Best practices: Growing fantastic peppers

Sweet or hot, crunchy and flavorful peppers are a real treat from the summer garden. They are also wonderful pickled, frozen, grilled, roasted or stuffed.

Peppers like similar growing conditions as their tomato cousins. The difference is that they prefer lower fertility to perform well. Too much nitrogen will get you big fluffy leafy plants with very few fruit to show for all your time and labor. Peppers like/need both sulfur and magnesium to be at their peak. Old timers would always put a single “Strike Anywhere” match head in the hole when transplanting their plants into the garden. We plant our peppers about 16-18″ apart in rows 36-40″ apart. It is a wives tale that the plants must be touching, although at this distance they will undoubtedly do so on their own.

We stake our pepper plants to keep them upright in the garden. For too many years we watched our plants, heavy with fat juicy peppers, fall over during a high wind event or thunderstorm. An ounce of prevention as they say. They also grow very well in the smaller sized tomato cages. Luckily we have never been bothered much by insect predation on our pepper plants. Perhaps a few slugs, and the odd aphid or some thrips, but that’s about it. We have lost young plants to chucks and rabbits though. But that’s been rare for us.

Again, we mulch our rows to both conserve moisture and reduce weed pressure on our plants, we also prefer to drip water them as well. TMV = Tobacco Mosaic Virus. It can severely inhibit your plants from producing fruits. It’s spread by people who smoke, especially those who roll their own. It also can devastate tomato, potato, tomatillo and eggplant crops. We recommend that anyone who smokes and gardens, wear latex or vinyl gloves at all times when handling those plant types. TMV has NO treatment or cure.

As with tomatoes, we recommend a late summer nighttime covering to trap heat which will aid ripening of the fruit. But again… the covering must be removed in the morning so the plants don’t get “Smoked” by the hot daytime sun. We also highly suggest that you plant peppers, tomatoes and eggplants out into the garden between June 7th and 10th when it’s slightly warmer. This is especially so at higher elevations and in New England. Your plants will actually be more productive and produce sooner than making them shiver in the late spring coolness. Burrrrrrr…

Ripening peppers after a frost. If you have a garage space or better yet an unheated greenhouse… You should pull up your plants, shake off all the dirt and hang the plants upside down in a weatherproof area. The peppers that are still on the plant will continue to ripen and sweeten up. This method will work for any type whether sweet or hot.

Top recommendations: Lay off the nitrogen, drop a single match head into the transplant hole of each pepper plant. Stake or cage the plants. Drip water whenever possible. Mulch and or weed to eliminate competition. Watch for insect damage. Cover at night in later summer to assist ripening, but remove cover in the morning. After the first fall frost, pull up plants, shake off dirt and hang in a weatherproof area to continue ripening the last remaining peppers.

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