the tragic end of my bell peppers came on a cool monday evening.
It was a few weeks before I even noticed anything was wrong. Then, three things happened one afternoon:
1. I saw holes in the leaves. It could have been my kids because Lord knows they don’t eat anything I feed them, but my kids would have stepped on the plants and colored them with a Sharpie, so it wasn’t them.
2. I was admiring my pepper—something I grew that doesn’t need to be burped, changed, or taught to share.
3. I thought to myself, “How did cornmeal get on this leaf?”
What was this? What did this mean? I stood there not really knowing what to think, but understanding it probably wasn’t good.
So, I texted Jessica.
That’s the nice thing about the 21st Century I can send her videos or photos, and she can look up the issue in her gardening book; the one that I could also buy if I weren’t so codependent and lazy.
“It looks like an aphid infestation,” she said. “It’s basically plant lice.”
“Plant lice, huh?” I thought to myself.
My head started to itch.
Now, I’m 99% sure I bought these peppers like that but I didn’t know they had bugs because:
- I was blissfully unaware aphids existed.
- I was blissfully unaware what aphids do to plants.
- Aphids are really small.
- Aphids live on the underside of leaves because they are cowards.
Aphids aren’t like the giant spider in my greenhouse who isn’t afraid to show himself. Despite living there rent free, he obviously doesn’t help. I mean, if his presence in there keeps me out—someone who can crush him but won’t, because, eew—imagine how he must look to an aphid. Aphids have to be food and prey do not get any easier than cluttering a leaf like a horticultural Coachella. The only thing he ate were the five ladybugs I invited in to share my greenhouse experience.
How was I supposed to know to look under the leaves before I bought these? I bought them from a woman at Lowe’s who also told me to put tinfoil on my strawberry to prevent heat exhaustion. It’s not like anyone in this situation knew what they were doing—except the aphids. Besides, looking under a plant’s leaves is kind of like looking up someone’s dress. These peppers and I hardly knew each other.
The solution was to spray the plants with water and wipe the larvae off. Then, wipe the water off the leaves with a paper towel because, like my children, peppers and tomatoes cry when you spray them with the hose. Finally, inspect every leaf in the greenhouse to make sure they weren’t also being occupied. Like lice, this would need to be done every day until they were eradicated. I also looked for a non-toxic solution to help move things along faster. My first attempt was a mixture of Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap, water, and cayenne pepper. Because who doesn’t love spicy? This soap, for whatever reason, dissolves their little aphid exoskeletons. It sounds harsh, I know. Do I really need the carnage? Yes. I was trying to send a message here. Establish a reputation. You let one aphid off the hook, you have to let them all off until they’re eating out of your fridge. I don’t need anything else to feed around here. The Inn’s full.
So, for a week I babied these peppers and went out twice a day to spray them off, clean their little lice friends out, and dry their leaves. At night I put the soap spray on the adult aphids I did see, any new larvae, and the exposed leaves. After almost a week, they were all finally gone.
I was happy.
I felt accomplished.
I could totally do this gardening thing.
Then, the next day, I found this:
“Why is it brown?” I asked Jessica.
“Is that brown part squishy?” she said.
“Well, it’s only one pepper,” she said. “More will grow. Shake it off. You can do this!”
The thought of pulling that off the branch made me sad. I was so close. I kept examining it hoping maybe it was actually a chocolate pepper and that was the syrup forming inside. I didn’t see any more aphids anywhere, and had no idea if this was even related to them. As I pulled back the soil from the stem to do an aphid inspection, I saw this:
The tragic end of my bell peppers came on a cool Monday evening. While the breeze gently blew my Doritos bag bird-be-gone streamers lightly around, I quietly pulled the plants out of their little box and threw the soil away. Here was the first thing I had grown that was not mold inside a Sippy cup, and yet, it had the same exact mold on its stem that I’ve found in many Sippy cups.
Still, with two more months of the season left, Jessica convinced me to keep going. She sent me to a garden center that was not owned by Lowe’s and was run by an employee who assured me these peppers wouldn’t quit on me. They were perfectly pruned and manicured better than my hands, toes, or eyebrows have ever been, and they were only two dollars each.
So, I have three new victims to slowly torture to death with heat and who knows what else is in that place at night.
They are aphid-free as is the rest of my greenhouse, so far as I can tell. I didn’t mess around the second time, I sprayed neem oil on the rest of my plants just in case. Neem oil is both safe and non-toxic for my plants, but I can’t get it on my clothes, on my hands, or breathe it in. If neem oil can eradicate me, I can imagine I’ve resolved the aphid issue for now.
So, here’s to smoother sailing on the bell pepper front for the rest of the summer, no thanks to the gigantic spider.
Also, my head still itches.