A Garden Blog by Kevin Milaeger

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Kevin 2015 

The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!

June 16, 2016     
(See below for archives)

After tomatoes, bell peppers are the most popular vegetable here at Milaeger’s. We usually offer about five kinds, including the “elongated” bells such as ‘Big Bertha.’ There are many other varieties out there, so this year we decided to try some of those and compare them to our current offerings. It won’t be a “scientific” study. I won’t be out there counting and weighing everything I pick, but I will be checking on them daily, forming an overall impression. I don’t plan to spend too much time on taste, because it is so subjective. Also, some folks prefer to eat them when green, while other like to wait until they are fully ripe and have turned red. Plus, peppers can be eaten so many different ways---raw, roasted, fried, stuffed, you name it---we all have our preferences. Our main goal in this little project is to find out if there are any better varieties out there that we can offer our customers. We want to make sure we are offering our customers the best varieties possible. It is tempting for growers to want to grow old varieties, because the seed is much less expensive. (This goes for flowers, too.) One old bell pepper variety is ‘California Wonder.’ It’s been the standard for years. The seed of ‘Big Bertha’ (a newer type, mentioned above) costs approximately twenty times that of ‘California Wonder.’ The question then is: How much better is ‘Big Bertha?’ If it produces only one more pepper, for example, it wouldn’t be worth the extra expense. That’s what we are aiming to find out. While there are many bell pepper varieties out there to consider, we narrowed it down to six. That’s because we wanted to focus on those that have the reputation of being well suited to northern gardens. Along with the five peppers we are already growing we planted six “challengers:” ‘Napoleon Sweet,’ ‘New Ace,’ ‘King of the North,’ ’Wisconsin Lakes,’ ’Bell Boy,’ and ‘Sweet Goliath.’ Maybe some of you have already tried some of these and have some comments to pass along to me.

Peppers, both sweet and hot, can be challenging to grow. I think most of the problems can be traced to planting too early. More so than tomatoes, peppers are cold sensitive. They pout if planted too early. Also, if they are in bloom during an early cold snap, the flowers often abort. It can take weeks for another batch of flowers to appear, so your first crop is delayed considerably. Better to wait until June to plant, or have a very effective method to protect them from the cold. Fortunately, this year we have had a pretty warm start. If that trend continues, we should all harvest plenty of peppers. Speaking of flowers, some folks have mentioned that they have had many flowers but no resulting fruit. If cold weather isn’t the culprit, it is possibly a magnesium deficiency. Mix two teaspoons of Epsom salts in a quart of warm water and sprinkle it over your plants; repeat two weeks later. Another tip for growing peppers is to harvest the first crop early, before it has turned its final color (usually red.)

Some folks remove the fruit just after it is formed, while others wait until they are a little larger. This is to ensure your second crop. If the first crop is allowed to reach full maturity, the plant “thinks” is has completed its goal of reproducing (producing seeds.) It is then less likely to produce a full second crop. If the first crop is picked when still green, that signals to the plant that reproduction has been interrupted and it then works toward producing more flowers. Of course, a fully mature pepper, one that has changed color, is much more nutritious (and sweeter) than when immature. Eating an entire green pepper will give you about 200 times more vitamin C than your daily requirement, and a fully ripe red bell pepper will give you more than 300 times your requirement. I can’t recall ever seeing anyone eat an entire pepper, but I do it regularly, especially when I am out in the garden. I like them best after they have turned color, but there is something about the tangy bite of a green bell pepper that is appealing to me, too.

I like to give my bell pepper plants some support. It’s not so important when they are young, but later they get top-heavy, especially when laden with large fruit. Wind can easily snap the stem. I don’t usually support small fruited peppers, but the large ones definitely benefit. Since I plant my peppers fairly close together, it’s difficult to cage them all. I put a cage on every other one, and figure that the uncaged ones get some support from the neighboring cages. That has worked for me. If you use a stake, fasten it loosely---give the plant some room to flex; if it is too stiff it’s likely to snap off. When picking peppers, I always use a clipper. If you yank on a pepper, you can easily split the stem. If your peppers are in the ground, a deep watering once a week is enough. Container grown plants water as needed. Peppers need fertilizer to perform well. I use Espoma Tomato-tone fertilizer for tomatoes and vegetables. In addition to the low nitrogen/high phosphorous combination that peppers (and tomatoes) like, it has 8% added calcium. Like tomatoes, peppers are subject to blossom end rot, and the calcium can help prevent that. Whatever fertilizer you use, make sure that nitrogen (the first number on the package) is the lowest of the three numbers. Remember that peppers are, in fact, related to tomatoes (as well as eggplant and potatoes), and are susceptible to some of the same diseases that plague them. When finding a spot for them in your garden, avoid areas where their plant relatives have grown in recent years, especially if there were disease problems. If that doesn’t work for you, keep in mind that peppers do very well in containers. They don’t usually need as much room as tomatoes. I think you could get by with a ten gallon pot, or maybe even a five gallon. Or you could put several plants in a fifteen gallon. Come to think of it, I think I’ll try one myself.

Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.



 Archives  (Click on the green text for links)


June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!
June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!
May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!
May 2016 - Vintage Veggies Now & Disease Resistant Tomatoes!
April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!
April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!
March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!
March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato
March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant
February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience
February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon
January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?
January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!

November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)

October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!

September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!

September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015


September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet


October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 Blog, Video and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012 - My Tomato Garden
May 2012 -
Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review 
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
Summer 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review 
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review 
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com