By Ronnie Dauber, Garden Guides Contributor
About this Plant
Peppers are high-maintenance annual vegetables that require a long growing season and constant care to produce a healthy harvest. Their produce can be used in raw form as a garnish vegetable on main dishes or in salads, or stuffed and baked as delicious main dishes.
Peppers are moderate feeders and require the ground to be fully prepared with plenty of compost and well rotted manure mixed into the soil before planting.
The deep green foliage and the diversity in the shape and colors of the pepper provide beauty to any garden, and a unique flavor to many foods. Peppers can be eaten raw or cooked and the taste ranges from a sweet flavor that compliments many dishes to a hot perk.
Choosing a Variety
Peppers come in many different sizes and colors, from yellow and green to orange and red, and a wide range of varieties including sweet bell peppers and an ever-growing populous of hybrid hot peppers. Their shapes vary from tiny bell-shaped to fist-sized round to long, fat and thin bell-shaped.
The pepper seeds should be started indoors about 8 weeks before transplanting to the outdoor garden. Sow the seeds in groups of two or three, about ¼ inch deep into 1-inch cells, providing constant moisture. Keep the temperature 80 to 85 degrees F. After germination, which is about 1 to 2 weeks, thin out the seedlings and put one per cell. When the seedlings have two or three leaves, transplant into larger containers of about 2- or 3-inch squares. When it is time to plant outdoors, set plants 18 inches apart in rows about 30 inches apart in a sheltered yet full sun area. Peppers grow well with carrots, onions, parsnips, peas and basil.
Use black plastic or paper mulch to attract heat, hold the water and prevent weeds. If the temperature falls below 60 degrees F or goes above 80 degrees F, the blossoms will drop. If the soil lacks calcium, the fruit will blacken and decay at the blossom end. Cold weather will prevent the plant from producing fruit and excessive nitrogen during early growth could decay the fruit.
Harvesting and Storage
The fruit can be harvested when they have reached a desired size. To prevent possible plant infection, the fruit should be cut off rather than pulled off. Fruit can be stored for a couple of weeks when refrigerated or can be blanched and frozen for longer periods of time. Peppers can also be preserved in vinegar.