Like most other veggies, having your own fresh, homegrown peppers around the kitchen can spoil you. Peppers picked right off the plant feature all kinds of different flavors that get muted somewhere between the picking and the trucking and the refrigerating that a grocery store pepper has to endure before ending up on your plate.

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Strictly speaking, peppers are not among the more temperamental vegetables to grow. They like the basic winning mix of sunshine, fertile, well-drained soil and regular watering. Soil pH should be between 5.5 and 7.0. Because peppers don't get as massive as, say, a tomato plant, they make great raised-bed vegetables. With all the different varieties (bell, Anaheim, banana, pimiento...and LOTS more) you'll probably find a few that are just right.

Planting
Prepare your soil with plenty of organic material (like compost or rotted manure). Avoid planting in places where other members of the Nightshade family have grown in the pas three or so years. (There is an exception to this general rule, though. If you're loading your soil up with lots of compost and basically making it new again, you can plant in the same place. If you're not giving it a boost, best to rotate to avoid disease and pests.)

Dig twice as deep and wide as your transplant container, fill the hole up and set your root ball on top of it. Unlike tomatoes, which sprout roots from the stem and aren't picky about planting depth, peppers shouldn't be planted too deep. It can cause all sorts of problems, from rot to tiny fruit.

If you're growing from seed, follow the directions on your seed packet. Make sure to keep your little seedlings warm as they grow.

Peppers don't need to be planted very far apart, and there are actually benefits in planting them closer together rather than farther apart. Shoot for 18 to 24 inches of space, depending on the variety. Planting closer together can help prevent weeds and keep the fruit from getting scalded by the sun. Make sure each plant has access to the sun and other plants won't grow up to shade each other too much (otherwise you'll end up with a runt).

Don't plant too early! Plant your pepper plants from the middle of May to the middle of June. Nighttime temperatures need to remain above 45 degrees (preferably a bit warmer) before you plant your peppers.

Cultivating
Once your plants are in the ground, your job is to keep them watered. Early in the season, this is easy, but as the weather warms up, they'll probably need water each day. Inconsistent watering (drowning, then letting them dry out for a week) will produce unsatisfactory results, like blossom end rot.


Peppers like to stay warm, including warm roots. However, they do appreciate a little protection from very hot, sunny days in later summer.  A bit of shade cloth from mid- to later afternoon will do the trick.

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To encourage your peppers to bush out, snip the main stem that's growing straight up when the plant is about 7 inches tall. When September rolls around, your plants will still be budding and flowering. To encourage the fruit that's already grown to ripen before nights start getting chilly, pinch off buds and small peppers. (We know, it's sad. But it must be done.)

Harvesting
Cool thing about peppers: they can be harvested at any time during the growth cycle (provided they're big enough). There's not actually a variety of pepper called the "green pepper" -- those are just red or yellow or orange bells that haven't ripened yet. That's why they taste a little less sweet and than their brighter-colored relatives.

That means you can harvest whenever you're ready. Cut the stem an inch or so from the fruit to avoid damaging the plant.

Pepper Facts and Considerations
A little miscellaneous info about peppers...

  • Peppers deteriorate in quality quickly once they're ripe. Pick 'em quick or they'll go bad.
  • Harvest regularly, because it helps the plant keep producing. Once a pepper plant reaches its weight capacity of fruit on its branches, it stops making more peppers. If you keep it from reaching capacity, it will keep going!
  • Hot pepper juices (oils) burn. It sounds ridiculous, until you've tried to remove a contact lens after cutting a pepper, only to realize that the lingering effects of the pepper are burning your eyeball. (Or feeling the burn in other more delicate areas.) Then it's not so funny. Wear gloves (really) because washing your hands doesn't always remove all the oils.
  • If you do run into pepper burns, isopropyl alcohol can dissolve the oils. Dairy products (yogurt, sour cream) can sooth the burns.
  • For seed-savers, let the peppers stay on the plant for 2 weeks after ripeness. Then take the seeds out and let them air dry completely. After that, you can store them.
Got pepper tips? Share them below!

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