The story of some peppers and how things turn out unexpectedly

I went on a trip to Washington, Oregon, and northern California in 2012 visiting Tom Wagner (potato breeder), Jim Myers (OSU tomato and bean breeder), took time to walk through the international rose garden in Portland, Shreinersgardens to see the irises, visited Mount St. Helens, toured the redwoods in northern California, and overall had a very interesting vacation.

But that is not what this post is about. When I visited Jim Myers at OSU, I asked if there was anything else in the area worth visiting and he told me about Gathering Together farm where Frank Morton grew seed to sell on his website. Things were looking bleak at first as he was off in a field with a crew working. But at lunch, he came in and I got a chance to talk with him. I had no particular objectives, just wanted to talk about plants and growing things in the PNW climate. We walked around the area and he showed me his Italian type peppers which at the time was only 4 varieties. I’m a bit of an opportunist and the peppers were ripe so I - impolitely - gathered 1 pepper of each variety and carried them off with me. Keep in mind that these are the peppers Frank was growing for seed to sell. We talked quite a bit about things he was growing and objectives he had in mind. For the peppers, he was very interested in finding a true orange pepper (technically, they are tangerine colored, not orange). I told him the genetics he was working with would never produce an orange fruit and to get one he would have to grow some orange peppers. His peppers were all red or gold/yellow. I saved seed from his peppers and grew them the next year. They were very productive and good flavored. I had seed of Stocky Red Roaster, Stocky Yellow Roaster, Jolene, and Little Bells.

Skip forward a couple of years. I had been growing a delicious pepper named “Orange Bell” for about 10 years. I made a cross between Orange Bell X Little Bells in 2014 and then grew the F1 seed out in 2015. One of the plants was a hybrid!!! I wasn’t very good at making crosses so the fact I got a hybrid plant on my first try was happy time. How did I know it was a hybrid? The leaves were greener than normal and the fruit were red instead of orange. I saved a few hundred seed and send a pack of about 100 to Frank. Now it gets interesting.

Little Bells is an otherwise mediocre sweet semi-bell pepper, but it was very early and productive. Orange bell is phenomenally good flavored with very good production and a weakness of having very brittle stems. A good wind storm will wreak havoc with Orange Bell plants. But Little Bells did not have that problem. Frank grew out the F2 seed I sent and struck paydirt. He got large orange bells, small orange bells, large red bells, candy apple red bells, intense lipstick red bells, and a ton of other colors and shapes. Most important, they produced a good crop in his climate - a result of the inheritance from Little bells and many are exceptionally good flavored - from Orange Bell. Now you can look at his website and see several peppers descended from that cross and there are several others he sold for a few years before finding a different line he liked better. Frank is a bit absent minded so he incorrectly attributed the seed source as “Doug Jones” from North Carolina. But they started out in his garden in Oregon, were grown and crossed in my Alabama garden, then went back to Oregon and were selected for outstanding traits.

I’ve emailed Frank a few times over the years and each time he offers to send me some more pepper seed. I think he has an ulterior motive. :slight_smile: :smiley: :open_mouth:


Gr8 story!! Thnx for sharing. Randy/GA

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It is funny that outside of manipulation for commercial crops most of the new varieties that are created come from little guys like us. Universities and large nurseries may have the resources, but we are legion.

I have a raspberry that popped out of nowhere. It is definitely not wild as those are small but it does have a bit of the extra acidity of the wild ones. The berries themselves are huge. My heritage and red mammoth are sweeter and better for eating fresh but this one is superior in preserves.