Money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows on pepper plants.
One of the best reasons to grow bell peppers at home is they are one of those plants that will pay for themselves many times over. Stores can charge $1.50(USD) each for a green bell pepper, more for sweeter red or yellow ones. Organic bell peppers can run you $2.50 each…on sale. But with less than two square feet of ground space you can grow about six to eight bell peppers.
Reason enough to get started? Well let’s go!
Select the right seeds for your garden, region and taste buds. Looking through seed racks and catalogs can suffice to find the best option. Bell peppers can take a long time before they’re ready to harvest. So if you’re off to a late start or have a short growing season, consider growing Sweet Chocolate, Ace, or Wonder Bell – all of which can be harvested in less than two months. Some peppers can take 85 days before harvest. Add to that an additional six weeks before they even get planted, and if you’re not careful, the season could be over before you harvest pepper number one.
Tempting as it may be to save your own seeds from a delicious pepper you bought at the grocery store, I would caution against it. In order to have pepper seeds be viable for planting, the fruit must have been harvested at just the right time, and cleaned and dried in just the right way. And of course the produce section probably carries mostly hybrid varieties – which won’t produce decent seeds. Best to get your seeds from a seed company that tests for high germination rates and exceptional seed performance.
And yes – the best way to grow bell peppers is to start from seed. Start your seeds six to eight weeks before your last frost date. If your last spring frost date is right around the corner, you can always buy young bell pepper plants at a garden nursery or farmers’ market. Or go ahead and plant the seed directly in the ground if you live in a warm climate that doesn’t get a fall frost until late November.
Start twice as many cells or containers as you think you will ultimately use. Fill each container about three quarters of the way with a seed starting soil or a planting mix that has been approved for produce. Pre-water the soil so that it is damp, but not soaked. Now place two or three seeds in each cell or container and cover with soil. A thin layer of soil (1/8 to 1/4 of an inch) is enough. Add a little more water.
Place your container or flat someplace it will always be warm. Pepper seeds germinate when temperatures are in the 80s. Also keep the soil damp during germination. This usually takes about a week. Some peppers don’t germinate for up to two weeks – it just takes time, so don’t panic. During this time, your containers don’t need to be in a sunny window or under grow lights. In fact, I have had the best germination results placing flats near the hot water heater in my basement.
Once the sprouts are up, then it’s time to set them under grow lights, or on a window sill with nice, sunny southern exposure. Keep the seedlings watered. But don’t overwater. If a cottony mold forms on the surface of the soil, you are over watering. If the mold continues to cover the surface of the soil, you can sprinkle a little cinnamon on the soil surface. It may also help to remove any dome or cover you may have over the seedlings, and place them in front of a small fan set on low to improve air circulation.
Keep the plants in the window or under grow lights for about a month. If you are using grow lights, be sure that the light stays about two inches above the tallest part of the plant.
Once each plant has about five or six sets of true leaves, it is time to start hardening them off. Place the containers or flats outside in the morning or early evening for about an hour, and then bring them back indoors. Each day, leave them outside for longer and longer stretches of time.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to plant your peppers in the garden two weeks after you plant your tomatoes. Peppers need warm soil and temperature…so wait about four to six weeks after your last frost date before relocating them to the garden. Select the strongest plants for transplanting. This means the peppers that have not begun to flower or set fruit, and have the healthiest leaves and the strongest stems.
And for the record most yellow and red bell peppers grow on the same plant as green bell peppers. So get the most out of your garden dollar! Harvest the first bell peppers of the season while they are still green. This encourages more fruiting later on. Leave the rest of the peppers on the plant and wait for them to turn yellow or red. An extra two weeks on the plant and a six dollar plant turns into a ten dollar plant. Grow it organically and well…
Well let’s go cash in!