The National Garden Bureau has declared 2015 to be the Year of the Sweet Pepper! Sweet bell peppers are cultivars of Capsicum annuum. Sweet peppers are called sweet because they lack the gene that produces capsaicin — the chemical that gives hot peppers their heat.
While the 3-4 lobed, blocky, bell-shaped peppers are most common, sweet peppers come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Other shapes of sweet peppers include elongated banana, round cherry, tapered horn and flattened “cheese” types. Most all peppers are green in color when they are immature but ripen to red, yellow, orange, white or purple as they mature. Some cultivars may show all of these colors at various stages of ripening. And many cultivars are both ornamental and edible!
Pepper plants are easy to grow and are quite compact, making them a good fit for limited-space gardens and containers. Peppers are warm-season crops and should be planted after danger of frost has passed. Many local garden centers will have transplants available, or you can start your own transplants. Start seeds about seven weeks prior to the average date of last frost for your area.
In the garden, pepper plants thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. You want plants to concentrate first on growing healthy foliage and roots; flowers and fruit will follow. Give the plants adequate space to grow with good air circulation, a minimum of 18 inches between plants. Fertilize similar to other fruit-bearing vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant and beans.
Depending on cultivars and weather conditions, most sweet peppers take 60-85 days to harvest from transplanting. Peppers will continue to bloom and set fruit up until fall frost, but fruiting may decrease during cold spells (night temperatures below 55 F) or hot days (above 85 F).
Sweet peppers can be harvested early while still immature green, which encourages the plant to produce more peppers. However, full flavor and color require waiting until the fruits ripen, thus signaling the plant to slow down production of flowers and subsequent fruit.
Sweet peppers can be stored for 2-3 weeks in the warmer part of the refrigerator in plastic bags. Peppers can also be frozen or dried for longer storage.
Rosie Lerner is the Purdue Extension consumer horticulturist and a consumer of Tipmont REMC. Questions about gardening issues may be sent to: “Ask Rosie,” Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224, or ec@ElectricConsumer.org.