Growng Peppers: Suitable site, soil and sowing
Peppers are tropical in origin, and will be killed by frost. For this reason, they are most successfully grown in greenhouses, either in pots or in the border under staging. In very mild, sheltered areas, peppers can be started under glass and planted outside in early summer, against a south facing wall. New F1 varieties have been bred for hardiness, and growing peppers out of doors is certainly less risky than it used to be. A late frost, however, can still be disastrous. Cloche protection lessens the risk somewhat, but because strong growing pepper plants are taller than most cloches, the cloches will have to be raised to accommodate them.
You can combine the advantages of greenhouse and outdoor cultivation: start the plants in a greenhouse, and in early summer, plunge the pots up to the rims in sunny borders outdoors. They then have the benefit of the hot summer months. In autumn lift the pots and bring them into the greenhouse to finish ripening.
Outdoors, and in the greenhouse border, peppers thrive in rich, well workedcontaining plenty of manure. For growing in pots, standard potting composts, such as John Innes No 3, are suitable. Alternatively, use plastic growing bags filled with prepared , such as those used for tomatoes.
The timing of sowing depends on whether the plants are to be grown entirely in a greenhouse, or a combination of greenhouse and out of doors. Seeds for greenhouse peppers can be sown in late winter or early spring; for plants intended for cloche or outdoor fruiting without protection, the beginning of mid-spring is the best time. You can sow peppers out of doors, either directly in the ground or in peat pots after the last frosts, in mild sheltered areas. Peppers need a long growing season, though, so it is really best to start them off in a warm greenhouse or propagator, or even in a warm room.
Sow the seeds in trays, spaced 2.5 cm (1”) apart in all directions, and push them about 1.3 cm below the surface of the compost. John Innes No 1 is the most suitable medium. Peat pots can also be used, sowing two or three seeds in each pot. A soil temperature of 18°C (65°F) is ideal, but seeds will still germinate if it drops a few degrees below this for short periods of time. The first leaves should be showing two to three weeks after sowing, depending on temperature.
When thereach the three-leaf stage, prick them out into 7.5 cm (3”) pots. The temperature can be lowered now to 13°C (55°F) during the day dropping to 10°C (50°F) at night. Do not allow the plants to become root bound; as they grow re-pot them into larger pots and richer compost to encourage the development of good growth. If they are to fruit indoors, use 15 cm (6”) or 17.5 cm (7”) pots for the final potting ; if they are to be planted outdoors, 12.5 cm (5”) pots are large enough. In the early stages they are very slow to grow but, provided they remain a good colour, there is no need to worry.
Never move half-hardy pepper plants straight from a warm greenhouse or kitchen windowsill into the open garden. The plants should be hardened off gradually, until they are completely used to the lower outdoor temperature. Do this by putting them in a cold frame for a short period of time, or giving them cloche protection outdoors during the day, while they are still in their pots, and bringing them back to the greenhouse at night. After one or two weeks, the plants can be left out permanently.
It is safest to wait until the beginning of early summer before planting out permanently; do this about the same time as you plant our tomatoes under cloches. If the spring is exceptionally cold, delay planting out until the weather and soil warm up. Do not let the plants starve, though; if they have to remain in their pots longer because of cold weather, top dress with nitro-chalk and water it in.
Set out the young plants 37.5-60 cm (15-24”) apart, depending on variety. Always water the soil well before planting unless it is already moist.