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A basket of perfect peppers: ‘California Wonder’ sweet bells, ‘Mariachi’ yellow jalapeno, hot peppers; ‘Biggie Chili’, mild New Mexico; ‘Maules’ red hot pepper
Peppers are my garden darlings.
A basket of perfect peppers: ‘California Wonder’ sweet bells, ‘Mariachi’ yellow  jalapeno, hot peppers; ‘Biggie Chili’, mild New Mexico; ‘Maules’ red hot pepper
A basket of perfect peppers: ‘California Wonder’ sweet bells, ‘Mariachi’ yellow jalapeno, hot peppers; ‘Biggie Chili’, mild New Mexico; ‘Maules’ red hot pepper

They are always expensive to buy either on- or off-season and even fresh-picked offerings at the farmer’s market never quite match up to my expectations. The goal of growing truly fine peppers has been ongoing since we began growing our own edibles. I wanted a pepper that was a glossy, beautiful, deep green hue, ripening to orange or brilliant red. It was imperative that the fruit have a thick, crunchy, juicy, oh-so-sweet or spicy hot flesh. My perfect pepper would be a bushy, dense plant, covered with large leaves to shade the peppers as they grew upon a thick, strong, healthy scaffolding that supported the heavy fruits as they ripened.

Peppers are garden divas, set in their ways and quite telling if everything in their world is not going their way. If it is too hot, too cold, too windy, too dry, too sunny or too shady, they send a clear message in scorched fruit, no growth, snapped stems, wilted leaves, and stretching (respectively). Sweet bells can end up with thin walls, netting very little edible product; hot peppers can be scorching hot, barely tolerated even by the most stalwart of hot pepper lovers.

Thriving ‘California Wonder’ sweet bells love enriched soil, full sun, a bit of support when young and the companionship of ‘Christmas’ basil, said to sweeten the peppers.
Thriving ‘California Wonder’ sweet bells love enriched soil, full sun, a bit of support when young and the companionship of ‘Christmas’ basil, said to sweeten the peppers.

I concentrated on getting the seeds on the propagation bench early enough so that they would be large, well established starts by the time we planted in May. They are a warm season crop and want a lot of warm, sunny, summer days to languish in before they bloom and begin forming fruit. This year, I sowed the seed on heated beds in January and hardened off quart-sized pepper plants for transplanting at the end of May, when both soil and air temps were on a steady rise.

Peppers love a well draining, rich garden soil with slow, deep regular watering. I planted them in the kitchen garden that has seven seasons of incorporating organic amendments to its credit and a new drip irrigation system that gives ample bed coverage. I also ‘bumped’ up the beds with an early spring green crop of clover. The peppers sat up and took notice immediately.

These ‘King Alfred’ sweet bells are in a good soil (note the deeply green leaves), but get too much shade, which has caused the plants to stretch, leading to thinner stalks, less dense foliage and fruit burn.
These ‘King Alfred’ sweet bells are in a good soil (note the deeply green leaves), but get too much shade, which has caused the plants to stretch, leading to thinner stalks, less dense foliage and fruit burn.

Seasons of moving the plants around the garden, beginning in a long bed situated between the vineyard rows (for protection from the wind) to along the fence running the length of the kitchen garden (for afternoon shade) to intercropping in full-sun beds in the garden (for the beneficial companions and fertile soil), and finally I have given my darling garden divas their perfect home.

Diana (Dee) Maranhao is a garden writer and horticulture editor who gardens in southern Utah. Her book, Rocky Mountain Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at most Lowe’s, Barnes & Noble, and at www.amazon.com. She can be contacted at sdmaranhao@scinternet.net.