I have just been told He Who Grows the Veg here that he is not planting capsicums this year. He suggests I go and buy a plant or two if I feel I must have them. The problem is that capsicums need a long growing season in order to get a good harvest. That means a good four months of continual warmth. Even cold nights will set them back. You can hurry them along by planting them into black plastic or using a cloche but the resident veg gardener does not like them enough to lavish the same level of care that the rock melons get. Best guess is that most of the lovely big red, yellow and orange capsicums you see in the supermarket are grown in glasshouse conditions.
It is too late to start them from seed now, so if you want to grow them you will have to buy plants. Seed has to be started under cover in late August or early September. Capsicums are in the same family as tomatoes (solanum), but require more heat. They like similar conditions – full sun, plenty of warmth, friable soil full of humus and a position where they don’t dry out. Plant them about 50cm apart. Room for good air circulation can help reduce leaf diseases. You will get larger fruit if you thin the crop. Most capsicums start off green and can be picked at that stage. As they ripen, they can change through to yellows, reds and oranges. It is because these are riper that they taste sweeter and milder.
Paprika is, of course, ground mild capsicums – presumably at the point where they have ripened to red. Chilli and cayenne pepper are ground hot capsicums which we normally call chillis. Some chilli varieties are just hot selections of the same species as capsicums (C. annuum) while some are different species. They grow in the same way with the same heat requirements. If you like fresh chillis, they make a decorative container plant but you need to be reliable with summer watering.
First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.