How to Grow Peppers and Varieties to Try

Growing Peppers for 9 Tasty Recipes

How to Grow Peppers and Varieties to Try

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Jim Hunter – Unknown in the old world before Columbus, capsicums were brought to Europe by the Spaniards. Then their cultivation spread across the globe. Today, people in every corner of the world want to know how to grow peppers.

All fruits of the capsicums are low in calories, are rich in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. They also contain fair amounts of calcium, carbohydrates, iron, and phosphorus. They are richer than any vegetable in Vitamin C with half a raw sweet pepper having the daily amount of that vitamin required by the body.

Every type of capsicum is an anti-scorbutic, good for constipation, helpful in fighting colds and taken in small amounts, as aid to digestion. Peppers are low in sodium, free of cholesterol, and have anticoagulant effects, so can help prevent heart attacks and relieve high blood pressure. (Bestways, April, 1989.)

Capsicums are members of the nightshade family. While many gardeners divide peppers into groups by taste, this is horticulturally not precise, as the active ingredient capsaicin is not located in all parts of the fruit, and cultivars differ in their amount of hotness within a class of pepper.

Members of the Capsicum annuum include the following:

Bell group: Large 3-4 lobed, blocky fruit, green skin turns red, gold or yellow at maturity. (California Wonder, Rumanian Hot)

Pimiento group: Large, thick-walled, conical or heart shaped fruit where green skin turns red at maturity. (Pimiento)

Cheese group: Small or medium, flat fruit with round or irregular surfaces; medium to thick walls; green or yellow skin turns red at maturity. (Sunnybrook, Cheese)

Ancho group: Large, thin-walled, heart shaped fruit; green skin turns reddish brown or dark brown. (Mulatto, Chocolate)

Anaheim group: Long, thin, tapered fruit; green skin turns red at maturity. (Paprika, Mexican Chili, Anaheim Chili, Sandia)

Cayenne group: Long, tapered, thin-walled fruit; yellow/green skin turns red at maturity. (Pepperoncini, Cubanelle)

Jalapeño group: Rounded, slightly conical, thick-walled fruit; dark green skin turns red at maturity. (Jalapeño)

Small Hot group: Small, thin-walled fruit; green skin turns red at maturity. (Serrano, Red Chili)

Cherry group: Small, round fruit; green skin turns red at maturity. (Large Red Cherry)

Wax group: Small or large, conical or rounded fruit; yellow skin turns red or orange-red at maturity. (Sweet Banana, Hungarian Wax)

People often want to know how to grow bell peppers in this country, but in recent years there has been an interest in other peppers whose fruits find their way into ethnic dishes and new experiments in cooking. Usually only the most common peppers are found either as plants or in seed packets at your local garden centers. However, top seed companies offer many different kinds of peppers that are easily started from seed.

How to grow peppers starts with understanding that this is a warm weather crop, so we start by growing seedlings indoors in flats at least eight weeks before the last expected frost. Sow seed ¼ inch deep. Bottom heat speeds up the germination process, and in recent years we have purchased and used a heat mat, so that soil temperature of 80°F has pepper seeds germinating in a week. Otherwise germination can be slow, even under warm indoor conditions when growing seedlings in. Never let them dry out and use bottom watering.

After the first true leaves appear, the seedlings are transplanted into individual containers and are labeled to avoid confusion among hot and sweet peppers. The seedlings are subject to damping off disease, but we avoid this by using a chamomile tea spray for watering the seedlings. However, you might like to use a soilless seed starting mixture instead. Harden off the seedlings at least one-to-three weeks before your last frost date. Do this by putting them outdoors for a few hours each day and increase the time gradually.

Space your plants 18-24 inches apart, with 36 inches between rows. If you live in a dry area, you might want to plant closer together to help conserve moisture. Organic mulches are also helpful to conserve water and to keep down the weeds. If growing sweet peppers and hot pepper, plant them in different locations to avoid cross-pollination. This is essential, if you want to save your own seed. We add a cup of compost into each hole as we set out the seedlings. Peppers need about one inch of water per week, so weekly watering will give better results than daily, less thorough watering. A magnesium deficiency could show up as leaf drop, poor production, or sun scald of the fruit, so you might want to add dolomite lime, talc or Epsom salts.

Pepper plant diseases and insects can be a problem, just like they are for tomatoes. We try to plant disease-resistant cultivars, do not work among the plants when they are wet, and use a three-year rotational scheme. In our area cutworms can be a problem, so each seedling is set out with a cardboard collar made from recycled toilet tissue rolls.

Peppers can be picked at any stage, and picking fruit before it is fully mature will encourage the plants to set more fruit. However, peppers are best picked when they reach maturity. For the pungent types this is at full size and final coloration.

Cut peppers from the plants. Extra peppers can be frozen. Peppers can also be dried by pulling up and hanging the entire plant, by stringing the fruit on a cord, or cutting into pieces and using a dehydrator, an oven, or the sun. When frost warnings are out, pick all the remaining fruit, as the pepper plants won’t withstand freezing.

Sweet red peppers make a good pimento substitute by canning where the peppers are washed, seeds removed, peppers put into pint jars, covered with boiling water, sealed, and processed for 25 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.

Pepper plants don’t take up much space and can also look attractive in ornamental borders or in large containers along with herbs or flowers. There are places for pepper plants, besides the garden.

Red bell peppers

Now for some recipes:

Pickled Hot Peppers

1 pound green or red chillis
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 cups water
2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup white vinegar
4 dried cayenne peppers
2 tablespoons pickling salt
4 heads fresh dill

Wash & dry peppers. Make two small slits in each pepper. In a pan combine water, vinegar, salt, honey, garlic, and bring to a boil. Pack peppers into hot pint jars with one-half inch head space. Add one head fresh dill, and one dried cayenne to each jar. Adjust lids, process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Makes four pints.

½ cup chopped green onions
1-2 stemmed, seeded, minced jalapeños
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro
1-1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes

Cook onions in oil until tender, but not brown. Puree tomatoes. Mix tomatoes, minced peppers, and cilantro into a bowl. Chill. Makes two cups.

Nacho Cheese Dip
½ pound mild cheese
3 tablespoons milk
3 jalapeños

Combine milk and cheese and stir over low heat until cheese melts. Stem, seed, mince, and stir peppers into cheese. Pour hot cheese dip over nacho chips, fresh cut vegetables, or baked potato.

Corn Stuffed Peppers
6 medium sweet peppers
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 finely chopped hot pepper
3 cups frozen or fresh corn
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon pepper
2 beaten eggs

Cut out stem ends of peppers, remove seeds, but save ends. Sauté onion, garlic and hot pepper. Add all ingredients, except eggs. Cover and cook 10 minutes, remove from heat, and stir in eggs. Stuff peppers with the corn mixture, replace the stem ends, place in casserole dish, add one-half cup water. Bake at 350°F for 50 minutes, or until peppers are done.

Pickled Peppers
6 sweet red peppers
2 cups water
½ cup vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon mustard seed
½ teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon peppercorn
½ teaspoon cumin seed
2 garlic cloves

Seed peppers and cut into one-inch pieces. Put remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Add pepper pieces and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, remove from heat and place in a glass container. Cover and let stand overnight before serving, Or fill pint jars, seal, and process for 10 minutes.

Pepper and Tomato Soup
4 tablespoons cooking oil
2 chopped onions
6 crushed cloves garlic
1 finely chopped hot pepper
2 chopped large sweet peppers
4 cups stewed tomatoes
½ teaspoons allspice
4 cups water

Sauté onions, garlic, and hot pepper in oil over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 20 minutes until pepper pieces are done.

Cabbage and Pepper Salad
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 chopped sweet red peppers
1/3 cup finely chopped green onion
2 crushed garlic cloves
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
½ teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Put cabbage, peppers and green onion in a salad bowl and mix.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over the vegetables. Toss just before serving.

Pepper and Rice
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 finely chopped sweet pepper
1 chopped onion
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 cup rice
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon chili powder
Sauté pepper, onion, and garlic in oil.

Add rice and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium/low heat for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow the rice to cook in its steam for 30 minutes.

Eggplant and Pepper Salad
 1 eggplant
4 large sweet red peppers
4 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Boil eggplant and peppers until they blister on all sides, remove and let cool. Skin eggplant and peppers, cut into strips and put in a salad bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, marinate for 1-2 hours, and then stir and serve.

Now that you know how to grow peppers, you can look forward to next year’s crop and plan to give these wonderful recipes a whirl.

Published in 2004 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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