Rutgers hort research farm hosts annual HYOP Day
By RICHARD SKELLY
EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Nov. 14, 2017) — A crowd of about 90 pepper aficionados showed up here at the Horticulture Research Farm off Ryders’ Lane at noon on Oct. 26 to help pick and evaluate peppers that are part of Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences on-going research projects.
In the process, they got to take home a few bags of fresh peppers themselves.
The Harvest Your Own Peppers Day [HYOP Day] is coordinated by Nigeria-raised Dr. Albert Ayeni with grateful assistance from other pepper experts at the university, Dr. Thomas Orton and Dr. Jim Simon.
“It’s open to the Rutgers community, all of our family and friends, and members of the general public,” Ayeni said, admitting more effort will likely be made in coming years to publicize the annual event to the general public. HYOP Day, always held in mid or late October, is now in its fifth year.
“A highlight of the event was we evaluated 16 different types of peppers,” Ayeni said, “and they were rated based on appearance, color, and texture,” he said, quickly adding, “but not taste!” Some of the peppers evaluated were of the hot and extremely hot varieties, so tasting them on-site was not encouraged, he added with a laugh.
“We typically draw a cross-section of academics, Rutgers administration and employees, students, master gardeners and backyard gardeners who’ve heard about the event.”
Patrons of the event, which is free, may pick peppers from an organic section and a conventional farming section. The conventional section has 10 rows of peppers about 35 meters long while the organic section consists of 10 more rows of peppers about 45 meters long, Ayeni said.
“In all, we have hundreds of pepper plants and thousands of peppers to pick,” he said, noting a week after the event, many peppers remained on the plants.
Varieties grown there and picked on Oct. 26 include the new Rutgers pumpkin habanero pepper as well as sweet bells, sweet mini bells, padron, cayenne, African cayenne, the newer RU cayenne, African pablanos, purple cayenne, New Mexico cayenne, green, yellow and orange bell, red sweet mini bell peppers, including the new Rutgers candy pepper, a sweet bell variety.
Hot pepper varieties grown here include jalopeno, habanero, Carolina Reapers and a variety of super-hot jalokia peppers.
Ayeni credited farm manager Joe Florentine and his staff of farm hands as well as graduate students Martin Vorde, Michael Gerard and Adam A. Lofti, as well as undergrad student Nolan Callahan.
“We had a lot of fun, but after a while the students had to go back to classes, so at the end of the afternoon it was just me dealing with a crowd of people and there were an awful lot of questions at the end,” Ayeni said, laughing.
“Other than that, it was a very successful event,” he said, “and we had about 50 people respond to the pepper evaluation forms. They filled them out and some very good information resulted from the surveys at this year’s Harvest Your Own Peppers Day.”
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