Looking to garden but don’t have a green thumb? You might want to try your luck growing some nightshades-- specifically peppers. They are as resilient as they are beautiful and and easy to grow as long as they have enough sunlight. Hot peppers, such as Jalapenos, shishito, poblanos, and padrons, while typically eaten in small quantities, have great health benefits. They are all high in Vitamin C and being a part of the nightshade family, they also contain high amounts of potassium.
While hot peppers are good projects for beginning gardeners, there are a few things you should know. These plants need a lot of support in the growing season, so give them stakes, posts, or cages to support their height and weight (and some words of encouragement won’t hurt). They also go through a lot of calcium when they are flowering and producing peppers, so add some bone meal to the soil (or if you want to avoid using animal products, you can try lime powder and wood ash).
They don’t like extreme temperatures (over 100 degrees or any severity of frost), but give them enough water and sunlight, and you’ll have more peppers than you know what to do with.
Let’s get into some of our favorite varieties of hot peppers to help you choose which ones will go best in your garden and with your palate! In terms of spice, we will rate each one on the Scoville Heat Scale. For scale reference, a habeñero pepper is about 200,000 Scoville Heat Units, and cayenne pepper is about 30,000 SHU.
Harvest: 65-73 days
Growing Speed: quick
Spice level: medium (2,500- 8,000 SHU)
Pro tip: Jalapeños ripen from green to black to red. They are best picked in their “green” stage, when they are firm to the touch, 4-6 inches in length and have a waxy sheen. If you harvest your peppers prematurely, place harvested peppers in the sun for a few days and they will continue to ripen.
Harvest: 60 days for green peppers, 80 months for red peppers (typically eaten when green)
Growing Speed: quick
Spice level/flavor: mild spice, more fruity and sweet in flavor (200 SHU)
Fun Fact: About 1 in every 10-20 shishito peppers are spicy, like jalapeños!
Harvest: 70-80 days
Growing Speed: medium
Spice level: medium (1,000-2,000 SHU)
Pro tip: When poblanos are dried, they’re known as ancho chilis. They’re usually harvested when they are green, but if you want to dry them, wait until they turn red on the vine before cutting them off to dry.
Harvest: 60 days
Growing Speed: quick
Spice level: medium to mild (500-2,500 SHU). Their flavor is often described as “grassy.”
Pro tip: The spice level of these peppers can vary dramatically (much like the Shishito). For spicier peppers, try watering the entire plant, not just the soil!
Sweet Bell Peppers
Maybe spicy isn’t your thing. This pepper post wouldn’t be complete without one of the most versatile peppers: the sweet bell.
Like their spicy cousins, bells are ripe when they are deep in color, turgid to the touch, and have a waxy sheen. Since these peppers can be consumed in much higher quantities than spicy peppers, they are a great source of Vitamin C, which is crucial for the function of your immune system. And according to the University of the District of Columbia’s Center for Nutrition, Diet and Health, bell peppers have high amounts of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant.
Yellow, Orange, Red, and… Striped?
Walking into a farmer’s market or grocery store, you may find an array of peppers-- red, orange, yellow, and green. So, which ones have the most nutrients and sweetest flavor?
Well, what you may not know is that these are all the same type of bell pepper-- as in they all come from the same plant-- they’re just at different stages of ripeness.
- Green: Green peppers are simply underripe. They will have a slightly more bitter taste to them, as they haven’t had a chance to fully mature. However, they are the cheapest to buy, as they are easy and quick to grow. Pepper plants will produce higher quantities if their peppers are being harvested at this “green” stage. This is because the seeds in green peppers aren’t yet mature enough to reproduce, so as an evolutionary trait, they will continue producing peppers at a high volume, until they begin maturing fully.
- Yellow/Orange: These pepper are just slightly more mature green peppers. They will taste a little bit sweeter, but still mild.
- Red: Red peppers have ripened fully and are ready to be harvested. Since they’ve had more time to grow, they are the sweetest and have much higher quantities of vitamin C. Red peppers have nine times the amount of beta-carotene as green peppers.
While these are the most typical types of bell peppers, it is possible to buy different varieties that will ripen in a different order (from green to red in adolescence, and finally to yellow or orange at their ripest). You can also find them in more unique colors, like lavender, dark purple, striped, and ivory. While they will all vary in color and nutritional value depending on when they are harvested, they will consistently be relatively sweet, and helpful in boosting your immune system.