The bell pepper is a healthy vegetable and can be utilised in its raw or cooked state. Its subtle taste adds flavour to many dishes. It is the only Capsicum that does not produce capsaicin, the chemical that gives other chillies their hot, fiery taste.
The bell pepper is an excellent source of vitamin A and C, which is good for your immune system. Vitamin C on its own has advantages like cancer prevention, higher iron absorption, improved heart health and eye health, just to name a few. It is also a good source of many antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
The sweet pepper or bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) is a perennial that can be grown as an annual in temperate climates. They are sensitive to low temperatures and are relatively slow to establish. The fruit has its origins in South America.
Although the bell shape is the most familiar shape, the sweet pepper comes in a range of shapes from round to oblong or tapered.
Aside from the familiar green colour when immature and red when the fruit ripens, there are also other colour variants like yellow, orange and purple. Although the plant is a perennial, it is advised to plant a new plant every year after harvesting.
There are cultivars available for greenhouse and field planting. Cultivars for greenhouse production are indeterminate. This mean the plant will continue to grow and develop from new meristems to produce new stems, leaves, flowers and fruit.
Field cultivars are determinate, so the plant grows to a certain size, produces fruit, stops growing and eventually dies off.
Bell pepper cultivars differ in horticultural traits such as fruit size, shape, number of lobes, flavour and disease resistance.
Standard green bell peppers typically ripen to red, or the specific colour of the ripe fruit according to the cultivar.
Coloured bell peppers are more expensive and difficult to produce because they take longer to reach maturity. This is why green peppers are usually cheaper than other colour variants.
Select adapted varieties that have the qualities for the intended market.
The sweet pepper forms part of the Capsicum family of peppers and is a warm-season crop, which performs well under an extended frost-free season, with the potential of producing high yields of outstanding quality.
The optimum temperature range for sweet pepper growth is 20ºC to 25ºC. Bell peppers are very vulnerable to frost and grow poorly at temperatures between 5ºC and 15°C.
- The germination of the pepper seed is slow if sown too early and when the soil temperatures are still too low.
- Seedling emergence will accelerate when the temperature increases to between 24 ºC and 30ºC, with the optimum temperature being 29°C.
- Low temperatures will slow down seedling growth, which prolongs the exposure of the seedling to insects, diseases, salt or soil crusting, any of which can severely damage or kill off the seedlings.
- High temperatures are also damaging to the productivity of the green pepper. The optimum temperature requirements for flowering are between 21 ºC to 25ºC.
- When flowering plants are exposed to temperatures as high as 33ºC for longer than 5 days, it leads to the shedding of flowers and a reduced yield.
- Pollen exposed to temperatures above 33ºC can become unviable.
- Temperatures lower than 16°C can lead to fruitless plants.
- The best temperatures for good yields are between the temperature range of 18ºC and 32ºC during fruit set.
- Fruit set will reduce at persistent high relative humidity and temperatures above 35°C.
- High temperatures can also lead to deformed fruit.
- Sweet peppers are sensitive to sunscald.
- Fruit colour development is hastened by temperatures above 2°C.
- The plant prefers deep, fertile, well-drained soils.
- Avoid planting in low-lying fields next to streams and rivers as these sites are subject to high humidity and high moisture conditions.
- These conditions are ideal for bacterial spot outbreaks.
- Avoid planting in fields where long residual maize or soybean herbicides have been used.
- Herbicide carry-over can cause serious damage to peppers.
- Pepper fields should be located as far away from tobacco plantings as possible owing to potential spread of aphid-vectored viruses from tobacco to peppers.
- It is also not advisable to grow peppers after other crops in the Solanaceae family (tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant) or vine crops for a period of 3 years because these crops are all susceptible to the same diseases.
- Peppers do well following fescue sod.
- The optimum soil pH for peppers is between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Try to maintain the soil as near as possible to neutral 7.0 for maximum yields.
- This article was shortened from the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ sweet pepper production guidelines.