Peppers, called capsicums in some parts of the world, are a relative of the tomato and require similar growing conditions; they supply good levels of carbohydrates, vitamin A and vitamin C.
They can be classified as sweet or bell peppers, which are the most popular, and hot peppers such as chili, paprika, cayenne, pimento, and Tabasco.
It’s probably more successful to grow peppers in a greenhouse because they hate temperature fluctuations, however, if you can provide fine warm conditions over a 5-month growing period you can grow good quality peppers in your garden. They are best started from seeds indoors in late winter; sow 2 seeds in peat pots filled with rich compost indoors in late March and keep moist. Germination indoors takes 2-3 weeks and then they can be planted out in early June. Seedlings should be placed 18 inches apart, either way and watered in.
Peppers are then transplanted into the garden after the soil and air have warmed in the spring, but as the plants cannot tolerate frosts, and hate temperature fluctuations it would be a good idea to purchase a floating row cover. Cloches also can do a good job.
Peppers can grow up to 3 foot tall so stakes are recommended for support. Plan carefully where to plant, ensure the soil is well prepared beforehand with well-rotted organic matter, as peppers need well draining fertile soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5. They also like to be in a sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind. You could consider a raised garden bed if your soil is heavy.
Ideally, plant peppers in soil that has been previously heavily fertilized for cabbage or cauliflower.’ Another option for the indoor gardener is hydroponics; great results can be achieved from using this system.
A dozen plants should feed the average family, but with the choice of varieties available you may be tempted to grow more. They need to be kept in even moist conditions to ensure good quality fruit, do not let them dry out as this will cause the flowers and fruit to die.
To prevent red spider mite and encourage fruit set, mist the plants regularly. Aphids can also be a problem with the plants.
If you do successive sowings you can expect to pick your fruit over a 4-5 month period. Peppers will mature in about 65 ‘ 70 days and can be picked at the primary stage when they are dark green, they should be firm with thick walls and unwrinkled skin. They can also be left till they change color, (secondary stage) usually red when they will be softer and sweeter. Harvest at 7-21 day intervals to encourage quantity and quality, as new flowers will only grow if you pick the fruit.
Peppers will keep in the vegetable crisper or a plastic bag in the refrigerator and should be used within five days. Bell peppers are widely used in salads and in stir fries and they can all be roasted, stuffed, preserved or used in salsa. Hot peppers are used for spices or to add heat to your culinary creations.