- Tuesday, February 13, 2018 3:49 PM
Strumica, 13 February 2018 (MIA) – Few are aware that the village of Bansko, known for its hot water springs, is Macedonia’s largest producer of green hot peppers. Experienced farmers from this part of the country have long grown only this kind of peppers, beginning their harvest each February.
Looking along the plastic row covers that extend as far as the eye can reach, the first thing you notice is the steam. It rises from the springs near the hill and its 72°C are the main culprit that Bansko growers are the first to bring their hot peppers to market each winter.
Two hoses line the rows of Dame Trenchovski’s peppers. One of them carries the water that heats the rows. The other is smaller, and it waters the plants drop by drop.
“We start planting in early November,” says Trenchovski, a 34-year-old farmer. “My family owns more than 3,000 square meters of plastic tunnels sown with the Hungarian Wax pepper variety.
"After we have planted the seedlings in the warm rows in December, we move them to the plastic tunnels in January. Depending on the weather, we harvest them between early February and early March.”
Trenchovski takes us to see his drip irrigation system. It distributes water through a network of pipes to all the rows covered by “plastic sheets,” as they are known in Strumica.
“We used to rely on the natural hot spring water. But since the hot springs were granted as a concession a few years ago, we have had to use water from private sources. My water comes from my neighbor, I forward it to another, and so on. Some of the heat gets lost, but whatever gets to me is still enough to keep the rows warm and create the ideal conditions for growing hot peppers,” Trenchovski explains.
He expects his 3,000 square meters to yield a harvest of 40 - 45,000 hot peppers a week.
“Fortunately,” Trenchovski adds, “the starting price is 5 denars per pepper. Traders are interested and I hope we will all have a good final outcome."
He sells his peppers to traders from Macedonia, Kosovo, and a few other countries.
“Producing our unmistakable hot peppers is our priority, and whoever buys them can then puzzle over how to cook them. You can eat them grilled, fried, or raw.”
When asked how hot the peppers are, he says they are hot enough for those who are able to take the heat.
“We guarantee they’re hot enough. Maybe not as hot as a chili pepper, but they will give your palate a good burn,” Trenchovski says.
Bansko growers differ from others in the Strumica region by the fact that they produce hot peppers only. Also, they work hard while others are resting.
“We profit from our peppers because we sell them apiece. But we also tend to the crops while others are taking time off. We work in the winter making use of the naturally hot water,” Trenchovski adds.
The hot peppers from the plastic-covered rows in Bansko are harvested through August. Then they start selling by the kilo and the profits are not as high as during the winter.
But rare are the farmers who decide to rotate crops and grow something else in place of peppers. It is not cost-effective. After hot pepper production has ended, they start preparing for the new pepper-growing cycle.
Winter work is particularly exhausting for the growers. It demands constant tending to the warm irrigation system in case it malfunctions, causing all the peppers to burn down in a single cold night.
As we say goodbye, Trenchovski mentions that soon he will start packing the peppers in five- and ten-kilo bags. Just the other day, he says, he sold his first batch to a friend who owns a grocery store in Strumica. Inviting us to come see him again, he boasts that next season he will add another 1,000 square meters to his rows of peppers.
tr. by Magdalena Reed
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