What fruit is often harvested and eaten before it is ripe? Why, peppers, of course. Green peppers are used in many recipes and eaten raw as well. Personally, I prefer mine ripe. But with peppers being a long-season crop, we always harvest a few before the red ones start appearing. From green to red and sweet to hot, peppers have some of the broadest flavor range found in any garden crop. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pepper I didn’t like, but a few of my pepper experiences resulted in so many tears I’m not sure if I actually tasted any flavor, only raw heat!

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Peppers are grown very similarly to tomatoes; their spacing, fertility, and moisture requirements are much the same. Peppers do grow a little more slowly than tomatoes; it usually requires six to eight weeks to grow a transplant instead of the four to six for tomatoes. Hot peppers typically grow more slowly and need an earlier start than sweet peppers. Peppers are usually self-supporting and don’t require staking or trellising. Peppers can be trellised and trimmed down to a single stem for maximizing greenhouse space. This is more complex than the same system for indeterminate tomatoes. This system is definitely not for beginners, but I want to make sure that greenhouse enthusiasts know the possibility exists.


When growing peppers in northern regions, you will need to start your plants in a greenhouse before the last frost date (or purchase them). In my experience, pepper production often peaks just before the first freeze in the fall, so getting an early start is important. In spite of the desire for earlier production, it’s normally a good idea to pinch off the first three to four blossoms as soon as they appear. If you allow the plants to keep more energy in early growth instead of production, the overall harvest will potentially be much larger.


Probably the most common problem pepper growers face is blossom end rot. This is a calcium availability problem often caused or made worse by uneven watering. Avoid allowing peppers to dry out when they are setting large amounts of fruit. Later in the season when the main focus is ripening existing fruit, moisture is not as important. The fruit could be a little sweeter off of drought-stressed plants. High levels of potassium also worsen calcium deficiency. Avoid fertilizing peppers with high-potassium products early in the season. A good amount is needed later, but too much early will increase blossom end rot. I have not experienced a lot of other problems with peppers. I know they are quite susceptible to some soil-borne diseases, but I seldom see those.


In the same family as tomatoes and peppers, eggplants need much the same growing conditions. Also slow-growing, eggplant should be started at the same time as sweet peppers, about two weeks later than hot peppers. I am seeing more production of small-fruited eggplant among commercial growers. If you enjoy eggplant, try some of the miniature varieties. They are said to be sweeter and more tender than the large varieties. You can also get many different color variances in the mini fruits. As with tomatoes and peppers, color variance usually doesn’t result in remarkably different flavor, but does add interest.