With their dark, glossy leaves and vibrant, shiny skins in a rainbow of hues, peppers make for a colorful addition to your outdoor space, whatever its size. Greenhouses, veg plots, patios, and balconies can all become home to this summer harvest staple. With only the need for a warm site and plenty of water, plus being relatively uninviting to pests, sweet peppers are a great choice for those getting to grips with gardening.
Home growers can explore a wealth of options aside from the traditional red, yellow and green varieties, from light, creamy greens to deep purples and blacks. Plus, you can easily reap the nutritional rewards of this simple to grow fruit vitamin packed peppers can be grilled, roasted, barbecued, fried, stewed, steamed, or eaten raw for a sweet and bright addition to your plate.
Start sowing sweet pepper seeds now through to early April. As the fruits originally hail from warm, tropical climes, they thrive in a spot kept between 18 and 21 °C. Scatter seeds in pots or trays filled with compost and leave to germinate in a propagator or on a warm windowsill, covered with plastic bags to lock in heat and moisture.
Not only versatile on your plate, peppers are adaptable when it comes to growing, too – containers, growing bags, or open ground sites all work well. If placing directly in your garden, prepare their final position about a month before planting out. Opt for a sunny, sheltered spot – at the base of a south or west-facing brick wall is ideal. Dig over the soil and enrich with a generous measure of compost or well-rotted manure. Place cold frames over the site about two weeks before planting out to prime the ground further.
Seedlings are ready to be planted out once two leaves have formed, or when they have reached between 5 and 6cm tall. Fill 7-9cm pots with compost, level off and tap to settle. To remove the seedling, carefully loosen the compost, gently take hold of a leaf and lift. Use a dibber beneath the roots to give you some leverage. Lower the seedling into a hole in the middle of the prepared pot until the leaves sit just above the soil. Once the roots have filled this pot, transplant to a 30cm one in late April if growing in a heated greenhouse, mid-May in an unheated undercover space, and late May outside.
How To Care?
Once they are 20-30cm tall, pinch out the growing tips to encourage a fuller plant. You can do the same to the side shoots to yield an abundance of smaller fruits when it comes to harvest. At this stage of growth, plants may need supporting with garden canes or pea sticks.
Peppers are typically thirsty plants, so regular watering is essential. Make sure to water twice a day in hot weather as dry compost will hamper growth, but ensure pots don’t become waterlogged. Feed with a high potash liquid fertilizer once a week after the first fruits have set.
While sweet peppers can often reach harvest time unscathed from pest damage, keep an eye out for glasshouse red spider or two-spotted mites. Infestations lead to pale, mottled leaves coated in the webbing that can drop early. The insects thrive in dry, hot environments, so regularly mist plants with sprays comprising of plant oils and extracts or soft soap. Also look for colonies of aphids which sit on the shoot tips of the plant. For the non-squeamish, you can squash them with a finger and thumb, but spraying with plant or fish oils can also help.
On The Table
Sweet peppers usually yield between three and eight fruits per plant and are ready to harvest between July and October when they’re green, swollen and the skins have a shine. If you’ve sown red, yellow, purple or orange peppers, the key is to be patient. It may take a while for them to transform into their final colors, but the intense, sweet flavor will be well worth the wait. Bear in mind, however, that while leaving the fruits to ripen on the plant will increase taste, it will reduce yield.
Avoid pulling the peppers from the plant by hand as this can cause whole branches to break – instead use a sharp knife or scissors, making sure to leave a short stem attached. The peppers should then be stored in a fridge, but if you’ve experienced a glut, they can be frozen, pickled or dried.
You can follow these simple steps to grow this flavorsome fruit and harvest a bumper crop later in the year!
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