So Many Types of Peppers
Capsicum annuum, also known as peppers and chiles, are members of the same botanical family as tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes and eggplants. These nightshade relatives were thought to be poisonous when first introduced to the old world, but were soon adopted with enthusiasm by adventurous food lovers. Now sweet and spicy peppers are enjoyed around the world in all sorts of recipes. In terms of color, shape, size and flavor the varieties are seemingly endless, so how do your choose peppers to grow in your garden?
Most of us go with what we know. The reason that the average garden center carries only a handful of the thousands of cultivated varieties of peppers is because those are the ones that most consumers purchase. In other words, if you want to experiment with unusual ethnic and specialty peppers, you will have to find a pepper specialist and be willing to start your own plants from seed.
You know what you like to eat: whether it’s sweet, tangy, fruity, spicy or hot, the perfect combination is out there. Basic selection criteria include hot or sweet, how the peppers will be used (fresh eating, cooking, pickling or hot sauce), and fruit size.
If you are a sweet pepper lover, look beyond the beloved bell. Flavorful sweet pepper varieties abound, and you may discover a preference for something a bit different. Note that flavors change dramatically when peppers ripen fully. When the color finally changes from green to red (yellow, orange, or purple), the flavor and sweetness will have fully developed. The other flavor enhancer is heat, specifically grilling, frying and roasting.
There is more than just heat to consider here. Even the blazing habanero and ghost peppers have more than one dimension to their taste. In addition to the heat, they also bring more subtle fruity flavors to your favorite soups, sauces, jellies and other recipes. To get the most heat, allow the peppers to ripen fully before harvest.
In The Garden
All peppers are warm weather lovers. Start them from seed indoors 8-10 weeks before planting time. Transplant them outdoors when night temperatures are consistently above fifty degrees. The garden bed should be well amended with compost to help improve drainage and moisture retention. As peppers are light feeders, use only an organic starter fertilizer at planting time and again after six weeks to keep them going.
Mulch them after planting to avoid wet/dry cycles that can lead to blossom end rot. Support large plants, or large-fruiting plants, with stakes, attached with stretchy plant ties. Expect sweet peppers to mature 90 days after transplant. Hot peppers may take a bit longer.
Watch out for late frosts after transplanting, protect the plants from the cold by covering them with frost blanket. Peppers don’t like wet feet, nor do they like to dry out. So don’t skimp on the soil amendment before planting, and provide consistent water (an inch per week). Overfertilizing leads to lush foliage but very little fruit, so go light on the nitrogen. There are very few instances of insect or disease pests with peppers.