Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Grow Peppers

The sweet peppers (Capsicum frutescens grossum) are basically bigger than the hots and come in many types: blocky bell peppers; heart-shaped pimentos;tomato-shaped “cherry” varieties; long banana-shaped peppers that are only 2 inches wide at the top but 6 to 8 inches long and produce heavily (30 or more fruits per plant); the long, curved, green Italian bull’s horn pepper; Japanese sweet peppers; Lamuyo, the European sweet pepper; and yellowgreen, thick-walled, 4- to 5-inch-long cubanelles that set fruit continuously once mature.
You can grow the pimento (also spelled “pimiento”), an exceptionally sweet pepper when red-ripe, for salads or to make red strips for stuffing olive centers. In my opinion, bell peppers are for folks who’ve never tried the others.
Sweets do well where there’s a long, warm growing season; they’re also a possibility if you have a hot summer and give them an early start indoors. Redwood City, Territorial, Shumway and Nichols all have good sweet-pepper offerings.
Sweets like a light soil. (I have the heaviest clay imaginable. Our valley used to have a brick factory, and all the really old buildings on Main Street are made of Kendrick mud.) Too much nitrogen in the soil makes tall, dark green plants that don’t grow any peppers.
Small plants will set more peppers. In temperate zones, start peppers from seed indoors, about 50 to 70 days before your frost-free date. Plant between February and April, 1/ 8 to 1 / 4 inch deep and 1 inch apart, more or less. During germination, keep them at 75 to 95°F; a soil temperature of 85°F is ideal. Keep moist until they’ve sprouted.
Water with warm water to avoid a possibly fatal cold shock. After germination they can handle 70°F day temps and night temps as low as 60°F, but they’ll grow faster if warmer. Below 55°F, they stop growing. When peppers are about 2 inches tall, transplant to 2 inches apart. They need plenty of dirt for their roots!
If you buy plants, be careful: Sweets and hots look exactly the same when young. To grow in a container, put 1 pepper plant in each 12-inch pot; to grow in a larger box, space 18 inches apart, soil at least 1 foot deep, 3 gal. soil per plant.
Wait to transplant peppers to the garden outside until they are at least 5-6 inches tall, 6 to 8 weeks old, and and last frost date is at least a week past (2 weeks is better). (They grow best when days are 70 to 75°F) Plant 1-2 feet apart, rows 2 or 3 feet apart. Don’t mulch cold ground.
Sweet peppers are self-fertile and bee-pollinated. They will cross with nearby plants, so don’t grow another variety within 20 feet. Remove inferior plants before flowering happens so that any marrying that occurs is between your best. Thoroughly ripen before picking-until they actually begin to shrivel.
If frost is a risk, gather just before frost and finish ripening inside. Then cut in half and remove seeds. Not much pulp will come along, so you can just dry and store them. You’ll get hundreds of seeds per fruit. They live about 4 years.
Night temps below 60°F and day temps above 90°F can cause blossoms to die and drop off. But with good weather, you’ll harvest maybe 10 weeks after transplanting to the garden. Each bell plant ripens only 1 fruit at a time. You’ll get 8 to 10 fruits per bell under ideal growing conditions, with steady picking and no frost.
Be sure to harvest before frost. You can use the small peppers too (they’re great stuffed). To pick, cut the stem an inch above the fruit. “Green” peppers start out green-colored and are generally picked green if they’re to be shipped to market. But you can wait until they are ripe and truly sweet (the darker the color, the sweeter the flavor).
They change in color to red (or yellow, dark purple, white, or brown for unusual varieties). When a frost is imminent, pull up the whole plant, hang it upside down somewhere, and the fruit will continue to ripen! Sweets will keep a while more off the plant and in the house, if it’s cool and the air is not too dry.
Freezing Sweets. Cut in half; remove seeds and pulp. Freeze your nicest ones in halves for later stuffing. Dice or slice the others. No need to blanch. Package in small plastic bags, since you may want only a little at a time. To freeze pimentos, roast and skin as described under “Canning Pimentos,” and then freeze.
Frozen pepper strips of various colors make visually appealing dishes. Never thaw pepper before using. Use in strips in winter salads when only partly thawed and still crisp. Or add to soups, casseroles, and macaroni or chicken dishes.
Drying Sweets. Cut in 1/ 2 -inch strips or rings. Remove seeds. Spread on drying frames or thread on a string. Spread rings no more than 2 layers deep, strips no more than 1/ 2 inch deep. Dry until crisp and brittle.
Canning Sweets. Cut out stem ends and remove seeds and cores as above. You can leave them whole or cut into any number or shape of pieces you fancy. Preboil 5 minutes. Then pack hot with hot liquid.
Canning Pimentos. First roast in a 450°F oven 5 minutes or until the skins blister. Then drop them into cold water. Then peel. Cut out stem ends; remove seeds and cores. Pack them flat in pint jars. Sprinkle in about 1/ 2 salt. Puon your jar lid. Pimentos make their own liquid-don’t add any.
Sweet Red Pepper “Pimentos.” Halve sweet red peppers. Take out seeds and pith. Cut into strips; steep in boiling water 5 minutes. Drain. Put into canning jars. Pour over a boiling-hot mix of 1 c. cider vinegar, 1 c. water, 1/2 c. sugar, 11. salt, and 2 t. olive oil. Cover and let soak like that 2 weeks in the fridge. Then either repackage into small bags and freeze, or use procedure and times for canning chilies.

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