Pepper and its origins
A native of the Americas, the pepper was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century, imported in large shipments by the Spanish conquistadors that first colonised the area. It was documented around 1530 by the historian, Bernardino de Sahagun, who reported that the Aztecs had dozens of varieties of this plant cultivated when the Spanish landed in Mexico.
Many varieties were initially imported from the New World which has led to its occurrence as a common household vegetable in today’s kitchen.
How to Plant Peppers
Peppers thrive in warm, temperate climates where the optimum temperature for growth is 20-23oC. They are easily blighted by frost and cold temperatures will impair growth.
Seeding should take place indoors or in a protected, warm environment. Sowing seeds directly into soil outdoors is not advised. Scatter seeds in pots or seed trays, ensuring that they are in a warm environment that remains above 20oC. If necessary, use a propagator to maintain this temperature.
The sowing of pepper seeds should take place between February and April, about 8 weeks before the last frosts. Place 2-3g of seed per m² at a depth of 2-3mm. When the seedlings have four or more leaves, move the seedlings to individual pots filled with peat, leaving them for at least 2 months.
Pepper seedlings are available in nurseries; these should be transplanted during April and May when temperatures have risen above 15oC. Place each seedling in a row with a spacing of 30-50 cm between each one, and then space the rows 50-70cm apart.
Soil should be a medium texture, well-drained with a slightly acidic PH and receive good exposure to the sun.
Fertilising is an essential part of pepper plant care. Pre-planting, the soil must be prepared well in advance, fertilising with xxxxxxx (xx g/m²). Then during cultivation, there are at least three more fertiliser applications. Fertilise first when flowers appear, repeating when the fruits arrive and finally, at the harvesting stage. Alternatively, when foliage appears, use xx-xxg / m² of xxxxxx xxxxxx, immediate-release fertiliser.
Place the roots well below the surface with the first leaves sitting just above the soil bed. Plant seedlings immediately, otherwise, the roots can get tangled. Water peppers frequently but avoid over watering.
When to harvest a pepper
The pepper is a perennial but is more often grown as an annual because of its aversion to cold weather and frost. In full bloom it can reach between 30cm and 1m in height.
The initial fruit is green in colour and then moves through various shades of yellow, orange and red as it grows. There are a wide variety of shapes, depending on the species.
Peppers should be harvested when they reach the desired colour and size. Start harvesting in July, the earlier the pepper is harvested, the more chance of the plant bearing multiple fruits. However, the longer the pepper remains growing, the sweeter and more flavoursome it becomes.
The Chilli Pepper
First used in Mexico and Peru over 7,500 years ago, it arrived in Europe with Christopher Columbus on his return from the New World in 1493. It was cultivated immediately with success and acclimatised quickly and easily.
It quickly spread to Asia and Africa, where it influenced cooking. It is cultivated in a similar way to a regular pepper but needs constant watering. When ready to harvest, the spiciness is determined by how much water it receives in the 2-3 days before harvesting. Reduce watering dramatically during this period for maximum heat!
Peppers have a high vitamin B and C content and are low in calories, perfect for salads and those on weight-loss programmes. Chilli peppers stimulate gastric secretion and digestion but should be avoided if suffering an ulcer or for children.
The pepper features widely in cooking from cultures all across the globe. It can be eaten raw, used in salads and sauces, and is often grilled or stuffed.
Diseases and pests affecting pepper growth:
Aphids, White fly, Beetle, Corn borer, Black cutworm, Leaf terricolous, Leaf miner, Click-beetles, Mole crickets, Thrips, Mites, Powdery mildew, Grey mould, Rizoctonia, Sclerotinia, Pythium, Bacteria-related diseases