PEPPERS - Culture & Care

When Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he thought he was in the Orient, and when they served him hot, piquant food, he assumed it was spiced with pepper. It was, of course, chile peppers (Capsicum), but the name stuck and these wonderful pendulous fruits of all colors and all heat levels are now collectively known as peppers.

You may see many different spellings for "chile", such as chilie, chillie or chili, the last three are a redundancy, as the word 'chile' means hot pepper.

Growing the best peppers...

Peppers are native to Central America - and as such, they are happiest with their 'heads' in the sun and 'feet' in warm soil. There is no sense trying to get a jump on the season, by setting out plants too early just because the calendar says it's spring. The young plants will become stunted, and you will be rewarded with just so-so production for the remainder of the season.

OPTIMUM TIME FOR PLACING OUT SEEDLINGS

    • Garden soil is at least 60 degrees
    • Daytime temperatures are averaging at least 70 degrees
    • Nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees


GROWING PEPPERS IN POTS

Peppers are ideal for containers! If you are one of those people that have a hard time getting a good crop, then maybe you should consider growing your peppers in pots.

Because the soil warms considerably faster, plants tend to get a jump start over plants set out in the garden. This is great, early on, but as the season progresses you will need to pay special attention to take measures to keep the plant's roots COOL, too. This is easily accomplished by adding a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil. This will not only help regulate the temperature of the soil, but it will help to retain moisture, as well.

Additionally, you will need to add more fertilizer than you would if your plants were in the garden. There are two reasons for this:

1. Potted plants only have available what you put in the pot. They can't send down deep roots looking for what they need.

2. Higher soil temperatures and increased transpiration due to wind exposure will make it necessary to water your plants even more frequently and also more thoroughly. Plants should be watered until you see excess draining from the bottom of the pot. Watering in this way will leach nutrients that would otherwise be available to the plants. This is the perfect scenario for the use of both dry and liquid fertilizers. Dry fertilizers will take longer to break down and become available (slow release) while liquid fertilizers are available immediately.

TO GROW THE BEST PEPPER PLANTS POSSIBLE, plants need to be kept evenly moist throughout the growing season. Most people assume that because they are from hot, dry areas, peppers don't mind drying out - quite the opposite! The truth is that constant moisture is a very crucial part of raising great plants. But, don't over do it!  Too much water will make the fruits bland and 'watery'. Allowing plants to consistently dry out will make sweet peppers become 'zingy' and hot peppers - really HOT!

The addition of a complete fertilizer at the time of planting will do a long way in providing you with exceptional pepper production throughout the season. Any complete fertilizer will work, but preferably it would be organic. I say this not because I choose to grow organically, but because by nature, organic fertilizers are slow-release, thus feeding your plants for a longer period of time.

Note: You won't find a special "pepper" fertilizer on your favorite stores shelves. Peppers have the same nutritional requirements as tomatoes, so you can use your favorite tomato fertilizer or any complete vegetable fertilizer.

Studies at two major universities have shown that close spacing of plants results in more and larger fruit. The leaves of each mature plant should be touching. Eighteen inches on center seems to be the magic number. (NOTE: This close spacing is NOT conducive to seed saving as peppers freely cross pollinate!!)

Bushy plants have fragile branches and a woody main stem that topples easily in high wind. It is advisable to stake all but the smallest fruited plants, and to use pruning shears or scissors when harvesting fruits, to avoid breaking off delicate branches.

 

Measuring Chile Heat

The heat of peppers come from capsaicin, a volatile phenolic compound found in the fibrous white ribs that secure the seeds. The seeds taste hot, because they are in close contact with these veins. You can reduce or add more heat to recipes, by adding or deleting seeds as desired.

The Scoville scale is a measure of the 'hotness' of a chile pepper or anything derived from chile peppers, i.e. hot sauce.

The Scoville rating or 'hotness' of fresh chile is obviously dependent upon the type/variety of pepper but even within one particular variety the hotness can vary greatly, this is particularly so of the Habaneros where a 10 fold variation is not uncommon.

Factors influencing the heat of a fresh pepper include growing temperature, hours of sunlight, moisture, soil chemistry, and the type and amount of fertilizer used. The heat of dried peppers is equally dependent upon all of these factors as it was growing plus the conditions under which it was dried.

    SCOVILLE RATING

 

15,000,000–16,000,000

Pure capsaicin

8,600,000–9,100,000

Various capsaicinoids (e.g. homocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin, nordihydrocapsaicin)

5,000,000–2,000,000

Law Enforcement Grade pepper spray, FN 303 irritant ammunition

855,000–2,000,000

Bhut Jolokia (a.k.a. Ghost pepper), Naga Viper pepper, Infinity Chili, Trinidad Scorpion Butch T

350,000–580,000

Red Savina Habanero

100,000–350,000

Habanero chili, Scotch Bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto, African Birdseye, Madame Jeanette, Jamaican Hot pepper, Peruvian White Habanero, Naga Jolokia

50,000–100,000

Thai Pepper/Indian Pepper, Malagueta Pepper, Chiltepin, Pequin, Byadgi chilli, Bird's eye, Piri piri (African bird's eye)

30,000–50,000

Cayenne, Ají varieties, Tabasco, some Chipotle peppers, Cumari pepper (Capsicum Chinese), Guntur

10,000–23,000

Serrano, Peter pepper, Aleppo, Fish

3,500–8,000

Jalapeño, Guajillo, New Mexican varieties of Anaheim pepper, Hungarian Hot Wax, some Chipotle peppers, Espelette pepper, Tabasco sauce

1000–2,500

Anaheim, Poblano, Rocotillo, Peppadew, Pasilla Bajio, NuMex Big Jim

100–900

Pimento, Pepperoncini, Banana pepper, Trinidad Perfume, Aji Dulce

0

No significant heat, Bell pepper, Cubanelle, Paprika, Jimmy Nardello