image by William Stadler/sxc.hu
Peppers (Capsicum annuum) are a warm-season vegetable with many varieties available for planting. Peppers can be grown for food, spice or decoration. They make tasty additions in salad, stuffing, soup, stew, relish and pickling. Store harvested peppers in the refrigerator at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 to 90 percent relative humidity for two to three weeks.
Choose which type of peppers you would like to grow and decide whether you will grow them from seed to transplant or whether you will purchase starter plants. Sweet peppers choices include bell and pimiento. Hot peppers include cayenne, jalapeno and Anaheim. See Resources for a list and description of pepper varieties.
Plant the seeds indoors in late winter (six to eight weeks before optimal temperatures), if you choose to transplant your own. Transplant the peppers outside when temperatures reach 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Plan the bed for the peppers in a place that offers full sun and well-drained soil. One week before transplanting, place 1.5 pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of the bed. Optimal choices for planting include raised beds, black plastic mulch and floating row covers. These will help keep peppers warm, drain the soil and enhance the microenvironment during cooler weather. You will need to space the peppers 12 to 18 inches apart from each other.
Dig planting holes large enough to fit the transplants plus an extra inch or so for extra soil. Use a spade or small shovel to dig. Place 1 teaspoon of the 5-10-10 fertilizer into each planting hole. Cover the holes with 1 inch of soil before setting in the transplants.
Plant the hot pepper transplants 12 to 15 inches apart from each other with rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Plant bell peppers 15 to 18 inches apart. The standard is 18 to 24 inches; but, according to the National Gardening Association, closer spacing yields about one-third more peppers per square foot. It will take more plants to fill the tighter spacing and the peppers will be smaller. If you want big peppers, especially bells, plan for the standard spacing.
Care for the peppers regularly after planting. Water the peppers weekly. Side dress (add extra fertilizer) the pepper plants with 1 tablespoon of the 5-10-10 fertilizer once a month. Heavy plants can be supported with stakes or with cages that are 2 feet high. Apply mulch to the plants after the summer heat peaks.
Harvest the peppers when the fruit walls are firm and the peppers are still green or yellow. Peppers take 100 to 120 days to mature from planting the seed, or 70 to 85 days from transplanting. The fruits will break easily from the plant when they are mature. Bell peppers should be picked as soon as they change color. Hot peppers (except jalapenos) can be picked after they ripen and change color. Jalapenos should be picked when the fruit turns black-green.