The Vegetable Garden

    Pepper

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      Pepper
      Care
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      Pepper is a tender, warm-season vegetable. Pepper plants require somewhat higher temperatures, grow more slowly and are smaller than most tomato plants. Brightly colored, sweet bell pepper varieties have recently burst onto the scene. A vast range of other garden peppers (pimiento, tabasco, cayenne, chili and paprika) may be grown for food, spices or as ornamentals.

      The sweet varieties of peppers, especially the bells, traditionally have been by far the most popular in the United States. They are eaten green or ripe and are used for salads, stuffing, soup, stews, relishes and pickling. New developments in color and form have done nothing to dull the popularity of sweet peppers. Hot pepper varieties have also enjoyed a rebirth of popularity recently, mainly due to various ethnic cuisines that use their unique flavors and heat creatively.

      Varieties

      Hybrid Bell

      • Bell Boy (70 days to harvest; goes green to red)
      • Lady Bell (72 days; goes green to red)
      • Purple Belle (70 days; immature purple, black to red)
      • Chocolate Bell (75 days; green to chocolate brown)

      Sweet Frying or Salad Type

      • Gypsy (65 days to harvest; pale yellow to orange to red)
      • Sweet Banana (70 days; pale yellow to orange to red)

      Hot Peppers

      • Cayenne, large thick (70 days to harvest)
      • Cayenne, long, slim (73 days)
      • Jalapeno (70 days)
      • Red Chili (84 days)

      When To Plant

      Peppers are best started from seeds indoors in late winter and then transplanted into the garden after the soil and air have warmed in the spring. The plants cannot tolerate frost and do not grow well in cold, wet soil. When night temperatures are below 50° to 55°F, the plants grow slowly, the leaves may turn yellow and the flowers drop off. Raised beds, black plastic mulch and floating row covers may be used to advantage with peppers to warm and drain the soil and enhance the microenvironment of the young pepper plants in spring, when cool weather may persist.

      Spacing & Depth

      Set transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row, or 14 to 18 inches apart in all directions in beds. A dozen plants, including one or two salad and hot types, may provide enough peppers for most families; but with so many colors, flavors and types available, more may be necessary for truly devoted pepper lovers or for devotees of ethnic cuisines.



      Care

      Peppers thrive in a well-drained, fertile soil that is well supplied with moisture. Use a starter fertilizer when transplanting. Apply supplemental fertilizer (side-dressing) after the first flush of peppers is set. Because a uniform moisture supply is essential with peppers, especially during the harvest season, irrigate during dry periods. Hot, dry winds and dry soil may prevent fruit set or cause abortion of small immature fruits.

      Harvesting

      Fruits may be harvested at any size desired. Green bell varieties, however, are usually picked when they are fully grown and mature—3 to 4 inches long, firm and green. When the fruits are mature, they break easily from the plant. Less damage is done to the plants, however, if the fruits are cut rather than pulled off. The new, colored bell pepper fruits may be left on the plant to develop full flavor and ripen fully to red, yellow, orange or brown; or they may be harvested green and immature. Some (including "white," light yellow, lilac and purple) are colors that develop in the immature fruit and that should be harvested before actually ripening, when they turn red.

      Hot peppers are usually harvested at the red-ripe stage; but "green chiles," the immature fruits, are also required for some recipes. Some dishes may actually call for a specific variety of chile to be authentic. Hot pepper flavor varies more from variety to variety than was previously appreciated.

      To dry chiles, individual fruits can be picked and strung in a "ristras" or entire plants can be pulled in the fall before frost and hung in an outbuilding or basement to dry. Always exercise caution when handling hot varieties, because shin, noses and eyes may become painfully irritated. Plastic or rubber gloves may be helpful when picking or handling hot peppers.

      Common Problems

      People who use tobacco should wash their hands with soap and water before handling pepper plants to prevent spread of tobacco mosaic disease. Grow resistant varieties if possible.

      Watch for accumulation of aphids on the underside of the leaves, especially near growing branch tips. When a large aphid population is present, sticky "honeydew" appears on the lower leaves and fruit. If this situation occurs, apply a suggested insecticide. Bacterial diseases may be transported on purchased transplants, so look over potential purchases carefully for any leaf spotting or stem cankers.