Hot or Sweet- if its warm enough where you live (or you have a greenhouse or cold frame) I can’t help but recommend you try to grow some peppers. The variety alone makes it worth it, but the range of flavors and uses is mind-boggling. There is a pepper for every flavor, every spice level, and for every use.
As an aside, 2018 was by far my best year for growing peppers and I attribute it to growing them outside in the garden beds, but not planting them out until the 2nd week of June (by which time it had already been quite warm for 3+ weeks). I’ve grown them in pots inside the greenhouse before, but that yielded insanely spicy peppers across the board. Too much heat makes for too much heat! If you’ve got the space to coddle your seedlings until the soil and air temps are good and warm, I think you’ll have fantastic success.
Time to Maturity: You’ll notice that peppers can have different times to maturity based on harvesting them green/light or red/dark. 60-65 days is fairly standard for early harvests, 80-100 is normal for late/ripe harvesting. That is both a huge window and a long growing season, so just be aware when you are shopping.
Diseases & Pests: Tobacco Mosaic Virus (basically all the Mosaic Virus types), Bacterial Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew, and Tomato Spotted Wild Virus.
Key Words: Obviously heat/spice levels are number 1 here. Know what you are growing and how hot to expect them! Also look for words describing the thickness of the walls, this is a big one because thin walled peppers are tremendously unsatisfying. Ask me how I know! I like to see flavor descriptors like complex and juicy, and use descriptors like good fresh and cooked or, my favorite, “large cavity perfect for stuffing”. Multipurpose is best! And, as always, look for consistent producers and vigorous plants. If you are in the North, don’t hesitate to try varieties designated for shorter seasons like King of the North, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Beaver Dam.
Use: Oh, how much time do you have? I find peppers- both sweet and hot- to be terrifically versatile and even stand up to freezing. I’ve frozen Jalapenos whole to be defrosted in a crock pot full of chili or in a simmering batch of chile verde. Obviously salsa, hot pepper jelly, and poppers are all the usual fare. But, you can also dry and grind them for paprika and chili powder. You can use them in soups and stews, roast them, fry them. Crudités! Sliced or diced and fried along with potatoes or on a Philly Cheese steak. Stuff them with meat or cheese. Or with rice. Batter them. Grill them and drizzle with olive oil and a coat of Parmesan cheese. Almost as versatile as shrimp!
My Favorites: I’ve had great luck in the past with Cubanelles and Banana-type peppers. These are easy to grow, tasty, and mild. I don’t find them hot enough to warrant adding to salsa, but they are great for salads, soups, and as a general addition to chicken dishes in particular.
What I’ve Grown in the Past: I’ve had only moderate success with Chocolate Beauty, Wisconsin Lakes, and Purple Beauty sweet peppers. For hot types, I’ve grown Beaver Dam but they were far too hot to enjoy fresh and even a bit too hot for salsa. I chalk this up to growing in the hot (HOT) greenhouse all season and being a tiny bit neglected in the watering department- so don’t let my experience stop you from trying it!
What I’d Like to Try: This year I’m growing all new peppers. Partly inspired by delicious pepper-based meals we had in Santa Fe, I’ll be growing Jimmy Nardello’s (sweet), Callabero Ancho (hot), Klari Baby Cheese (sweet), and Carmen (sweet).
What are your favorite peppers? I’m dying to hear suggestions- not that I need to buy any more, but I’m not saying I won’t!