Hot peppers hail from Mexico, and the closer you can mimic that climate the more successful you’ll be at growing them. They like lots of sun and hot, dry weather. Start them in the spring 12 weeks before the last frost if you’re living above zone 10. Here in Florida they do best during the hot summers. I grow them in the winter garden as well, but they don’t produce fruit until the weather warms up.
Square foot gardens in raised intensive beds are ideal for growing peppers. They like to be planted close together, one per square foot. When mature their leaves should touch. If you fertilize them you’ll get lots of leaves and very little fruit, so just plant them and keep them weeded and they’ll grow like crazy. Mid season an application of wood ashes around the plants can help stimulate a second blossom production. If you can make yourself pinch off the first few peppers when they reach dime size you’ll help stimulate the production of more peppers.
The only pests that bother them are aphids and spider mites. A row cover will prevent these from pestering your peppers, but make sure to remove the covers when the blossoms appear so the bees and other pollinating insects can get to them.
Peppers like it on the dry side, so don’t overdo it with watering. You can plant different varieties together, but if you plan on saving the seeds for next season, beware that because of the open pollination, you may get a hybrid that looks like a jalopeno but has the heat of a habanero!
Picked young, hot peppers are not so hot. As they ripen, their heat develops. The heat of peppers is measured in Scoville units, named after an Englishman named William Scoville who first developed the rating system in the early 1900’s. A Hungarian wax pepper may be mildly hot at 500 Scoville units, while a cayenne pepper may be 5000 – 10000 units. Move into the Scotch Bonnet and Habanero peppers and you’re up to 100,000 units! Take care when handling hot peppers. Wear latex gloves when handling the really hot varieties, as even the outside skin can have oils that can burn your hands for days.
Hot peppers are great slow dried in the oven at 150° for 12 hours, then cooled and ground into flakes (with a food processor) or powder (with a coffee grinder, used only for spice grinding.) I make both every year from my cayenne peppers, and the aroma of fresh roasted cayenne peppers is just wonderful. I sprinkle the flakes on garlic bread, in salads, on pizza, and in all sorts of sauces.
Get those peppers planted!