There is nothing more beautiful than a basket full of homegrown bell peppers. I have been growing bell peppers in my garden for the last twenty years and have never been disappointed.
There are many reasons to love bell peppers besides their beauty. For starters, they are really easy to grow, they are loaded with nutritional value and they taste amazing raw and cooked. If you are a first-time gardener, peppers are a great place to start.
Bell peppers, also known as sweet peppers can be red, yellow, orange, green or even lavender and white. Bell peppers are the only members of the genus Capisicum that does not produce capsaicin, the extremely hot chemical that we are familiar with in hot peppers.
Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
To grow this tender tropical warm-season plant you can either start seeds early indoors or purchase plants after the risk of frost has passed.
Only those that live in very warm climates such as the deep south can start seeds outdoors.
STARTING SEEDS INDOORS
Starting seeds indoors will save you money and give you a headstart on the growing season. This is particularly useful if you live in an area with a short growing season. Seeds should be started about 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost date.
Choose high-quality organic seeds for best results.
Fill small starter pots with organic potting soil. I like the little biodegradable pots that can be planted directly into the ground.
Place three seeds in each pot and cover with a light layer of soil.
Place in a warm area with plenty of light – pepper seeds will germinate at 70 degrees and warmer.
Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
Once the seedlings begin to grow, thin out the weakest one and let the other two grow.
Fourteen days before transplanting, begin to harden off your plants. To do this water the plants first and place them outdoors in a sheltered spot. If you have a cold frame or unheated greenhouse this works great. Be sure to harden off on days when the temperature is steady. Leave your plants outside for two hours on the first day, four hours on the second day with more direct sun. Gradually increase the amount of time the plants spend outdoors in direct sunlight. Do this over two weeks time. You can leave the plants outside all night only if there is no danger of frost.
Add organic fertilizer or aged compost to your garden soil one week before transplanting pepper plants.
Transplant the seedlings outdoors after all threat of frost has passed. The soil must be at least 65 degrees or the plants will not make it. If you need to warm up your soil, put a layer of black plastic over it for about two weeks before planting. Place plants 18 to 24 inches apart but keep the plants that shared a pot close so they will touch.
Place three matchsticks in the hole with each plant and add one teaspoon of organic fertilizer. This will give the plants sulfur which helps them grow.
Once peppers get their true leaves, fertilize weekly until fruit appears.
Water peppers regularly but do not saturate.
STARTING PEPPER PLANTS
If you start with more mature pepper plants, place them 18 inches apart in garden soil that is rich with organic matter.
Peppers also grow well in raised beds and containers. Add slow-release organic fertilizer to the hole when planting. To grow large, healthy peppers, plants need between 6 and 8 hours of sunlight daily.
Water plants immediately and provide 1 to 2 inches of water per week – more if the weather is hotter. Feed plants every three weeks after fruit sets with an organic fertilizer to promote growth.
Apply mulch or straw around each plant to help retain moisture. Provide support to pepper plants as they grow.