Monday, February 23, 2009

All About Peppers!

Last year I planted tomatoes, hot peppers & herbs. My hot peppers did OK, but not spectacular. I think this issue was using yard dirt for the container. Perhaps if your yard isn't composed primarily of clay, like you have good fertile soil, this won't be an issue for you. I also didn't really fertilize at all. So, between the poor drainage and the lack of food, I'm pretty surprised we got any peppers.

But, seriously, we got like 10 peppers each from our jalapeno & cherry pepper plant. And those plants were like $5 each. And, I guarantee you I could have gotten more hot peppers at the grocery store for $10! So, this year, I'm doing my research. And starting from seed. Because I'm wild & crazy like that. (Just kidding. It's mostly because I'm cheap! Ha!) Here's what I've found:

Growing Requirements:

For starters, peppers--whether hot or sweet--need full sun. And, full sun, as I'm sure you know, means 6-8 hours of direct light per day. Now if you're in the South or anywhere where your summers get brutal (I like NoVA meets this description in July & August), high temperatures plus hot summer sun can cause sunscald on your peppers. (pssttt...You know your peppers have sunscald when they have black, velvety appearance or bleached, sunken appearance. A fungus does this but it's caused by exposure to hot, hot sun. Yeah, I didn't know that either.) So, growing peppers in containers is actually a really good idea because you can have them in bright light in May & June & then move them over to a place with afternoon shade in July & August. If you plant them in-ground, just make sure they get afternoon shade by either planting something tall (like corn) that will grow to shade them or by selecting a spot that naturally gets some shade.

Soil? Well draining is key. pH should be 5.5-6.9, if you care to know. Most counties, state agriculture departments or universities with a school of agriculture will do soil testing for free or cheap. Otherwise, you can buy a kit online or at your local garden center. For Virginia, here is info on how to submit soil samples. Merrifield Garden Centers and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens definitely have the packet of forms you need.

Planting? You should plant 2-3 weeks after your last frost. Rodale's recommends planting 2-3 plants per person. We're going to do 5 plants of sweet peppers and 6 hot plants (2 each of 3 varieties). At least, that's the plan right now. It needs to be formalized. Rodale's also recommends putting a cup each of bonemeal & kelp meal into each planting hole. This is something I'm going to try this year to try to increase my yield. Look at the planting guidelines (meaning how far to space apart) on your packet or plant tag of the variety you get. Sweet peppers generally require more room than hot. Also, you might want to stake your pepper plants so that the stem doesn't flop over with heavy (fingers crossed!!!) veg.

Fertilize? Rodale's recommends giving each pepper plant of fish emulsion once a week until they start growing well. You could use compost tea as well, but I'm always wary of doing that. You just don't know the concentration. I'm probably mix the fish emulsion with water...I'm afraid of scorching the plant with fertilizer.

Hints & Tips:
  1. Um, yeah. Don't use yard dirt if it's clay. If you're doing a container garden, use potting soil. If you're planting in the ground, just make sure your soil is well-draining.
  2. Not fertilizing wasn't a good idea. Feed your peppers, so they can feed you.
  3. You'll need to water containers in the peak of summer constantly. Going on a vacation in July? Start sucking up to your neighbors now so they'll come over & water your peppers while you're away. Or promise them some of the bounty!
  4. Cherry peppers aren't that hot. But they are pretty good.

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