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Basic Bell Pepper Growing Tips

Keep bell peppers coming all season long in containers - and save money on the more colorful mature fruits

Green bell peppers are tasty in their own right, especially when stuffed or added to stir-fries. They're also cheap during the growing season and generally reasonable when imported. The more colorful yellows, oranges, and reds, however are always quite pricy and can become a rare treat when they top the $3 each mark. That's why growing your own bell peppers is a wonderful and economic way to add the sweeter bells to salads and use with abandon for color on appetizer trays.

You don't need a garden space to grow bell peppers. They'll thrive in any sunny spot and a good-sized container. (more below...)

Bell Pepper Basics

Bell peppers are classified as "sweet" peppers. At the green stage, they are immature, which makes them so cheap. Peppers that remain longer on the vine will be yellow and orange. At their ripest stage, bell peppers are red. Each plant will produce only one round of red bell peppers in each season, which explains the price.

Hybrid bell peppers are also plentiful. They're available in purple, brown, white, and black. These add unique colors to fresh foods, but will fade or turn green if cooked.

Regardless of which color phase you purchase, always check for a firm skin - no soft spots allowed. Don't clean them until ready to use and always remove from the plastic bag when storing.

Starting from Seed

This is easy enough if you have a warm spot away from drafts. Starter seeds require about two months indoors before transplant. Wait about two weeks following the last frost before giving them an outdoor spot. Use a planting mix and a continual dusting of ground sphagnum moss in the seed stage. As the seeds germinate, they are susceptible to a fungal disease referred to as "damping off." Once the seedlings sprout, in about 10 days, it's time for a move to a sunny window.

Keep them moist; not too wet. If they grow too quickly, transplant to a larger container. Handle carefully - by the leaves and not the stems. At about two months, you can begin "hardening off." This means acclimation to an outdoor environment. Start with a half day of sun with no drafts and gradually increase the exposure. It's all right to leave them outside overnight if the temperatures are warm.

You can transplant them to a larger container once the temperatures are warm enough to keep the soil temperate. Lightly fertilize the dirt first with a 5-10-10 mix (one teaspoon per plant). Another feeding is fine once the plant begins to sprout blossoms. One plant per container is plenty and you'll want to stake it as it grows. Top off the sandy soil with mulch to help retain moisture, especially since containers lose moisture more quickly than garden settings. Note that blooms will generally drop and fruit won't set if temperatures rise above 90 degrees.

You can easily skip this process and purchase young plants at any garden center. The varieties are amazing.

Yield over Taste, or Vice Versa

You'll have plenty of green bell peppers as long as you keep harvesting. The plants go into a flurry of activity to produce more each time you pluck a few. Obviously, waiting for bell peppers to ripen takes time and that means far fewer yields.

When there is space in the garden or you have several appropriately sized containers, buy one or two of each species. You can have the greens for stir-fries and stuffing and save the later-season sweeter yellows, oranges, and reds for salads and snacking. They, too, will freeze. Thawing will leave them somewhat mushy, but the flavor is still enjoyable.

Always use a sharp knife or scissors to remove the fruits. Trying to break off their tough stems can uproot the entire plant.

Freezing Bell Peppers

Yes, we've had great luck with freezing them without blanching. Remove the seeds and membrane and cut in strips. Wrap securely and they'll keep several months in the freezer. Not for use in fresh salads, but they're great for cooked dishes.




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