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Pepper Growing and Harvest Information

by chuck.mcmullan

Where to Grow Peppers

Peppers are strictly warm-weather plants, and require at least 2 1/2 months to mature once started seedlings have been set outdoors. They will not produce where evenings are cool and are very tender to frost and light freezes. In cooler climates, use black plastic mulch and row covers to keep the peppers warm.

Recommended Varieties of Peppers

Peppers tend to be susceptible to mosaic, (a virus), and where it is a problem, select mosaic-resistant varieties: Keystone, belle; Staddon’s Select; Yolo Wonder.

Other good varieties are Ruby King; Sweet Banana; Calwonder.

Hot peppers: Hungarian Wax; Hot Portugal; Long Red Cayenne. For those who like hot peppers, the Scoville scale was created as a comparison tool for hot peppers. Remember if you want to cool down from a hot pepper go for some milk or sour cheese.

Soil for Growing Peppers

A sandy, well-drained loam is best, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Add a well-balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or a favorite organic blend and work in well. A nitrogen-rich fertilizer should be avoided. It will promote foliage growth, but not peppers production.

Planting Peppers

Germination in 2-3 weeks.

When –

Start peppers indoors about 1 month before the first frost, then set outdoors after the days and nights are warm, otherwise the plants yellow and stop growing if they are exposed to the cold weather. To start indoors, use pots at least 1 1/2″ wide to minimize shock, make a stockier plant, and encourage earlier production. Growers report that the following cold treatment of seedlings significantly improves yields and early growth: (1) When the first leaves appear, lower the soil temperature to 70F and ensure 16 hours of light with grow lamps; (2) when the first true leaf appears, thin seedlings to 2-3 inches apart or transplant to 4″ pots; (3) when the third true leaf appears, move the plants to a location with night temperatures of 53-55F; keep there for 4 weeks; (4) return the seeding to a location with an average temperature of 70F; (5) transplant into the garden 2-3 weeks after all danger of frost has passed. Soil temperature should be at least 55-60F for transplanting, or the plant may turn yellow, become stunted, and are slow to bear. Some recommended feeding seedlings weekly with half-strength liquid fertilizer until transplanted.

How –

In rows 2 feet apart, with 12 inches between the plants (Pepper plants do well planted close together). At planting time, mix about 2 tablespoons of well-balanced fertilizer in the planting holes and water well after planting. Grow hot peppers separately to prevent cross-pollination with sweet bell peppers. Except in the west, where pepper plants may be mostly pest free, use row covers immediately because pepper pests will be out.

Germination65 - 95 F
For growth70 - 85 F
Soil and Water
FertilizerMedium-heavy feeder; high N; rotted manure or compost; some soils may need calcium.
Side-dressingApply at blossom time and 3 weeks later. Apply liquid seaweed 2-3 times per season. At blossom time, try spraying leaves with a weak Epsom salt mixture (1 teaspoon per quart) to promote fruiting.
pH5.5 - 7.0
WaterMedium - Heavy
Seed Planting Depth1/4"
Root Depth8 - 48"
Height24 - 36"
Space between plants
In Beds12"
In Rows12 - 24"
Space Between Rows18 - 36"
Average plants per person5 - 6
For sweet peppers, pick the first fruits as soon as they're usable in order to hasten growth for others. For storage peppers, cut the fruit with 1" or more of stem. For maximum vitamin C content, wait until peppers have matured to red or yellow colors.
First Seed Starting Date: 28 - 35 days before last frost date
Last Seed Starting Date: 115 - 148 Days before first frost date
CompanionsBasil, carrot, eggplant, onion, parsley, tomato
IncompatiblesFennel, Kohlrabi

How Peppers Grow

Pepper is a decorative plant, about 2 1/2 feet tall with handsome leaves, and at blooming time, a display of pretty white flowers. An ideal vegetable for patio gardening, pepper can be mixed in flower borders or raised planters. If too many flowers form, the plant will naturally discard those that are not going to bear fruit.

Cultivating Peppers

Similar to eggplant; peppers need constant soil moisture once growth begins. Hill up soil around the base of the stems gradually to give the stems added support when bearing the fruit. Use small stakes if necessary to keep plants heavy with fruit upright. Keep weeds away with shallow cultivation, or use mulches. Feed the plants again when flowers fade and fruits are forming. If the temperature rises above 95F, sprinkle plants with water in the afternoon to help prevent blossom drop.

Storage Requirements
Hot varieties are best stored dried or pickled. Pull the entire plant from the ground and hang it upside down until dried. Alternatively, harvest the peppers and string them on a line to dry. For sweet peppers, refrigeration is too cold and encourages decay.
TemperatureHumidityStorage Life
45 - 55F90 - 95%2 - 3 weeks
MethodTasteShelf Life
CannedGood12 months
FrozenFair3 months
DriedExcellent12 months
PickledExcellent12+ months

Harvesting Peppers

When to Harvest Peppers

Peppers should be ready to harvest in approximately 70-80 days of ideal growing conditions. Sweet peppers are picked green, not fully ripe. They will feel firm and crisp when ready, and should not be pulled from the plant but cut with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Peppers will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks after picking before they start to shrivel. If left on the plant, peppers turn ripe red and the flesh is sweeter and contains more vitamins. If frost threatens, pull the plant and hang it in a cool place to allow peppers to ripen. Hot peppers should ripen fully on the vine to attain their bright red color and full flavor, then hang to dry.

To store a bumper crop first roast them or briefly blanch in steam, then freeze them either whole for stuffing, or chopped. Peppers are also easy to dry and will plump quickly if soaked in hot water. Dried peppers could also be ground for your spice rack. In addition, sliced peppers will also store much better in the refrigerator if dunked in a jar of vinegar first.

Pepper Pests

  • Margined blister beetles may appear in large quantities in warmer climates. These beetles are large with black and gray stripes and devour pepper foliage. Handpick them, and wear gloves to prevent skin irritation.
  • Pepper weevils can also be a serious problem in warm climates. Make sure to clean up fallen fruits daily to interrupt their life cycle. Adult pepper weevils can be trapped with sticky traps.

Pepper Diseases

The following diseases can affect peppers in warmer climates. These viruses are transmitted by thrips and aphids. They cause leaves to become thick and crinkled or narrow and stringy. The best defense is to select resistant varieties.

  • Tobacco Etch Virus (TEV)
  • Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CVM)
  • Potato Virus Y (PVY)

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