Harvesting: When Are My Peppers Ready to Pick?

taba(z5b MO)January 1, 2013

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Quick tips for harvesting:

  • Use estimated days to maturity, pod size and color, and ultimate use to determine harvest date
  • Pick at earliest maturity to increase and extend yields
  • Be careful when picking hot peppers to avoid getting pepper oils on skin
  • Use a knife or clippers to prevent damaging plants while harvesting
  • Pick promptly when fully ripe or damaged to avoid deterioration

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This FAQ covers basic suggestions for harvesting both sweet bell peppers and hot chile peppers. In this FAQ, a mature pepper means fruit that has reached full size and is mature but not necessarily changing colors yet, and a ripe pepper means fruit that has turned or is in the process of turning color such as red or orange. Fully ripe means that it has turned it's final color (usually red).

Maturity Stages

Both sweet and hot peppers can be eaten at all stages of growth but are most flavorful when mature and fully ripe. Hot peppers are typically green in early maturity but quickly turn colors including yellow, orange, purple, red, or chocolate brown depending on the cultivar. The different cultivars vary drastically in size and shape. Although they can be picked when green, their heat and flavor increases as they are allowed to mature and ripen to colors.

Sweet Bell type peppers are can be harvested when firm and full size (at least 3 1/2 to 4 inches) but still green. If left to ripen, they may also turn red, yellow, orange, purple or even chocolate-colored depending on the cultivar. The less green you see, the sweeter the taste in both sweet and hot peppers. Once peppers begin to turn colors, they progress quickly so should be monitored carefully. Once they turn their final color, they deteriorate very fast and should be picked.

Deciding When to Pick

When possible, use the "days to maturity" on seed packets as an estimate for planning when to pick each variety of pepper. This information is also available on many websites that sell pepper seeds or plants. Usually the first peppers are ready to harvest 75 to 90 days from transplanting, but that will vary with differing growing conditions. Harvest can last into fall until frost.

Size and color give you the best clues about when to harvest hot peppers and sweet peppers. Most peppers will cycle through different colors and shades while ripening. As explained, fully ripe color will vary depending on the variety of pepper. Compare the color of those you suspect are beginning to ripen with others that are obviously immature.

Some chile varieties will develop "corking", or small stress stripes, on the pepper surface when they reach full size. This a great clue that peppers are ready for early harvesting. A few of the peppers which show corking are certain jalapenos, habaneros, Hungarian Hots, Chilcostles, and Fresnos.

Often the decision of when to harvest is influenced by the intended use of a particular pepper....

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