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How to Grow Peppers

Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Peppers are just naturally beautiful.  The bell peppers’ bright bold shades of green, red, and yellow shine with a high gloss that is beautiful in the garden and in the kitchen.  If you have only eaten store-bought or frozen bell peppers you will be surprised at the wonderful taste these veggies have straight out of your garden.

There are small varieties too, that you can grow in containers.  Even someone with a balcony or deck can have fresh peppers.  And they look just as pretty on the porch as they do in the kitchen.

You might not find the plants you want in your local garden centers.  Enjoy growing the perfect peppers for your garden from seed.  They are easy.  You grow all peppers the same way whether they are hot, mild, or bell. 

First, narrow your choice of seed to just a few packets, if possible.  Plant a few more seeds than you want, because not all will germinate, but unless you have a huge garden, do not plant all the seeds.  You can save them in paper packets in the refrigerator for next year.

Use a soilless mix and clean pots.  Barely cover the seeds with the mix.  Label them with the name, date of planting, and days to germinate.  Lightly tamp the planting mix with your hands, or tap the pot lightly on a solid surface a couple of times to settle the mix. 

Water the seeds in with a fine mist, then cover the seed pots with plastic wrap or a dome, set them in a tray, and only water from the bottom from then on, until they are set out in their final growing spot.  

Peppers are a hot weather crop, so using a heat mat under the growing medium will speed germination and growth of your little seedlings.  You can also use the top of the refrigerator because it traps heat near the ceiling. 

As soon as the peppers have a set of true leaves (usually the second set you will see), take off the plastic and move them to a sunny window or outdoors on warm days.  Let them develop sturdy stems and a few leaves before you put them out in the garden. 

Keep them watered from the bottom, but not wet.  Harden them off for transplanting outdoors by putting them in filtered shade and then moving them back and forth to longer periods of sunshine.  If the nights are not above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, then bring them back indoors at night until warmer nights prevail.  The soil should be good and warm too, before they go out in the garden.

It is important to keep your hands washed when handling seeds and when working with the plants in the garden.  If you are a smoker, be sure to wash your hands before handling the plants.  Some peppers are susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), which can be spread from cigarettes. 

Hot pepper seeds can sting your eyes and mouth.  Wash after handling these seeds and keep your fingers away from your face!  It is amazing how long the hot pepper stays with you.

You just might discover that your garden soil is too acid by the way your peppers develop.  Are your bell peppers getting brown and leathery or soft and mushy on the bottoms?  This could be the dreaded blossom-end rot, which is best known for striking tomatoes; but it will afflict peppers too.

For a quick fix, you can save the undamaged peppers by spraying the plant with calcium chloride or calcium nitrate mixed and applied according to package directions.  You can repeat this spray program every 10 days.  Mulch the plants to keep them cool and to preserve moisture in the topsoil.  Be sure to keep them watered.  Consistently moist soil keeps blossom-end rot at bay.

If your soil pH is too low, or acid, it will restrict the plants’ ability to take up calcium.  A lack of calcium causes the blossom-end rot.  Add lime, but remember, it must be turned into the soil to work. 

It's best to lime your garden plot when it's at rest during the fall or winter months.  You must dig the lime into the soil.  Even when you dig it into the soil, it takes two to three months to do its job.

Bell peppers can sometimes take most of the summer to develop, but when they decide to fill out, they come on strong.  In fact, if you are growing large bell peppers the plants will probably have to be staked or caged to keep them from falling over.

To keep your pepper plants producing, you must keep the ripe vegetables picked.  Just don't be in too big a hurry to harvest the red or yellow peppers.  They usually start green and ripen to the color that you are expecting.  That doesn't mean you can't use them green, you can.  But they are much sweeter if allowed to turn their ripe color.

After your harvest, try one of Chef Linda’s excellent recipes found elsewhere on the Articles page. 

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