With the warming of the weather comes along with it, a change in most of our diets. We, generally speaking, start to eat less hot meals (BBQ food excluded). Food from our gardens becomes more of a staple in our diets and depending on when you started, your greenhouse might supply a large amount of produce for you and your family. Many kitchen staples can be grown inside your greenhouse to keep your meals full of flavor all summer long. Things like tomatoes, berries, grapes and other fruit grow incredibly well in the right greenhouses and microclimates, but there’s one plant that’s technically a fruit that often goes overlooked. I’m talking about peppers! Peppers are, as I said, technically fruit and can be a wonderful addition to a number of meals. From adding a cool and tangy crunch to salads to kicking up sauces and salsas with some flavorful spice. Plus as an added bonus, eating spicy food in the summer can help you ignore the heat! The heat of the food makes you begin to sweat which will in turn cool down your body! Most people think eating something cold like ice cream will help you ignore the heat, but generally it has the complete opposite effect. If nothing else, the spice from a pepper might just have you focusing on the mouth pain and not the sun… Don’t believe me? Go bite into a jalapeño on the next hot day we have and see if you’re still complaining about the sun. If you do, video tape it, could make for some fun content.
If I haven’t yet talked you out of it yet, let’s get down to business on how exactly you can grow peppers in your greenhouse! First things first, not all peppers are spicy. There are over 1000 different types of peppers growing naturally in this great big world of ours which can be segmented into two major groups of sweet and hot. Now, some peppers may look somewhat similar, but I would recommend knowing what you have before you bite into one. Nothing ruins your day quicker than an unexpected spicy pepper. Just as you should call before you dig (or so say the poorly produced commercials) you should know before you grow and understand the flavor profile of peppers before you make the investment of growing them.
If you’re starting from seeds, you will want to plant them ½ inch deep in your chosen container and cover lightly with some soilless medium. If you plan to transplant to larger pots later on, give each seed you plant about 1 square inch of space. If planting in starter pots or seedling trays, add about two to three seeds per cell. Cover with a humidity dome and store in a warm place. Pepper seeds don’t necessarily need light to germinate, but they do need heat. Anywhere from 65-95°F to be exact. If you’re starting early enough in the year, a heat mat may be necessary to keep the soil temperatures constant. The germination process should last anywhere from eight days to three weeks, depending on both the conditions as well as pepper variety you’re growing. Generally speaking, spicy peppers are slower to germinate than sweet peppers.
Once the germination process is over and your seedlings are beginning to poke out, remove your humidity dome. Your new pepper plants will require at least 6 hours of daily bright sunlight in order to be successful. Thin out your new seedlings so that only the strongest remains out of each cluster. Your plants will do best with daytime temperatures ranging from 65-70°F and nighttime temperatures of 60-65°F, try to keep things constant climate wise in your greenhouse to minimize stress on the young plants. Once your seedlings begin to grow their first set of true leaves, start fertilizing! Generally speaking, once a week is the way to go, use a water-soluble fertilizer mixed at half strength. Once your plants start fruiting, increase the amount of fertilizer you are using.
Roughly two to three weeks after the last frost of the spring, you should be all set to move your peppers outside! If you are keeping them in your greenhouse, you can ignore this paragraph, but for the rest of you, keep reading! When outdoor soil temperatures reach a steady state around 65° consistently, your plants should be perfectly ready to live outdoors. About two weeks prior to transplanting outdoors, keep watering your plants as normal, but hold back on the fertilizer. Starting about a week before you move them outdoors permanently, start putting them outside for a few hours at a time, gradually increasing the amount of time they are outside to acclimate them to their new home. This should ensure that the transition outside does not shock and kill your plants. Make sure the outdoor spot you are choosing has full sunlight as well as well draining soil. Pepper plants do best when compost is worked into the soil prior to planting, make sure the pH is anywhere from 6.0 – 7.0. Calcium and other nutrient contents should be relatively high for best pepper performance. Once the plants have been moved outside, you can once again provide fertilizer on a weekly basis.
Keep an eye out for pests on your plants! Aphids and slugs will prove to be a problem here in Western Washington as they are for most plants. We carry a wide variety of pest control products, so just pick and choose what you need based on the environment in which you live. Remove any diseased leaves from your plants and ensure you are not splashing too much when you are watering. If your plants are attracting flea beetles, you can generally get rid of them by giving your plants a mid-day watering. Flea beetles come around in the middle of the day and don’t like water so you can kill two birds with one stone. A strong watering hose can also help get rid of aphids, but I wouldn’t recommend you spray down any seedlings as you will risk flooding or killing your plants. Different pepper plants may attract different types of pests and unwanted guests, so just do some research on the specific variety you are growing and stay on top of things!
As far as watering is concerned, you will need a lot. Make sure the soil is constantly wet, but not soaked. During the warm summer months you may need to water your plants on a daily basis. Keep an eye on your plants just to make sure they are getting the water they need. Alternatively, if you are growing spicy variety peppers, you can use watering (or lack thereof) to increase the Scoville scale of your peppers. Once the plants begin to fruit, deprive them of water to the point where you add minimal amounts of water only when the leaves begin to wilt. This can be a pretty challenging and effort intense method to increase the flavor and spice factor of your peppers, but some people swear by it. I tried it last year and my serrano’s were spicier than any you’d get at the grocery store.
Once your plants are on the more mature side, it’s time to start thinking about pruning. Pruning plants is essentially removing parts that are unnecessary in the fruiting process. This process isn’t entirely necessary, but it does have some important benefits! Start when the plants are young by clipping the top of the main growth shoot. This will encourage the growth of branches on your plant as well as promote vertical growth. Branching will make it so your plant has more places to bud and produce fruit. Second step in the pruning process would be the removal of suckers on the main branches. This will ensure that your plant isn’t trying to produce too many fruits and forgoing developing the fruit it has. Generally speaking, pruning plants can help them produce fewer, better quality fruits as opposed to more, less flavorful fruits. Now, this isn’t always the case. Some plants perform perfectly without pruning while some will grow wildly out of control. Gardening isn’t an exact science (despite what people may tell you) so feel free to be experimental and do what makes you happy.
Now that you’ve gone and grown a whole peck of peppers, (weather you grew a whole two gallons/eight dry quarts we’ll use this nomenclature for the alliteration) the question of what to do with them comes into question! Peppers, generally speaking, will last up to 10 days when stored in your refrigerator. Some people have methods of storing produce in glass jars full of water, but I have not tested this method, so proceed with caution. Another thing you can do with your peppers is dry them! Your spice rack and taste buds will be very happy that you did. Spicy peppers have great flavor profiles but you may not always be in the mood to eat a pepper. If you dry them out and crush them into a fine powder, you can use this to season your meals and bring out the flavor without having a fresh pepper on hand. Not only that, but spices you dry and crush yourself generally taste a whole lot better than the stuff you get from the grocery store shelves. Another alternative is to make and can salsas and sauces. Hot sauce is actually very easy to make. A lot of hot sauces use less than 5 ingredients so it’s likely once you’ve harvested your peppers, you have all that you need in your kitchen to finish the recipe. Salsas may use a few more ingredients than hot sauces, but they are just as easy to make on your own. By doing this you can not only control the flavor profile, but also what goes into your sauces and salsas! If this is your first adventure making sauces and salsas, look up a recipe online and follow it. Once you’ve done it once or twice, feel free to adlib and make things your own!
Thanks again everyone for reading, I have a lot of fun writing these! If you do end up making sauces and salsas with your peppers and other greenhouse veggies, send us your recipe! Maybe we’ll incorporate a segment of customer recipes in our new and improved, limited run catalog we will start running here shortly. Until next week, have a great weekend!
*Cover photo credit to Fine Art America*