Greg Bowman

Last week, I started an article on home garden peppers. A good portion of my article also promoted the spring Gordon Extension Lunch and Learn series. I invite readers to go to our Gordon Extension website to look at the upcoming Lunch and Learn classes that will begin on March 1. There will be a variety of topics covered by some awesome presenters. Hope to see many of you at these classes. I wanted to go back this week and discuss more on pepper production. Keep in mind that it is not difficult to grow peppers as long as you stick to the basics. I will remind readers of a few important tips, but will center also on harvest, storage and potential issues in growing peppers.

First, remember that peppers are basically sweet or hot as far as type. The Scoville Heat Index is how pungency is measured. Your mild peppers will be at the bottom of the index while peppers such as chili or habanero are at the top. Do not put pepper transplants in your garden spot too early. Peppers do not like cool and wet soils, plus they do not handle late freezes well. Soil temperatures need to be 70 degrees F with night temperatures staying above 50 degrees F before peppers need to be planted in the garden. A pepper plant put in the ground too soon may not perform as you would prefer.

The garden spot is important and should be well-draining and receive 8-10 hours of sunlight per day. Ideally, you need to soil test to get liming and fertilization recommendations. There are general recommendations if you choose not to conduct a $9 soil test. Remember that you need to plant peppers 12-24 inches apart in the row with the rows about 3 feet apart. Mulching can help reduce weeds and help conserve soil moisture. You need consistent watering to help with fruit development. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are helpful in getting moisture to the pepper root zone.

In general, peppers are ready for harvesting 70-85 days after planting. Study up on harvesting details for the particular pepper you are growing in the garden spot. It is suggested to store peppers in your refrigerator. Peppers can be stored for 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind they need to be stored in 45 degrees F with a relative humidity of 80-90 percent. Keep in mind that bell peppers can also be frozen. You cut them into strips, spread them out on a tray and then freeze them. After the bell peppers are fully frozen you then move them into plastic bags and can store them in the freezer. To dry peppers, you pull the whole plant just before the first frost and hang it upside down.

As you know hot peppers can be tough to deal with and you need to protect your skin, eyes and nose. It is suggested to wear gloves while handling hot peppers to cut down on the chance of skin, eye and nose irritations. Peppers have a lot of uses and this can add to pepper popularity. You can use them in salads, enjoy stuffed peppers, in pickling and relishes to name a few. Florkowska and Westerfield remind that one raw red pepper can meet the daily requirements for both vitamins A and C so peppers can be a healthy part of your diet.

Growing peppers can also have issues, too. You can have insect issues with European corn borer, corn earworm and armyworms. You need to scout the garden for insect and if you have a problem we can find the best option to solve the issues. It is helpful if you always use certified disease-free seed or healthy transplants to reduce disease issues. Peppers can be prone to diseases such as bacterial wilt and bacterial leaf spot for example. Planting disease-free transplants or using certified disease-free seed can be beneficial. Remember, your goal is fresh, great quality peppers out of the garden. Crop rotation can also help. Do not plant plants in the same area in the garden more than once every two years. This also included plants that are in the same family as peppers. Peppers are in the Solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. You need to do some garden maintenance at the end of the growing season too. Simply removing plant material after harvest has concluded can cut down on disease and insect issues for the next growing season. Also, note that peppers can have issues with blossom-end rot. This is not a disease, but a calcium deficiency and poor irrigation. Soil sampling can be an aid in solving the issue, but there are commercial products that can help as more of a temporary answer. Finally, pepper cultivars are personal preference. A lot depends, for example, if you like mild or hot peppers and what are your uses for the peppers.

For more information, contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email