What do I need to know about organic sweet pepper production and where can I get the information?

E.N.KansasAnswer: The following comments touch on the main points associated with pepper production. A list of Resources follows.Peppers are a warm-season crop. They are in the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. Do not plant peppers after other nightshades to avoid diseases.There are two main categories of peppers: sweet bell peppers and hot peppers. However, there are dozens of pod types and varieties of peppers. Many varieties are available to choose from. Colored, pungent, and uniquely-shaped varieties are often grown as “specialty” crops. Peppers are raised for both fresh and processing markets.Sweet bell peppers are commonly established from transplants and plugs on market farms and in commercial vegetable production. Hot peppers are often direct-seeded on large acreage farms.When direct seeding is used, seed priming and gel seeding are practices that can improve stand establishment. When peppers are raised for mechanical harvest, plants established by the direct-seed method are better suited to mechanical harvest (due to morphology and plant architecture) than plants established by transplanting.Depending on cultivation equipment and planting materials, row spacing can be 18 to 36 inches. In﷓row spacing is 12 to 16 inches. Twin rows on beds with or without plastic mulch is a common method of production.Peppers are commonly grown on bare soil and managed by clean cultivation. Other systems include plasticulture (plastic mulch combined with drip irrigation) and organic mulches.Plastic mulches increase pepper yields in moderate climates, because the plastic mulch traps solar energy and results in higher soil temperatures, which enhances early vegetative growth and fruiting. Plastic mulches may reduce yields in the South, because the soil can reach extreme temperatures and thus affect flowering, pod set, and fruiting.Insect pests of peppers include flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, aphids, leafhoppers, pepper weevils, tomato hornworms, and tomato fruitworms. Pepper diseases include Phytophthora root rot, anthracnose, bacterial leaf spot, tobacco mosaic virus, Alternaria fruit rot, southern blight, and sunscald.Certain insect or disease pests may become troublesome in specific regions of the U.S.; e.g., bacterial leaf spot in the Northeast, pepper weevil in the Southwest, southern blight in the Southeast. Green bell peppers are picked when they are fully firm and well-shaped. Colored bell peppers have extra flavor, nutrition, and aesthetic appeal, and therefore fetch a higher market price. Colored peppers are obtained by leaving the fruits on the bush until they reach mature color (e.g., red, yellow, orange). Greenhouse-grown peppers, including Dutch bell peppers imported from The Netherlands, make up a portion of the colored pepper market.Hot peppers are raised for processing and fresh markets.Significant hand labor is involved in picking and packing fresh market pepper fruits; mechanical harvesting is done on spice peppers intended for the processing market.Many organic growers consider peppers to be a fairly easy crop to grow. Specialty peppers are a steady seller at farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Read the ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production for organic production methods for tomatoes and peppers; also see Overview of Organic Crop Production and Resource Guide to Organic and Sustainable Vegetable Production.The Cooperative Extension Service can provide Extension fact sheets and bulletins with variety recommendations and standard cultural practices.ResourcesATTRA Publications: Organic Tomato Production Organic Crop Production Overview Resource Guide to Organic and Sustainable Vegetable ProductionAnon. 1994. Proper handling, storage critical for high quality fresh market peppers. The Great Lakes Vegetable Growers News. March. p. 30-31. Bosland, Paul W. 1992. Chiles: A diverse crop. HortTechnology. Vol. 2, No. 1. January-March. p. 6-10.Boucher, T. Jude, and Richard A. Ashley. 1994. Pepper Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – Introduction. Grower [New England Vegetable and Small Fruit Newsletter]. November. p. 1-4.Cramer, Craig. 1988. High-value hillsides. The New Farm. September-October. p. 54﷓55, 59.Dickerson, George W., and Howard W. “Bud” Kerr, Jr. 1995. Peppers. A Small-Scale Agriculture Alternative information sheet. USDA Office of Small-Scale Agriculture. 2 p. Gooch, Jamie J. 1995. Plastic increases pepper profits. American Vegetable Grower. January. p. 14-15.Hardin, Ben. 1995. Monitoring weevils. The Grower. June. p. 29. Holthe, Peter A. 1995. The uncommonly cultivated species of chili pepper. Fruit Gardener [California Rare Fruit Growers Association Newsletter]. January-February. p. 16-17.McAlavy, Tim W. 1994. Chiles are a hot, tasty crop. High Plains Journal. September 26. p. 1A & 4A. Motes, J.E., and Criswell, Jim T. 1987. Pepper production. OSU Extension Facts No. 6030. Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University. 2 p. Riggs, Dale. 1994. Drip irrigation yields impressive results. Grower [New England Vegetable and Small Fruit Newsletter]. July. p. 6-7.Sims, William L. 1984. Growing Peppers in California. Leaflet 2676. Cooperative Extension, University of California. 11 p. Stivers, Lee. 1994. Sizzling hot pepper varieties. p. 17-19. Proceedings of the 1994 New York State Vegetable Conference. Held January 25-27, Liverpool, New York. Useful Resources on Pepper Production:The Pepper Garden by Dave DeWitt. 1993. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. 240 p.

DeWitt is the editor of Chile Pepper magazine and has also compiled a bibliography on peppers. This book provides a nice introduction to pepper pod types and varieties, the history of pepper growing, and raising peppers in the home garden and for commercial production. Seed sources and supplies are listed in the back. This book belongs on every pepper grower’s bookshelf.

The Whole Chile Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt and N. Gerlach. 1990. Little Brown and Co., Boston, MA. 373 p.

Another book by DeWitt that should be especially useful to the hot pepper grower.

Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums by Jean Andrews. 1984. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX. 170 p.

Andrews’ book is a classic treatise on peppers. It contains chapters on agronomy, biology, history, and economic uses. It also contains an exhaustive description of pepper types (Poblano, Jalapeno, Hungarian Wax, Bell, etc.). The information in this book could be especially helpful in developing tip sheets and marketing brochures for sale of peppers at farmers’ markets.

UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: PeppersUniversity of California, DANR Publication 3339http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/selectnewpest.peppers.html

The Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project at University of California’s publishes a series of IPM guidelines and manuals for vegetable crops. This publication on peppers addresses: Insects and Mites, Diseases, Nematodes, and Weeds.

UC Pest Management Guidelineshttp://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/crops-agriculture.htmlUC IPM Onlinehttp://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/default.htmlPepper Diseases: A Field Guide by Lowell Black, S.K. Green, G.L. Hartman, and J.M. Poulos. 1991. Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, AVRDC Publication No. 91-347. Taipei, Taiwan. 98 p.

This pocket-size guide is intended for Extension agents and commercial pepper growers who need a quick diagnosis. It contains color photos of diseased plants and a brief description of symptoms, range, and control measures. Contact: Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center P.O. Box 205 Taipei, Taiwan 10099 Republic of China

The Chile Pepper Institute New Mexico State UniversityBox 3000, Department 3QLas Cruces, NM 88003505-646-3028http://www.chilepepperinstitute.org

Annual dues to join The Chile Institute are $25; benefits include a semi-annual newsletter, research reports, and free seed samples from New Mexico State University. The Institute has published two bibliographies of interest: A Comprehensive Bibliography of the Capsicums compiled by Paul Bosland contains 8,000 citations emphasizing horticulture, botany, and genetics. Chile Peppers: A Selected Bibliography of the Capsicums compiled by Dave DeWitt contains 1,200 citations emphasizing historical, marketing, gardening, and culinary aspects of chili peppers.

Chile Pepper MagazineOut West Publishing5106 Grande NEP.O. Box 80780Albuquerque, NM 87198505-266-8322

A bi-monthly magazine devoted to hot peppers, with a circulation of 70,000.

The Pepper Gal10536 119 Ave NorthLargo, FL 34643

The Pepper Gal is unique among seed companies because it carries over 100 pepper varieties.