Sunday, 5 May 2013

HOW TO GROW SWEET PEPPERS




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Sweet peppers Capsicum annuum (also known as bell peppers) are versatile plants that are happy to be grown either indoors on a windowsill, in a greenhouse or directly outside in your garden. There is a large range of pepper varieties available to buy which are suitable for growing both indoors and outdoors. 

They range from crispy sweet to fiery hot, from big and blocky to long and skinny.  The colours of the mature fruit range from bright red to orange to white, purple, and nearly black, making peppers distinctive planting in your flower beds and containers.

Propagating from Seed
Pepper plants do not like their roots disturbed so avoid this by sowing seeds direct into pots rather than seed trays.  You can do this in January to give the plants a head start before planting outside. Alternatively they can be sown in pots in your greenhouse up until the end of march.

Fill 9cm pots with either John Innes no.1 or no.2 potting compost. Sow three seeds in each pot and cover carefully with 2 cm of compost.  Water gently and place in a well lit place, ideally a south facing windowsill. Remember to keep the soil moist during germination and ensure that there is adequate ventilation to your seedlings. Germination will take place between 1-4 weeks.

When the seedlings are 5 cm tall thin them out to a single plant by cutting the tops off the other two seedlings. Water and return the plants to a greenhouse or sunny window sill. When plants start to become pot-bound transplant them into 30cm pots filled with multi-purpose compost.
Before planting outside wait until after the risk of frost has passed (usually May).  You will need to harden off your plants by gently acclimatising them to outdoor conditions.

Planting & maintenance
When the threat of frost is over your pepper plants can be placed either outside in a pot, planted directly into bed or placed in a greenhouse. If growing indoors in pots select a south facing bed or window sill.

Peppers like a warm, sheltered sunny spot, ideally with 12 hours of sunshine a day. Avoid growing peppers where tomatoes or aubergines grew previously as all three are members of the nightshade family and are subject to similar diseases. Select a sunny location and ensure plenty of organic matter or mushroom compost is incorporated into the soil to keep the roots moist. Plant your peppers at 60 cm spacings in rows 45 cm apart and water well.

In hot weather you may need to water twice a day as these plants are incredibly thirsty and dry compost will quickly lead to a check in growth. This applies particularly to plants grown in a greenhouse, where it can get very hot even in late summer. Water the plants well but do not allow them to become waterlogged.

Peppers take at least two months from the time the plants are set out to the time they produce fruit.  The first flowers will appear when the plants are quite small. When this happens feed weekly with a liquid feed high in potash, such as tomato fertiliser. It's a good idea to stake plants to provide additional support, as the crop can be heavy.

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