By Mara Higdon
Native to the Americas, peppers are a common vegetable used in cooking. High in vitamin C, peppers are available fresh or dried from scorching hot to your basic sweet bell. With Missouri’s hot summer weather, they are relatively easy to grow and come in a rainbow of colors. Try a few varieties, prep your soil and be prepared to test your taste buds.
Start off with healthy transplants that are 6-8 weeks old. Make the transplant holes 3-4 inches deep and about 1½ feet apart in the row. Space the rows at least 2-3 feet apart. Before planting, fill the holes with water and let it soak in. Move the plants carefully and set them in the transplant holes. Leave as much soil as possible around the roots. Fill the hole with soil and pack it loosely around the plant. Do not cover the roots deeper than the original soil ball and leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to hold water. Water the plants after planting.
Be careful when weeding around peppers as they do have shallow roots systems. Consistent watering ensures that your pepper plants have adequate moisture to fend off the heat of summer. Try not to let your pepper plants wilt repeatedly as this is extremely stressful to the plants! It is better to slowly soak the area when watering or you may displace the soil around the roots with a strong blast from the hose.
If you pick your peppers as they mature, your yields will be greater. The first peppers should be ready 8-10 weeks after transplanting. Pick bell peppers when they get shiny, dark green and firm. Harvest hot peppers when they turn red or yellow, depending on the variety. Jalapenos are mature when they reach good size and become a deep, dark green. If you leave green peppers on the plant, most peppers will turn red and are still good to eat.
When handling hot peppers in the kitchen, be careful to wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you have an abundance of peppers and get tired of them just chop them up (blanch if you like) and store in the freezer for later use! You’ll save money and time when you’re making up that first batch of fall chili.
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.