The sweet pepper encompasses any pepper that proudly earns a zero rating on the Scoville heat scale, making them a poor choice for a scorchin’ hot sauce but a great option for countless other dishes! Its lack of capsaicin, which creates heat in other varieties of peppers, is due to a recessive gene that halts heat production and makes them more palatable for sensitive (i.e., gringo) tongues. Mostly grown as a warm season annual crop, they’re actually a short-lived perennial if grown in a tropical climate. Plants will reach 18–30″ tall with deep green leaves and fruits that vary in color but are most commonly found in grocery stores in shades of green, yellow, and red.
The California Wonder sweet bell pepper is an heirloom variety introduced in 1928. Its fruit can be harvested while green or left to ripen to bright crimson red. Mature peppers will be 3–4″ long with thick walls and 3 or 4 lobes, weighing an average of 6 ounces. This variety is easy to grow because of its convenient resistance to the tobacco mosaic virus: a plus for the beginner gardener.
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 10–16″
Space Between Rows: 18–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 75–85°F
Days for Germination: 14–21
Sow Indoors: 8–10 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: Not recommended as seeds started directly outdoors will have to be planted once the season is well underway, and fruit will develop when the risk of frost is not far off. If plants are started indoors and transplanted outside when temperatures are favorable, you will experience a much longer season with higher yields.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by taking stem cuttings. Root cuttings in a glass of water.
Grows best in warm weather since it’s native to tropical and subtropical climates. Ideal temperatures are at least 70°F in the days and not below 60°F at night. However, in very hot climates, cooler nights starting in late summer will stimulate fruit production.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Grows well under HID lamps, including metal halide and high pressure sodium. Needs at least 10–12 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred.
Soil: Prefers well-drained sandy to loamy soils with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of between 6.2 and 7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Germinate seeds indoors using a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including media-based ebb and flow systems.
Aeroponics: Root cuttings in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate watering to keep plants healthy. Aim for approximately 1″ per week, but increase this to up to 2″ if experiencing extremely hot weather.
Nutrients: A relatively light feeder, peppers don’t require much fertilizer but can benefit from the use of a balanced nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous mix approximately 6 weeks after initial planting or when blossoming begins.
Foliar: If experiencing stunted growth, try spraying your plants with an Epsom salt and water mix. Repeat about two weeks later.
PRUNING: When plants are young and the main Y-shaped branches have established themselves at the top of the plant, pull off any smaller suckers towards the bottom of the main stalk. Once the peppers begin to form, pinch off a couple of flower buds and small, unestablished peppers to allow your plant to keep nutrients flowing to the larger peppers.
Deficiency(s): Blossom end rot on your fruits is normally an indication of a calcium deficiency.
Rotation: A 3- to 4-year rotation away from all plants in the Solanaceae family is recommended to keep soil healthy and pest free.
Companions: Grows well with tomatoes, onions, parsley, and carrots. Avoid planting with members of the brassica family, lima beans, and fennel.
Harvest: Peppers may be picked whenever they reach a size you desire; however, the longer bells stay on the vine, the sweeter they become, so keep this in mind before picking. To harvest, use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the fruit from its vine, leaving approximately 1/4″ of stem. Pulling the peppers off can damage the fruit.
Storage: Will keep for 2 to 3 days but will stay fresh for up to two weeks if refrigerated.
Fun Fact: These sweet veggies were mis-named “peppers” by Chris Columbus because he hoped peppercorns could be derived from the plant. Although this ended up being completely wrong, they became a popular vegetable in Europe and can be found in all types of cuisine today.
Preserve: May be frozen by cutting out the stems and removing the seeds and stringy white membrane. Slice peppers into strips and freeze on a cookie sheet. Place pieces into freezer bags and store until ready to use. Bell peppers may also be pickled.
Prepare: Tasty eaten raw, peppers may also be grilled, roasted, sautéed, or steamed. Cut peppers in half and remove the stem and seeds before cooking, or simply cut out the lid and stuff with your favorite fillings.
Nutritional: Low in calories and high in fiber, antioxidants and vitamin(s) C, A, and B-6, bell peppers are a healthy addition to any diet. They also contain trace amounts of thiamin, magnesium, phosphorous, and folate. The more ripe and colorful the pepper is, the more vitamins it contains.
Medicinal: The fiber and antioxidants found in bell peppers may help improve general digestive health and have even been cited as possessing the potential to reduce the risk of gastric cancer.
For a light summer meal, try this Cucumber, Bell Pepper and Quinoa dish.