Bell Peppers Overview
|Official Plant Name||Capsicum|
|Common Name(s)||Sweet (Bell) Peppers|
|Native Area||Central & South America|
|Foliage||Evergreen (though usually treated as an annual)|
|Flowers||Flowers followed by edible peppers|
|When To Sow (Indoors)||February, March, April|
|Harvesting Months||February, March, April, May|
Most Soil Types
Moist but well drained
We’re wary of anybody who says, with a straight face, that they “don’t like pepper”.
We get that raw pepper in salad might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Or perhaps the sorry bits of green and red pepper you find on frozen pizzas aren’t your idea of a good time. Fair enough, we can respect that.
But to discount entirely an ingredient as versatile and potentially delicious as pepper, just because you’ve not enjoyed it in one or two situations, is almost sacrilegious.
If you’re reading this guide, we figure you’re probably convinced of peppers’ vast merits. Perhaps you’re looking to grow a batch of succulent, juicy peppers in your own garden as a last-ditch attempt to get your reluctant kids (or even partner) to revaluate their stance on this long-misunderstood vegetable.
If this is the case, we’re here to help. This guide contains everything you need to get your home-grown pepper harvest thriving. Once ready, they’ll be bursting with flavour in a way quite unlike anything you’ll have tried from a supermarket.
Background & Origins
In case you need a primer (or if you’re looking for a little extra pepper trivia), let us help.
This variety, known variously as bell peppers, sweet peppers, capsicum, or even just ‘pepper’, is from the Capsicum annuum species. The humble pepper has had a long journey to get to our plates. Native to Mexico and other parts of South America, they gained popularity in Europe and Asia from the 1500s. A Hungarian botanist developed the mild pepper in the 1920s, increasing its appeal to the average palette.
Bell peppers come in four colours: Green, yellow, orange, and red. And if you’ve not grown them yourself before, you may not know that they’re all actually the same plant, just at different stages of ripeness. Green is least ripe, red the most, and orange and yellow in between.
When growing your own peppers it’s up to you to decide which colour you want them to be when picked. Leave them on a little longer and they’ll become less bitter, and even more healthy! Red peppers have 1.5x as much vitamin C as their green counterparts, for example.
Capsicum Plant Care Guidelines
You can buy bell pepper seeds from any good garden retailer, so the first sections of this guide will cover growing bell peppers from seed. It’s also possible to buy a young plant if you’d rather skip the first few steps, and get straight to planting out.
Where to grow your peppers
Because of their warm heritage, bell peppers do best when they’re kept warm. Grow in a heated propagator with the temperature set around 20 degrees Celsius or, if you don’t have one of those, on a warm and sunny windowsill.
Wherever you choose to grow your pepper, put a stick in the soil and cover the whole thing with a plastic bag. This will keep heat and moisture in, leading to better growth.
Sow your bell pepper seeds between the middle of February and the end of April. Pop them in seed compost, either in seed trays or in individual pots. Then place the seedlings somewhere warm and cover them over, as detailed previously.
You’re looking for two full leaves to form on each seedling before you do anything else, as this is the indication that they’re strong enough to move.
Transplanting to grow indoors
For best results, growing indoors is probably favourite. This gives your peppers a better chance to stay warm, especially somewhere like a greenhouse that’s designed to capture the sunlight.
You’ll want a fairly large pot, ideally 30cm or more in diameter, to give your pepper plant space to grow. Even though the tiny seedling will look lost in a pot all by itself, you’ll be surprised how quickly they grow!
Aim to move your young pepper plant at the end of April if your greenhouse is heated, or at the beginning of May if not.
Transplanting to grow outdoors
When growing outdoors you can put your peppers in a pot, a grow bag, or straight into the ground. Plant out after the middle of May, long after the last frost has passed. Young peppers are fragile and won’t do well at all with frosty conditions, so take extra care to heed this step.
Peppers are relatively thirsty, so make sure to water them regularly. Stay especially vigilant during hot weather to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out, as this will hinder their ability to grow.
After the first fruits appear, give your pepper plants a healthy dose of liquid fertiliser. Tomato feed is a good shout, or something with a similar nutritional profile. This will help your peppers to grow big and strong.
Left unchecked, pepper plants can become quite unruly. You can pinch back stems to curate growth, with pinched tips good for encouraging branching, and pinching back side shoots good for promoting more peppers to grow.
Note that while pinching back side shoots will lead to more fruit, each one will be smaller.
When your peppers look ready to pick, you can pick them. Wait until they’re the size you want, and leave them on the vine until they’re at your preferred stage of ripeness. Remember: Green peppers will ripen into red, through yellow and orange.
If you leave a pepper on the vine to ripen, another pepper won’t be able to take its place. Harvesting green peppers brings the chance for an extra set of fruit that season, so plan your picking accordingly.
Troubleshooting your crop
As with anything in your garden, peppers are prone to attract certain pests. Here’s what to look for and, more importantly, how to eradicate them.
These miniature green visitors love to eat the sap inside leaves, then leave their excrement behind which attracts fungus. Awful manners, if you ask us!
You’ll be able to see aphids with the naked eye, and if you notice a visitation, the first step is to remove them by hand. If they return, look for a pesticide designed to deter future visits.
Glasshouse red spider
These fellows sometimes weave thin webs to cover a section of a plant, before feasting on everything inside. This type of bug is attracted by hot, dry growing conditions, so ensuring air remains moist is a good way of keeping them at bay. Spritz your pepper plants occasionally to deter them.
If identified, the remedy is the same as aphids.
Our favourite sweet bell pepper recipe
Now you’ve got the information you need to grow a peck of pristine peppers, we thought we’d leave you with a recipe to put your harvest to use. If you’ve got fussy people in your household, we’re confident that this tasty recipe will change their mind and keep them coming back for seconds.
Stuffed and grilled peppers
Keeping peppers firmly centre-stage allows you to showcase their deliciousness, and is a great way to make the most of your freshly-picked batch.
Here’s how to do it –
- Chop the top off of your peppers and scrape out the seeds
- Sauté onion and garlic in a pan
- Stir in tomato paste
- Add beef mince and cook until brown, then remove from heat
- Cook rice
- Add rice to beef mix, and season with your favourite herbs
- Spoon the mixture into each pepper, then cover with grated cheese
- Place them in a baking dish and cover with foil
- Bake for 30 minutes or so, then remove the foil and grill for five minutes to let the cheese melt
Pick a peck of perfect home-grown peppers
This guide has outlined everything you need to know to turn a packet of pepper seeds into a bountiful pepper harvest. You’ll be amazed at how many peppers your humble little seedling will put forth by the end of its first season, and you’ll be amazed at how good they taste.
There really is no comparison between supermarket food and the home-grown alternative. Once you’ve tasted the fresh, vibrant crunch of your first pepper harvest, we’re sure you’ll keep going back year after year. And, what’s more, we’re confident that you’ll be able to convince even the most staunch pepper critics that, when cooked properly, this vegetable really is something to get excited about.
So we wish you happy gardening, happy growing, and happy cooking! Let your creativity shine and enjoy the process while you do.