Growing peppers in cooler climates always seems like a bit of a crap shoot to me. Some years the yield is great and other years I’m reminded that I live in a short season climate. Here’s what I’ve learned about growing this temperamental crop.
When to Plant
Sow the seed at the beginning of March or 10 to 12 weeks before you plan on planting them outdoors. Seed likes to be kept at 21C for germination and use warm water to keep the soil temperatures high. Sow very thinly in the flat or pot. If you try crowding this plant, it will respond by getting fungus infections. Once there are four true leaves, transplant to their own pot or cell pack cell for growing on.
Grow the seedlings at 21C days and 18C nights and never let them get chilled or subsequent harvests will be low.
Note that peppers really grow too slowly to start them directly into the soil anywhere but in the warmest of climates.
The rules for growing peppers don’t change between hot and sweet peppers.
Where to Plant
In full sunshine, in your most protected (and hence warmest) garden spot.
Peppers have a very fibrous root system and they perform best on well aerated soils with high organic matter content. This is the long way of saying to save your best soils for your peppers.
How to Plant
After all danger of frost and the ground has warmed up (early June in zone 5) then plant outside at 45 cm between plants and 76 cm between rows. A lot of folks rush this plant and can’t figure out why they never get peppers.
Care & Maintenance
Planting advice is quite simple. Plant the pepper up to the first set of leaves, the stem will root quite quickly (just like tomatoes), and avoid cold ground. Cool ground, with soil temperatures below 10C will guarantee a stunted plant and no pepper set.
Soil temperatures above 29C will also stunt the plant but we’re not likely to see these unless the peppers are mulched under plastic. Plastic mulched soils will build excessive heat levels in our typical summer months. If you use plastic to increase your spring soil temperatures, it is a good idea to remove it by the end of June or whenever the soil starts to get too warm.
An organic mulch of straw or leaves can be used in its place for the summer months.
The single most important thing about growing peppers is to keep them continuously growing and not check their growth rate at all during the growing season.
Canadian researchers found that if they picked off the early flower buds on pepper plants, they got more peppers than if they left them on. It seems the pepper does not set fruit like a tomato, i.e. the earliest flowers are the earliest fruit. Instead, the pepper seems to ripen the crop all at the same time and then produce another set of flowers and green peppers. If you pinch off the initial, lower flower buds, the plant will set a more uniform flower set at the top of the plant and these will ripen because the summer heat is perfect for their development.
Alternately, dig a trench in the garden about 7 inches deep, work in the compost, and plant your peppers in the bottom of the trench. Cover the trench with one of the row cover materials to help keep the heat in the trench. This trench growing removes the pepper from cool temperatures and drying winds and gives it a perfect environment for establishment in cool garden areas Row covers are the simplest tools to getting good green pepper crops.
One piece of advice given to many gardeners is to avoid excess nitrogen when growing peppers, this produces large plants with no fruit. The solution to this problem is to use compost as a source of food. Digging in compost .6 to 1 cm to the pepper patch will solve this problem as well as adding the necessary organic matter.
I grow two kinds of peppers in my gardens: hot peppers and green peppers. The difference between the two is found in the level of capsaicinoids that exist within the fruit. Fruit that are relatively low in these compounds are considered to be a sweet green pepper while fruit that have higher concentrations are considered to be hot.
Note the growing tips for sweet and hot peppers are the same.
This chemical, i.e. capsaicinoid, is a powerful fungicide and the pepper seed produces it in a biological adaptation to protect itself from fungal attacks during its long germination phase.
It is also interesting to note that all green peppers produce these capsaicinoids but only after 20 days on the bush and then in varying amounts depending on the variety, the heat units in the garden and soil moisture measurements.
The hotter and dryer the season, the more powerful the heat produced by the peppers. This is one reason that even a sweet green pepper may become bitter if stressed during their ripening stage; as they too are producing this chemical in their seeds.
Do Peppers Get Blossom End Rot Like Tomatoes?
Yes indeed. And for pretty much the same reasons. Here’s a link to blossom end rot.
Another note to clear up a common question: red peppers are simply mature green peppers; all green peppers will turn red or other mature colour (more or less depending on the variety) if left on the bush to mature.
Another common misconception relates to the “days to maturity” rating found on peppers and tomatoes. This rating measures the time taken for ripening fruit from the day of transplanting given a standard set of sunlight values. It is itself variable; if we have a hotter or cooler summer than the standard measurements, the days to maturity will be changed accordingly. This may allow some gardeners with hot, protected gardens to achieve maturity on peppers with longer seasons than I can with my open exposed garden. This is an example of microclimates changing the growing patterns of our gardens.
(all numbers rounded out)
1/4 inch = .6 cm
1/2 inch = 1.3 cm
1 inch = 2.5 cm
6 inch = 15 cm
12 inch = 30 cm
18 inch = 45 cm
36 inch = 91 cm
Want more organic vegetable gardening tips? Click here