Whether You Like it Hot, or a Little Chili
Peppers Growing Guide
From crisp and delicious bell peppers and mild to medium jalapenos to the much hotter habaneros and infamous Ghost variety, peppers are a staple of the American diet and a great way to spice things up in the garden and in the kitchen. Their range of rich colors and varying levels of heat make them the go-to for salads, salsa, soup, dips, chili, marinades, and more, offering a never-ending supply of options for garnishing and flavoring.
Sowing: Pepper plants should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Because peppers germinate slowly, pepper plants should be started with bottom heat applied to the flats. The bottom heat speeds up germination and seems to produce stronger seedlings. After one week of hardening off (a process of gradually introducing your seedlings to outdoor temperatures and conditions), plants should be transplanted to the garden or a container after all danger of frost has passed. Transplants in the garden should be planted 12-18 inches apart in rows 2-3 feet apart. If transplanting into large containers, plant 3 pepper plants to every half barrel (or a container of similar size).
Growing: It's a good idea to mix bone meal or dried manure into the planting hole before transplanting your seedlings to your garden or container. If the soil is too rich or too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer has been added to the soil, the plant will produce lush green leaves, but few peppers. Water your plants immediately after planting, then keep an eye on the soil to make sure it's moist but not soggy. As a rule of thumb, pepper plants need about 1-2 inches of water per week. They also do best planted in a spot that gets about 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. As plants begin to blossom, dissolve a spoonful of Epsom salts in a spray bottle -full of water and spray the leaves. The magnesium in the Epsom salts encourages an early and prolific fruit set.
Picking: Peppers should be harvested when they change color from green to red, yellow, orange, purple or brown. Once the color change occurs, sweet peppers become sweeter and hot peppers become hotter. The more you pick your peppers, the more your plants will produce.
Eating: When it comes to hot peppers, the Scoville scale is something with which you'll want to become acquainted. It measures a pepper's hotness in SHU (Scoville heat units), so knowing where a pepper ranks on the scale can be very helpful when experimenting with cooking or eating peppers raw. Milder hot peppers like jalapenos range between 500-5,000 SHUs, while extremely hot peppers, like the infamous Ghost Pepper, rank upwards of 1,500,000 SHUs. Hot or mild, sweet or spicy, peppers are packed with great nutrition. They're extremely high in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and folic acid. When it comes to specific levels, red peppers tend to outrank green peppers because they stay on the vine longer and can soak up more nutrients.
Knowing: Peppers have a rich history! They've been cultivated since prehistoric times, and archaeologists have found chili peppers at sites dating as far back as 7000 BC. The Aztecs had at least seven different words for hot peppers, from which we eventually derived the term "chili pepper." Also, the Incas used peppers as a form of currency.
Container Friendly? YES! Pepper plants are excellent container plants, which makes them fun to experiment with for patio gardening or even planting indoors.