Everybody uses pepper to season their food at one point or another. Whether it’s a bell pepper in a stir fry dish, red pepper in a sauce, or chili peppers with beans, peppers are a popular seasoning that people take for granted. Pepper plants are easy to grow and make a lovely addition to any garden.
The pepper plant seems to have originated in South America. It was cultivated in the Americas long before the Europeans arrived, and has been a domesticated crop for thousands of years. Some varieties of pepper have fairly small plants, up to a foot tall. Others, like the Tabasco pepper, grow up to five feet tall.
Pick a Pepper
Peppers will grow anywhere, but the best flavor comes from peppers grown in hot climates. Bell peppers are popular in the US because of their sweet flavor, and there are many colors and varieties being bred all the time. They go well with many dishes, and a grilled bell pepper has a wonderful flavor.
You can pick bell peppers early to catch certain colors. Most varieties start out green and turn red as they ripen, but Purple Bells start out purple, turn black, and then red, while Chocolate Bells start green and turn a chocolate brown. Immature peppers are tasty, but the full flavor doesn’t take hold until they are fully ripened.
There are sweet peppers, like Sweet Banana and Ortega peppers, that pickle well and aren’t very hot. Then there are the hot peppers, like red chilies, jalapenos, and cayenne. These range in color from red to green to black, and the brighter the color, the hotter the pepper.
Peppers don’t cope well with cold temperatures, and many require long growing seasons, up to 90 days. If your summers are not long and hot, you may want to extend your growing season by starting your peppers early, indoors. One or two plants will produce enough peppers for a family.
Once the nights are warmer than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, transplant your peppers into a prepared, fertilized bed outdoors, or graduate them to a large pot in a sunny windowsill. Pick your fertilizer with care; a more acidic soil will produce hotter peppers. Make sure your peppers receive full sun, and water them generously.
If all goes well, within a few months your plants will be loaded with peppers. Cook them, dry them, freeze them, or make them into salsa. The uses for peppers are almost limitless.
Container Plant Peppers
Peppers are easy to grow in a container garden. They can be started from seed or transplants. Generally, the larger the container, the bigger your pepper plant will grow because the smaller sizes will constrict the roots. For that reason, a five gallon or larger container, like Vegepod, is best for outdoor growing.
We were recently introduced to Vegepod and love their award-winning features that are perfect for container (raised bed) gardening. There’s ample room for pepper plants and much more! Peppers are the first thing I’ve transplanted from seed into our Vegepod and they’re already producing.
One of the best features in the Vegepod is the self-watering technology. Wicking reservoirs water the plants from below which reduces the need for daily watering. A built in mist spray irrigator is excellent for seed starting and maintenance during the heat of summer.
In contrast, if you choose a smaller container, you need to water more frequently since they dry out quickly. Keeping the soil moist but not soggy is a good rule of thumb for pepper container gardening.
Store Peppers After Harvest
Hot peppers can be strung together and dried, and used to season dishes for months. However, use caution when picking! Peppers have certain chemical compounds called capsaicinoids that are stored throughout the pepper’s structure. It causes the burning sensation in the mouth, and if you get this in your eyes or nose, it will cause you a lot of pain. Use gloves, and don’t touch your face.
Peppers freeze wonderfully, and you can use them in other dishes during the winter. Cut your peppers up, wash them, spread them on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer for an hour. Remove them from the freezer and put them into a freezer bag, then return them to the freezer. This keeps them from sticking together, and you can retrieve them easily for cooking.
Peppers are high in vitamins A and C, which are important antioxidants. The more ripe the pepper, the higher the vitamin content.
Growing your own peppers is fun and rewarding, and they make attractive houseplants. Use a little caution when working with the hot varieties, and enjoy your crop!