Peppers are my garden darlings.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.