This year we have had a Pepper Problem. We’ve been producing a lot of peppers, so that’s not exactly the problem. The real problem is that we planted 14 varieties of peppers, and we’re only reliably harvesting from 5 of them. The 9 we’re not harvesting from, purple and orange bell peppers, Anaheim, Marconi, gypsy sweet, poblano, shishito, lunchbox, and cayenne, may have produced a few peppers earlier in the season (not all of them did), then dropped their leaves, grew spindly, and stopped flowering.
Early on we thought it might be a bacterial disease, in which case the recommended control measure is to pull up and destroy the plants. The bacterial disease is fatal to pepper plants anyway, so we left them in the ground to see if they got sicker.
A couple months later, all of the questionable plants are still alive, and in fact many are producing flowers and even fruit now! So the Pesky Pepper Problem of 2019 is not just a problem, but a mystery. Over- and underwatering can cause leaf drop, but with healthy and sick pepper plants growing side-by-side in the same bed, that seems an unlikely explanation. Other explanations involving soil-borne pathogens are also shot down by the fact that healthy and sick plants are coexisting as neighbors.
Some diseases can be present in the seeds and infect the adults, but the shishito and lunchbox peppers are from the exact seed packets we grew from last year and those crops were bountiful.
The closest I can come to an explanation is that the peppers we planted earliest may be doing better, though I don’t remember the exact order in which they were planted. The jalapenos and cayennes were planted the same day, possibly busting that theory, but the healthy jalapenos were older seedlings at the time of transplanting. Maybe that matters; maybe the mystery will remain unsolved. And if it is true that the peppers planted earliest stayed healthy while the others got sick, I don’t know why that would be!
In the meantime, if you’ve been missing your favorite peppers from our usual summer lineup, know that it wasn’t an intentional omission from the planting plan! With any luck, maybe we’ll see continued recovery of the pepper crop and be able to increase the diversity of our pepper harvest.