Grow peppers, pepper is a vegetable of the Solanaceae family, therefore a relative of potatoes, aubergines, and tomatoes. Its fruits can be of different shapes and different colors, usually from yellow to red, while green is an unripe manifestation. They are also distinguished by size: large-fruited or small-fruited (chilies).
This vegetable contains capsaicin, present in particular in the placental part of the fruit, in correspondence with the seeds. The abundance of capsaicin determines the spiciness of the fruit, its concentration can vary depending on the type of pepper, so we can have hot peppers or sweeter peppers. In this article, we will talk about the cultivation of sweet pepper, while we have dedicated a specific guide for those who want to know how hot peppers are grown.
Pepper is an interesting vegetable for the various uses it can have in the kitchen, it is a fairly demanding plant in terms of nutrients but also gives great satisfaction at harvest time. As a vegetable to grow in the garden it is very common, in the gardens there is both sweet pepper and chili, the latter is also grown a lot indoors or on the balcony.
There are many varieties of peppers, from square to the horn, from Asti peppers to Friggitelli. If you want to learn more, you can read our article on how to choose the type of pepper to grow, which lists some varieties of sweet pepper recommended for organic cultivation.
Soil and climate suitable for cultivation
Ground. The pepper plant requires soil ideally with a ph value between 5.5 and 7, rich in organic substance and possibly sandy. Preparing the soil for peppers requires deep digging (even 40-50 cm if possible) to facilitate water drainage. It is very important that the soil does not facilitate stagnation to prevent plant diseases.
Fertilization. Peppers love soil rich in organic substances, for this, you need 3-6 kg of mature manure or a tenth if you use pelleted organic fertilizer (manure or poultry). Given the choice, it is always better to provide natural amending organic fertilizer, such as compost and manure, rather than the equivalent dried in pellets.
Weather conditions. The right climate for peppers depends a lot on the variety chosen, some need higher temperatures. In general, it is a vegetable that prefers mild temperatures and hot summers. Good exposure is recommended, although excessive summer sun on some varieties can burn the fruit.
How and when to sow the pepper
Sowing. Pepper seeds need high temperatures to germinate, so the advice is to plant the seeds in a seed tray in a warm bed (you can use a cable or a mat to heat the seedbed). With a temperature of 24-26 degrees the seeds will be born within ten days, they can be accelerated if necessary with a chamomile bath. It is sown in winter to have the seedlings ready in spring.
Supports. The pepper has a plant that needs to be supported with stakes on the various branches, so as not to bend and support the weight of the fruit. A 10 x 10 square mesh net can also be used, to be spread horizontally at a height of 50 cm. The larger the size of the fruit, the more important is the realization of the supports.
Pruning. In sweet pepper, to obtain a good size crop, the plant must be pruned in order to eliminate some fruits, concentrating the energy on the remaining ones. The pepper plant starts with a flower, then increases exponentially, in fact, it goes on forking and each fork, in turn, splits in two. As fruit production increases, the size gradually decreases, pruning always involves eliminating one of the two bifurcations. In this way, a similar product is obtained if we measure the weight, but distribute on fruits of homogeneous size.
Irrigation. Peppers have an increasing need for water, it increases as the fruit appears, so irrigation should not be missed.
Grow peppers and chillies in pots
Peppers are also very suitable for gardens on the balcony, growing in pots, with the possibility of having fruit until autumn and lots of hot peppers to be dried throughout the winter. For the cultivation in the pot, it is advisable to use a container of a fairly large size (depth and diameter at least 30 cm), preparing a layer of expanded clay at the bottom of the vase. We also use generic soil, with the addition of mature compost or earthworm humus.
The foresight to have is to irrigate frequently and return to fertilize a little during the crop cycle. We can do it with a handful of pelleted manure, but also with nettle macerate.
Transplant the seedlings
Transplant. The transplant in a jar occurs when the sprout emits the first two leaves, the so-called cotyledons, and reaches fifteen centimeters in height, only at this point can the pepper be transplanted into the garden. The transplant to the home must be done in mid-May because the flower needs temperatures above 14 degrees even during the night, otherwise, it causes a drop of the flowers, compromising the harvest.
Plant sixth. Pepper plants were transplanted in rows 70cm apart and 50cm along the row. Some varieties of chili peppers have smaller plants, so the distances indicated can be slightly reduced.
When to harvest peppers
As for the tomato, also for the pepper, the ripening process takes place in two stages: first, the seeds and the inner part ripen, then the outer part. If the peel is still green, the process has not yet been completed. As soon as the fruits reach the optimal size and degree of ripeness they must always be removed from the plant, to favor the development of the other fruits.
Normally the peppers begin to ripen after about 60 days from setting, but complete their coloring after 80 – 100 days, always counted starting from the setting of the flower. If the fruit is harvested as soon as the color change begins, after 2 – 3 days it is able to complete it, but it will wither the faster the greener it was initially.
For food purposes, the difference between a green fruit and a colored one is minimal, simply green contains less lycopene, we try to obtain uniformly colored peppers for aesthetic purposes, very important in professional cultivation.
Diseases of the pepper
Peppers can be affected by various diseases, in particular some pathogenic fungi. The prevention of these adversities is very important in organic farming and starts with good soil processing and care.
Downy mildew. A fungal disease that spreads in the presence of a lot of water, quickly causes extensive damage, can kill the plant even in 24 hours. It is recognized by the black that can be seen in the external parts, especially on the leaves. It spreads through the soil in which the spores reside, so if you eradicate a diseased plant, you will notice the black pedal and do not need to replace it with another plant. The greatest danger of pepper blight occurs in the event of summer storms or if you irrigate the entire garden with flooding. It is prevented with the cultivation in trunks which avoids any stagnation. To eliminate the spores from the soil, one year of crop rotation is sufficient in which no pepper, tomato, potato, or eggplant is grown.
Verticillium. Another disease that affects this vegetable is verticillium, similar to downy mildew as a manifestation, although the blackness of the ongoing rot can be seen in the capillaries rather than outside. This disease has a slower course, it takes 7-10 days to compromise the plant until it dies. It persists in the ground even for 5 years, a drawback that can be remedied with copper, but I do not recommend doing it as it is still a toxic treatment. Verticillium may not be fatal to young plants but causes irreversible dwarfism.
Fusarium. Cryptogam disease is very rare for pepper, the same considerations made for downy mildew and verticillium apply. It manifests itself with black coloring in the internal capillaries.
Alternaria. It produces rot in the fruit, in organic horticulture it can only be countered with the use of copper.
Apical rot. It is not a real disease but psychopathy, which is the effect of lack of water or lack of calcium absorption. It differs from Alternaria because the rot starts exclusively from the apex of the fruit. You can specifically read the article on pepper tip rot, written in response to a reader’s question.
Powdery mildew. This pathology manifests itself with browning of the leaves, always followed by loss of luster of the leaf and detachment of the external film. The leaves of the pepper do not become covered with white as when the powdery mildew affects other vegetable plants. The foliar symptoms are often accompanied by fruit rot, which occurs within a few hours. To prevent powdery mildew, it is possible to sprinkle the pepper with sulfur, it must be done at the beginning of August, taking into account a one-week shortage period.
In all cases of fungal disease (verticillium, powdery mildew, Alternaria, Fusarium, or downy mildew) it is essential to promptly remove the plants or the diseased parts of the plant. These must be eliminated by burning them or throwing them in the garbage, never left in the ground or used to make compost. If you remove all traces of the disease in time, you can prevent the infection from spreading throughout the garden.
Even parasites can bring serious problems to our pepper cultivation, there are organic methods that can be useful in combating harmful insects, without poisoning the vegetable and the environment.
Aphids. As with most vegetable plants, peppers can also be attacked by aphids, the danger of these lice is mainly due to the possibility that they transmit virosis to the plant. In the event of an attack, there are several natural methods, from Marseille soap to neem oil, to learn more you can read the in-depth study dedicated to the defense against aphids.
Red spider. This small insect is a parasite that leads to dwarfism, defoliation, or lack of production of the pepper plant, to fight the spider mite you can use wettable sulfur, to be sprayed in the coolest hours, even if it is a treatment that maintains certain toxicity, although allowed in the organic. A more natural method is the use of garlic macerate.
Trialeurodide. This insect is also called whitefly, it attacks the pepper especially when it is grown in a greenhouse, I dedicated a post to how to defend yourself from the Trialeurodes.
Borer. Insect from the Lepidoptera family that lays eggs on pepper. He especially loves corn, a crop that attracts borers, so if there is corn grown around the garden, peppers can suffer substantial attacks. The newly born larva pierces the peel and eats the fruit, ruining it and promoting rot, particularly if rains follow. The borer can be fought with the Bacillus thuringiensis, which kills the larvae but is a selective insecticide.
Variety of sweet peppers
There are many varieties of peppers, both for sweet peppers and chilies. To give you some useful advice to guide you in choosing which one to grow, here are some of the main types common in gardens.
Among the many peppers that can be grown organically, I have selected some particularly interesting ones, the topic is further explored in the article dedicated to sweet pepper varieties.
- Yellow Wedge Pepper. very sweet fruit, exquisite taste, yellow skin and excellent fruit weight.
- Perperone California Wonder: quadrangular pepper, robust and rustic plant.
- Bull’s horn pepper. Variety with elongated fruit, available both yellow and red.
- Lombard chilli. long and narrow sweet chillies, eaten green.
- Marconi. Red pepper with very heavy fruit, elongated and with three or four lobes.
You may be interested to read about the Jalapeño pepper blogpost/ Pasta With Peppers Cruschi Recipe/ Stuffed baguette with peppers recipe/ Italian roasted peppers recipe/ Hot pepper jam recipe/ Blender tapioca cake recipe.