Garden Tips for the Great Garden State – A Peck of Peppers
Peppers are one of the most exciting edibles in the summer garden. I always plant as many different varieties as I can squeeze in. They are usually one of the last things I put in so I just keep planting until all the random empty spots are full.
Here in New Jersey we have to wait a while to transplant them out into the garden. I am just about confident that I can put them out any day now. The overnight temperatures being my main concern, just like tomatoes I usually wait until June 1st; peppers don't mess around with cold weather.
One of the best feelings in the garden is going around and picking pecks and pecks of all those different peppers (a peck is 8 quarts btw). Jalapenos, Bell, Italian fryers, Cubanelle, Super chili, Habanero, Cayenne... the list goes on. I like spicy foods, and much to my girlfriend's chagrin, I will add just about any hot pepper to any dish I am cooking. If you don't like spicy, then peppers probably don't excite you like they do to us heat-heads.
Enough about WHY I like them so much, let's get out in that garden.
Peppers are a thing of patience and you will have to wait till the overnight temperatures get above 50 degrees before you transplant, like I said before, in NJ this means waiting till May 15th or even later. Once you get them in the ground then there is even more waiting to be done. If you want red peppers, they will take forever to ripen up once the fruit has finished growing. You will be forced to fight the temptation to eat them and will have to keep an eye out for bugs. This is why red peppers in the stores are so much more $$ then plain old green ones.
Give them a good soaking at the base of the plant once a week. Try not to get the leaves wet as this will just promote disease. If it's raining here and there, then don't water them at all. If it's 100 and drought conditions, then give them a soaking 2-3 times a week. You want the soil to dry out pretty good between their soakings.
To get nice big fruits you will have to give them a little bit of fertilizer. I generally just give them a little rock phosphate or bone meal and pelleted chicken manure at the time of planting and throughout the season. Watch out for anything high in Nitrogen such as horse manure as this will cause the plants to grow tall and spindly but with barely any fruit. In all honesty though, I try not to over fertilize things and I don't use chemical fertilizers on food so some of my peppers will usually be smaller then the store bought ones.
Many variates will need some additional support as the heavy fruits and a strong wind could ruin a perfectly fine pepper plant. I'll either tie them up or stick a few bamboo stakes around them to keep them from bending too far in any one direction.
Don't forget to dry out those Cayenne peppers by either hanging them in a dry spot (not the kitchen where it gets hot and humid from time to time) or running them through your dehydrator. If you're getting too many peppers just cut them up and freeze them to be used in the winter.
Also, if you have a sun-room or super sunny windowsill you can dig pepper plants out and pot them up as winter houseplants. Peppers are perennials so they will live for many years as long as they stay warm. Dig them out in the evening (not morning or midday) with enough dirt still attached to fill the pot. If you have room left in the pot top off with potting soil or compost. The remaining fruit will ripen up quickly and then next summer you will be setting out these gigantic plants ready to produce fruit rather then tiny transplants.
If you have a question, comment or tip of your own about peppers... feel free to add that to the comment section below!