there was a pretty big chunk of Americans who had never even tried colored peppers because they were so expensive. If I could come up with a product that was easier to grow and you could grow it outdoors in fields and give people the chance to experience colored peppers at a lower price than what I was seeing in the greenhouse for a Dutch market, it would be a pretty exciting product.”
McCarthy has been crossing and back crossing peppers for many years looking for that perfect colored pepper to bring to market. He feels he has done it with the introduction of the BellaFina baby bell pepper. These perfectly shaped mini-peppers, bred for the commercial market, will be available to the home gardener in 2015.
When a vegetable is bred for open field production, it has to withstand the quirks in weather, the onslaught of disease and/or insects, and have a reasonably long shelf life. McCarthy has a couple of reasons for working on bell peppers. He especially likes the sweet bells, the reds, yellows, and oranges that a regular sized pepper produces only after the green pepper ripens, which takes much longer than getting to the green stage. McCarthy said, “The longer the fruit sets on the plant, the more susceptible the fruit is to damage from sunburn, and insects, and that sort of thing. I really thought it was important to have as early maturity as I could with these types.”
The boldly colored sweet bell peppers have been very expensive in the stores since they take much longer to bring to market. So his search has been for a pepper that is easy to grow, quicker maturing, and less expensive to produce and, in turn to buy, then the large colored bell peppers now on the market.
“I was working with a colleague of mine in Holland,” McCarthy said, “and I noticed that he had some small peppers that were shaped like bell peppers. I felt like I could start with that material and, working with the genetics I have for open field, I felt that I could create some peppers that were good for open field production and would give you good color, real sweet flavor, and a nice crunch to them and just a really pleasant colored pepper experience.”
GROWING BABY BELLS
“Bell peppers are hard to grow, I think, personally,” said McCarthy. “Bell peppers are kind of finicky. I think generally they are hard to grow and home gardeners have a hard time with them. What I have seen with these BellaFinas is they are just a little bit easier to grow. You have a lot of small fruit instead of just a couple of real big ones. So I think they are going to be a pretty good fit for the home garden.” As far as growing the BellFinas in containers, the yellow and the orange would be best suited for this type of growing. “The red one can get bigger but I think they probably would work out well in containers,” McCarthy said.
“With bell peppers you don’t want them to be in frequent drought conditions where they are wilting or anything like that. That’s hard on them. You don’t want them to dry out on a regular basis.” They need consistent watering to grow and produce the best crop. “That’s true for most everything but peppers for sure,” McCarthy said.
BellaFina peppers are resistant to Bacterial Leaf Spot, Races 1, 2, 3 and to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus. “There are some other traits that are important,” McCarthy related. Skin toughness in green bell peppers can be an annoying eating problem but the peppers should have a satisfying crunch when eaten. Also, “We tried to avoid a real heavy amount of seed in them. They are not seedless but it is something we worked on.” Similarity in size is also important in a crop. “We tried to come up with 3 varieties that were comparable in size.”
Just like full size bell peppers, “They start out green and then mature to a red, a yellow, or an orange.” You can pick them at the immature green stage, just as you would a regular bell pepper. Their taste then has nothing to distinguish them. They taste just like any other green bell pepper but, “Once they go to color they are really, really sweet.” This transformation from a fully formed green mini pepper to a colored pepper usually takes about two to three weeks.
BellaFina peppers have a long ‘shelf life’ which means they can keep for some time without going bad. What does this mean to the home gardener? It means a vegetable that will not spoil when the crop is coming in all at once. It gives the gardener time to use or process the abundance.
The plants are disease resistant and the fruit is quick maturing, crunchy without a tough skin, few seeds, extra sweet, long keeping qualities and it is a bell pepper that is easy to grow. Sounds like a winner we home gardeners can try out in 2015. Look for BellaFina plants in major retail stores in select markets this spring.
BELL PEPPER RECIPES
I mentioned to Bill McCarthy that I wasn’t sure if I would like stuffed sweet peppers and he answered that once I tried them I would not want to go back to stuffed green peppers, they are that good. For a great list of recipes, check out the Bailey Farms website. Bailey Farms are the commercial growers of BellaFina peppers. They are sharing their dozens of BellaFina pepper recipes with our GardenSMART readers at their site: http://baileyfarmsinc.com/category/recipes/pepper/bellafina/
Posted January 9, 2015
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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