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Growing Peppers

Peppers are essential for your cooking and in your garden! Learn how to get the best harvest of peppers this season. Click here for more gardening tips from Ashcombe!

Peppers are members of the Solanaceae family and were introduced to the world when Columbus brought them back to Europe from native Indian gardens in the Caribbean. Peppers may be sweet or hot. Most gardeners grow sweet green or bell peppers and many do not realize that immature green or purple peppers will mature to red, yellow and gold! If left to ripen longer, gardeners will discover not only this dramatic color change, but a dramatic change in taste from sour or bitter to sweet and mild as well.

Hot or chili peppers are a diverse group. There are many types of chilies, and they vary widely in their ‘hotness.’ Purchase and label hot varieties in your garden well to avoid surprises to your taste buds later! In general, hot peppers need higher temperatures than sweet peppers to produce a good crop, and often require a longer growing season.

Peppers grow best in light, organic, well-drained soil that is not overly rich and has a pH of 6-7. They should be planted in full sun in soil where tomatoes, eggplant or other peppers have not been planted within the previous two years (prevents soil bourne diseases). Peppers may be started from seeds or set out as starter plants after the frost-free date (May 15th in Zone 6). Seeds should be started early to mid-March in our area, for they need 8-10 weeks to grow into a good sized transplant. When transplanting pepper plants, place them 18-24” apart in rows spaced 2-3 feet apart.

Peppers need warm soil and warm nigh time temperatures of at least 55°F, so it doesn’t pay to set them out too early in the season for they won’ grow and may turn yellow and be permanently stunted. Maintain even soil moisture for your plants throughout the season to avoid blossom-end rot and other problems. Mulch, but not until the soil is thoroughly warmed! When the first blossoms appear, give plants a light application of fertilizer. Water it in well. Too much nitrogen will produce lush growth and few peppers, but an application of fish emulsion or compost tea (water through which decayed organic matter has settled) when the plants are in flower is beneficial. Magnesium is critical. For magnesium-poor soil, scatter one teaspoon epsom salts around the base of each plant.

Sweet peppers can be harvested at any time after they reach full size, whether green, red or “breaking” (part green and part red). As noted, flavor changes as peppers mature. Immature green peppers have a crunchy, mildly tangy flavor. Mature peppers are much sweeter and have more vitamins, but also have a short shelf life. In areas with long growing seasons, a gardener can allow peppers to ripen fully before harvest and still expect a second crop. Where the growing season is short, gardeners may only be able to harvest one crop of fully matured peppers. Hot peppers get “hotter” as fruit matures, for the heat in these fruits comes from developing seeds. Once seeds have formed, most hot peppers achieve their full quota of fiery flavor.

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