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Credit: Carolyn Herriot

From sweet to hot, peppers are prolific in pots or out in the garden

I love the spectacle of multicoloured peppers ripening to red, purple, orange or brown, but our longer cooler springs and shorter summers make it a challenge to grow them. They need heat and they don’t thrive when warm days are followed by cold nights. Peppers grow best in soils between 18 and 26° C (65 to 80° F), so it’s important to wait until the soil warms up before transplanting them outdoors. Last year, in my garden, this was not until July!

I don’t grow peppers outdoors any more, because since growing peppers in pots I have discovered what one plant can produce. A greenhouse is perfect for this, but hot sheltered sites on sundecks, balconies or patio gardens work just as well – even better if you provide reflected heat from walls.
 

GARDEN PATH FAVOURITES

Heat scale: sweet to hot = 1 to 5

Pimiento (1) Thick-walled, very sweet, juicy slicer for salads, sandwiches, stuffing and baking.

‘Italian Sweet,’ ‘Red Bull’s Horn’ (1) Thin-walled, slightly tapered, sweet red peppers good for roasting and stuffing.

‘Jingle Bells’ (1) Smaller, multicoloured ornamental peppers for sweet eating.

‘Klari Baby Cheese’ (1) Bell peppers, the shape of a baby Gouda cheese, great for fresh eating, roasting and stuffing.

‘Pepperoncini’ (2) Long, thin-walled peppers in a range of colours, perfect for pickling, drying and chutneys.

‘Tequila Sunrise’ (2) Orange, carrot-shaped, thin-walled peppers with a slight kick, good for pickling, drying and roasting.

‘Hungarian Black’ (3) Extremely early, small pointy black fruits, good for eating fresh, drying and roasting.

‘Early Jalapeno’ (3) Medium-hot peppers, ideal for salsas and pickling.

‘Habanero,’ ‘Scotch Bonnet’ (5) Smaller peppers, hot enough to blow your head off.

Outdoors you can improve fruit set and speed up ripening by building a simple cloche around your pepper patch. Hammer a 4-ft. (120-cm) cedar stake into each corner of the patch, line the soil with black landscape fabric, and transplant peppers through an X-slash in the fabric. Then staple heavy clear plastic tightly around the outside of the stakes. Optional: Make a lightweight plastic roof for extra protection during cold nights.

Peppers need a long growing season, so start seeds early in the season, under grow lights indoors or on bottom heat in a greenhouse. They germinate best around 23° C (75° F), and take anywhere from one to four weeks to germinate. Peppers grow best at 21°C  (70°F) during the day, and no lower than 15°C (60°F) at night.

I grow one pepper plant in a black plastic two-gallon pot. A length of sturdy bamboo or a tomato cage is enough to support bushy pepper plants. For greater fruit set, I water plants weekly with liquid seaweed, as soon as the roots fill the pots, or top-dress the pots with granular seaweed midseason. Regular applications of compost tea also work wonders.

TIP: Blossom-end rot results from irregular watering, so water daily and fertilize consistently.

Kelp meal and rock phosphate added to the growing medium provide high levels of phosphorus and potash needed for fruit production. A handful of dolomite lime prevents calcium deficiency, which also causes blossom-end rot, a common problem for peppers.
 


Carolyn Herriot owns The Garden Path Centre for Organic Gardening in Victoria and Seeds of Victoria. She is author of A Year On The Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide.

Check out Carolyn's blog.

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