How to Grow Peppers

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow peppers, including the history and horticulture of the pepper, what, where, when and how to plant, pests, and how to harvest and store peppers.

| May/June 1988

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow peppers. Easy to raise and as versatile as they are various, peppers belong in every one's kitchen garden. 

How to Grow Peppers

If there's a taste that comes close to the freshness of the scent of newly cut grass or of a fern forest after rain, it's the cool, marvelous munch of a homegrown sweet pepper. And for those of us who've spent happy days sampling south-of-the-border cuisine, dining would be dull indeed without the pungent jolt of an occasional chili.

Peppers have been appreciated for a long time. Remains of these South American natives are found in Peru's prehistoric ruins, and by the time Christopher Columbus reached this continent, they were widely cultivated in both Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean. Though they are entirely different from the true spice pepper, Piper nigrum, which Columbus had expected to find in his search for a new route to the East Indies, he was delighted with these New World vegetables, and their use spread throughout Europe and India in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What Varieties of Peppers to Plant

Most of the hot and sweet peppers grown in the United States belong to the species Capsicum annuum, with the sweet or bell peppers classed in the Grossum Group and the principal condiment peppers (cayenne, chili and paprika) belonging to the Longum Group. Though many sources consider hot peppers as members of C. frutescens, this species more correctly refers to the superhot Tabasco pepper, which in this country is grown only on the Gulf Coast. But whatever type you grow (and there are plenty of varieties to choose from), cultivation is approximately the same.

Among earlier maturing sweet peppers, familiar standbys are Earliest Red Sweet and Ace Hybrid, though such newer hybrids as Early Prolific and Early Thickset quickly gained acceptance. Skipper is a thick-walled type that's good for stuffing. A later-maturing pepper, also good for stuffing, is the popular Bell Boy. Tasty Hybrid is justly named, and a prolific producer, as well. And, though thin-walled, one of the best nonhybrids is mosaic-resistant Staddon's Select. (Among others resistant to this disease are Keystone, Belle and Yolo Wonder.) There's also a wide variety of giant sweet peppers, including Green Boy, Wonder Giant, Big Bertha and Big Stutter.

Ornamental peppers tend toward the blazing hot, but Dutch Treat is a mild-tasting exception. Anaheims are slightly pungent, while jalapeños sizzle on the tongue. Prolific and easy to grow are Hungarian Wax, Hot Banana and Goldspike. Cayennes, such as the Long Red Cayenne, are usually fiery, but the early-maturing Zippy Hybrid is a much milder version. And though we think of hot peppers as being small, Numex Big Jim, though not overly spicy, has fruits as large as the sweet Big Bertha. For gardeners in the Deep South, Dr. Greenleaf Red Hot Tabasco is one of the best (and hottest) of that type. Remember, though, that different varieties will cross-pollinate, but that won't affect their taste the year they're planted. Therefore, if you don't save the seeds, you can plant hot and sweet peppers in the same bed.

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