To get an early start with your peppers, particularly in the North, cover the prepared garden bed with a dark-colored mulch at least a week before planting. This will heat the soil beneath and provide better growing conditions for young pepper plants. The mulch will also help your soil retain moisture throughout the season as the plants grow.
- For growing peppers in containers, choose a sunny location (6+ hours of sun). To plant in-ground, dig a hole about two times as wide as your pot.
- Remove your plant from the pot by loosening the soil and tipping it out into your hand. Place your plant in the soil about as deep as it was in the pot.
- Refill the space around your plant with soil and press lightly to compact the dirt, keeping your plant firmly in the ground.
- Water immediately to settle the soil, and add more soil as needed, bringing it level to the rest of your garden.
Pepper plants are easily damaged when laden with fruit. For support, loosely tie the plants to stakes using rubber bands to allow for the expansion that comes with growing. Don't use wire twist-ties or twine which will gradually choke off or even snap the stem.
Water in moderation. Peppers are thirsty plants! They need a moderate supply of water from the moment you plant them until the end of the season. However, they won't tolerate saturated soil that waterlogs their roots.
The soil must drain well, yet hold enough moisture to keep the plants in production. To maintain a proper balance, work some organic matter such as compost or humus into the soil when planting to enhance moisture retention. Use mulch to prevent excessive evaporation from the soil during the dry summer months.
Don't overfertilize. This tends to make the plants develop lush foliage at the expense of fruit production. Just follow the directions for your favorite vegetable fertilizer.
Generally, peppers are problem-free from pests and disease, but the same pests and diseases that plague tomatoes and eggplants will occasionally attack them. With basic precautions, you can keep your peppers
Like cucumbers and summer squash, peppers are usually harvested at an immature stage. The traditional bell pepper, for example, is harvested green, even though most varieties will mature red, orange, or yellow. Peppers can be harvested at any stage of growth, but their flavor doesn't fully develop until maturity. This creates a dilemma for the home gardener.
Frequent harvesting increases yields, often at the sacrifice of flavor. If you continually pick the peppers before they mature, the plants will continue to produce fruit in their quest to develop viable seed.
Allowing fruits to fully ripen enhances flavor, often at the sacrifice of yields. Plus, you will have to wait until late in the season before harvesting table-ready peppers.
To avoid this dilemma, and if you have enough garden space, plant at least two of each variety you've selected. Allow one plant of each variety to fully ripen to maturity, and harvest the other throughout the season.
When picking peppers, refrain from tugging on the fruit, which may break off a branch or even uproot the entire plant. Use sharp garden pruners to cut the tough stem.
For maximum flavor, eat peppers the same day they are picked. You can also leave them on your kitchen counter for a day or two to ripen further.
Do not place peppers in the crisper drawer or in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Peppers are warm-weather fruits and do not store well in cold temperatures. If you have too many peppers, consider the options discussed under Preserving Information.
This is the easiest storage method, but the peppers will be soft when thawed. The flavor is retained, however, 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 oven or microwave.
Peppers can also be preserved by canning them, but they're low-acid fruits and must be canned under pressure. It's easier to pickle them 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 added flavor.
This method works best with thin-walled hot peppers, particularly 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.
Peppers were grown extensively in Central and South America, Mexico, and the West Indies long before birth of Christ. But it was Columbus and other early explorers who introduced peppers to a welcoming European market. In fact, the pepper is a major New World contribution to the cuisine of the Old World. The Europeans became so fond of peppers, they carried them throughout the known world.
By the 17th century, peppers were cultivated not only in Europe, but in much of Asia and Africa.
Oddly enough, even though peppers are indigenous to the Americas, they were not introduced to North America until they arrived with the early colonists --- something of a circuitous route!