Peppers are an important ingredient in Bahamian cuisine with bell peppers providing the crunch in conch salad and hot peppers the bite in soups and stews. Pepper plants are easy to grow and are highly productive. They love warm conditions and seeds can be planted right now.
Bell peppers are best started in pots or flats, buried ¼ inch deep with the potting mix firmed over them. Once the seedlings are well rooted they can be transferred to a garden spot or a larger pot. A 3-gallon pot is usually large enough for one bell pepper but a larger pot is generally required for hot pepper plants.
At transplant time the seedlings should be seated in soil that is richer in nutrients than that they started in. Once the plants are established you can sprinkle phosphorus (0-50-0) around the plants to ensure sturdy stems and heavy bearing. Add more phosphorus at the flowering stage and 6-6-6 once a month (Osmocote if growing in pots) to maintain a good nutrient source.
Peppers are meant to be picked. If a fruit remains on the plant for too long it may cause a lack of production of new fruits. This is sometimes caused by gardeners who allow green peppers to turn red. Always pick green peppers when they are green. If you want red bell peppers – or yellow, orange or purple – then grow a red variety.
Sometimes a bell pepper plant will produce flowers and fruit too early. This leads to a small plant bearing a massive fruit and the consequence is a permanently debilitated plant. Be brave and nip off any flowers that appear before the plant is well-leafed and at least 8 inches tall.
The same culture applies to hot peppers. Jalapeno peppers are the most popular world-wide but In The Bahamas our favourite is the diminutive bird pepper. Bird pepper skin is very thin so the fruits cannot be picked and stored for any length of time. This is why you will rarely see bird peppers for sale in shops. Obtain your seeds from a fellow gardener. Failing that, have a breakfast of boil fish or stew conch at one of the many excellent restaurants in Abaco and you will be served bird peppers on the side. Ask for an extra one to use for seeds.
Many hot peppers lose their heat intensity in the second generation because they are accidently cross-pollinated with mild peppers. Fortunately this does not seem to happen with bird peppers. Dry your bird pepper in a breezy place out of the sun until the seeds are dry then plant them. Do not be tempted to dry your seeds in direct sunlight because the sun has a sterilising effect and may cause the seeds to lose viability.
Second to bird peppers are finger peppers, a term used for a wide variety of peppers – such as Tabasco and Thai– that are small and convenient but have thicker skins and more potency than bird peppers. If you want plenty of heat you can use a variety of habanero pepper, including our locally-produced goat pepper. If you have Guyanese friends you may be able to obtain wiri-wiri seeds. The wiri-wiri pepper is small (1/2 to ¾ inch in diameter) like a marble and the flesh has a very similar flavour to goat pepper without being quite as strong.
As I mentioned previously, hot peppers require more root space than bell peppers and should be grown in pots from 5 gallon to 10 gallon in size. It is lovely to see a hot pepper plant loaded with bright fruits but unless you pick the fruits very regularly you may lose the whole plant. Freeze any excess.