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Peppers

Bell peppers (also known as mango in some areas) are tender, warm-season vegetables which require somewhat higher temperatures than tomatoes.

Searcy, Ark. –  The exact origin of peppers Capsicum annuum is debatable, but the possibilities have narrowed to Central and South America.  Peppers were probably domesticated simultaneously and independently in several different South and Central America locations.  The plants were under cultivation by somewhere around 5200 B.C.  Calling them peppers goes back to Christopher Columbus.  He found the natives of the West Indies growing and using very hot forms of Capsicum.  Columbus assumed they must be some form of pepper because of their extremely pungent flavor.  The new spice, unlike most of the New World plant products, was an instant hit.  Peppers were apparently adopted by other cultures immediately, and their use quickly spread worldwide.  Capsicums were growing in Spanish monastery gardens by the end of the 15th century, and by the first half of the 16th century, they had spread to Italy, France and Germany.

The Capsicums show great diversifying shape, color and taste. Most of the commercial cultivars of Capsicum annuum include the sweet bell peppers, the red paprika peppers, the pimiento peppers, and a variety of hot peppers; among them the familiar jalapeno, the extremely hot bird pepper and the bright yellow-orange habanero pepper.  Some 20 wild species of pepper exist in South America which generally have tiny, red and very hot fruits.

In 1772, the botanically minded Dominican priest, Francisco Ximenez wrote of a Cuban pepper so inflammatory that a single pod could render a bull unable to eat.  One could speculate that this could have been a habanero pepper.  These effects are due to a family of odorless, but hot tasting, chemical compounds known as capsaicins.

 Cultural Practices

Bell peppers (also known as mango in some areas) are tender, warm-season vegetables which require somewhat higher temperatures than tomatoes.  Several other kinds of garden peppers (bell, pimiento, tabasco, cayenne, chili and paprika) may be grown as food or ornamentals in Arkansas.  Do not confuse these with black pepper, Piper nigrum, a shrub which yields the seed we use for a familiar table condiment.  They are not related.  The sweet varieties are by far the most popular.

 When to Plant

Peppers are best started from transplants after the soil has warmed in the spring.  The plants cannot tolerate frost, and they do not grow well in cold, wet soil.  When night temperatures are 50 degrees F or lower, the plants grow slowly, the leaves may turn yellow and flowers drop off.  Transplants should be planted in the field when they are small (4 to 5 inches high).  Larger plants tend to set fruit too early and result in smaller fruit throughout the season.  Plant peppers a week to 10 days after tomatoes are transplanted.

Set transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row.  A dozen plants, including one or two salad and hot types, produce enough peppers for most families.

 Care

Peppers thrive in well-drained, fertile soil that is well supplied with moisture.  Use a starter fertilizer when transplanting.  Apply supplemental fertilizer (side-dressing) cautiously, only after a good crop of peppers is set.  Gardeners do more harm than good by applying too much fertilizer.  Irrigate during dry periods.  A uniform moisture supply is essential throughout the harvest season.  Hot, dry winds and dry soil prevent fruit set.

People who use tobacco should wash their hands with soap and water before handling pepper plants to prevent the spread of tobacco mosaic virus disease.  Grow resistant varieties, if possible.  Watch for accumulation of aphids on the underside of the leaves.  When a large aphid population is present, honey-dew appears on the lower leaves and fruit.  If this occurs, apply a suggested insecticide.

 Harvesting

Fruits may be harvested at any size.  The bell varieties, however, are usually picked when they are full-grown and mature (3 to 4 inches ling, firm and green).  When the fruits are mature, they break easily from the plant.  Some gardeners prefer to cut off the fruits to prevent damage to the plant.  The fruit may be left on the plant to ripen fully to a red, yellow or purple color.  Hot peppers, except Jalapeno, are usually harvested at the red ripe stage.  Entire plants may be pulled in the fall before frost and hung in an outbuilding or basement to dry.

 The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.  For more information you can contact your local county extension service, you can also follow Sherri Sanders on Facebook @UAEX.WhiteCountyAgriculture .

By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
411 No Spruce Searcy AR 72143
(501) 268-5394
ssanders@uaex.edu

 

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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