Dainty or daunting, mild or fiery – the never-dull pepper has many guises with somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 different varieties grown worldwide. That’s enough to keep you happily exploring for a lifetime – or two!
Sweet or bell peppers and chilies are all members of the same eccentric and often head-turning family: the Capsicums. Like the infamous celebs, peppers are always vying for attention, with a lively community of gardeners devoted to these beautiful fruits. For many gardeners there’s an added element of friendly competition to grow the hottest; Keeping Up With the Capsicums you could say!
Bell pepper: The standard sweet peppers, available in green, yellow, orange, red, and other colors. The green peppers are essentially under-ripe fruits, which will turn yellow or red as they mature. Sliced into salads, stir-fried, roasted in chunks or scattered over pizza, there isn’t much you can’t do with a bell pepper!
Anaheim: Popular across the American Southwest and named after the Californian city where they were first grown commercially. This is a very mild chili pepper that’s just the job for stuffing. They have a lovely fruity flavor and are mild enough to eat raw without an unpleasant burn, though the sunnier your climate, the warmer the fruits become.
Aji Dulce: Looks like a spicy Habanero chili pepper, but the Aji Dulces have barely a fraction of the heat. The fruits taste mild yet complex, with hints of black pepper and cilantro and a very gentle spice. They’re delicious in rice and bean dishes or stir-fried.
Cayenne: Long, thin and packing a spicy hit, these bright-red chili peppers can be used fresh, dried or powdered to create instant heat in the form of cayenne pepper. Alongside its mouth-tingling credentials, it’s also a very good-looking plant.
Jalapeno: Enjoy the fruits green or fully matured to red then stuffed with cream cheese for a spicy-yet-smooth treat; perfect snacking with a cool beer. You can turn down the heat by removing the seeds and surrounding white membrane before stuffing.
Dwarf chili peppers: Not strictly a type of pepper, but rather a description of their growing habit. There are many dwarf chilies and they tend to produce their fruits with impressive profusion. Look out for the aptly-named ‘Medusa’.
Ghost chili: Some of the very hottest chilies, up to 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. Grow it if you like gardening on the dangerous side! Use it sparingly to warm up curries – sparingly being the operative word. In parts of India Ghost chilies are smeared on fences to deter wild elephants.
Shishito: Thin walls and a lovely sweetness, occasionally punctuated by gentle heat make this prolific pepper the chili of choice in Japan. It’s great flash fried then served up with a splash of soy sauce and perhaps a dash of sesame oil. Look out for the variety ‘Sweet Wrinkled Old Man’.
Some Pepper Growing Tips
Growing peppers is immensely satisfying. Follow a few golden rules and you’ll greatly improve your chances of a successful harvest.
All peppers like to bask in the warmth. The absolutely ideal temperature is around 26°C, so the closer you can get to this the better. In cooler climates plant performance is vastly improved by growing peppers inside a greenhouse, poly-tunnel or cold frame. Outside, be sure to pick a spot that receives at least six hours of direct sunshine a day – they’ll respond with lots of growth and, from midsummer, plenty of flowers and fruits.
Peppers, particularly hotter varieties of chili peppers, need a long growing season. You can speed things along at the start of the season by soaking the seeds for around 10 minutes before sowing. This softens the seed case up and helps germination along. Always use fresh, high quality potting mix and remember to feed your plants once they begin to flower.
Whatever type of pepper you decide to grow this season, we’d love to know what variety you’re trying out and how you get on. Oh – and share your recipes for peppers too, especially the spicy ones! You can let us know by dropping a comment below.