Guide to Peppers

Peppers offer a range of flavor—from delightfully sweet to fiery heat.

SEASON: Summer and fall are peak times for peppers.

CHOOSING: Peppers come in many sizes, shapes, and Scoville units—the measurement of how hot they are, from sweat to tears.  Look for peppers that are wrinkle-free, glossy, and free of injuries.

STORING: Place peppers in a produce bag, and store in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. They’ll last about a week.

GROWING: Peppers are tender plants. Frost is deadly, and cold soil is crippling for them, so don’t rush to plant early. Depending on the variety, they need 70 to 90 days from the time transplants are set into warm soil until peppers are harvested. If you start from seeds, you’ll need to start them early indoors to get a jump on a long season.

The plants usually grow to about 18 to 24 inches during the summer. Those with small peppers can stand unassisted, but any of the large pepper plants need to be staked or grown in a tomato cage to prevent them from falling over. It’s best to put those supports in place when you first plant.

Choose a sunny bed with well-prepared soil. Plants vary in size, so read the label and space them accordingly. Buy sturdy transplants with dark green leaves. After planting, water them with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer. Feed again lightly when peppers begin to grow.

When harvesting, use clippers to avoid breaking a branch. You can pick peppers at any time; they’re never too young. However, many peppers will change colors and improve in both nutrition and flavor as they mature, so if you’re growing sweet bell peppers, harvest a few green ones, but leave some on the plant to turn yellow, orange, or red.