Pepper Garden

Phil Peters
Adams County Master Gardener

Among the many demonstration beds at the Penn State Extension Office of Adams County, the pepper garden offers the visitor the chance to see six different varieties of pepper plants that can be grown by the home gardener. The peppers chosen demonstrate a wide range of size, color and flavor. All of the plants have been chosen for their suitability to provide edible fruit and at the same time to produce a colorful display. Consequently, they can be grown in the vegetable garden or used in an ornamental setting as colorful accents in the flower garden or to brighten up the floral border. All the plants can be grown in a container if so desired, though some will require a large pot. And, since peppers are perennials in their native areas, these plants can be brought indoors during the winter and put out again the following summer. All the varieties on display were raised from seed in the author’s basement.

Treasures Red is a colorful little plant that is ideal for the container garden. It grows 8" tall by 10" wide and produces large numbers of 2-inch conical fruit. The peppers come in white and as they mature they gradually turn through light green to bright red. The fruit stands up prominently above the dark green foliage.

Another delightful ornamental that is a perfect candidate for a container garden is Black Pearl. This unusual pepper has the distinction of being the ‘first-ever totally black pepper’ according to the purveyor, Park Seed. The plant grows about 14" to 18" high and about as big around. The leaves are a very deep purple turning to black. The fruits are round and turn from a beautiful black to deep red. A treat for the eyes but also for the palate, the fruits are fiery hot and can be used to spice up your cooking.

Jackpot is a hybrid pepper that produces yellow fruit up to 8 inches long weighing about 8-10 oz. Ripening in 75 days, these should be ready in mid to late August. This is a sweet pepper with a thick skin. It is crack resistant. These were a free gift from the Park Seed Company and thus are large for the container garden. Yet with a big pot …

Costa Rican Sweet is also a large pepper on a tall bush. It is advertised to have a fruity sweetness and is more flavorful than the bell pepper. The fruit is longer than round and has a broad shouldered appearance. Like Jackpot it can be roasted or grilled and is big enough for stuffing. It matures to a deep red in 70 days.

Holy molé is a new introduction from Central America. According to the distributor’s catalog it has a "nutty, tangy bite." At 700 scovilles (a habaZero = 250,000 to 500,000 scovilles, a measure of heat) this mild, nine-inch long chocolate brown pepper is ideal for Mexican dishes. Again the plants are large, two to three feet tall by 30 inches wide. The fruit starts as a dark green and turns chocolate brown in a couple of weeks.

An heirloom introduction from Ecuador by Burpee is Hot Lemon. This plant produces three to four inch tapering fruit that is a bright lemon yellow. It has "smoky, citrus-like, spice hot flavor." It matures in 70 days.

Treasures Red and Black Pearl are especially suited to growing in pots and can readily be wintered over. Take them indoors before the first frost and place in sunny, not too hot location. Water only enough to keep the roots from drying out. They can be moved back outside when all danger of frost is over – mid to late May in our area. The Black Pearl will hold onto its fruit for some time, allowing for an interesting decoration for Halloween or Thanksgiving

Every year more Americans are turning to peppers to brighten up their cuisine. All of the above varieties can be used in salads or in salsa. If you choose to roast the larger pepper to remove the skin, quickly sear the outside of the pepper over an open flame until the skin is black and blistered, or roast under the broiler for a few minutes. Then put the pepper in a paper bag for 5 minutes to allow it to sweat. When you remove the pepper from the bag, the skin will peel off readily and the flesh will still be firm enough to work with.

Remember, the heat of the pepper comes principally from the inner ribs and seeds. Removing these will cut down on the spiciness of the fruit. Wear plastic kitchen gloves when doing this or when handling any hot pepper. And be careful not to rub your skin or eyes. If you inadvertently do so, milk will help take away the burn.

If you want to learn more about peppers, I recommend you read The Edible Pepper Garden by Rosalind Creasy (Periplus Editions, Ltd., 2000) or The Great Chile Book by Mark Miller and John Harrisson (Ten Speed Press, 1991). In addition to excellent photos and readable descriptions of a wide variety of pepper, both sweet and spicy, they each offer a number of recipes that will be sure to please.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other articles by Phillip Peters