Our pepper journey started back in February when we planted seeds into some soil. In April, once all threat from frost had passed, we transplanted the seedlings into the garden. Now, 3 months later, we have peppers to harvest! We have both bell peppers and jalapeno peppers. They are ready to harvest once they are full sized, and the walls are firm. Peppers can either be harvested now, or left on the plant until they turn color. Depending on the variety, peppers can turn yellow, orange, red, or even purple or chocolate brown. Fully colored peppers are generally sweeter than green ones.
When picking peppers, cut the stem instead of pulling the pepper off the plant. You don’t want to break the plants.
While we are harvesting peppers, we can also think about planting more.
Peppers are a warm season vegetable that can be planted in the spring, and then again in the fall. Since peppers do not mind our hot summer weather, spring peppers will continue to produce until the first freeze. However, if your plants have failed, or if you want something new for fall, a second crop of peppers is possible. Fall pepper transplants should be planted in mid to late July in order to produce peppers before the first freeze in November.
Just like we did back in February, we will put seed starting soil in one of our seed starting greenhouses. Drop the seeds in, one per pod, and spray gently with water to wet the soil. We will keep this inside (in the air conditioning) in front of a south facing window for the next few weeks. Make sure the soil stays damp, and the seedlings get plenty of water. Once these sprout, we will set these outside in the shade to acclimate to our hot weather, then will plant them in the garden by August first.
Peppers should be planted 12 inches apart, in rows three feet apart. Avoid planting in areas that grew eggplant, tobacco, peppers, tomatoes, or potatoes in the past year. This will help cut down on disease problems. Insects in general leave pepper plants alone, but you should keep an eye out for aphids and caterpillars. A common problem with peppers in the Carolinas is blossom end rot. This is caused by a calcium deficiency, and is avoided by keeping the plants evenly watered and avoid drying out the soil. Blossom End Rot is a common summertime problem, but is not as big of an issue with fall peppers, since the soil does not dry out as fast in cooler weather.
Peppers will be ready 75-90 days after transplanting. If planted August first, that means we will have peppers in October. Peppers can be picked when they reach full size, and the peppers are firm. You can pick them when they are green or yellow, or wait for them to further ripen and turn orange or red. Fall peppers can handle a frost or even a light freeze. That may kill the plant, but unless it is a hard freeze, often the fruit will be fine. Our average first freezes range from October 29 in Lumberton to November 10 in Florence to November 16 in Myrtle Beach. This will give us several weeks of harvest time before it gets too cold.
There are many varieties of peppers to choose from, but the biggest choice to make is between mild peppers or hot peppers. All grow well in the Carolinas, including hot peppers. In fact, the hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina Reaper, which was bred in Rock Hill, SC.