Grow a peck of peppers

June 20, 2008

The first (and truthfully the only) time I grew sweet peppers, it happened completely by mistake. My brother and I, squabbling all the way, accompanied our mother to the garden centre to buy the salvia, marigolds, dusty millers and other showy annuals she planted every year on the Victoria Day long weekend. In an attempt to re-direct our attention (and preserve her own sanity no doubt) she said we could each choose a plant from a table marked with a large hand-painted sign reading Annuals: 4 for $1. I have no recollection of what plant my brother chose, but my choice was a four pack of unmarked stems featuring lovely, dark green leaves.

Being a preteen who was more interested in talking on the phone than gardening, I unceremoniously plunked my spindly plants into the small holes I made in one of the dry beds at the side of our house. It was the kind of plot in which snapdragons and sunflowers thrived since the sun belted down on it unrelentingly each day. As my grandmother pointed out, it was a place “no nice leafy, green plant like that should be asked to grow.” A year earlier I would have taken her hint and moved my plants to a shadier spot, but that summer I was on the verge of adolescence so I just rolled my eyes and left my plants exactly where they stood.

By some miracle, my youthful arrogance was vilified that sweltering Ontario summer as the mystery plants thrived in their sunny location growing to almost 3 feet high. Crammed as they were between so many flowers, it took quite a while to realize that the mystery plants unexpectedly had produced lovely little green bell shaped peppers. Having no idea what to do with them, they stayed on the vine and soon turned a deep, assertive red that begged for attention. Fortunately their efforts were worthwhile since our Italian neighbours spotted them and, at our prompting, picked the peppers we didn’t know what to do with and enjoyed my bountiful crop.

Tips for Growing Peppers:
Sweet peppers (Capsicum annum) are native to the Western hemisphere so they thrive in any part of Canada where other warm season annuals grow well.

In Canada it’s best to sow seeds indoors and transfer plant seedlings that are 6 to 8 weeks old or at the three-leaf stage outdoors when it’s warm enough. Seeds should be germinated in moist but not soggy soil. Once started, the plants ideally should be planted in soil that is warmer than 65 F and has a PH balance of between 5.5 and 6.8.

If you live in an area where spring comes late, you can accelerate the warming of the soil by loosening and covering it to increase the temperature or by planting peppers in raised beds. Because peppers thrive on restricted root growth, they can also be planted in 8 or 9 –in (20 to 23-cm) containers, which can be moved indoors when the nights are still cool.

Plant peppers about 18-inches (45-cm) apart in full sun and thin the seedlings to the two heartiest plants as they mature. Later, pick a few of the first green peppers that emerge to increase production. Water peppers well during flowering and fruiting and spray the flowers with tepid water in evenings if you can. The entire growth cycle should take between 60 and 95 days depending on both the local weather and the colour of peppers you want.