Growing your own peppers at home
Story and Photos by Andrea Dee
Banana peppers, medium-sized yellow wax peppers in the chile family, have a uniquely tangy flavor and are good raw or pickled. Usually ranking under 500 Scoville units on the official heat scale, Banana peppers are considered mild chiles with a range of 0-500 Scoville heat units. Banana peppers originated in the Americas and thrive in areas with long, warm growing seasons.
Banana peppers are considered quite mild, but they closely resemble their spicy cousin, ‘Hungarian Wax’. Their physical resemblance is all they have in common though – Scoville heat units of ‘Hungarian Wax’ peppers can range from 5,000-15,000.
Sometimes banana pepper plants will be identified simply as sweet or hot at the garden center. However, you can opt for more specific seed selections such as ‘Goddess’, a sweet, thick-walled, mild snacking variety, or ‘Blazing Banana’ an early maturing, high-yielding, hot banana pepper.
Similar to other peppers, banana peppers thrive in full sun. Their growing season usually runs mid-May through October.
If you are starting your own transplants from seed, start seedling trays six to eight weeks earlier in preparation for a late-spring planting, approximately two weeks after the last frost. Seeds generally sprout in one week at a soil temperature of 70-80 F. Germination can be spotty, depending on the variety, so it is beneficial to start seeds in a soil tray, moving them to a larger pot once the first roots appear. Final planting should be 12-24 inches apart in the garden.
Peppers prefer warm soil at transplant and are affected by even light frosts (28-32 F). Growth is inhibited when air temperatures are below 55 F, causing leaves to have yellowish appearance. On the other hand, flowers will sometimes drop during extended periods with temperatures higher than 90 F. If a frost is in the forecast, protect plants with lightweight row covering or cloches.
To increase yields, use a vegetable-specific fertilizer applied at the recommended rate. Most vegetable fertilizers will have a 5-10-10 (N-P-K) ratio. Higher phosphorus and potassium numbers promote fruiting and overall plant health resulting in increased pepper yield. The usual recommendation is to fertilize just before planting and again after plants produce blooms. Read and follow all label recommendations.
Luckily, peppers have few pest problems. However, leaf spot can be an issue in humid, compact growing conditions. Remove affected leaves and, if necessary, a fungicide application can quickly control this issue.
Banana peppers are ready for harvest approximately 75 days after planting. The fruit will mature to about 6 inches long and resemble a banana in shape and color. If left on the plant longer, fruits may sweeten and have a blush of orange or red. Healthy plants can easily produce 20-30 peppers. Fruits should be snipped with a sharp pruners or knife rather than hand picked, which can break and split stems, damaging the plants. Leave a small stem on the pepper when harvesting to prolong storage. Store peppers in a loosely open plastic bag or container. Peppers taste best when eaten within one week of harvest.
Peppers have no fat and a low calorie content, making them a great healthy snack. They contain calcium, fiber, potassium, foliate, vitamins A and C, and some protein. Banana peppers are fun to pick and eat fresh from the garden – they make good pickles too. Milder sweet banana peppers are great additions to stir-fries, sandwiches, and salads, while spicier hot banana peppers are often used in curries, soups, and other “warmer” dishes.
REFRIGERATOR PICKLED PEPPERS
The basics of this recipe work for all types of peppers, sweet or hot. However, tangy banana peppers are particularly desirable picklers.
Refrigerator pickles last a month or longer in the fridge and stay crisper longer than canned pickles. Enjoy these pickles straight from the jar after just two days marinating in the refrigerator. Top salads, sandwiches, and pizzas with pickled peppers for extra pizzazz.
2 pounds large banana peppers (15-20 peppers)
1 clove garlic
4 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 storage jars
Prepare peppers by cleaning, de-stemming, and cutting into desired size. Either round slices with seeds intact or thin strips with seeds discarded will work. Divide pepper pieces between clean storage jars.
Cut garlic into quarters and add one to each jar.
Carefully pour hot liquid brine over prepared peppers and garlic in storage jars. Place lids on once cooled and store in the refrigerator. Peppers will be ready for eating after marinating two days. Refrigerated pickles usually store a month or longer, but probably won’t last that long!