Species: Capsicum Annuum
Annual in cold zones, perennial in warm areas
This includes both sweet and hot peppers
Conditions: Rich soil, soil temperature above 68°F (20°C), after all risk of frost has passed. They are self pollinated, but there is some risk of cross-pollination. Choose a hot spot with lots of sun, either in the ground or pots.
Calendar for Hardiness 6B
April – July
Cooking: From last year’s crop: pickled in vinegar, or dried.
Start: In mid-April, start seed indoors about 4 weeks prior to planting outdoors. Bury seeds 1/8″ (3 mm) deep, and provide 10 hr of bright light, either by a sunny window or with grow lights. They grow quite “leggy” if light is insufficient.
Transplant: In mid-May, cover spot outdoors with a black plastic sheet to warm up the soil. Transplant seedlings to their final location, by marking spots 1 ft (30 cm) apart from each other. Dig a hole about 2″ (5 cm) bigger than the root ball, pour some water, then fill partially with soil; add a sprinkle of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and compost, and water again before setting the seedlings at the same level as the original soil line in the seedling pot; fill the spot with more soil and pat down gently. Keep moist but do not overwater. They grow well in containers, especially if they are moved to take advantage of more sun hours. They do not tolerate cold wind, so cover with clear plastic if temperatures drop, and vent if it gets warmer.
Care: They are not very resilient to dryness, so water regularly. Once flowers appear, remove damaged foliage, and remove plastic cover.
Boosts: A banana peel processed in the blender with water makes a good potassium boost during blooming. A solution of 1 tsp Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) in 4 cups of water sprayed occasionally on the foliage seems to agree with all members of the pepper family.
August – October
Cooking: Enjoy raw in salsas, nachos and cooked in stews, stuffed, etc. Peppers may be refrigerated, in a plastic bag for about one week. Alternatively, wash and dry, and they can be blanched and then either pickled in vinegar or packed whole in freezer bags.
Harvest: Pick when they have reached the desired colour (green, red, orange, yellow, chocolate, purple, … ). Do not tug, but snip the stem with scissors. If the air temperature soars above 80ºF (27ºC) blooms might drop.
Saving seed: For open pollinated varieties
Care: Continue caring. Although watering may be reduced, do not let dry out; it is said that hot peppers grow spicier if in dry and hot conditions.
Cooking: Prepare cooked salsa, or pickled with carrots and onions; bottle and process to preserve. Cook from frozen. Peppers may be dried and saved for red salsas, adobos or stews.
Gardening: Pull plants and compost or dispose as yard waste. Flatten soil and mulch. Plants in containers may be brought inside to a sunny spot.
December – March
Cooking: From frozen, dried or preserved.
Gardening: Check catalogues for varieties, and order seed (warning: may create addiction.)
Sweet: Red Bull’s Horn (OP) from West Coast Seeds (2017)
Hot: New Mexico from Valley Green (2013); Ancho/Poblano from OSC (2013); Serrano from Vesey’s (2015)
Notes: If this is your first year growing peppers, it would not be a bad idea to skip the seed and purchase small plants ready to transplant at the local nursery in late May. It will give you a positive experience. If the plants are open pollinated, then you can save seed to start your own the following season, although most bought pepper plants are hybrid (which means the seed will not give you the same plant as the original.)
Left: My first year growing peppers, I bought a plant of jalapeño “El Jefe”; Right: after that positive experience, I started from seed, this plant is blooming and starting to develop fruit.
Left: Serranos are smaller and hotter than jalapeños, with their own distinct flavour; Right: poblanos are great for stuffing or in stir-fries.