Dave Kinyon may be a mellow farmer, but his crop is hotter than a Hanford meltdown.
The Spokane Valley man grows some 9,000 pepper plants on more than two acres in Otis Orchards. Nearly 5,000 of the plants are hot chilies.
Call him Pepper Dave.
“I wish I knew what fascinates me about peppers,” Kinyon said while looking over his crop. “Every year I keep putting in more and more.”
When Kinyon started growing chilies a decade ago, he said he could hardly give them away.
“All of a sudden, there was like this cult following,” said Kinyon’s wife, Lisa.
Now that salsa is replacing ketchup as America’s No. 1 condiment, Kinyon hopes to cash in on his fiery fascination. He sells peppers to local restaurants for salsa and chili rellenos, and at three retail outlets in the Spokane area.
He said he is the only farmer in the area with a large pepper crop.
Kinyon grows 16 varieties of hot chilies. Mixed in with them are nine varieties of sweet peppers, some that ripen with unusual colors like purple and orange.
The hottest is the habanero, reportedly a thousand times spicier than the jalapeno. It might be napalm on a stem. Picking them could require an asbestos suit.
Seriously, Pepper Dave uses rubber gloves.
He said he once knew a man who could chomp into the globe-shaped habanero, and enjoy it, even though the resulting bonfire sauteed the skin from his mouth.
“There was sweat pouring off him, but he loved it,” Kinyon said.
Pepper Dave doesn’t eat habaneros. His tastes run cool by comparison. The hottest chili he can stomach is the jalapeno.
To keep those chilies from overheating him, Kinyon removes the seeds and white inner flesh. That’s where the pepper concentrates its heat in the form of a chemical known as capsaicin.
Kinyon said he prefers a newer variety known as jalapa because it is larger than a jalapeno and not as hot.
One of his most popular chilies is the Anaheim, a large medium-hot pepper that can be roasted and peeled for chili rellenos.
Felix Cabrera, owner of three Chapala Mexican restaurants in Spokane, said he uses Kinyon’s Anaheims for rellenos when they are in season, and his customers enjoy them.
“I like to use fresh,” Cabrera said.
Kinyon said he experiments with new varieties every year, and keeps returning to the best ones.
The garden salsa chili has been available for two years and is intended, obviously, for fresh salsa.
The newly developed Veracruz chili is similar to a jalapeno, but is larger and grows faster.
Kinyon also grows Big Jim, similar to the Anaheim, but hotter. The others that are fairly new are the maloto and anchos 101.
He has old standbys like Hungarian wax, cayennes, hot bananas, serranos, small cooking chilies and the red cherry pepper.
It looks like chili lovers will have to wait until the end of July before they get their first taste of Pepper Dave’s crop. Cool weather last month is slowing these heat-loving plants.
Once the peppers ripen, they can be found at Kinyon’s Fresh Start Produce stands at Wellesley and Harvard Road, at the open air market in Riverfront Park and at a new produce stand at Post Falls.
The truth is the Kinyons, who are full-time farmers, make less money off the pepper crop than any of the other fruits and vegetables they grow on their 22 acres.
They hope their pepper profits will mature with the increasing popularity of hotter foods.
The pepper season starts in midwinter when Kinyon and his wife plant their seeds under artificial light in the basement of their home near Harvard and Wellesley.
By spring, the plants are moved into a greenhouse next door and kept under glass until the danger of frost is past.
Peppers, like tomatoes and cucumbers, need heat to thrive, and Spokane’s warm weather season is too short for peppers unless healthy starter plants are used.
Most nurseries and garden shops sell the starts, but finding unique varieties takes some hunting.
Kinyon said he has a few secrets for producing large peppers. He plants them as close as a foot apart because their roots like shade from the bush, and the support from the adjacent plant.
He fertilizes just beyond the edge of the root zone, a technique known as side dressing. And he uses a secret nutrient he calls “foo foo juice.”
Kinyon is proud of his fiery lobes. “I guess I get carried away with the hot peppers,” he said.
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