Peppers are another favorite at our house. We like both bell and hot peppers. I don’t care so much for the green peppers, I prefer them to get ripe and turn a rainbow of colors. We all like raw bell pepper slices to munch on and in our salad – red, yellow and orange are Andy’s favorites. I use bell peppers in my wonderful spaghetti sauce, in the relish I can, sautéed in dishes and stir fries. I don’t think I ever met a bell pepper I didn’t like. I use hot peppers in salsa, hot pepper jam, I dry them and then use the dried peppers to make enchilada sauce and they give a little extra kick to my famous chicken chili.
Peppers are hot weather plants and they cannot tolerate the cold at all. They are always the last plants that I transplant outside. You will need to either start your plants indoors or buy plants from the nursery. I always start mine indoors the weekend after St. Patrick’s Day every year. Just like with tomatoes you will need to harden your plants off before planting them outside. Just put them outside for a few hours every day to get them used to the real world conditions out of doors – leaving them out a little longer every day.
Peppers need a lot of sun so plant them where they will get the most sun in your garden. Peppers need even watering – they will wilt easily if allowed to dry out or rot if the soil isn’t draining well and too wet. But other than that they are really pretty carefree. If you like really hot peppers, let the soil dry out completely before watering – not enough to wilt the plant, but enough to stress it lightly – that will cause it to produce hotter peppers.
There are a lot of varieties of peppers to choose from. I usually plant 8 to 10 bell pepper plants in varying colors – I like a rainbow on my table and 4 to 6 hot peppers. I prefer the Anaheim type pepper to the hotter Jalapeño. I will get some jalapeños from my CSA and that will be enough for any recipes I have that call for them.
Peppers can be harvested whenever they reach the size and color you prefer. The immature peppers are green and they turn colors as they ripen.
Bell peppers are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, thiamine, folic acid, and vitamin B6. Red peppers (or other colors of ripe peppers) have significantly higher levels of nutrients than green peppers. Red bell peppers also contain lycopene, a carotene that offers protection against cancer and heart disease. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, which help to cleanse the blood and stimulate circulation as well as reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They also stimulate gastric secretions and help digestion.