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January 2008
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Bell peppers

Bell pepper is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum. Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow, green and orange. Bell peppers contain a recessive gene that prevents capsaicin from being produced, so they lack the spiciness that many other varieties of peppers have. Bell peppers are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as sweet peppers. The term “bell pepper” or “pepper” or “capsicum” is often used for any of the large bell shaped capsicum fruits, regardless of their color.
The color can be green, red, yellow, orange and, more rarely, white, purple, blue, and brown, depending on when they are harvested and the specific cultivar. Green peppers are unripe bell peppers, while the others are all ripe, with the color variation based on cultivar selection. Because they are unripe, green peppers are less sweet and slightly more bitter than yellow, orange,purple or red peppers. When young most bell peppers are a rich, bright green, but there are also yellow, orange, purple, red and brown bell peppers. Red bell peppers are green bell peppers that have ripened longer and are very sweet.
Sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. They usually range in size from 2 to 5 inches in diameter, and 2 to 6 inches in length. Inside the thick flesh is an inner cavity with edible bitter seeds and a white spongy core. Bell peppers are not ‘hot’. They contain a recessive gene that eliminates capsaisin, the compound responsible for the ‘hotness’ found in other peppers.
Pepper is a tender, warm-season vegetable. Pepper plants require somewhat higher temperatures, and grow more slowly. Peppers are best started from seeds indoors in late winter and then transplanted into the garden after the soil and air have warmed in the spring. The plants cannot tolerate frost and do not grow well in cold, wet soil. When night temperatures are below 50° to 55°F, the plants grow slowly, the leaves may turn yellow and the flowers drop off. Raised beds, black plastic mulch and floating row covers may be used to advantage with peppers to warm and drain the soil and enhance the microenvironment of the young pepper plants in spring, when cool weather may persist.
Bell peppers need warm soil and air temperatures throughout the growing season and are very sensitive to frost. Many northern gardeners use plastic mulches, row covers, hoop houses, anything that will help grow this wonderful vegetable more quickly in cooler climes. Bell peppers need high amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Bell peppers like well drained soil in full sun. Bell peppers do well in raised beds filled with good topsoil, compost, and rotted manure mixed in. A pH near neutral (7.0) is ideal.
For soil preparation, work the soil 8-10 inches deep several weeks before planting. Rake it several times to break up the large clods. Add large amounts of organic (natural) matter especially if your soil is heavy clay. Work it into the soil. You can use compost, peat moss, rotted hay or other organic matter. Work the soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to garden tools.
Make the transplant holes 3-4 inches deep and about 1 1/2 feet apart in the row. Space the rows at least 3 feet apart. Before planting, fill the holes with water and let it soak in. Move the plants carefully from the box or flat and set them in the transplant holes. Leave as much soil as possible around the roots. Fill the hole with soil and pack it loosely around the plant. Do not cover the roots deeper than the original soil ball. leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to hold water. Water the plants after planting. Water the plants enough to keep them from wilting. Slow, deep watering helps grow a strong root system. Do not let pepper plants wilt as this well reduce yield and quality of the fruit. After the first fruit begins to emerge, place about 2 tablespoons of fertilizer around each plant about 6 inches from the stem. Water after adding the fertilizer. This will increase yield and quality of the peppers.
If peppers are picked as they mature, yields will be greater. The first peppers should be ready 8-10 weeks after transplanting. Pick bell peppers when they get shiny, dark green and firm. When left on the plant, most peppers will turn red and are still good to eat. Harvest most hot peppers when they turn red or yellow, depending on the variety. Jalapenos are mature when the reach good size and become a deep, dark green.

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