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How to Grow Peppers

Growing Peppers In Your Backyard or Garden

Peppers from the gardenPeppers make an ideal plant for the amateur gardener. They can be grown in a wide variety of situations and take well to production in containers, while some varieties can be very attractive in their own right. Both hot chilli and sweet peppers can be grown with just a little effort.

Types of Peppers

Peppers come from the Capsicum genus of the Solanaceae family, so they are closely related to a number of well known crops including potatoes, tomatoes, egg plant and tobacco. Although there are actually five species of domesticated peppers, those available to gardeners are generally divided into two types according to their heat. The heat of a chilli is determined by the amount of a chemical called capsaicin and is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU).

Sweet peppers

These typically produce 6 to 8 fruits per medium-sized plant and may turn from green to yellow, orange or red as the fruit ripens. Flavors range from fresh and earthy for the more immature, green varieties to sweet for the ripest colored versions. Typically varieties of sweet pepper can be classified as bell types (the typical stuffed pepper) or bananas, which are longer with a mild flavor. Some types are dried and used to make paprika.

Hot peppers

There are many types of hot pepper, ranging from the milder types like Anaheim, to Tabasco, Jalapeno, Cherry Bomb and the super-top birds eye types.

Tips For Planting Peppers

Peppers are usually planted as small transplants, but if growing them from seed, sow individually into blocks or cell packs. Start the young plants off under cover, either on a window sill or in the greenhouse. Soaking seeds before planting is said to increase the speed of germination, and the seeds should be kept between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit between planting and emergence.

Hot peppers growing in the gardenOnce they have been hardened off, young plants are generally planted out in late May or early June and should be spaced between 16 and 18 inches apart in two-foot rows. Peppers can be planted on the flat, in ridges (like potatoes), or in sunken beds. They are also suitable for container gardening: choose containers according to whether you will be moving them and to suit the amount of space you have available.

Ensure that the soil has been treated with a suitable low N fertilizer (such as 5-10-10 or 10-10-10) and keep the plants well watered until established. Chillies also like organic matter and the addition of compost and or well-rotted manure is also frequently cited as an essential part of the growing process by pepper veterans. Peppers favor a slightly acidic soil with a pH range between 5.8 and 6.5 giving the best results. Moderate feeding of the young plants can aid growth, but excessive nitrogen should be avoided as it can lead to the production of too much foliage at the expense of flowering and fruit set.

The time between planting and harvest varies with the variety grown and most seed catalogs will give an indication of maturity. Anything from 65 to 120 days is possible, and by mixing varieties of the same type, but which have different growth periods you can ensure a supply of tasty fresh peppers throughout the season.

Harvesting and Storage

Sweet peppers are typically picked when still slightly immature, but when they are fully grown. Hot varieties are usually left on the plant until fully ripe. In all cases it is better to cleanly remove the fruits and the use of a sharp garden knife or pruners will avoid damaging the brittle stems of the plant.

Once harvested, healthy peppers will keep for 2 to 3 weeks at between 44 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit provided sufficient humidity to avoid excessive moisture loss. Keeping them too cool may result in so-called chilling injury, where the flesh becomes shriveled and dried. The best method of long-term preservation is by drying the fruit.

Peppers are also easy to freeze. Simply wash and dry them thoroughly before cutting off the stem and freezing whole in containers or plastic bags.

Garden Pests and Diseases

As with most crops that we like to eat, there's a whole host of bugs and diseases waiting to attack peppers. Peppers can be susceptible to a wide range of fungal diseases (see list), some of which are shared with tomatoes, egg plants and/or potatoes. Most of these will be controlled by a combination of good crop hygiene and, if necessary, a suitable fungicide, but particular care should be exercised when growing these other crops as part of your vegetable rotation.

Several species of bacteria may cause soft rotting of peppers, including Bacillus polymyxa, Erwinia carotovora, Cytophaga sp. and Xanthomonas campestris. In most cases, such diseases are best controlled by avoiding damage to the fruits and to harvest the pepper with a clean, intact section of stalk.

The physiological disorder blossom end rot may also be observed as a pale, sunken, leathery area around the base of the fruit. While the symptoms should not get worse after harvesting, the condition is best prevented by ensuring that the plants have adequate water available during the early stages of fruit formation. On some soils, the use of a calcium fertiliser may also be beneficial.

Like other members of the Solanum family, peppers can be susceptible to viruses and care should be taken, both when handling other crops and even tobacco products.

In terms of pests, some writers suggest that up to forty different species of insect will attack pepper crops, with the principal specific ones being the Pepper Weevil, Pepper Maggot and Tomato Hornworm. The crop is also a favorite of more general garden pests including cutworms, flea beetles, leaf miners, Colorado beetles, whiteflies, mites and aphids.

Common Fungal Diseases Of Peppers

  • Alternaria (Alternaria alternata)
  • Anthracnose (Colletotrichum acutatumi)
  • Cladosporium rot (Cladosporium herbarum)
  • Fusarium rot (Fusarium spp.)
  • Grey mould (Botrytis cinerea)
  • Late blight & Phytophthora rots (Phytophthora sp.)
  • Phoma (various species of fungi)
  • Phomopsis rot (Diaporthe phaseolorum and D. vexans)
  • Pythium spp.
  • Ring rot (Myrothecium roridum)
  • Soil rot (Rhizoctonia solani)
  • Water soft rot (Sclerotinia spp.)
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