CLAY COUNTY – The vegetable planting season is upon us and gardening items take center stage at local garden centers. Seeds, transplants and fertilizers are some of the basic necessities. Most …
CLAY COUNTY – The vegetable planting season is upon us and gardening items take center stage at local garden centers. Seeds, transplants and fertilizers are some of the basic necessities. Most gardeners place tomatoes at the top of their list but don’t forget about the easy to grow chili peppers.
Early voyagers to the Americas found many forms of peppers, among them the hot ones. In Spain the hot peppers are called chili, meaning from Chile, and in India peppers in general are called chilies. In the United States, certain varieties of the hot peppers are called chili peppers.
Chili peppers are hot because they contain a chemical compound called capsaicin in their walls and the area surrounding the seed. The heat of this compound is measured in “Scoville heat units.” For example, bell peppers have a rating of 0 because they have no capsaicin; jalapeños range from 2,500 to 10,000 units; and habaneros can be as high as 1 million units. Regardless of the variety of chili pepper, hot dry weather increases the capsaicin concentration and results in peppers with more heat.
Peppers are easy to grow in the ground or in containers. To grow some of the more unusual varieties, order seed and grow your own transplants. Local nurseries typically have a pretty good selection of chili peppers. Examples of hot pepper varieties are Jalapeño, Cherry Bomb, Datil, Fish Pepper, Ghost Pepper, Hungarian Hot Wax, Big Chili, Numex, Ancho, Thai, Anaheim Chile, Long Cayenne and Habanero. If you only like a little bit of heat, you might consider growing the Sweet Datil pepper, which has mild heat and a smoky flavor.
Peppers thrive in the heat and should not be planted until frosts are behind us. The perfect temps are 70-to-80-degree days and 60- to 70-degree nights. Temperatures above 90 degrees or below 60 degrees may cause blossom drop and/or misshaped fruit.
When selecting a growing site, chose one that gets at least six to eight hours of sun. Peppers grow best when the soil pH is around 6.5. They also like an even supply of soil moisture especiallywhile fruit are developing. It is best to fertilize at planting and repeat two to three times throughout the season, following label directions.
Peppers are great for containers and they don’t take up a lot of space. Plant in at least a 3-gallon container and use a potting soil. Many potting soils have slow-release fertilizers added, so don’t add more fertilizer until it’s obvious the plant needs it. The bag typically states how long the fertilizers will last.
Harvest when peppers change from thin, soft fruit to thicker, firm fruit. Depending on the variety, in 60 to 80 days it will be time to harvest your peppers. Use a pair of pruning shears to harvest peppers with intact or nearly intact stems. This creates a cleaner cut and will prevent soft rots, which is a problem if the peppers are torn or have no stem.
Hot peppers can take a toll on your hands when harvesting or preparing, so make sure to wear gloves because the capsaicin can be absorbed by your skin. Wash hands thoroughly after harvesting or preparing hot peppers or you could experience burning of the skin or eyes.
Chili peppers are a good addition to any garden because they can be grown easily, used to spice food and preserved if there is a bumper crop.
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