How to Plant, Grow, and Save Seeds from Peppers
There are five domesticated species of pepper, including the two species that gardeners usually encounter, Capsicum annuum and Capsicum chinese. All species will grow well throughout the United States as long as they receive enough sun, heat, and moisture. When saving seeds from peppers, remember that different species occasionally cross pollinate.
Peppers germinate and grow best when soil temperatures are above 75°F. In most regions of the country, peppers are started indoors and then transplanted out as the weather warms. Sow peppers indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting. Plant seeds at a depth of ¼” and make sure the soil remains warm throughout the germination period, which can last 14-18 days. Move pepper seedlings outdoors 4-6 weeks after the last frost. Plant seedlings 12-24” apart in the garden in rows at least 12” apart.
Peppers are occasionally susceptible to diseases such as bacterial spot, anthracnose, blossom end rot, sunscald, and pepper mild mottle virus. Prevent disease by rotating crops regularly and not over crowding plants.
Maturity in peppers is indicated by a color change in the fruit. Green peppers are harvested as immature fruits. Most varieties will ripen to yellow, orange, red, brown, or purple when they are fully ripe.
Eating and Storing
Peppers are one of the most versatile culinary crops the home garden can grow. Peppers can be eaten fresh, fried, roasted, stewed, stir fried, pickled, and pureed into soups, dips, and pestos. Peppers, especially thin fleshed varieties, can be braided into a decorative ristra, air dried, and then crushed to make pepper flakes, chili powder, or paprika.
When stored at room temperature, peppers have a shelf life of 1-2 weeks. Preserved peppers, when pickled or stored in oil, can last for many months. Dried peppers will keep almost indefinitely.
Pepper is an annual crop. It will complete its full life cycle, including germination, reproduction, and death, in one growing season.
When saving seeds from pepper, separate varieties by 300-1,600 feet or hand pollinate several fruits using blossom bags. A single pepper plant can produce viable seed. However, to maintain a variety’s diversity over time, save seeds from 5-20 pepper plants.
Be careful when processing the fruits of hot peppers as the oils and vapors of capsaicin can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. Work in a well-ventilated area and take care to wear protective gloves and a respirator or dust mask to prevent irritation. Avoid touching your eyes or nose as you work. If you handle hot peppers bare-handed, immediately scrub hands with soap and warm water.
To save seeds from peppers, let fruits mature until they begin to soften. Cut around the top of the pepper, and use the stem as a handle to twist out the core. Use the tip of a knife to flick out the seeds. Allow seeds to air-dry on newsprint, coffee filters, or screens for several days. When a test seed ca be cleanly snapped in half, seeds are dry enough for storage. Store seeds in a cool, dry place for up to three years.