Hello, and welcome to the April edition of the Vegetable Gardeners Monthly. If you have questions that this article doesn’t address, just give us a call at 972-825-5175 or contact us via the web at www.ecmga.com and ask for one of our Master Gardener Vegetable Gardening Specialists.
The Ellis County Expo Lawn and Garden show we just completed should have gotten you out of the winter doldrums and motivated you to get that garden planted. Finish planting warm season vegetables by mid April (beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins, radish, sweet corn and squash and tomatoes) and plant hot season vegetables (okra, black-eyed peas and watermelons) mid to late month.
Planting dates: After all danger of frost and soil has thoroughly warmed, usually about 2 weeks after tomatoes are planted. Like tomatoes, peppers do best when transplanted. Peppers need to mature and produce while nighttime temperatures are above 60 degrees and daytime temperatures are below 80 degrees. When temperatures are outside of this range, peppers tend to shed their blooms and most fruit produced will be small. Most varieties completely stop fruiting when temperatures get above 90 degrees. Exposure to temperatures in the low 40’s for even a short period of time may stunt peppers, reducing their harvest. Probably best to replace transplants if concerned they may be stunted, as they will not recover. The best method to determine when to transplant your peppers is to measure soil temperatures about two inches below the surface. When you have three consecutive days with soil temperatures above 55 degrees, that is the ideal time to plant. For fall crops, need to plant about 100 days before first expected freeze date. Probably best to protect from weather for a few weeks after planting, in both the spring and summer.
Planting methods: Peppers transplant easily and that is the most common method, 18-24 inches apart. The best transplants are about 7-8 weeks old, 5-6 inches tall and have good foliage free of any obvious disease. At planting time, the soil should be slightly moist. Pour about one cup of starter solution in each hole. Deep planting should be avoided. Water thoroughly and protect from the weather for a few weeks.
Varieties: The amount of capsaicin in a pepper determines how hot they are. This can be scientifically measured as Scoville units. Peppers can vary greatly in the amount of heat they generate when eaten. The bell pepper has a Scoville rating of 0, while the hottest pepper, the Naga Jolakia, has a rating of about 1 million Scoville units. If you want to know the rating of the peppers you are considering planting, you can Google Scoville scale and get the answers. I usually plant a combination of sweet, mild and hot peppers, to have the right pepper for most occasions.
Culture: Easy to grow in most any healthy soil. Use lots of compost and organic material, and mulch heavily. Peppers do best when planted on raised, well drained beds, as they like to have warm feet and don’t do well with wet feet. When you water is more important than how you water. Avoid letting soil dry enough to cause plants to wilt. May need to water about twice a week if Mother Nature doesn’t provide needed water. Must be grown in full sun, with well drained soil and need lots of attention. Peppers do best with soil pH between 5.5 and 7.5
Fertilizer: Use about one cup of starter solution for transplants and side dress cautiously after first fruit sets. Too much fertilizer can cause excessive vegetative growth, while too little at first bloom can stunt growth. Very sensitive to fertilizer, need it in small doses only at bloom time. Use about half a handful of organic fertilizer per plant or sidedress with about 2 tablespoons of ammonium sulfate or 1.5 tablespoons of ammonium nitrate in a circle around each plant.
Harvest: Don’t break peppers from plant. Cut them off. Some recommend cutting off the first set of peppers to stimulate faster production. Can pull up entire plant and hang in garage at first freeze. Most peppers will turn colors (yellow, red, purple, etc), when they are fully mature, but can be harvested when green.