Grow Your Own Peppers

By Staff
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Grow Your Own Peppers

Grow these sweet and hot peppers to add flavor and variety to your garden.

Winter 2018
By Niki Jabbour

Cover courtesy Storey Publishing

Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix: 238 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor, and Fun(Storey Publishing, 2018), by Niki Jabbour introduces 238 plants from around the world. The book uses a fun “Like that? Then try this!” format that introduces crops similar in texture and flavor to commonly grown vegetables, such as summer squash and cucumbers. The following excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Like? Try…”

When I was growing up, I occasionally saw a red or green bell pepper pass through our kitchen, but I can’t say I ate many of them. (As a very fussy kid, I’m sure that was mostly my fault.) When I finally got my own garden and started poring through seed catalogs, I quickly realized how many peppers there were just waiting for me to sample them. I wasn’t interested in the common green or red peppers. I wanted the chocolate-colored peppers (Would they actually taste like chocolate? Nope!) and ‘Sweet Banana’ (the fruits actually do look like bananas!) and ‘Chinese Five Color’, which has plants that bear small peppers in a rainbow of colors all at the same time. Such diversity!

Photo by © Niki Jabbour

Peppers are a warm-season crop and need plenty of sunshine and warm, fertile, well-drained soil. Plant them in your sunniest garden beds, taking the time to prewarm the soil with black plastic 2 weeks before transplanting.

Experience has shown me that getting peppers planted out sooner is not better. You can erect a mini hoop tunnel over your pepper bed to shelter the young seedlings, but if not, aim for a planting date that is 1 to 2 weeks after your last expected frost date.

If you’re in a short-summer region, grow peppers in containers on a paved driveway, where the dark asphalt will absorb heat and create a microclimate around them. In the garden, a greenhouse or poly tunnel will also extend the season in late summer and early autumn.

Sweet peppers can be harvested while the fruits are full size but still green or when they’ve ripened to their mature color and peak sweetness. For hot peppers, wait to harvest until they look like the picture on the seed packet or in the seed catalog.

When you harvest hot peppers, either wear gloves or wash your hands immediately afterward. I’ve rubbed my eyes too many times with peppery hands to not be vigilant about hand washing!

Uncommon Sweet Peppers You’ll Love

For me, sweet peppers are garden candy. As a novice gardener, I was hesitant to plant peppers, thinking them difficult to grow. How wrong I was! Given full sun and plenty of summer heat, peppers are very low maintenance and reliable. The first variety I tried was ‘Sweet Banana’, which charmed me with its bright yellow banana-shaped fruits. From there, I planted ‘Purple Beauty’ and ‘Sweet Chocolate’, enjoying the variety of colors and subtle flavor differences.

Photography by © James Ingram/Jive Photographies Inc.

Sweet Chocolate (78 days). Who can resist chocolate? Not me! So, when I saw ‘Sweet Chocolate’ listed in a seed catalog, and read that the plants are early producing and tolerant of cool weather, I knew I had to try them. Just 2 months from transplanting, we had medium-­size green peppers; 2 to 3 weeks later, they ripened to that rich chocolate brown. The flavor was not chocolate sweet but peppery sweet and crunchy. The biggest fruits were about 3-inches long and 1-1/2 inches at the shoulder, with fairly thin walls.

Purple Beauty (75 days). This was my first purple bell pepper, and it is one we continue to grow. The 18-inch-tall plants are reliable, even in our occasionally cool summers, and we all love the color. Compared to the modest size of ‘Sweet Chocolate’ peppers, these are large (3 to 4-inches long) three or four-lobed, thick-walled peppers.

Sweet Banana (75 days). My kids love the butter-yellow banana-shaped fruits of this award-winning heirloom. The 6 to 7-inch-long peppers will eventually ripen to red, but they can be picked at any stage. Their flavor is mild, but as the fruits turn red, they sweeten nicely. The plants are heavy producers, typically yielding around 20 peppers each.

Bianca (65 days white, 85 days red). With most sweet peppers, the fruits start out green and eventually turn red, yellow, or orange as they mature. The fruits of ‘Bianca’, on the other hand, are pale ivory that ripen to a bright red. The plants are early to mature and produce a good yield of medium-size four-lobed peppers. ‘Bianca’ is also highly resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.

Cornito Giallo (55 days green, 75 days yellow). This is a 2016 All-America Selections variety that bears bull-horn-shaped fruits that grow 5-inches long and 1-1/2 inches across at the shoulders. The plants are early to mature and yield a heavy crop of sweet, fruity peppers that emerge green but ripen to sunny yellow.

Photography by © James Ingram/Jive Photographies Inc.

Corbaci (60 days green, 80 days red). If you’re a pepper lover like me, you’ll fall for ‘Corbaci’, an heirloom variety that yields clusters of long, slender fruits. Expect the peppers to grow 10 to 12-inches long but be less than an inch across. ‘Corbaci’ has a well-earned reputation for high production and can topple over when laden with fruits. Therefore, staking is recommended. The sweet fruits will mature from green to red.

Photo by © Niki Jabbour

Note: Days to harvest are from transplant, not direct seeding.

Uncommon Hot Peppers You’ll Love

Even northern gardeners like me can grow a bumper crop of hot peppers. Location is everything, so find your sunniest site; growing hot peppers in black plastic pots on my paved driveway works well for me. In the garden, I start them off with a mini hoop tunnel in early summer to trap heat and give them a good start. Next, select early-maturing varieties that will have time to ripen in your region. I’ve had great success with unique peppers like ‘Chinese Five Color’, ‘Bulgarian Carrot’, and ‘Fish’.

Photography by © James Ingram/Jive Photographies Inc.

Chinese Five Color (70-90 days). I think the folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. say it best: “Screaming hot little peppers that turn a rainbow of vibrant colors; from purple, cream, yellow, orange, to red as they ripen.” The plants have purple-green foliage, and by midsummer they’re smothered in the 1 to 2-inch-long fruits. The tiny peppers get hotter as they mature, so if you’re spice shy, pick them while they’re still purple.

Compadre (70 days). You might think this pepper looks just like any other jalapeño variety: bullet-shaped, about 4-inches long, with a glossy green that matures to bright red. But unlike other jalapeños, this one continues to flower in cool temperatures and can even withstand a light frost! This is a major selling point for short-season gardeners like me. ‘Compadre’ is also fairly high yielding and resistant to disease.

Shishito (60 days green, 75 days red). You could say that this Japanese variety is both a hot pepper and a sweet pepper. The 3-inch-long slightly crinkly peppers have a sweet flavor, but as the summer goes on, the heat increases — especially once the fruits mature to a ripe red. We love them grilled with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, but they’re also amazing dipped in a tempura batter and flash-fried.

Photography by © James Ingram/Jive Photographies Inc.

Fish (80 days). This tasty hot pepper has beautiful green-and-white-streaked foliage and small (often striped!) peppers in hues of white, green, orange, and red. ‘Fish’ was introduced to the trade by heirloom vegetable expert William Woys Weaver, who notes that it was traditionally used in Baltimore as a substitute for paprika in cream sauces created for fish dishes. These peppers do pack quite a punch (think cayenne), but cooking will temper the heat somewhat.

Photography by © James Ingram/Jive Photographies Inc.

Bulgarian Carrot (75 days). At first glance, the long, tapered orange peppers on this variety look just like small carrots. But watch out, as they will bite you back! The initial flavor of the ripened peppers is fruity, but it finishes hot — in the 5,000 to 30,000 Scoville range. The fruits grow 2 to 3-1/2 inches long and are produced on 18-inch-tall plants.

Photo by © Niki Jabbour

Brazilian Starfish (90 days). I suppose to some people the fruits of this variety do resemble their starfish namesakes, but to me they look more like miniature UFOs: they grow just 1-1/2 to 2-inches wide but only an inch tall. Fruits start out bright green, eventually maturing to a vibrant lipstick red, and have thick walls, which give a nice, satisfying crunch when you bite into them. Their flavor is sweet and fruity, followed up by a blast of medium heat. These are tall, leggy plants that need to be staked or caged to keep them upright and off the ground.

Note: Days to harvest are from transplant, not direct seeding.

Excerpted fromNiki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix, © by Niki Jabbour, photography by © James Ingram/Jive Photographies Inc., used with permission from Storey Publishing.

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