How to grow hot Peppers
From sweet, crisp peppers in rainbow shades to habañeros hot enough to bring tears to your eyes, all peppers share a preference for a long, warm growing season. Set out plants a week or two after your last frost, when the weather is settled and warm. While cool weather reigns, keep seedlings indoors at night, and move them to a protected sunny spot outdoors during the day.
By growing an assortment of varieties of peppers, you can have mild, meaty peppers for salads or stir-fries, slightly spicy peppers for fresh salsas, and hot peppers for bold jolts of flavor. Under hot summer conditions, varieties that bear huge fruits may shed their blossoms, but small, thin-walled peppers often keep going strong. Small-fruited peppers also ripen faster, which is important in cool climates where summers are short.
As peppers change from green to yellow, orange, or red, both their vitamin content and flavour improve dramatically. People who think they don’t like peppers often change their minds once they have tasted fully ripened, garden-grown peppers. For many hot peppers, the ripest fruits (the ones that have turned red) pack the most heat.
Quick Guide to Growing Peppers in the garden
Set pepper plant seedlings out after the last spring frost. They grow well in raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens. Plant them 30-40cm apart in a sunny, well-drained spot. Pepper plants need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Mix compost or other organic matter into the soil when planting. Water immediately after planting, then regularly throughout the season. Aim for a total of 1-2 inches per week (more when it’s hotter). Mix a fertilizer into the soil at planting and replenish as directed during the growing season.
Spread mulch (such as chopped leaves or straw) around the plants to help keep the soil cool and moist. Support each pepper plant with a stake or small tomato cage, to help bear the weight of the fruit once it begins to produce. Harvest peppers with shears or a knife, then store in the fridge. Be sure to pick all peppers before the first fall frost comes.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Growing peppers is easy in any sunny, well-drained spot, and they are good candidates for roomy containers, too. Peppers have a naturally upright growth habit, so they often benefit from staking, which keeps brittle branches from breaking when they become heavy with fruit. Colorful peppers also make great additions to beds planted with flowers and other edible ornamentals, where they can easily serve as specimen plants. Peppers grow best in a soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.0, although they can tolerate slightly alkaline conditions. A generous amount of organic matter helps the soil retain moisture, and moist soil is crucial for good pepper production.
Care during the season
Hoe or till the soil lightly. Deep tilling will cut the pepper roots and slow growth. Pull by hand any weeds that are close to the plants. After the first fruit begins to enlarge, place about 2 tablespoons of fertilizer around each plant about 6 inches from the stem. Water the plant after adding the fertilizer. This will increase the yield and the quality of the peppers.
Harvest and Storage
Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut peppers from the plants, leaving a short stub of stem attached. Pulling peppers by hand can cause entire branches to break off. Rinse harvested peppers with water, pat them dry, and then store them in your refrigerator. Too many fruits to eat fresh? Extras can be dried, frozen, or pickled.
When temperatures begin to fall toward frost, many pepper plants are still producing fruit. It’s not uncommon for them to still hold numerous green fruits when the first freeze kills the plants. When you know a frost is in the forecast, harvest all of the peppers. The largers ones will be good for eating, but very immature peppers often taste bitter. It is better to compost them than to serve them for dinner.
Harvested peppers that have just begun to change colour will often continue to ripen when kept in a warm room indoors for up to 3 days. If they haven’t yet begun to change colour, but are full size (or nearly so), you can eat them green. In any case, signs of softening or shriveling, and promptly refrigerate those fruits. Then, be sure to use them first.
Handling Hot Peppers
Capsaicin, the oily compound that produces the heat in a hot pepper, is primarily concentrated in the veins, ribs, and seeds. Sensitivity to it varies. Use caution until you know how you’ll react. If pepper juice gets in your eyes or nose, flush immediately with cold water. When the fire is in your mouth, drink milk or eat yogurt to counteract the burn. Burning hands means that capsaicin has penetrated skin or lodged under fingernails. Dipping hands into a 5-to-1 solution of water and bleach turns capsaicin into a salt that you can rinse away. Wash hands well after that with plenty of soap, rinse, dry, and apply moisturizer.
Do not re-use wash cloths or towels that may have capsaicin on them; launder them to avoid spreading the chemical. After working with hot peppers, wash cutting surfaces, prep tools, and knives carefully before using them to prepare other food.