Too Hot to Handle – we’re Growing Peppers!
Some like it hot and some like it sweet…whatever you prefer, there’s sure to be a pepper or two to please you.
From the moment the first peppers were introduced from South America by the Portuguese, the world became hooked on the fruit of this large group of herbaceous, annual shrubs. Most cultivated peppers, both chili and sweet, belong to the Capsicum annuum species and are divided into a number of groups according to their shape, i.e. cherry shaped, cone shaped, bell peppers and elongated peppers.
The heat factor, though, is dependent on the presence of a single active component called capsaicin – no capsaicin, no heat! Apart from setting your mouth on fire, capsaicin also stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins in the body which explains why, even though you can’t feel your lips, you’re still happy as can be!
Cultivating your peppers
Peppers can be grown from seed or ready-to plant seedlings and Lifestyle Home Garden stock a lovely and extensive variety of both chilies and sweet pepper seeds and seedlings.
Catch our video all about sowing seeds |HERE| – part of our exclusive How-To series of videos!
Peppers are annuals and, because they are tender to frost, the first seedlings are usually only available at the beginning of September once all danger of frost has passed. The seeds, however, are available from late-winter and they can be sown at that time, provided that the seed trays are kept in a protected, warm area outdoors, on a sunny windowsill indoors or in a hothouse. Once the seedlings are big enough to handle and there is no danger of frost, they should gradually be exposed to the elements on a daily basis until they are hardened-off and ready to go into beds or pots.
Planting your peppers
Choose a position in full sun in humus-rich, well-draining soil. Prepare the planting site by working a generous amount of compost into the soil and add bone meal, vermicast, seedling food or organic 2:3:2 fertiliser to the hole when planting.
If you are planting your peppers in containers, place them in a full sun position, make sure the pot offers sufficient drainage and use a good quality potting soil. Add water retention granules or cubes, vermiculite or perlite to the soil to help retain water and reduce watering needs.
If you have recently cultivated other members of the nightshade family, e.g. tomatoes, brinjals or potatoes it is recommended that you don’t plant peppers in the same place or pot as it could expose the plants to disease.
Plant the seedlings 35 – 50cm apart in 30 – 40cm wide rows and no deeper than they were in their seed trays or grow pots. After 2-3 weeks, when the plants are taller, spread a layer of mulch around them or underplant with a beneficial groundcover like oregano to help keep the root area moist and cool.
Catch our How-To video |HERE| all about Planting Seedlings.
As peppers grow taller, they might need some staking or other support to prevent their soft stems from snapping in the wind. Use soft ties to tie the plants to a stake.
Watering and Fertilising
Peppers are very sensitive to heat and young plants might require daily watering during hot summer days, especially those in pots; however they also don’t like to be waterlogged. Doing the ‘finger test’ is probably the best way to tell if they need a ‘drink’ – insert your finger about 4cm into the soil around the plant and if it comes out clean, it’s time to water. Peppers have a natural tendency to ‘wilt’ during the heat of the day and should recover again when it cools down. If they don’t it is also a sign to bump up the watering. Water your plants early in the morning and close to the soil and root area – avoid water on the leaves if possible.
Once your Capsicums have set their first flowers you can start feeding them with an organic 3:1:5 fertiliser or a water-soluble fertiliser that is high in potassium and low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will affect fruit quantity and quality. Spread granular fertiliser around the root area according to the recommended ratio. Apply once a month. The water-soluble fertiliser should be used as a drench, rather than a foliar spray and be applied on a fortnightly basis.
Harvesting your Peppers
Bell peppers and chili peppers can be harvested according to your requirements. Green fruits will turn red or orange as they mature on the plant and the taste and vitamin C content will increase. However, leaving the fruit on the bush for longer will affect production. The more green fruits you pick, the more the plant will produce. So it’s really a choice between more green peppers or less red and orange peppers. Most chilies, with the exception of Jalapenos, are harvested when they have reached their distinct colour.
Harvest the fruit with a sharp knife or secateurs, leaving a short stem on the fruit. Avoid yanking or pulling the fruit and damaging the plant.
Be sure to wear gloves when picking and handling chili peppers and avoid touching your face or eyes.
Use your harvest within a day or two – they don’t like to be refrigerated. If you have excess fruit they can be dried, frozen, pickled, made into a sauce, given away to grateful friends or bartered for something a neighbour has too many of.
Companion plants for Peppers
Good companions: Beans, beetroot, brinjals, carrots, celery, dill, fenugreek, lettuce, corn, parsley, radishes, oregano, cucurbits, Echinacea, Swiss chard and all members of the onion family.
Bad companions: Fennel and members of the cabbage family.
Our blog about companion planting is a useful tool to possess in this gardening game – check out this informative blog |HERE|
Poking Fun at Peppers!
Can you get your tongue around this famous twister from the 1800’s?
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”
And just how many pickled peppers are there in a peck…?!
Get in touch! We’d Love to hear what’s Hot in your garden!