Edible Garlic chive blossoms on beautiful thick walled red bell pepper!
Image by super gardener Kenny Point in Pennsylvania
Peppers are not just food, they are an adventure that spices your life! They are not just a veggie, but an edible garden beauty in your landscape!
Peppers Come in an Amazing Array!
Mini to Mammoth! Tiny brain wrecking hot chilis, dainty mini to humongous sweet Bells! Early maturing thin walled, later thick walled. Short, long – pointy, round. Ones that hang down, others that point up!
Peppers come in colors you won’t believe! How about these super thick walled Jupiter Sweet Burgundy! On the right are 8″ colossal beauties Yellow Monster Peppers! Really sweet, meaty, great fresh, fried or roasted!
Striped, one of the prettiest peppers ever, Fish Pepper, above left, is an African-American heirloom that predates the 1870s. It starts out an unusual cream color striped with green, the fruits ripen to orange with brown stripes, before turning all red. Super for containers! At right is beautiful Numex Twilight. It can produce more than 100 small pretty pods! At 100,000 Scoville Units, it’s HOT! Respect.
- Disease resistant If your land is moist, hybrids are probably going to do better for you than heirlooms. In coastal Santa Barbara CA we usually have a late spring/summer fog belt/marine layer, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Choose Resistant varieties per the list below and also Potato Yellow Mosaic Virus, Pepper Mottle Virus and Cucumber Mosaic Virus.
Pepper Resistance Codes:(BLS 1-3) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1-3)
(BLS 1-2) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1, 2)
(PC) Phytophthora Root Rot
(PVY) Potato Virus Y
(TEV) Tobacco Etch Virus
(TM 0-2) Tobamovirus (Races 0-2)
(TM 0-3) Tobamovirus (Races 0-3)
(TMV) Tobacco Mosaic VirusHere are recommended varieties by UC Davis in California. TMV is Tobacco Mosaic Virus, PVY is Potato Virus Y. AAS is a super plus! It is an All America Selections winner!
Tam Mild Jalapeno (mild heat with Jalapeno flavor) PVY
Jalapeno M (very hot)
Anaheim TMR 23 (chili pepper, moderately hot) TMV
Anaheim (standard hot chill)
Cayenne Long Red Slim (hot)
Hungarian Yellow Wax (popular for canning, moderately hot)
Serrano Chili Pepper (tabasco type)
Bell Boy AAS, TMV
California Wonder TMV
Yolo Wonder TMV
Keystone Resistant Giant TMV
Golden Summer Hybrid (yellow when fully mature) TMV
Golden Bell (yellow when fully mature)
Early Pimento (used fresh or for canning) AAS
Sweet Yellow or Cubanelle Sweet Banana AAS
Gypsy AAS, TMV
- Heat tolerant
Peppers are a Solanacea like tomatoes, and like tomatoes they produce poorly during high temperatures. Banana, ‘Gypsy’ and pimento produce very well, despite the heat. Jessie Keith says ‘super spicy classic jalapeno ‘Tula’, wonderfully flavorful pasilla-type pepper ‘Holy Molé’ (2007 AAS Winner), and classic spicy sweet red bell pepper ‘Mexibell’ (1988 AAS Winner). Of the sweet bell peppers nothing beats the tough, [thick walled] disease-resistant ‘Orange Blaze’ (2011 AAS Winner) and its crisp, bright orange peppers.’ Heirloom Olympus (65 days green, 85 days red) has large bell peppers on medium-sized plants with good leaf cover. They are high-yielding plants, are heat tolerant and can set fruit under a wide range of conditions. MG Seed Stock.If you planted varieties that are more heat susceptible, put up a shade cloth cover. Depending on the density you select, shade cloth can lower the temperature by approximately 5-15 degrees.If you live in a hot area, bell pepper transplants can be planted in August for fall production when the weather cools down.
- Drought tolerant Look for the terms drought tolerant, drought resistant, dry farmed when searching for the best variety for your garden. It’s important to know that drought tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerant and vice versa, so stay alert if you need both. When you are buying seeds, consider the location of the seed company. Perhaps local seed houses will understand your needs best. Check in with local farmers to see which varieties they are growing, remembering that some of their standards are different than a home gardener.For those of you in water critical areas, one way to help the situation is to pick pepper varieties with fewer days to maturity. You get peppers, you can freeze some, your plants are done before the highest heat and driest times.The UC Sonoma County list is short. Only two varieties, Jupiter Red Bell and Ordoño.
Location! If you have a short summer season or are cooler and coastal perhaps, choose earlier smaller fruited varieties than ones that need a long hot summer to fully mature and if necessary change color too.
Sweet Peppers like: Basil, Tomato, rhubarb, eggplant, Lettuce, Asparagus, Parsley, Silver Beet, Spinach, carrot, onion, beans, cabbage, peas, marigold and okra.
Hot Pepper plants do well alongside Eggplant, Tomato, Okra, Swiss Chard, Escarole, Squash and cucumbers.
At left, Cayenne Mix at Eden Brothers Seeds, Scoville Scale: 30,000-50,000 Units
Peppers are Temp Particular! Peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees, 55 is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.
At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. If either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees, blossoms of transplants may drop off. The plants may survive and more blossoms will appear. But it is more likely plants will become stunted and never recover. If your plant is puny and showing no growth, best to compost it and replant when it is warmer.
- Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set. In daytime temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. When daytime temps reach 90 F and above, and stay there, just like with tomatoes, the blossoms seldom set fruit. Not to worry. Just give them some time after temps are lower.
- Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
- Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.
Peppers love sun, but a bit of shade is good for the fruit. I planted a Poblano between two big tomato plants. For awhile I thought it was a goner, shaded out, then, it just grew and grew! It got almost 4′ tall and produced like crazy and I gave giant peppers away!
Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.
Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.
Plant your peppers about a foot to 18″ apart. A healthy pepper will get big and top heavy with fruit! It is wise to put small tomato cages over thick wall bell pepper varieties when you plant, to support the weight when they are heavy with fruit.
Though a perennial, they are very susceptible to freeze. With Bell peppers, I have heard a lot of people say their peppers overwintered and produced just fine the following year, but I have not seen that to be true at the community gardens. They are never as robust nor do they produce the big healthy fruits first year plants do. If you are one of the lucky ones, by all means, protect them when there are freezes.
Hot peppers are another story. They seem to do a lot better overwinter, depending on the variety, and I have seen them carry on wonderfully!
Personal Mulch! Solanaceae, that’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, like mulch from their own leaf litter, so just let the leaves fall and accumulate. In hot summer weather your peppers will appreciate a heavy mulch. Several inches of straw or dried grass clippings will keep the soil cooler and reduce moisture evaporation. Continually moist ground is a necessity for peppers, as they, like tomatoes, suffer from blossom end rot, a physiological disease caused by a calcium deficiency. Most soils contain ample calcium, but the mineral relies on water to transport it to the plant’s root system. When the soil lacks moisture, the calcium can’t reach the plants and a tell-tale black leathery spot forms on the blossom end of developing fruit. Heavy Nitrogen fertilizer applications can also induce a transient calcium deficiency. I emphasize that you give your peppers plenty of compost for water holding capacity and keep them well mulched!
Peppers, have shallow roots, need even watering. Keep the soil moist, not soggy, to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers. Moisture stress during bloom can cause substantial reduction in fruit set.
Later on, however, as a friend from Farmers Market pointed out: ‘Red & yellow peppers are green peppers that have been ripe for a while. So you are asking an already ripe fruit to stay on a vine longer to change color. Too much water, and the pepper will start to turn brown and rot. So we switched to watering a LOT less frequently and the results have been outstanding.’
Sidedressing Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage their shallow roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar-feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.
Replenish mulch as needed throughout summer! You might schedule a mulch check for them and all your plants once a month.
Annual or Perennial? Technically peppers are perennials, grow year after year – in the right climate. Some chiles overwinter well in Santa Barbara. Bell peppers are another story. Geographically, in Santa Barbara CA they are temp sensitive annuals! I’ve heard claims about them overwintering in the garden successfully, but I have yet to see it. If you like to do it, better to pot your pepper before any frosts and take it indoors by a sunny window or into your fine greenhouse! You have a couple choices. Prune it ruthlessly, or keep it growing, even producing, with lights and bloom sprays. There are many online threads about overwintering your peppers. Check out tips from several experts to make your efforts count!
Personally, there are so many tasty fresh winter foods that grow well here in our SoCal ‘winter,’ that I am more than happy to replant peppers in spring!
Pests & Diseases
For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.
Early Blight and Verticillium Wilt are a problem at both Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria Community Gardens in Santa Barbara. Please see more about them and what to do here.
See more about Pepper pests and diseases at the UC Davis IPM page.
Choose Resistant varieties.
California Wonder Peppers changing color! Eden Brothers Seeds image.
Bell peppers are at their sweetest and are highest in Vitamins A, C and carotenoids when fully mature! When choosing bell peppers for eating, select those that are firm, heavy for their size with shiny, bright and vibrant richly colored skin! The bell pepper’s sweetness increases as their color changes from green to their final color if they are a color changing variety.
Their stems should be green and fresh looking. To avoid breaking branches, use a sharp knife to cut, instead of pulling.
It’s nice to know that if not optimally ripe vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days!
For maximum flavor, eat peppers on the same day they are picked! Room temp is best for peppers, leave them on a kitchen counter for a day or two to ripen further. Rinse with cold water just before you use them. Bell peppers are very sensitive to ethylene gas so don’t store them with fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. If you put them in the fridge, do it only 1-3 days and use immediately upon taking out of the fridge. Don’t remove their cores because they are quite susceptible to moisture loss. Peppers are warm-weather fruits that don’t store well in cold temps. If you have too many peppers, consider the following storage options.
Freezing This is the easiest storage method. Peppers freeze well without blanching. Thawed peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations. Their flavor is retained, so use frozen peppers primarily for adding ‘spice’ to soups, stews, and sauces. If you stuff the peppers before freezing, you’ll have a ready-made dinner, perfect for the microwave.
To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers
Wash and core peppers. Chop, dice or slice according to how you plan to use them.
Spread in a single layer on a tray of a cookie sheet. Place tray in the freezer for an hour or longer. Loosen pepper pieces from the tray and pour into zip closure freezer bags. Immediately place sealed bags in the freezer. The pepper pieces will remain separated for ease of measuring. Simply remove as many as you need, reseal the bag and return to the freezer. Or bag them separately in the amounts you plan to use them.
Pickling/Canning Peppers are low-acid fruits so require canning under pressure. It’s easier to pickle peppers as you would cucumbers in a crock filled with a simple brine of four cups of water, four cups of vinegar, and 1/2 cup of pickling salt. Add a clove or two of garlic and some fresh herbs for delicious added flavor.
Sweet Banana, Sweet Hungarian, Cubanelle are long, narrow tapering down to one, two or three lobes. They are thin walled, Cubanelle the thinnest. They are usually picked when light yellow or green. Because they have less water content than bells, they are perfect for frying. ‘Sweet Banana’ was the 1941 All America Selections Winner!
Drying This method works best with thin-walled peppers, particularly the smaller varieties that can be dried whole right on the plant. The key to drying peppers is doing it slowly to retain their color and flavors. Perfect for spicing up bland backpacking meals!
Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!
You can grind chiles into culinary or medicinal powders! They retain their lovely colors! Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and though we are used to seeing red paprika, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color. Both the decorative forms and these potent powders make sensational gifts!
To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants. TRUE! Plant at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity. That’s important info for seed savers!
Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature. If frost threatens before peppers mature, pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry location until peppers mature.
- There are two methods to process pepper seeds, dry and wet. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning.
- To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.
FYI Birds are not sensitive to capsaicin, the heat factor in chilli peppers, and are therefore the main dispersers of the seeds!
Remedies: Hot Oil! Healing Spices. The countless health benefits claimed are exciting and enormous! Cayenne is said to stop heart attacks. Hot oil works wonders on knees.
Nutrition: I’m not sure people really eat peppers for nutrition, LOL! Peppers are in a food category all their own! Choices are made according to the Scoville Scale, how hot or not they are! At the lower end of the scale, nutrition may factor in somewhat, but it is more likely a visual choice, shape and color, whether for salad or type of cooking you will use the pepper for.
Sweet luscious Bell Peppers have a whopping 169% of the daily value of Vitamin C we need, but who thinks of peppers as a source of Vitamin C?! More we think of low calories, but most of all, that delicious taste! But look, here’s more! Absorption of dietary iron is significantly increased when consumed with fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin C. Eating raw bell peppers with iron-rich foods like meat or spinach, may help increase your body’s iron stores, cutting the risk of anemia. Eat peppers!
Absolute Culinary Delight!
Mexican recipes are classic! Salsa! Chile Rellenos! Add to burritos, roll-ups and tacos. Stuff and eat fresh, hot pockets! Roasted, grilled on the barbie! Pickled. Fine chopped in tuna or chicken salad! Go Cajun by sautéing with celery and onion, then mix with tempeh, chicken, seafoods. Stir fry some bits in the wok with cashews, shrimp and Oriental veggies. Puree in summer zucchini soups, hot or cold. Add color and crunch to your dip tray, make a pureed pepper dip! Pizza topping. Fresh slices in a cool Romaine, cucumber, avocado salad – add black beans for protein!
Roasted Poblano Salsa, and by chef Rick Bayliss, Grilled Shrimp Chile Rellenos in Corn Husks
Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers
To your great health and a happy palate! Stay cool when it’s hot!