Growing Peppers in the Garden

picture of peppers growing in the garden

Once considered special occasion vegetables, peppers now occupy as visible a spot in the average American mainstream diet as growing peppers occupies a visible spot in the vegetable garden.

American fresh pepper preferences continue on a consumption upward trend. In 1980, Per Capita pepper consumption rate stood at 6 pounds/person, split almost evenly between bell peppers and chili peppers. By 2011 American per capita pepper consumption reached the rate of 16.4 pounds/person, with bell peppers (9.8 pounds/person consumed) ranking slightly higher than chili pepper preferences (6.6 pounds/person consumed). Bell Pepper color, be it gold, green, or red, depends on the variety. Sweet bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C and also provide vitamin A and potassium.

Southwest cooking continues to influence American culinary habits, far beyond the influence of the meal time taco or burrito. The chili, for example is one of New Mexico’s official state vegetables.

Speaking of New Mexico chiles, a small southern town called Hatch is situated less than an hour’s drive north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. It bills itself as the chili Capital of the United States.

While you are in Las Cruces, check out the Big Chili Inn and the world’s largest chili pepper, a forth seven foot masterpiece created with two and one half tons of concrete. The entire area is great for growing New Mexico chilies. Researchers at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces have been developing quality chili varieties for over one hundred years.

Types of Peppers

picture of a red cayenne pepper growing on a pepper plant
The term chili pepper collectively refers to all the hot peppers in the capsicum genus. Since capsaicin, a natural pain reliever, is the active ingredient in chili peppers, one can only wonder how many headaches have thus far been averted because of a country’s changing culinary habits.

Partially due to their culinary popularity, including chili pepper plants in the back yard garden plan continues to interest gardeners beyond the Southwest. Seed choice depends on geography with some seeds better suited to growth in the arid Southwest while others better suited to growth in the more humid Southeast

Gardeners generally choose between two types of peppers, sweet and hot.

Most American palates are accustomed to the sweet peppers because of the long time popularity of green bell peppers. Additional sweet pepper varieties with names such as Sweet Banana, Gypsy, Golden Summer, Chocolate Beauty, Purple Beauty, and numerous varieties with the name ‘Bell’ attached to them are common back yard garden choices.

Hot peppers such as Cayenne, Habanero and Jalapeno continue to grab the attention of pepper enthusiasts across the country. Many of these varieties aeso go by the common name ‘chili peppers’.

Chile Pepper Growing Tips

picture of red chilies

Indoor Seed Germination Tip: Recommended indoor seed germination temperatures vary according to a few general rules such as seed strain choice and climactic conditions. Suggested seed germination temperatures often presented in a range between 70oF and 80oF.

Chile varieties normally get characterized as small shrubs, and they can be grown as perennials in warmer climates. Multiple branching on the plants provides ample space for fruiting. In colder climates, night time temperatures need to be over 65o F in order for flowering (and subsequent fruiting) to occur.

Five Tips for Chile Pepper Growers:

  • Plants generally require a four month growing cycle to complete fruiting. In norther climates with a shorter growing season, starting the seedlings indoors provides a good jump start to the season.
  • Optimal soil pH for chili plants hovers in the 6.5 range.
  • Chile plants thrive in healthy soil, and adding well prepared compost to garden soil increases soil health.
  • Plant chili seedlings when the average daytime temperature hovers in the 70oF range.
  • Consistent watering of the plants, when the top layers of soil become dried, and staying alert for plant pests represents the most effective chili pest prevention strategy. The link in to box to the article covering Organic Management Peppers provides additional details on the subject.

Nutrition Tip

1c raw chopped hot green chili pepper: 181.9 mg Vitamin C
Men 19+: 90 mg/day suggested
Women 19+: 75 mg/day suggested
Source: USDA

Organic Tip: Like many other branching garden plants, such as tomatoes, applications of organic fertilizer for chili plants follows a general, three part rule of thumb coinciding with the plant’s three stages of development, vegetation, stem and branch development, flowering and fruiting.

A nitrogen rich nutrient environment promotes vigorous growth in vegetating chili plants. Additions of phosphorus helps stem and branch development. Upon flowering, a potassium rich nutrient aides fruit development.

Freezing Peppers

Once grown, the peppers can also be frozen for use at a later date.

The process starts by cleaning the peppers, removing the seeds and slicing them in bite size pieces.

Next, freeze the peppers on a tray for approximately one hour.

After the peppers are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and remove as much excess air as possible. The prior freezing process ensures that the peppers don’t bunch up and stick to each other while in the freezer.

Pepper Pest Management

Rule of thumb organic chili pepper pest management follows a basic two step process consisting of pre-planting and post-planting practices.

Soil issues drive pre-planting plans. Normally, small scale chili gardeners need not worry about one common soil problem, nematode attacks. In areas with nematod problems, many experts recommend soil solarization. as a preventative garden soil management strategy for many vegetables, including chili peppers.

Insect pests and viruses need to be watched during the growing species. For example, a few aphid species are drawn to peppers including green peach aphids and melon aphids. Although European corn moths strongly prefer corn for egg-laying sites, they will also lay eggs on leaves in peppers, and larva bore into the fruit under the calyx.

Symptoms such as leaf mottling, puckering, or curling; stem and petiole streaking; rough, deformed, or spotted fruit; stunted plants; and leaf, blossom, and fruit drop are indicative of viruses. When possible, plant cultivars that have resistance to diseases of concern.
Many cultivars are resistant to tomato mosaic virus (TMV), the most important virus, spread by contaminated hands or tools that rub against leaves. A few cultivars are resistant to potato virus Y (PVY) and/or tobacco etch virus (TEV),which are spread by aphids and rubbing leaves. Many are resistant to some strains of the bacterial spot pathogen, which affects both leaves and fruit.

Natural pest management generally consists of introducing the beneficial insects into the garden appropriate for dealing with the identified insect pest.