Pepper (family Solanaceae; Capsicum spp.) is a warm-season crop requiring 3 to 4 months of frost-free growing days. Pepper is closely related to eggplant, tomato and potato, and shares diseases with some of these crops. Transplants are used to start the crop. Sweet bell peppers are the most popular type in New England and are usually harvested green. Sweet peppers become even sweeter as they mature, typically turning from green to red, orange or yellow. Other types of sweet and chili (hot or pungent) peppers are also grown. Hot peppers generally become more pungent as they mature or if grown under stress. Check variety descriptions carefully to obtain the proper pepper for your market.
Pepper Types and Varieties
|Sweet Bell - Green to Red||Hot - Ancho|
|Alliance - BLS1235, CMV, P, PVY||Sequoia|
|Archimedes - BLS123, P||Tiburon|
|Brigadier - BLS123, PVY||Ventura|
|Intruder - BLS123, P, TMV, TEV|
|King Arthur - BLS2, PVY, ToMV||Hot - Cherry|
|New Ace - TMV||Large Red Cherry|
|Northstar - TMV|
|Olympus - BLS123||Hot - Banana|
|Paladin - BLS123, P, TMV, TEV||Hot Spot X3R - BLS123|
|Patriot - BLS1235, PVY||Hungarian Yellow Wax|
|PS0994-1819 - BLS12345||Inferno|
|Red Knight - BLS123, PVY|
|Revolution - BLS1235, CMV, P||Hot - Jalapeno|
|Socrates X3R - BLS123, PVY||Conchos|
|Vivaldi - TMV||El Rey - BLS123|
|X3R Camelot - BLS123, TMV||Mitla|
|Sweet Bell - Green to Yellow||Hot - Miscellaneous|
|Early Sunsation - BLS123, PVY, TMV||Habanero|
|Gloria - TMV||Hot Portugal|
|Lafayette - BLS123, PVY||NuMex Joe E. Parker|
|Serrano del Sol|
|Sweet Italian/Cubanelle||Super Cayenne|
|Pageant - BLS123|
Resistant or tolerant to: BLS: Bacterial Leaf Spot (races indicated); CMV: Cucumber mosaic virus, P: Phytophthora crown rot, PVY: Potato virus Y, TEV: Tobacco etch virus, TMV: Tobacco mosaic virus, ToMV: Tomato mosaic virus.
Apply lime according to soil test results to maintain soil pH at 6.5 to 6.8.
Use a liquid starter fertilizer at transplanting, especially with cool soil conditions. Use a high phosphorus starter fertilizer mixed at a rate recommended on the label (typically 3 pounds per 50 gallons of water). Apply 8 fluid ounces (1 cup) per transplant.
Rather than sidedress, nitrogen can be applied through a trickle irrigation system. This is especially helpful when growing on plastic. See section on Fertigation for more information. Excess nitrogen has been shown to reduce yields. A pre-sidedress nitrate test (PSNT) can advise on the need for sidedress nitrogen.
|PLANT NUTRIENT RECOMMENDATION ACCORDING TO SOIL TEST RESULTS FOR PEPPER|
|PEPPER||NITROGEN (N)* LBS PER ACRE||PHOSPHORUS (P) LBS P2O5 PER ACRE||POTASSIUM (K) LBS K2O PER ACRE|
|SOIL TEST RESULTS||VERY LOW||LOW||OPTIMUM||ABOVE OPTIMUM||VERY LOW||LOW||OPTIMUM||ABOVE OPTIMUM|
|Sidedress 2-3 Weeks after Planting||50**||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sidedress after First Fruit Set||40**||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*SEE PLANT NUTRIENTS FOR INFORMATION ON NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT AND APPLICATION.|
Growers should produce their own transplants or contract with a reputable local supplier to minimize the potential of importing severe disease and insect problems that are common in other regions. Sow seeds in a sterilized or synthetic growing medium 6 to 8 weeks before field setting. Some media hold water too well, especially if compressed, and do not permit sufficient aeration for the root system. Add sufficient sterilized course material, such as coarse sand or perlite, to increase drainage. Avoid compressing or over-packing media when filling flats or trays. Peppers are a slow-growing crop and need protection from soil-borne diseases, especially damping-off organisms. Use seed treated with a suitable fungicide, disease-free media, and avoid over-watering. Avoid contamination from the greenhouse floor by lining it with plastic, growing plants on benches, and hanging watering devices when not in use. Do not permit moisture to remain on seedlings for more than 2 or 3 hours after watering. This may require adjusting watering rates on cloudy days.
One ounce of seed will produce 3,000 to 5,000 plants. About 8,000 to 14,500 plants are required per acre. Seeds may be sown thickly in flats and later transferred to 1" x1" 128-cell trays until transplanting, although some growers seed directly into 2" x 2" containers or 72-cell trays for somewhat earlier production. Peppers thrive under warm conditions. Seeds germinate best at 85°F to 90°F. Seedlings develop well at 75°F during the day and 65°F at night. Peppers are susceptible to transplant shock. Reduce temperature and water and increase air movement around the plants to condition them for transplanting. A precaution: overly-hardened plants are slow to recover and yields may be reduced. Plants should be set in the field after the danger of frost is over, and the soil temperature is at least 60°F. Peppers develop a shallow root system and may need watering 1 to 2 times per week, depending on the soil type. The use of plastic mulch, especially if combined with trickle irrigation, can significantly increase yields (see Trickle or Drip Irrigation). Avoid letting the stems of transplants touch the plastic while setting. Center the transplants in holes to avoid burning stems and damaging or killing seedlings as plastic heats up. For best results 4" to 8" tall plants should be transplanted on a cloudy, calm day, preferable in the late afternoon. Apply 1 cup of liquid starter fertilizer to each plant (refer to label).
Space transplants 12" to 18" apart within rows (67 to 100 plants per 100 feet of row) and 3 to 3.5' between rows. With double rows on plastic, set each row as far apart as the plastic permits. This spacing requires 8,300 to 14,500 plants per acre.
Some smaller pepper varieties or types produce spindly seedlings and plants that are not as sturdy as bells and can lodge much more readily. Transplanting the seedling so that the cotyledons are at the soil surface (the root ball will be approximately 2" deep) will significantly decrease lodging without adversely affecting yield.
To improve fruit set: 1) plant several varieties reported to set under unfavorable conditions, 2) keep growth progressing uniformly, 3) do not transplant into the field too early, and 4) carefully meter the water and fertilizer.
In some windy locations, peppers may require staking to minimize lodging and sunscald. In each row of plants, drive half a tomato stake (18 to 24" long), 6" into the soil between every four to ten plants. Tie polyethylene strings at 8" and 16" heights as plants grow. Run string from stake to stake; first down one side of the plants, looping and tightening it around each stake, and then back on the opposite side of the plants. Leave a 3' gap in the trellis system every 50 to 100' to facilitate harvesting. In windy locations, it may be helpful to erect temporary wind breaks such as snow fence. Some growers have found improved production with such wind breaks in place.
Research in the Northeast has shown that pruning peppers is not profitable.
Harvest and Storage
Bell peppers normally are harvested in the green (immature) stage after the fruits have reached full size and the walls are firm and have thickened. Harvest the crop twice a week to achieve maximum yields, or every 7 to 10 days for maximum size. Peppers are picked by a twisting, pulling motion with part of the stem adhering to the fruit. Teaching workers the proper harvest technique can help avoid plant breakage and lodging, and extensive losses due to sunscald.
Peppers can be brushed or washed before packing. If peppers are washed, wash water temperature should be as warm, or slightly warmer than that of the peppers. Cold wash water reduces the temperature of the pepper and that of the air inside the fruit cavity. This creates a partial vacuum which draws some of the wash water (and bacteria) into the fruit. This is an effective mechanism for infecting the fruit with bacteria, which can lead to subsequent breakdown.
Containers used are wire-bound crates, cardboard boxes and bushel baskets. Twenty-four pounds per container is an average weight. The wholesale market prefers large peppers (75 or less in a 1 1/9 bu. box).
Agclor 310 is a commercial bleach solution registered for use in wash water to control postharvest rots of vegetables.