The bell pepper Christmas tree

Peppers make not only amazing houseplants, they also put on a fine organic display of Christmas colours.

Peppers make not only amazing houseplants, they also put on a fine organic display of Christmas colours. We have tried two bell pepper plants this year, one out in the greenhouse which succumbed to the indecent advances of the acorn squash next to it before even putting out as much as a single flower. It is its cousin, growing in a plastic tub by our south-facing window, that is giving me joy.

A cramped cabin is no place to put up a Christmas tree, not with eagerly waving dog tails fanning candles and getting entangled in ornaments. Wreaths would be an option, theoretically. There is the matter of lacking table space, though. The table that’s tall enough to put everything out of dog tail reach (I’m beginning to see the point in docked tails) is habitually occupied by Sam’s collection of tools, assorted nuts and bolts, duct tape, and a piece of soap – I’m not sure if or how the soap’s presence is related to the more manly items. The coffee table is too low and anyway full of my books and a thriving population of mugs and spoons.

If we had wall space, hanging a wreath would be an option, but shelving and clothing racks have eaten up whatever isn’t occupied by the windows. So here it is, my annual conundrum. Driven by the primeval urge to decorate, although I don’t harbour religious feelings that need expressing in the form of evergreens and candles, I am stumped as usual. Or I was stumped, until I looked at the pepper plant.

It’s a leafy, pretty thing, with a distant resemblance to a ficus tree to my unhorticultural eye. Doomed to window light, it has grown slowly, one might say at a glacial pace utterly unrelated to the euphemistic days-to-maturity numbers listed in its seed catalogue of origin. I started it in, oh, March probably, and by late summer, it was shyly getting around to putting out its little flowers.

This was fine, because throughout the summer, when getting to town is relatively easy, we can buy all the peppers we want. It’s during the times that civilization moves beyond reach as it does with the weather and the seasons when you live without a road, when distance measured in kilometres becomes an artificial, meaningless thing – it’s then that I want peppers. And tomatoes. And avocados, and actually a host of other tasty morsels that doesn’t bear thinking about. So the pepper plant was right on track.

In September or October, the flowers gave birth to green bumps that didn’t look like peppers, but were encouragingly coloured like them. We did our harvesting of the other veggies, and still the pepper plant persevered, nursing its stubby fruit into the first snowfall. One of those incongruous pictures: the snowblasted scene on the one side of the windowpane, and the leafy pepper plant bearing fruit on the other.

Sam wanted to get beyond admiration, though. He wanted to start eating. And so I cut one off, there were six or seven in total, puny ones the size of fingers – a far cry from the grossly bloated peppers at the supermarket. We tasted it and simultaneously pulled a face. The flavour, it turned out, was also a far cry from what we associated with bell peppers.

It’s because of this rather unfortunate outcome of our pepper-growing endeavour that the plant continues to hold on to its remaining fruit. I thought that maybe they just weren’t ripe yet. Roguishly, it started to put out another flower bud last month. But the cold snap brought it to its senses and the flower shrivelled and dried up.

Now that Christmas is approaching, I couldn’t resist my food cravings any longer and tried one more fruit – and found it much closer to what it should be, though I might have made allowances due to wishful thinking. This is one promising development, but the other one, which makes me recommend growing bell pepper plants to you city folks as well, is that the fruit are now changing colour. A beautiful, most seasonal blush of red is beginning to spread from the tips to the tops, solving at long last my annual problem of Christmas decorations.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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