Add a bit of color and flavor to your meals with sweet peppers. They are great for grilling, stuffing, adding to soups and stews, and eating fresh. Get the best flavor, biggest harvest and greatest nutritional value with proper selection, planting, maintenance and harvesting.
Bell peppers, with their distinct bell shape, are the most common sweet pepper. Bonnie Plants’ Bonnie Green Bell Pepper produces lots of sweet peppers you’ll be harvesting for months. Carmen Italian is a bull’s horn (corno di toro) type sweet pepper that tastes great when roasted. Wait until they turn a deep red for the richest, sweetest flavor. (Bonus: Carmen even produces fruit in cooler temperatures.) Lunchbox Sweet Snacking is so crisp and sweet you’ll eat it right off the plant (plus, it’s high in beta carotene and vitamin C). Giant Marconi has a smoky-sweet flavor and is great grilled or roasted.
Peppers thrive in warm temperatures, so always wait for the air and soil to warm before planting. These warm weather vegetables will grow slowly, drop blossoms, and fail to fruit when night temperatures are below 50 to 55 degrees. They also suffer when the weather is hot and dry. Once the weather improves, though, the plants will begin flowering and forming fruit. So patience is the cure.
Grow peppers in moist, well-drained soil. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Spread a one- to two-inch layer of pine straw, shredded leaves, or other organic material to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve the soil as it decomposes. Peppers grow well in containers. An 18-inch pot is big enough for most varieties. Include some edible flowers (like nasturtiums) for added color and flavor. Or use a larger pot and create a mini garden with herbs, flowers, and, of course, a pepper or two.
Fertilize at planting and again once the peppers start fruiting. A slow-release organic fertilizer will feed your plants for several months. It’s better for your plants and less work for you. Don’t over-fertilize, though; too much nitrogen encourages lots of leaves and stems, and can prevent flowering and fruiting. Follow label directions for best results. Your peppers are ready to harvest when they reach full size and are properly colored. Harvest bell peppers when they are a rich, bright green color, or leave them on the plant to ripen longer, allowing them to turn yellow, orange, or red and develop a sweeter flavor with a higher vitamin content. Yellow, orange, and purple bell peppers taste best when picked before they turn red.
Use pruners or kitchen scissors to snip fruit off the plant instead of pulling it off. This makes harvesting faster, and protects the plant from damage. Store dry whole peppers in the refrigerator. They will last about one week. Extras can be sliced or chopped, then frozen or dried. Not sure which varieties to plant? Bonnie Plants’ mobile site lists sweet pepper varieties and each one’s preferred growing conditions. So this year, save a bit of space in the garden or a container for a few colorful peppers. You’ll enjoy the color and flavor they’ll add to your family’s meals.