Growing Peppers 101
Start EarlyIf you live in a region with a short growing season, start your seeds indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last frost. I usually try to get mine going in February. To aid in germination, seeds can be soaked for a couple of hours in lukewarm water. Provide a sunny window or grow light, a heat mat and covered dome to keep in the heat. Move up into larger pots if they are outgrowing their starter pot and give them a shot of fertilizer; I like to use a mixture of liquid fish and kelp.
Transplanting Into the GardenPeppers are very frost sensitive so don't put them out too early. Once the weather looks like it will be warm enough to move your plants outside, prepare the soil with organic matter. The soil should be warm (at least 60°F) and nighttime temps should not drop below 50°F. I keep some floating row cover on hand just in case we get a cool night. If your soil is not quite warm enough, you can use some mulching film to help warm the soil up for you. Make sure you harden off your transplants before putting them out. This just entails putting your plants outside during the day for about two weeks before transplanting. This way they will not be shocked when planting them outside permanently. Since peppers are members of the nightshade family, you should not plant them in the same area that tomatoes and eggplant were grown. Rotating your growing areas in the garden to prevent potential diseases is a good practice.
Peppers Like to Hold HandsWhen you are ready to put them out, space them about 12 -15" apart so when they are bigger their leaves touch each other or "hold hands". This will help prevent the fruit from getting sun scald. If you notice that the fruit is getting sun scald, you may want to put up some shade cloth (30% is enough) to cut down on the damage.
Fertilizers - Choose the Best BlendWhen you are putting out your transplants, it is a good idea to give them a shot of a good organic fertilizer with a balanced amount of N-P-K. Don't give them too much nitrogen or you will get a lush plant with very few peppers. Good balanced fertilizers like EB Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food or Down to Earth All Purpose Mix. Once your plants are starting to produce fruit, you should side dress with more fertilizer. Since phosphorus is essential for fruit production, the fertilizer you use should have more phosphorus than nitrogen. A liquid phosphorus such as the Phos Fish is a good choice for a quick shot of phosphorus.
How Much Water Do I Give Them?Peppers like even moisture and don't like to be soggy or dry. They like it just right! Well how do you achieve that? Your soil type will help guide you to how much and how often to water. If you have sandy soils, watering will need to be more frequent. Deep watering with drip irrigation is really the way to go. Mulch with a thick layer of straw or mulching film to help prevent drying out between waterings. If your soil dries out when plants are putting on flowers or growing fruit it can lead to flower drop or fruit aborting.
When Are Peppers RipePeppers can be harvested at an immature stage but most will develop a better flavor when allowed to fully ripen on the plant. Nardello peppers can be picked when green but will taste much sweeter if allowed to develop into the ripe red color. Most peppers can be judged by the color change when ripe (except green bells or ancho poblano peppers) and can be picked once the color changes, usually from green to the ripe color (red, yellow, orange). Make sure you cut the pepper off the plant to avoid broken branches.
Which pepper to grow will be the hardest thing about growing peppers. Plant a pepper in your garden or in a pot and enjoy them in salads, roasted, dried, pickled or just eaten right in the garden!