Hartley Magazine

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Growing Perfect Peppers

I doubt there is any plant ornamental or productive that has had as meteoric rise in popular culture as the hot or chilli pepper. A decade ago few gardeners grew peppers of any sort.

They were seldom mentioned and only a handful of varieties were widely sold. Now businesses survive on them- the plants, the fruits and their products appearing everywhere–even medicinally. All peppers need starting off in conditions much like tomatoes and growing on just a little warmer, though they do not like warm roots– you rarely find roots filing the sunny side of the compost in a black pot! Peppers do not need much feeding, nor de-shooting, neither do they do not get so leggy but they still need supporting as they can crop heavily enough to snap their stems. Not very prone to pests other than occasional aphid onslaughts, and slugs getting into the fruits, even the hottest ones are attacked–so you can forget using chilli extract against these!

Peppers can be grown outdoors for the summer on warm patios but are better under cover. Outdoor grown fruits often get purplish blackening on the surface indicating cold wind damage. However, unexpectedly, once cropping hot peppers do not need as much warmth to continue as do tomatoes. Thus plants under cover carry on looking good and carrying crops deep into winter when the tomato plants have long gone to compost. In a frost free greenhouse hot peppers show their perennial nature perennial and may carry on for another year or even two. Sweet peppers seldom survive, they are more annuals, and fail sooner from their worst foe, grey mould.

However most peppers are a hybrid mix of species in an incredible number and range of varieties. The sweet peepers have been improved so much that it is now easy to grow big, sweet, blocky, crisp fleshed fruits, don’t forget they all start green but turn to red, or yellow or black as they ripen.

The hot peppers come in even more shapes, sizes and hues, some short  and fat others very long and thin, mostly pointed at one end. Quite tiny very pointed little purple fruits prolifically covering small dwarf box like bushes seem remarkably popular for ornament, and are sometimes even eaten. Generally smaller fruited varieties are hotter than larger ones, and some are sold just on their heat alone.

As more a gourmet than macho man I’d recommend you avoid these as heat may be gained but then the flavour is lost. Habanero Grannies Bonnet peppers are pretty hot anyway but still have wonderful flavour; I especially like Big Sun–a very tasty yellow. Hungarian Hot Wax is mild as are the Jalapeño sorts, then there are the Cayenne and all those Indian nuclear munitions weapons grade varieties. You could easily fill a large greenhouse with hundreds of different curiously attractive pepper plants. And there is little waste as all that production is easy to store- either made into sauces and pickles or very simply dried.