How to Grow Peppers


Increasing interest in Mediterranean cooking has been accompanied by an increase in the popularity of peppers, of which the main types are the sweet peppers or bell peppers (Capsicum annuum Grossum Group). These are the large green, red and yellow fruits we see in supermarkets – the green peppers are, in fact, the unripe versions of the red and yellow fruit. They can be used raw or cooked, usually with all the seeds removed. The plants are bushy in habit, growing up to 75cmin good conditions.

The chillies (Capsicum annuum Longum Group) are also a fairly recent crop for most gardeners, again stimulated by changes in eating habits, although they were prob­ably the first types to be grown in Europe. The fruits, usually red in colour, are long and pointed. They are hot to the taste, becom­ing hotter as the fruit matures. It is the seed and the pith that are the main hot ingredi­ents, and if these are removed, the fruit can be made milder. Chillies are often dried.

Finally, there are the hot or cayenne peppers or tabasco, which belong to a different species, Capsicum frutescens. These are smaller than chili peppers and are generally even hotter. The narrow fruits, which can be yellow, orange or red in color, are often used dried. They are the most difficult and less usual of the peppers to grow.

Peppers originated in Mexico and Central America, and they were thus a relatively late introduction to Europe – some­time late in the 15th or early 16th century. They have, however, been cultivated in their native lands for at least 7,000 years and perhaps much longer. Once in Europe, they were adopted far more readily in the Mediterranean countries, where they are still used more than in northern Europe.

Peppers can be grown outside in warmer districts, but generally they do best under glass. If they are grown outside, the best method is to grow them in containers or growing bags, in a warm, sheltered posi­tion, against a south-lacing wall. In warmer areas they can be grown in a border.

Cultivation

Seed should be sown in spring in a propagator, set at about 18°C/65°F. They can be sown in modules, individual pots or trays. If trays are used, prick out the resulting seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle. As soon as they are big enough they can be transferred to growing bags (two or three to a bag) or into large pots. The advantage of pots is that they can easily be moved outside if the weather is warm enough. Pinch out the tops of the young plants when they get to 15-20cm/ 6-8in to make them bush out. If the bushes get above 45-50cm/l8-20in they may need to be supported with canes or strings. If they are grown in an outside bed, plant them out in early summer when the temperature has warmed up and set them at 50cm/20in intervals in a fertile, but free-draining soil. Keep the peppers well watered and feed every ten days with a high-potash liquid feed once the fruits start to swell.

Harvesting

Start picking in mid- to late summer when the fruits are large enough – for peppers this is usually when they are about the size of a tennis ball. They can be harvested when they are green or have changed to their final red or yellow coloration. Some cultivars are hest picked green. The hot or cayenne peppers should be fully ripe and colored before they are picked. Cut the fruit so that about 2.5cm/lin of stalk is left.

Storage

Sweet peppers are best eaten straight from the plant, but they can be kept for up to two weeks before being used. Other types of pepper can be dried.

Pests and diseases

The pests that are most likely to cause trouble are the usual greenhouse ones such as aphids, red spider mite and whitefly. Dampen the floor of the house and spray the plants with water to maintain humid conditions to discourage red spider mite. Both inside and outside the greenhouse, however, the major problem is likely to be aphids on the young shoots.

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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