Pepper Production Guide

Pepper is one of the most popular and widely used foods in the world. There are various available chillies on the web. From the different tastes to colors, peppers are an important spice commodity and an essential part of a number of cuisines. Peppers originated in Central America and Mexico. Later on, the crop was introduced to Europe and it was subsequently spread to Asia and Africa.

Site Preparation and Soil Requirements

Pepper can be produced on different types of soils. Nevertheless, they grow best in deep, fertile, medium textured sandy loam soils. Sites that stay wet need to be avoided. Also, fields that have had solanaceous crops within the past quarter should be rotated.

For adequate management of soil and optimal yield, pepper production is critical. In order to make the soil suitable for seeding or transplant establishment, and to provide the best soil structure for root development and growth, there should be enough tillage operations.

Typically, peppers are transplanted on raised beds into plastic mulch primarily because a raised bed warms up more quickly in the spring and therefore may promote earlier growth. Since peppers do not grow well in soils that are excessively wet, a raised bed not only improves drainage but also prevents water logging in poorly drained soil and low areas.

Raised beds are typically 3 to 8 inches high. However, in case of a drought or similar conditions, peppers planted on raised beds may require more irrigation.

Transplanting

It is generally not recommended to seed pepper directly into the field because of the high cost of hybrid seed and the specific conditions that are required for adequate germination. Typically, pepper seedlings that are 5 to 6 months old are transplanted into the field. Like most vegetable crops, transplants grown in containers are preferred over bare root plants.

Transplants grown in containers retain transplant growing medium or soil substitute attached to their roots even after the plant is removed from the container. Container transplants are preferred mainly because they:

  • Are less vulnerable to transplant shocks;
  • Usually need little, if any replanting;
  • Resume growth quickly after transplanting;
  • Grow and produce more evenly

Plant Spacing and Varieties

Optimal plant population per acre depends upon the growth patterns of plant, size of the plant, vigor of specific cultures, soil moisture, climate, nutrient availability, soil productivity and management system. Adequate populations for the different varieties of pepper range from approximately 7,500 to 14,500 per acre.

Varieties to Cultivate

Plant varieties need to be selected based on marketable yield potential, disease resistance, and market demand and plant quality. While there are a number of varieties that are commercially available, and that perform well under desirable conditions, these varieties perform differently under various environment conditions.

Yield should not be the only selection criteria when selecting a variety. Plants should be able to produce adequate foliage in order to protect the fruit from sunburn. Market preferences for color should also be kept in consideration. Disease resistance or tolerance is another factor that needs to be taken in consideration. Put simply, the chosen variety needs to be adaptable to the area, so that a competitive yield can be achieved.

Harvesting

Peppers should be harvested before any red or brown color develops in the crop. They need to be fully grown and should feel crisp and firm when squeezed. The fruit is picked by hand and carried in sacks or buckets from the field. The branches of the crop are brittle and may break during harvest.  Extra care needs to be taken to prevent yield reduction due to plant damage. Harvest needs to be done at regular intervals in order to maintain production.

Insects

Cutworms are the most damaging pests of both transplanted and seeded peppers. The crops are vulnerable to attack by several species of flea beetles when the cotyledons surface. Green peach aphids can become a threat at anytime, but are probably more prevalent during the summer.

Besides the stress caused by aphids feeding on plant sap, their waste or honeydew is deposited on the leaves and fruit. It should be noted that honeydew is sticky that can render the fruit unmarketable. The presence of the fruit on leaves, if heavy enough, can affect photosynthesis because of the growth of sooty mold. Blister beetles and hornworms, if present in large quantities, may require treatments.

Sometimes, loopers may feed on the foliage, exposing the pods to sunscald. Beet and fall armyworms and yellow-striped armyworms are probable pod feeders along with the variegated cutworm. Moreover, beet armyworms also feed on the foliage. Corn earworm feeds on the pods and causes the pods to drop or render the product unmarketable.

Diseases

Bell peppers are subject to several diseases. Seedlings and seeds may become infected with damping off fungi. Phytophthora root rot may cause the root and underground portions of the stems to rot. Once the plant becomes infected, they wilt and die. Most recommended varieties of pepper are resistant to tobacco mosaic virus; nevertheless, several other viruses can damage the crop. Bell pepper leaves may become infected by anthracnose fungi, bacterial leaf spot or BLS bacterium, and by Cercospora Leaf Spot Fungus. Using BLS resistant cultivators and drip irrigation helps reduce BLS damage. Pepper fruits are vulnerable to blossom-end rot, bacterial spot, sunscald, Alternaria fruit rot, and bacterial soft rot.

Post Harvest Holding of the Crop

Pepper fruit is sensitive to chill injury, so it is important to manage temperature to maintain quality. Mature green pepper hold best at temperatures ranging from 50⁰F to 54⁰F; chill injury typically occurs at holding temperatures below 45⁰F. Holding pepper fruit at the recommended temperatures and at 90 to 95% relative humidity allows pepper fruit to be stored for up to 2 weeks.

Packing and Grading

The size requirement for pepper is 2 ½ inches in diameter to 21/2 inches in length. Peppers to be marketed should be wiped carefully with a soft cloth to remove dust and soil. Once harvested, do not wash the fruit. If peppers are to be sold on the fresh market, they should be packed in the type of container used in the market. Typically, thirty pound cartons are used.

A Brief Guide on Pepper Production
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