‘Tis the season for peppers of all types! It's time to enjoy and preserve your peppers so that you can savor the spice of summer during the long, cold winter. We've got six important tips for harvesting and storing peppers properly so that you can use them in salsas, relishes and other delicious recipes.
1. What Do Ripe Peppers Look Like?
Most sweet peppers and hot peppers turn bright red, orange, chocolate brown, yellow or even purple (yes, you can grow purple peppers!) when they are ready to harvest, although a few varieties of bell peppers do remain green once they have reached full ripeness. The size of a pepper will also determine it’s ripeness. Make sure you know which varieties you’ve planted to know how large they should grow and which color they’re meant to turn. Picking full-size, green peppers is fine, they just won’t be as sweet or spicy as when fully ripe.
2. When Should I Harvest Peppers?
It’s important to pick peppers once they have fully ripened, otherwise they deteriorate on the vine and can spread rot to other fruits on the plant. Most peppers reach full maturity 75-90 days after planting, although this will vary with climate and growing conditions. Picking mature fruits will also increase your yield, as the plant will set more flowers and experience a longer growing season if the conditions are good. Pick any peppers with insect damage or blossom-end rot immediately to prevent spreading. Peppers can be harvested up until the first frost, unless grown in a greenhouse or other manipulated environment.
3. How Should I Harvest Peppers?
Many peppers can easily be harvested by snapping the stem off the vine. Some peppers plants may become brittle towards the end of the season, so it’s better to use clippers or scissors to cut peppers off the vine to avoid damaging the plant. Try to harvest peppers when the plants are dry (not when its raining or with early morning dew) as this will prevent any diseases from spreading.
4. How Should Hot Peppers Be Harvested?
Hot chili peppers often get thin, white cracks on their skin once they have reached full ripeness (also known as ‘corking’). This indicates prime picking time. However, some peppers are crispier when picked green, such as jalapenos and serranos, making them ideal for fresh salsas and sauces. Pick your hot peppers at variable times to test out your preferred texture, flavor and level of spiciness. Be careful when harvesting hot peppers– it is a good idea to wear gardening gloves and use clippers to avoid getting the pepper oil on your skin. If you do handle hot peppers with bare hands, make sure not to rub your eyes or wipe your face, and wash your hands as soon as possible.
5. How Do I Harvest Pepper Seeds?
If you are harvesting peppers for seed, allow them to fully ripen to their final color and then keep them on the vine for about two weeks - this allows the seeds to fully mature. Choose the largest peppers from the healthiest plants, score out the seeds and dry them completely before storing them in a dark and dry place.
6. How Should I Store Peppers?
All peppers can be stored in a cool and dark environment like your refrigerator for up to a week. Leave the stems intact and store them in a paper bag or wrap them in paper towels to keep them dry. Do not store your peppers in plastic bags and this will make them sweat and spoil quickly. You can also dry peppers by laying them on woven racks or stringing them up. To string peppers, thread a needle with sturdy but thin string and run the needle through the thick part of the pepper stem. Place 5-10 chiles on a string (depending on size) and hang them in a warm and dry place. Peppers will dry in 1 to 3 weeks depending on their size.
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Image: Myrtle Glen Farm