The most exciting, tastiest, most versatile of new plants for a kitchen garden are peppers. Sweet or spicy, too hot or soothingly mild, peppers can be used for salsa, savory jelly, and for my favorite dish…stuffed and grilled.
Because Prescott and its surrounding area have a limited growing season for peppers, they should be started indoors eight to 10 weeks before our average last spring frost, around May 8. They can be transplanted to garden soil or containers when daytime temperatures are at least 70°F, and nighttime temperatures are at least 55°F. Peppers can be sown directly into the garden two to four weeks after the risk of frost but will be slow to start without the help of a greenhouse. With a bit of protection, most of our summer fruiting plants can be started now.
I start my first crop of summer vegetables with the help of plant protectors, also called “Wall of Watters.” These mini-greenhouses are filled with water and warm the soil around plants to prevent damage from frost. We have them here at Watters Garden Center, and for less than Amazon’s price.
From personal experience, here are some of my tips and tricks on sowing and growing the best peppers:
Fertilize if your seed-starting medium does not contain fertilizer. However, no fertilization is needed until seedlings develop the second set of leaves, known as “true” leaves.
Use Watters “Flower Power 54” at two-week intervals and your peppers will be larger and overly abundant. Fertilize regularly and your plants will develop sturdier stems and large numbers leaves. Not only do large plants have more fruit-producing potential, the luxuriant leaves provide shade for the fruit, preventing sun scald.
Most peppers start out one color, often green, and ripen to another color. As peppers ripen to their second color, the flavor sweetens, and the nutrients increase. By picking some fruit early, in the first color stage, you send a signal that the plant should create more seeds, which guarantees the continuation of the process of flower, fruit and seed maturity.
Hot, Hotter and Extreme
A class of compounds called capsaicin gives chili peppers their spiciness. Capsaicin occurs mostly in the light-colored ribs inside the pepper. The seeds contain very little or no capsaicin but are often hot because they come in contact with the capsaicin in the ribs.
Capsaicin has several health benefits. Studies show that it can increase metabolism, support appetite suppression, decrease heart disease, reduce pain perception. Oh, and cause heartburn (believe it or not)!
Like your peppers hot? The more mature the fruit, the hotter the pepper. Stress, such as drought, will also make peppers hotter. You can cause stress to the plant by cutting back on watering after fruits have started to develop. Just withhold enough water so the soil stays dry. Don’t allow your peppers to wilt or yields will be reduced significantly.
Aqua Boost prevents milder fruits from wilting. I created this special soil polymer that retains moisture at the plant’s roots in order to reduce wilt, decrease water needs and eliminate stress for sweeter vegetables. Visit the garden center for exact details.
The Scoville Scale, named for its creator Wilbur Scoville, measures the heat of peppers and other spicy foods. Some peppers such as bell peppers are sweet with almost no heat, while others, like the banana pepper, have mild amounts of heat.
Want to kick up the zing? Then go for peppers that are REALLY hot, like the cayenne and the habanero peppers. Peppers grow so well in the summer garden that it’s fun to mix the heat levels and their signature flavors. Guinness World Records regularly ranks the world’s hottest peppers, at over 2,000,000 Scoville units!
Hot Pepper Idea
Dry your hot peppers and then grind them. Place the grind in a shaker and use to spice up pizza, pasta, burgers, etc.
All of the peppers, herbs and vegetables sold at Watters are completely organic with no genetic modifications.
Until next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping gardeners grow better organic peppers. QCBN
By Ken Lain