Only home gardeners who enjoy long growing seasons in the Deep South should attempt to sow pepper seeds directly in the vegetable garden. Most of us must start our own pepper plants indoors about 8-10 weeks before transplanting, which should be done 2-3 weeks after the expected last frost. Start indoors in a warm, well-lighted area. Place containers in a south facing window or under grow lights until seedlings emerge. Sow 1-2 seeds 1/4" deep into individual containers filled with seed starting formula. Keep moist. Seedlings emerge in 10-21 days at 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Grow Peppers
To get an early start with your pepper plants, particularly in the North, cover the prepared bed with a dark colored polyethylene mulch at least a week before transplanting. This will heat the soil beneath and provide a better growing condition for young pepper plants. The mulch will also help the soil retain moisture throughout the season as the pepper plants grow. Thin seedlings to one plant per container. Before transplanting outdoors move plants to a sheltered location outside for one week to "harden off." Space the plants 18" apart in rows 2’ apart in an area with rich, well-drained soil and full sun. Provide plants with 1-1/2" of water every week. They appreciate watering in dry periods.
Harvesting Hot Peppers
Like cucumbers and summer squash, peppers are usually harvested at an immature stage. The traditional bell pepper, for example, is harvested green, even though most varieties will mature red, orange, or yellow. Peppers can be harvested at any stage, but their flavor doesn't fully develop until maturity. Fully ripe peppers in multi-colors are delightful in the garden as well as in salads. Pick the fruits when they are the proper size and color for the cultivar. Break or cut off the fruit with a bit of stem attached. Hot peppers can be dried and strung together for handy kitchen use. These peppers add zest, magical flavor and heat to numerous dishes. Most can be used red or green--fresh, cooked or dried. Always use rubber gloves when preparing hot peppers, as they can burn cuts on your hands.