Peppers can be a challenge for some gardeners. They love heat and lots of sunlight. They are the sunbathing vegetable, to say the least, and the more sunlight, the better they like it. Some individuals have come up with unique ways of intensifying the sun’s rays for their peppers, but a successful pepper crop starts with the seeds.
While pepper plants can be bought from the local feed and seed or home improvement center, one must inspect the plants before bring them home. Aphids and bacterial problems such as leaf spots and stem cankers can run rapid in store bought plants so it is always better to start your plants from seed if possible.
To start pepper seeds, first wash all flats, containers, and any other items that will be involved in the planting process. Wash these items in one gallon of water with one capful of bleach. Thoroughly rinse the items in clear water and set out in the sun to dry. The sun is a great sterilizer and will kill any additional germs that may have escaped the bleach water.
Once the containers have been washed and dried, fill them with an all-purpose potting soil. Next, comes the seeding of the container. This is done in two different ways depending on how exact you want to be. The first way is to broadcast the seed over the top of the soil. This approach is great if there is only going to be one variety of seed per container. If there is going to be more than one variety per container, then the second approach is needed.
The second approach requires a cup of water, powdered milk, and a pencil. Make a line with powdered milk on the top of the soil. This line will be what you follow when you place your seeds. Next, dip the pencil tip into the water and into the seed packet. Touch the seeds with the pencil tip and pick one seed up. Place the seed into the row and repeat the process with the remaining seeds. Mark the row with a plant stake indicating the plant variety.
After the pepper plants have gotten their second set of leaves it is time to transplant them into individual pots.
Peppers are a warm season crop and do not like cold weather or soil. Do not put peppers out before the local frost-free date. To aid in warming the soil, cover it with black plastic or plant in a raised bed. Soil in a raised bed tends to warm quicker than ground soil.
When placing peppers in the garden, plant them 18- to 24-inches apart in rows or plant in a mass with 14- to 18-inches separating each plant in all directions. To begin the process, dig a hole for each pepper no deeper than the height of the root mass. Sprinkle into each hole a starter fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and place plant into each hole. Fill in the hole and gently push the soil down. Water the pepper plants in and add additional soil as needed. Side-dress the peppers with a fertilizer high in phosphorus after the first peppers have set and keep the soil uniformly moist.
Another approach to take when planting peppers is to lay out aluminum foil or Mylar like landscape cloth. The reflective nature of this material bounces the sunlight back onto the peppers plants. To plant using this technique is simple. Just cut an “x” in the foil or Mylar where the plant will be placed, dig the hole, and plant as usual. Once the plant is in the ground fold the ‘x’ back around the plant. Poke a few holes in this material to allow water to seep through to the ground.
Peppers also do well in containers, and a container that one may not think about using is a 9 by 13 disposable pan with lid. This type of pan can be found in the frozen food section supporting foods like lasagna or empty in the container isle.
To use this type of container, fill it with soil and close it up with the lid. Once the lid is on, cut an “x” where you want each plant. Fold the “x” back and plant as usual. When completed, return the “x” to the closed position. Poke holes in the lid for watering purposes and place in direct sunlight.
Once the peppers begin to fruit, it is time to pick them. Picking correctly can save the plant and the crop. Cutting peppers from the plant is the correct way of harvesting the fruit verses pulling them off.
All peppers can be picked in the green, immature stage or left on the plant to mature. The true test as to whether a pepper is ready or not is how easily the fruit is removed. A pepper that is ready to be picked is easily removed from the plant.
Freezing, canning, and drying are ways of preserving peppers. Typically, hot peppers are picked and strung up to dry but the whole plant can be pulled out of the ground and hung up by the roots.
Regardless of how one may grow peppers, they are well worth the effort for a unique culinary experience.