Did you know that peppers are part of " The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Eat Organic"? This lists foods most likely to be contaminated with higher levels of pesticide residues. No worries — grow your own! You can have fresh-picked peppers July through October and enjoy peppers you've canned or frozen the rest of the year.
Also, peppers at the store are some of the pricier items, so you'll save money. Plus, you won't be restricted to their very limited offering. You can have sweet and hot hungarian peppers, small and large bell peppers, Italian-style peppers, and mild to super-hot peppers.
Peppers are actually a perennial which return every year in their native climates of Central and South America. Some zone 5 - 6 gardeners overwinter their pepper plants inside and plant them back into the garden when the soil temperature is at least 60 ° F. This reportedly, gives you a big headstart on producing the first peppers. Our attempts to overwinter peppers in a greenhouse haven't been successful. The biggest problem has been terrible infestations of white flies. We tried organic controls such as introducing beneficial insects to no avail. The insect damage distorted and stunted the growth making the plant so unappealing we tossed them in the trash. Frankly, it was all more trouble than it was worth. Instead, we start our pepper seeds much earlier than our tomatoes (which will get too "leggy" if started more than 6-8 weeks before the last average spring frost date). The seeds are planted at least a month ahead of the tomatoes and as early as January. This has produced large, sturdy plants without whitefly problems.
- Warm Season crop.
- Start seed indoors or buy plants.
- Peppers are easy to grow from seed.
- Start at least 6-8 weeks before your average last spring frost date. Even better is 12-16 weeks before. For a detailed spring planting schedule, check out this Vegetable Planting Schedule.
- Seed planting depth: ¼”.
- Seed spacing: 1”.
- Need warmth to germinate. Ideal germinating temperature: 75-80 F. Heat mats are invaluable for maintining this temperature range.
- Germination rates vary. Hot varieties can be very slow to germinate, so be patient. Use the germination rate on the seed packet as your guide.
- When the seedlings have at least 2 sets of leaves , transplant them into pots at least 6 inches deep (assuming the seeds were given an early start).
- About a week after transplanting, fertilize seedlings weekly with a good all-purpose organic liquid fertilizer at half strength.
- “Harden off” your plants before planting them into the garden. That is, get them used to the real outdoors gradually, over the course of 7 to 10 days. Start with an hour a day outside during mild days and gradually increase the time, leaving them out overnight during warm (over 60 ° F) calm nights.
Planting and Tending
- Plant in garden after the last frost (irises will be in full bloom, roses will be budding, and oak leaves will be fully developed) or use special protection to get ahead of Mother Nature. Soil temperature should be at least 60 ° F and night temperatures consistently over 55 ° F. This is usually at least a week after the tomatoes have been planted. Eggplant are planted around the same time.
- Plant 10 – 12” apart. This closer spacing reduces weeds between the plants. Water them in and cover with a floating row cover for the first week or two, to protect them from high winds and unexpected cool nights.
- Stake taller varieties as needed.for better productivity and to prevent diseases. A simple short bamboo pole works well. Tie plants to the stake by looping soft cord or cloth (such as cut up t-shirts) around the plant (under a branch – this will help support it); then cross for a figure eight over to the stake and loop around the stake twice (to keep it from sliding down the stake) and tie.
- To fertilize tomatoes, we like organic products such as Tomatoes Alive or GSC Organic Tomato Fertilizer. Follow the directions on the bag. The right amount of fertilizer and water will produce plants with enough foliage to protect the peppers from sun scalding. Over fertilizing produces too much foliage and not enough fruit.
- Folklore advises planting a half book of matches under each plant. Peppers love slightly acidic soil and this is supposed to be one way to accomplish that. Be sure there is soil between the matches and the roots of the newly planted plant.
- Apply mulch around plants.
- Pinch off the 1st flowers for more and larger fruits.
- When the plants flower, fertilize with a fish/seaweed emulsion solution and spray the plants with a mild solution of Epsom salts (1 teaspoon to a quart of water). Repeat 2 weeks later. The extra magnesium will encourage fruit set.
- In general, keep the soil evenly moist. Peppers don't mind occasional dry spells. The intensity of the hot varieties will vary from year to year depending on the amount of water and sun that season.
- Always cut to harvest. Pick often to encourage more fruit. Extras may be frozen.
- Likes to be near:
- Coriander ( Cilantro)
- Does not like:
Visit the Vegtables Forum at GreatLakesGardeners.com to get answers to your growing vegetables questions. To ask a new question, Register if you haven't already done so(it's free and helps protect the forum from spam), click on Start New Topic, enter your question and click on Post New Topic.
You may also appreciate these books on growing vegetable gardens.