Sweet Peppers and Chilies are native to South and Central America, where they were used by the native inhabitants for thousands of years. They were brought back to Europe after Columbus’s voyage to Mexico in 1492. There are an extraordinary number of varieties in specialist catalogues available today, varying from mild sweet peppers, to the viciously hot. Most catalogues will have a grading system of the Chili heat to guide you in your choice. On your own head be it if you choose the really hot chilies!! Most of the Peppers available are derived from Capsicum Annuum, but some are derived from Capsicum frutescense. Some Peppers with very small fruits are grown as ornamental plants for the Christmas season.
Health Benefits. Contain lutein, zeaxanthin, niacin and lots of vitamin c.
Hot Peppers, or Chillies, are the fiery tasting varieties of peppers, and are grown in the same manner as the sweet varieties. The heat of a chili comes from the chemical, capsaicin. This is concentrated in the pale pith that surrounds the seeds and the seeds themselves. Thus you can reduce the heat of a pepper prior to cooking, by removing the seeds and the pith.
Warning!! When preparing and handling Peppers for cooking, make sure that you wash your hands before touching your face or especially your eyes. If you get capsaicin in your eyes you may have to seek medical help.
Peppers are often perennials but are usually grown as annuals in this country, to avoid the need to over-winter them in heat. When grown as annuals they need a very long growing season and for the North of England and Scotland, try and choose varieties that will fruit quickly.
If you grow them as a perennial, it is best to choose plants that still look healthy and are stocky at the end of their first season. They will survive indoors on a windowsill but growth will virtually stop, as there is a limited amount of light over winter. In February and March growth will restart with new flower buds forming. Move them back to the greenhouse in May if warm enough.
Seed should be sown in heat in February, in 75 mm pots filled with a good compost. As they grow very slowly at first, you only need to transplant them once into their final positions in a grow bag in a cold greenhouse in May. If the weather is very cold, I would delay putting them into the cold greenhouse until it gets warmer. Try three to six plants in a large grow bag. Keep the compost moist but not sodden, and feed with tomato fertilizer. Hand pollination seems to help the setting of the fruits. They will be ripe when they suddenly change colour. At the end of the growing season, any peppers that are still green, can be placed in a sunny window where they will ripen in a few days to yellow, orange, red black or purple, depending on the variety. Pick them with as much stalk as possible when drying them. This trick can also be used to fully ripen shop-bought green peppers.
Peppers will ripen outside in Southern England, especially if you plant a quick growing variety. Choose a sunny warm spot and do not plant outside until all danger of frost has passed. Even so, consider giving them further cloche protection into July, as cold nights are likely in June.
Warning. On no account plant out these sub-tropical plants before the last expected date for frost in your area. This could be mid May for the mildest areas such as Southern coastal areas, and early June in the North of the UK. Even then, provide cloche or fleece protection for the first few weeks as cold nights and winds will cause plant damage. Gardeners are regularly caught out by late frosts occurring during the traditional cold period known as “The Ice Saints”, usually just before mid May. Remember, one night of a late frost will kill your sub-tropical plants!!
Pests and diseases. Watch out for red spider mite, greenfly, and spray as necessary.
Suggested varieties of Sweet Peppers
King of the North. I was very impressed with the variety “King of the North”, which had many good sized, fleshy ripe fruits, ready by mid August in a cold greenhouse in Glasgow, whereas other standard varieties were not ready till the end of September.
Gypsy F1. A popular variety which does well in the North with up to 10 large peppers.
Suggested varieties of Chilli Peppers.
Jalapeno Summer Heat F1. Early ripening, medium pungency. Ideal for pizzas.
Scotch Bonnet should be hot enough to make you suffer!
Chilli Bhut Jolokia Fiery Furnace Seeds
The world’s hottest chilli! For lovers of hot chillies this one is unsurpassable for the moment! Measuring in at 1,000,000 units on the ‘Scoville scale!, it is a very, very, very hot pepper! Ideal for pot or greenhouse growing, it produces an abundance of 5-8 cm long, orange/red pods, which can be frozen but are better dried. See the Buy Seeds, Sets, Tubers page.
They are best used freshly cooked, with or without the pith and seeds. Your choice!
Storage of peppers and chillies. They can also be blanched and frozen, or added to pickles. It is also possible to dry them, especially the smaller ones. Place them on kitchen paper in a sunny windowsill, or on a low heat source, until they are crisp to the touch. Store them in a dry place.