Harvesting Peppers

Harvesting Peppers

Spicy or sweet, peppers are a great addition to any garden. They grow well in containers and garden beds, as long as there is enough sun and warm weather to keep them happy!

Tips and Tricks

Most climates require peppers to be started early in the year and typically indoors, with a hardening-off period before being transplanted outside. Days to maturity (DTM) can vary from 60—100 depending on growing conditions and the type of pepper you're cultivating. Because of this, when the peppers are finally mature enough to harvest, the term "eager" can be an understatement!

Peppers can be harvested from the plants at any stage. Green sweet peppers are less sweet and green chile peppers are less hot than when completely ripe; however, cutting them early will encourage the plant to produce more. When harvesting, be sure to use snips or shears to cut the pedicel (stem) away from the plant; if trying to pluck the pepper from the plant without snipping it, sometimes the pedicel and calyx (part of the stem connected to the fruit) can pull away from the exocarp (outer wall of fruit).

If you want to produce hotter peppers, here are a few tips! Heat levels are rated based on the amount of capsaicin the pepper has. For example, sweet bell peppers are rated at 0 Scoville units, jalapenos are around 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units, and habanero peppers can reach between 100,000 to 325,000 Scoville units. Choose your chile pepper varieties accordingly! Generally, the smaller the chile, the hotter it is. This is because chiles have more of an inner pith, which contains the capsaicin in the pepper. You may also alter capsaicin levels by manipulating its environmental conditions. Inducing stress to the plant by cutting back on water and growing in hot conditions will cause the pepper to increase capsaicin in the pepper fruit. The best time to promote stress is when the plant is setting the fruit - water as needed when you see the leaves start to droop a bit.

Caution should be taken for harvesting any extra-hot chile peppers, such as the 'Ghost Bhut Jolokia' or the 'Habanero', as the active component, capsaicin, is an extreme irritant, causing skin redness, burning, or a stinging sensation at the application site. Use gardening gloves while harvesting peppers from the plant and avoid touching your face with the gloves. Once harvested, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. These precautions should also be taken when cooking and handling them. After collecting the peppers from the garden, canning or drying techniques can be used to preserve them; otherwise, peppers keep for 10 days in the refrigerator.

Enjoy the bounty of the harvest and the peppers that are the result of a labor of love!

Written by Lauren Wetenkamp
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