Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking
Growing and Grilling Peppers (page 4 of 4)
by Renee Shepherd
Lay whole peppers on a hot grill, under a broiler, or on a stovetop grill, or hold over a gas flame. Grill or broil, turning frequently, until the skins are evenly blackened and charred but the flesh is still crisp. Place the peppers in a paper bag for about 5 minutes to cool and steam -- this helps to loosen the skins further. Then peel off charred skins. Remove stubborn bits by rubbing the skin with a paper towel. Slit and remove veins and seeds. (If you are doing this with chilie peppers, wear rubber gloves and don't touch your eyes.) Chop or slice the peppers to add flavor to a wide variety of savory dishes.
Growing Great Peppers
Peppers, a warm-weather crop, need a long growing season, but starting them indoors will give them ample time to bear fruit in most parts of the country. Six to eight weeks before your area's average last frost date, sow seeds according to packet directions in containers or peat pots filled with seed-starting mix. To germinate, all peppers need consistently warm temperatures, ideally 80° to 85° F. Keep pots moist but not soggy, and seeds will sprout in two to three weeks.
Once seedlings emerge, place them in bright light in 75° F temperatures. Fluorescent shop lights are a good way to provide light for seedlings; suspend lights 2 to 4 inches above the tops of plants and move them higher as seedlings grow. If you're using a sunny windowsill, regularly rotate plants and protect them at night when windowsill temperatures can plummet. Once seedlings get their first true leaves, feed regularly with half-strength liquid fertilizer. When plants are about 2 inches tall, thin or transplant 3 to 4 inches apart or into individual pots.
When danger of frost has passed, weather is consistently warm and settled, and night temperatures are above 55° F, set seedlings outdoors to get them used to garden conditions. Gradually harden them off over three to five days by putting them in a protected shady spot, first for half a day, then a full day, and then gradually into full sun.
For planting, pick a sunny spot with well-drained soil that has been amended with ample organic matter. Set out only the stockiest plants with healthy, well-developed root systems. To minimize stress, try to transplant seedlings on an overcast day or in the late afternoon. Space plants 18 inches apart; most peppers will grow at least several feet tall and need ample room. Stake or cage the plants, as many varieties have a branching habit and heavy fruit sets that will need support. For best crops, weed and water regularly and consistently.
Fertilize at least once a month with an all-purpose plant food or a combination of fish emulsion and liquid kelp. Plants will respond well to a thick layer of mulch applied when they are 5 to 6 inches tall.
For maximum fruit production, harvest regularly. Pick when fruits are large, glossy, and thick-walled, or wait for the mature-ripe stage, when the color changes from green to red, orange, or yellow, and flavor is sweet and well rounded. Ripe peppers are also the most nutritious and the best for eating raw and roasting. When harvesting, always cut rather than pull peppers from the plant so you don't break their brittle branches. Most plants will bear fruit until cool weather takes hold. Store peppers in the refrigerator in ventilated plastic bags, but for best flavor bring them to room temperature before using.
Renee Shepherd is the proprietor of Renee's Garden, a seed company, and the author of Recipes from a Kitchen Garden (Ten Speed Press, 1994; $12).
Photography by National Gardening Association