Your own sweet peppers

Here's how to choose the best varieties for color, shape, and flavor
Lauren Bonar Swezey

Homegrown sweet peppers are packed with flavor, whether you serve them fresh, sautéed, or roasted. Grow a single variety and you'll discover that just one won't do ― you'll want to experiment with a medley of types.

Bell: The familiar blocky pepper tastes as good fresh as it does when baked or sautéed. Its crisp, thick flesh comes in a rainbow of colors. Many bells start out green and mature to red or orange. Others start out yellow, purple, or white before they turn colors. Bright orange 'Ariane' and red 'Socrates Hybrid' are very sweet. 'Golden Bell' keeps its yellow color. When stuffed, 'Miniature Yellow Bell' makes perfect hors d'oeuvres.

Pimiento: Juicy, heart-shaped fruits have very thick flesh that's especially sweet when ripe red. They're more aromatic than bell peppers. Grocery stores often sell pimientos preserved in oil, but the fruits are also good for eating fresh or cooked. Diminutive 'Apple' is a favorite.

Thin-walled: The long, narrow peppers with pointed or blocky ends have flesh that's usually thinner and less juicy than other types, but they're great for cooking. 'Carmen' and 'Corno di Toro' are super sweet; 'Sweet Banana' is very productive.

Info: Johnny's Selected Seeds (207/861-3900); Tomato Growers Supply Company (888/478-7333)

 

Peppers in 3 easy steps

Start plants indoors from seed in February, or buy seedlings at the nursery in March or April. Plant them outdoors after the soil has warmed and nighttime temperatures stay above 55°.

In cold climates, choose short-season varieties, plant through black plastic mulch, and cover with floating row covers.

STEP 1: Amend the soil with compost, then dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the rootball. Plant 18 to 24 inches apart.

STEP 2: Squeeze the nursery container on all sides, then pop the rootball out of the container (don't tug on the stem). If the roots are circling the soil, carefully loosen them.

STEP 3: Place the rootball in the hole at the same level it was set in the pot, then fill in around it with soil and firm down; water well.

 

What they need

Temperature: Peppers need a long, mild growing season to thrive.

In hot climates, plants won't set fruit when daytime temperatures stay above 100°, and bell types may be stunted.

In cool climates, peppers may not ripen fully.

Water: Keep the soil consistently moist. Fluctuations can cause blossom-end rot ― dark, leathery spots on the end of the fruit (sunscald looks similar, but spots are tan and papery).

Fertilizer: Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer at planting time and again when fruit begins to set. Harvest Gather fruits when they change to their mature color.