To spice up your table with a little heat, plant hot peppers in the garden. This vegetable comes from South America and is grown mainly for the strong flavor of the fruit or the tangy zip of the seeds. Hot pepper seeds are used to make chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika, among others. Sliced hot peppers are wonderful in salads or baked into casseroles for a flavorful surprise.
Growing hot peppers is very similar to growing sweet or bell peppers, although handling of the fruit may be different based on your tastes. Planted in the right location and given the proper care, hot peppers will thrive and produce a great crop. Theyíre also a gorgeous decorative plant in patio pots, providing striking colors and interesting shapes.
Best Soil for Growing Hot Peppers
Hot peppers need well drained soil with lots of organic matter mixed in for feeding and drainage. Steer clear of fertilizer with a high content of nitrogen, as that will cause the hot pepper plant to grow a burst of foliage instead of directing energy into the fruits.
Full sun exposure and warm soil is necessary. These plants are native to South America after all and want the conditions up north to feel as close to home as possible.
When to Plant Hot Peppers
Because of their need for heat, hot peppers donít venture out into the garden until well after the last frost of the season. Wait until at least two weeks to be careful. Start hot pepper seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks beforehand, but keep them in a well maintained interior temperature of at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Move them out into the garden when the outdoor temperature is high enough. Harden them off slowly so that they wonít suffer shock. You can also plant store bought seedlings straight into the garden after that two week waiting period.
How to Plant Hot Peppers
In the greenhouse hot peppers can be sown in rich soil that will stay moist. Plant each seed ĹĒ below the soil and 2 to 3 inches apart (or in a small seed pot of their own.) Keep the pots gently watered and in the sunny warmth.
In the garden, hot peppers seedlings can be planted 18 inches apart in rows with 2 foot spacing. This will give you enough room to easily work in the space, weeding and harvesting as needed.
Proper Care for Hot Peppers
Hot peppers are fairly low care, as long as the climate conditions are right. You can lay organic mulch on the garden to retain moisture once the seedlings have grown a fair height. Weed the vegetable patch regularly and lightly cultivate the soil to break up the weeds, but donít go so deep that you pose a risk to the pepper plant.Protect the plant from any threat of cold and if there is a prolonged humid spell, potted pepper plants can be moved into the greenhouse.
If you pick off the fruit regularly as it matures, the hot pepper plant will produce all summer long providing plenty of spice for your menu.
When to Harvest Hot Peppers
Hot peppers can be harvested when the fruit has matured to the proper size. That will depend on the variety planted, but the color may also be a good sign that the fruit is ready. Most peppers grow green and then turn color as they ripen - an obvious and helpful sign to the suburban farmer that harvest time is here.
How to Harvest Hot Peppers
Twist or break the stem of the fruit. If that wonít work, snip just above the crown of the hot pepper with sharp pruners or scissors. If there is fruit on the plant when the frost is approaching it can be snipped off and stored in your fruit cellar or a cool, dark pantry. They should keep down there for a few months.
Common Hot Pepper Pests and Diseases
All of the usual gardens pests can attack hot peppers, although not many go for the fruits. Aphids, snails and slugs do plenty of damage though and can severely cut back the production of a well cared for hot pepper plant. For some critters, introducing natural predators works well. Lacewings and ladybugs will make good headway on your aphid population. Parasitic wasps are another friendly bug that will patrol the vegetable patch with diligence.
Slower pests like snails and slugs can be hand picked and moved away from the patch or trapped in specially made snail and slug traps. Try hunting for these enemies of the hot pepper in the dark or after a rain storm and look for a glittery trail.
Leaving plenty of space between your hot pepper plants will also help to keep mildew and other bacterial diseases away. Air flow is important to plants, so donít pack them tightly together.
Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Hot Peppers
The most important factor when dealing with hot pepper planting is the temperature. They will not take to the cold and need protection from even the smallest threat. Donít plant out too early and keep them well watered throughout that warm season. Also, regular harvesting will produce a better crop, not to mention more heat in your kitchen.
Growing hot peppers can be a novelty or an important task that supplies your table with a delicacy. Either way, it will be fun and a great choice for a sunny vegetable patch.