Growing bell peppers in your backyard.
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When talking about bell peppers, gardeners and kitchen specialists immediately think of the red, orange, green or yellow sweet peppers. The dutch block peppers do lose a small amount of selling space due to the upcoming snack peppers.
If you have a greenhouse, you can start growing bell peppers for yourself, the big ones, and the small ones.
What are bell peppers?
Bell peppers are part of the capsicum annum family, as some of the hot peppers are. Bell Peppers are part of the Solanaceae, as are the tomato and potatoes. The fruits of bell peppers are nothing more than hollow berries with seeds inside. The center, where the seeds attach is being thrown away by many people. The compost it, or worse, they just drop it in the dirt container.
I personally think it’s a pity people throw away the seeds of the bell peppers as it is possible to grow nice, big sweet bell peppers out of these seeds. And one center of a bell pepper contains a lot of seeds to keep on growing bell peppers from.
Where to start growing bell peppers?
Bell pepper plants love the heat. Sprouting the seeds takes a minimum of 20°C (68°F), at this temperature the sprouting of the seeds will take far less time than if you have a lower temperature to germinate the seeds.
Next, to germination, there’s also a minimum temperature of 18°C (64,4°F) to grow the plants to a decent size. If temps drop below this minimum, the plant can go into a growth shock. It’ll start growing again when temps go up. This can result in small plants and unripe harvest.
Bell peppers are best grown in greenhouses in our zone 8B. Especially, the fungal diseases might eradicate the plants when times are cold and wet. We do have a lot of rain around here during spring, summer time and autumn, and bell peppers don’t really like that.
How to take care of my bell peppers?
Bell peppers have a pruning system for practical reasons. The plant will branch out quite easily and carry many fruits but this will result in smaller fruits and a lot of unripe fruits to harvest in the fall.
Thinning the plant
It’s better to remove all the side branches up to 30cm (1 foot) hight of the plant. You can remove these branches when the plant starts to branch out at this hight. All the branches and twigs can be removed below the first fork at 1 foot high. I personally keep two branches and pinch out or cut off the other branches. The shoots who have to be removed can be cut back to the first two leaves instead of removing the whole side shoot, if you want to, this will give the plant more green for photosynthesis. If there are any flowers on these side shoots, it’s best to remove them and give the plant the energy needed to grow the main stems and start to fruit on these main stems. Don’t be afraid to thin out the plants as growing bell peppers are really resilient when pruning. They will grow back with a vengeance.
If the plant gets too much water, the leaves will turn yellow. But be careful, when there’s a shortage of nitrogen in the soil, you’ll get the same symptoms. Always check the problem thoroughly before reacting.
When watering the plant, try not to spray on the leafs as this can cause fungal infections.
The only form of foliage spray I use is a spray with magnesium-sulfate I use every two weeks, to help the flowering and growth of the fruits. If you’re sure there’s enough magnesium-sulfate in the soil, you don’t need this kind of spray.
Bell peppers do need a lot of nutrients in the soil. Use aged compost to help the plant grow. Don’t use fresh compost as this can burn the roots of the plant. A good mixture with enough nitrogen, phosphorous and potash will help the plant grow big, lush and have lots of fruits to harvest.(although the plant will only hold three fruits at a time) Just make sure the plant gets more than nitrogen alone as a shortage of potash and phosphorus will make the plant grow lots of green but almost no fruits.
size or quantity when growing bell peppers
I only try to keep 2 to 3 fruits on the plant at a time. This system is used by many growers. It’s possible to have more flowers and fruits at a time but this will stress the plant enormously. If the plant is stressed, there’s a big chance it’ll develop diseases and it’ll stop growing. If the plant stops growing, you’ll have to harvest the unripe fruits to get it going again.
Transplanting your bell peppers
I personally only transplant the bell pepper plants once. I sow two seeds in a paper pot and transplant them with the paper pot into their final pot at about 4 weeks. The paper pot will disintegrate while the roots grow through it.
The distance I use between plants (I always grow in pots so I can move the plants if necessary) is about 40cm (16 inches). Place the pots in rows with a distance between the rows that you can easily tend the plants.
Harvesting bell peppers
Harvesting bell peppers isn’t difficult. You only have to be careful when removing the fruits of the plant as the plant will keep producing for a couple of months. If you try to pull of the peppers from the plant, it’s possible that you will harm the plant which will eliminate further harvesting.
Using a pruning shear is the best way for me to harvest the peppers without harming the plant too much.
diseases and pests
Mildew or Leveillula taurica, a fungal disease which will destroy the plant, leaf by leaf. Bordeaux mixture
can fight this disease but once a plant is infected too much, it’s better to pull the plant and burn it as the plant will be lost anyhow. Mildew needs a temperature of 20°C (68°F) to develop so it’s a warm-weather fungus.
Botrytis or gray rot, botryotinia fuckeliana, is a dangerous fungus that infects the plants on small lacerations. For instance, when cutting off the fruits, side stems or leafs, it’s necessary to use good shears. The cutting point will be vulnerable to fungal disease.
Diseased branches will have brown spots which will develop a gray fluffy mold. Try to remove the diseased parts of the plant as gentle as possible (to avoid spores to drop on other parts of the plant) but as soon as possible.
Shrink cracks are common when the plant grows too many fruits at once. This makes the fruits grow slower and makes them vulnerable to temperature changes.
A lot of humidity in the greenhouse can also cause this problem as the fruits cannot release pressurized moist coming from the plant, so the skin cracks open.
The other side, swell cracks will happen when the fruits grow too fast due to too much water. Ease up with the water and the problem will be solved.
The tomato leafminer
The tomato leafminer or Tuta absoluta will attack the leafs of the plant. Spinosad
is a product that can be used to get rid of these critters.
Earworms, Forficula auricularia to name the most common one in our region, has the tendency to make small holes in the fruit as this is a perfect breeding ground for this animal. The animal likes the humidity in the hollow center of the plant. It’s possible to treat the plant with spinosad
but earworms can be interesting to fight off an aphid attack. I personally let the earworms be as long as they don’t destroy the whole harvest.
Aphids can be a real pest to many plants, not only while growing bell peppers. They are also difficult to get rid off if you get them in your greenhouse.
If you have a big greenhouse, you could easily bring in ladybugs to stop the growing population of aphids taking over your greenhouse.
A good insecticidal soap that you can make yourself is a good solution if you can spread the use over several weeks. Not all the eggs die off when you use it so it’s better to use it weekly for about three weeks in a row.
Burned spots in the fruits or leafs. This can cause diseases to attack the plant although it’s not a disease.
When there’s too much sun shining on the plant and the fruits and leaves are literally getting burned, you’ll get burn spots. The fruits will start to rot. Avoid heavy sunshine on the plants on a sunny day by covering the plants or the greenhouse. When planted outside in zone 8 and below, there won’t be any sunburn on the plants.
The list of diseases and pests isn’t complete but these are the most common ones around. If I come into personal contact with some kind of disease or pest I will amend this post and hopefully get some pictures. If you are growing bell peppers and you have a problem, make some pictures and contact me, we can see how we can solve the problem.
So this is it for this blog post, I hope you find it interesting. If so, please share with friends and other gardeners.
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Thanks for reading and see you in the next post