Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers (Capsicum annuum).

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Here is the less than wonderful remainder of my sweet pepper crop last summer. These bells and frying peppers are frozen in a Pyrex dish. I’ve used most of them–I just pry out however many are needed with a fork. They are delicious fried with onions and hot Italian sausage and served on an Italian roll. Really delicious. Much better than peppers bought at the supermarkets this time of year.

So, I want more of them this year, plus I want to figure out how to preserve them in a better way. In the past, I tried freezing peppers in olive oil, which works pretty well.  When they defrost, the oil is right there ready to sauté the peppers and whatever else, onions mostly. If I manage a bumper crop this year, I may invest in a dehydrator. It would be good for preserving many crops, not just peppers.

First, I have to raise a bumper crop, which isn’t easy.

According to Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog, peppers need well-drained fertile soil with lots of phosphorus and calcium.

Just a quick note. I never remember this, so I’m always looking it up. The 3 numbers on fertilizer bags are for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). N-P-K. Too much nitrogen (N) will give you big plants but not much fruit. Calcium is not one of the “big 3.”

In The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman draws a distinction between “feeding the plant” and “feeding the soil.” Feeding the plant, the agribusiness way, is fertilizing with water-soluble fertilizers that carry nutrients directly to the plant with no consideration of soil quality–bypassing the soil pretty much. Feeding the soil, the organic way, is using good farming practices, like crop rotation and green manures, adding compost to the soil regularly, and adding, in moderation, rock minerals that are not readily soluble, such as limestone, rock phosphate, and greensand.

In addition to good soil with an abundance of phosphorus and calcium, Johnny’s suggests watering in pepper transplants with a high phosphorus solution. Like a fish fertilizer.

Don’t transplant peppers out too early. Definitely after the last frost date, which is the middle of May here, and when the soil is warm. Using plastic mulch to warm the soil is a good idea. Barbara Damrosch, in The Garden Primer, suggests putting plastic mulch over the ground several weeks before transplanting out.

Using bed covers after transplanting until the weather turns really warm can get peppers off to a better start. Thinking of peppers as tropical plants is a good idea, I suppose.

So, plenty of phosphorus and calcium. Invest in a fish fertilizer, perhaps. Johnny’s has several. I’ve used Neptune’s Harvest before. Its “big 3” is listed as 2-4-1, so lots of phosphorus. Smells really bad but is good as a foliar feed. In the post January dreaming, I wrote about ordering garden seeds, tools, and supplies just once each year–one big order–to save on shipping charges. Now I have to consider whether fish fertilizer is a necessity this year, or not. Of course, I can buy it at a local nursery as well if I decide it’s a necessity.

I have plastic mulch and row covers, so I’m ready for that.

Start seeds in late March. Wow. That’s not far off. Peppers take longer to get started than tomatoes, although peppers and tomatoes are alike in many ways. Tomatoes also need lots of phosphorus and calcium, for example. Johnny’s says start peppers about 8 weeks before transplanting out. Peppers need a warm soil to germinate, as do tomatoes. I have heat mats, so I’m all set for that.

It’s good to write posts about the vegetables I want to grow this year. Makes me think about supplies and focus on timing. I’ve been noting dates for planting and transplanting in a paper-and-pencil garden diary as I write posts. This may help me stay focused and organized. It also helps to decide on seeds early, like in January, so I have time to plan for specific varieties–to get acquainted, I guess.

Back to peppers. I have 5 varieties of sweet pepper seeds this year.

Four bells and one frying pepper.

Three hybrid bells and one open-pollinated bell; plus the hybrid frying pepper.

Ace F1. Hybrid bell. Extra early. 50 days from transplanting out. 70 days to red ripe. Highly productive. Sounds great, but I’ve tried to grow Ace before with not much luck in getting a big meaty pepper. Never got a red one. Perhaps this year will be different. I would replace it with something else, but I haven’t had good luck with any peppers. Feeling sorry for myself.

Red Knight F1. Hybrid bell. 57 days from transplanting. 77 days to red ripe. Similar to Ace.

Intruder F1. Hybrid bell. This one is new for me. 62 days from transplanting. 72 days to red ripe. Johnny’s says Intruder has excellent disease resistance. Well adapted to Northeast. Perhaps this will be my best bell ever.

Yankee Bell. Open-pollinated bell. What’s the advantage of open-pollinated?

Carmen F1. Sweet Italian frying pepper hybrid. Johnny’s says best-tasting. Since I have only one frying pepper this year, I will plant more of the one I’ve got. 60 days from transplanting. 80 days to red ripe. 6″ long. 5 oz. Sounds fantastic. Hope Carmen is the answer to my frying pepper prayers.

Lots to think about with peppers, and I haven’t even gotten to the hot peppers yet. Next post will be about hot peppers. I’m glad that I still have time to think about peppers and what I can do better.

I realize that time is something I now have in retirement, which many gardeners do not. I’ve been there myself. One weekend afternoon, run to the local nursery, pick out some plants, stick them in the ground, and hope for the best. Sometimes it exceeds expectations. But I do realize that I now have the luxury of time to plant seeds indoors and worry about soil and nutrients, and many gardeners don’t. We all do what we have time and energy to do, and that’s good enough.

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