Sweet peppers or bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) as they’re often known, are a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw in salads and cooked in stir-fries and casseroles. They are an ideal addition to any vegetable patch and it’s easy to grow peppers.
Bell peppers are low in calories and rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, meaning they’re an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Available in various colours, such as red, yellow, orange, and green, they are just as colourful as useful!
Peppers resist most garden pests and unlike their spicy brethren, bell peppers do not contain capsaicin. This is the compound that gives hot peppers their pungency and heat.
What makes it ideal to grow peppers is that they will thrive in your greenhouse, in posts outside and even in your vegetable patch, so long as you place them in a warm, sunny spot.
Interesting pepper facts!
Native American healers are believed to have used cayenne pepper for medicinal purposes for at least 9000 years.
Contrary to urban legend, eating too-hot peppers won’t kill off your taste buds.
Since bell peppers have seeds and come from flowering plants, they are actually fruits, not vegetables.
The misleading name “pepper” (pimiento in Spanish) was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns (black pepper, Piper nigrum) were a highly prized condiment.
Packages of 3 bell peppers: green, yellow and red are sometimes sold as “Traffic Light Peppers”!
The stage of ripeness determines the colour and sweetness of the peppers.
To successfully grow peppers, you’ll want to locate them in the sunniest part of your vegetable patch. The soil should be well-draining and rich in organic matter.
Ideally, your soil’s consistency would be somewhere between sandy and loamy as this ensures that the soil drains well and warms quickly. Peppers grow best in acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 to 6.5.
Around a week before transplanting peppers into your veg patch, it’s worth mixing in some fertilizer or aged compost into your garden soil and allows it time to rot into the soil.
You’ll need to practise crop rotation. So avoid planting peppers in the same spot as you’ve recently grown other members of the nightshade family (such as tomatoes, potatoes, or aubergines) as these can raise the risk of your pepper being exposed to diseases.
In terms of bell pepper varieties, there are several superb options and the >RHS recommends the following.
This is an early-cropping, bright red sweet pepper with good flavour.
A beautiful bright orange sweet pepper with a long cropping season. It is well-suited for growing outdoors in containers, or in a greenhouse.
You can start with seeds indoors from mid-February to early April either in pots of seed trays. As seeds need a warm temperature (around 18-21°C) to develop, you should either place on a warm windowsill and cover with plastic bags to keep the heat and moisture in or use a propagator.
About 10 days before transplanting outdoors, begin to harden off plants. If you decide to start with seedlings from your local garden centre, then should arrive ready to be planted directly into the ground.
Space seedlings between 45 and 60 cm apart. Dig down so that the hole is no deeper than they were already. Otherwise, stems may become susceptible to rot.
Pepper will not survive with soil temperatures under 21°C, so don’t be afraid to wait until temperatures rise to give your plants their best chance.
How to nurture peppers
To nurture your pepper you’ll need to water and mulch regularly to ensure that they maintain adequate moisture. You should also weed regularly but be careful not to disturb roots.
As the first fruit set starts to develop, its worth feeding plants with a high potash liquid fertiliser.
You may need to support plants with cages or stakes to prevent bending. Try with cone-shaped wire tomato cages, which are ideal for supporting peppers plants.
You can harvest green peppers as soon as you’re happy with the size. However, the longer bell peppers stay on the plant, the sweeter they become and the greater their vitamin C content. As peppers mature they turn from green to red and the yield reduces.
Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant for the least damage.
How to store fresh peppers
Sadly, peppers are quite unforgiven when it comes to storing them. If you happen to storm them incorrectly, they’ll spoil quickly and descend into a slimy or mouldy mess. Thankfully, you can store peppers in the fridge and freezer.
You shouldn’t wash peppers before placing them in your fridge as any moisture will increase the rate of rotting. Instead, wait until you’re ready to cook with the pepper before washing it. Whole peppers should last for around two weeks when stored in the fridge.
Fruits and pepper don’t below in the same draw as fruits release ethylene gas, which causes vegetables to rot faster. If your peppers become too soft or start to develop mould, then bin them straightaway.
If you’ve chopped a pepper for cooking and still have some pieces left, then wrap them in a paper towel. This will stop the pepper from becoming too slimy or damp in the refrigerator. Place the wrapped pepper into an airtight container or plastic bag. Finally, place them in your fridge.
Chopped peppers only last a few days before starting to become slimy or mouldy, regardless of how well they’re stored. So you’ll want to use them quickly or you’ll end up binning them a few days later.
Freezing Bell Peppers
As bell peppers only freeze well when they have been chopped first, you’ll need to prepare them. Firstly, cut off the stem and then slice the pepper in half. With a spoon, remove the seeds. Finally, cut the peppers into slices.
Lay the slices on a baking tray in a single layer to prevent them from sticking when frozen. Place in the freezer for an hour. Next, remove the tray and place the frozen peppers in a freezer bag or airtight container. Finally, place the bag or contain back into the fridge.
Use pepper slices as and when you need them. You only need to thaw if eating pepper raw, otherwise, you can toss them into your dish.
Common pests and problems
Part of growing any vegetables is managing pests and diseases. It’s no different when you grow peppers. Here are the most common issues to look out for and how to solve them if you do encounter them.
As a fungal disease, leaves develop yellow/brown/purple/black spots and you might also notice dark spots on stems and fruit. Sadly, any infected plants need to be destroyed.
You can prevent anthracnose by planting resistant varieties, provide good drainage and avoiding overhead watering. It’s also worth practising crop rotation to ensure the disease doesn’t linger.
These insects love feeding on vegetables and you’ll see misshapen or yellow leaves as well as distorted flowers and fruit. You might also spot a large presence of ants on plants.
There’s plenty of ways to make aphids leave your crop along including growing companion plants or ones that repel them (such as basil or rosemary). You can also mix water and insecticidal soap and spray the solution over the plants.
This is a nutrient deficiency caused by lack of sufficient calcium uptake. You’ll see dark, water-soaked spots on the blossom end of the fruit (the side opposite the stem) may become leathery and rotted.
You’ll need to remove affected fruit. It’s worth giving the remaining plants a generous watering and covering them with mulch. You should maintain proper soil pH and nutrient levels while avoiding excessive nitrogen.
Glasshouse red spider or two-spotted mite
Easy to spot as leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be seen. Also, leaves drop prematurely. As they thrive in hot, dry conditions, you need to mist plants regularly and use biological control if growing in your greenhouse.