Peppers Peppers Peppers

If Peter Piper had been any good at gardening then he would have been picking far more than a peck. Peppers are easily my favorite things to grow in the garden and it is partially because they are SO prolific. I grow only 2 or 3 plants for each variety (this year we’re growing 8 varieties) and we still end up with buckets, yes literally buckets, of peppers that we freeze, eat raw, cook, dry or can and anything that is left gets taken in to our colleagues. Not only are peppers typically high yielding but they are also useful across an incredibly broad spectrum of cuisines. Smoked, stuffed, salads, salsas, sauces, spices, you name it. What’s not to love!?

Peppers are typically warm climate, full sun, moisture loving plants. They require at least 6-8 hours of sun per day for optimal growth and prefer soil within the pH range of 6.0-7.0. Varieties range from around 1 foot high to as tall as 3 feet with a spread of 12-18 inches, generally speaking. As the stems mature it is normal for them to become woody and small flowers give way to a fruiting body that, depending on the variety, changes color as it ripens. Sounds easy enough, right??

I’ll take you through my process, 5 easy steps from start to finish, and share some tips that I have learned along the way.

Step 1 – Shopping. Order yourself some seeds, my friends! I usually order a combination of staples, like bell peppers and jalapenos that I know I like and will use a lot of, as well as some exciting varieties that may be good or may be bad but look too fun to pass on. Be bold.

Step 2 – Sowing. Choose a quality potting soil and find a sunny location, it’s time for planting. I don’t put more than one seed per well because I like to know the germination rates of my seeds but you can, you’ll just have to thin them when transplanting. Plant your seeds about 1/4″ deep, cover and water. You will need to keep the soil evenly moist until they’ve germinated. TIP: A heating mat can be used to maintain even soil temperature and promote faster germination but should not be used long after seeds have sprouted due to unwanted heat stress on the developing root system.

Pepper seedlings, multiple varieties.

Step 3 – Transplanting. After you have seedlings you’ll want to keep them moist and give them plenty of sun. When your seedlings have at least one set of true leaves they are ready for transplanting. There are details regarding this process in my “What does ‘thinning’ entail?” post. TIP: Multiple small seedlings can be transplanted into a larger pot together but peppers like their space, so they will need to be separated later on if you intend to keep them in pots for an extended duration prior to their final planting. TIP: There is a method called “topping” that is said to promote branching and fullness. I have not ever tried this myself but intend to next year. Simply put, after you have two sets of true leaves you clip off the top of your plant. It will then create additional branches and this process can be repeated to force robust growth. I will share my experience with this method at some point next year. Until then, swim at your own risk.

Pepper seedlings with one set of true leaves, time to pot up!
Multiple young peppers per pot, time to transplant into individual containers.
Freshly transplanted pepper.

Step 4 – Hardening. As mentioned above, peppers are warm weather veggies. They will require hardening to prepare them for the outdoor conditions. This process, as well as tips for final planting are outlined in my “Transitioning from Greenhouse to Garden” post. When planting my peppers in the garden, I separate each plant by at least 12 inches. I repeat — THEY LIKE THEIR SPACE. TIP: If your pepper plants are still quite small at the time of their final planting I recommend pinching off any flowers until they’ve gained some size. This will prevent them from dumping their energy into pepper production rather than much needed branches and leaves. Remember, leaves contain chlorophyll which is responsible for photosynthesis, aka making food. Without them your plants can’t convert the sun’s energy into usable sugar and therefore will not be able to support high volume pepper production. I know it’s hard to ditch those adorable flowers but you’ll be glad you did when you have shrub sized plants covered in healthy peppers.

Hardened pepper with a healthy root system going into the garden.

Step 5 – Maintenance. I typically remove leaves that grow at the base of the plant but are not forming a new stem/side growth. These are not generating a new branch that will give you more peppers, they are just single leaves at the base of the stem…taking nutrients away from your developing peppers. I get rid of these suckers. Lastly, your plants will get big, they will be covered in heavy peppers and, despite efforts to promote sturdy stems, they will become top-heavy. Cages or stakes do wonders for keeping your plants upright and your peppers off the ground where they will inevitably rot.

Golden California Wonder Bell Peppers going strong!
Ripening Golden California Wonder Bell Peppers.

Dan’s Island Fire Hot Sauce Recipe:
2C Jalapenos
2C Cayennes
5 Large Hungarian Wax
10 Serranos
3 Large Anaheims
7 Hot Cherry Peppers
2/3 Whole Pineapple
1tsp Salt
2tsp Cumin
2C White Vinegar
1/4C Water
2oz Lime Juice
1/2 Red Onion
5 Cloves Garlic
1 Large Carrot

Boil all ingredients for 10 minutes then puree and strain into sterile jars. Pressure can according to your model’s manual.

One of Dan’s small batch hot sauces in the works

I hope this provided a general overview of the steps involved in growing this delicious veggie. Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to grow vegetables. Use the tips above as a guideline and find a method that suits your needs. Peppers can be grown in almost any style; the ground, raised beds, containers, even in front of a sunny window in your apartment. They are also resistant to disease and passed over by most pests so they are a great choice for beginner gardeners. I hope you’ll give them a try and if you have any specific questions you’re welcome to reach out in the comments below or via my contact page. Also, if you have experience with topping peppers please share below. Cheers, friends!

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