Some like ‘em hot, some like ‘em not
Story and Photos by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey
Nearly all Louisianans have encountered peppers – in a culinary dish or in their gardens. Stuffed bell peppers have always been a church potluck staple and hot sauce – Tabasco or another – is a common table condiment.
Banana peppers are easy to grow and offer the best of both tastes. There are deliciously sweet banana peppers as well as some that are spicy hot! Hot banana peppers are actually not very hot (0–500 Scoville units) and, as is the case with most peppers, the heat depends on the maturity of the pepper. Typically thought of as those bright yellow peppers that look like bananas, they can change to green, red, or orange as they ripen. They have thick, crisp flesh and a small seed cavity, making them ideal for fresh snacking right off the bush. They can also be pickled, stuffed, or used in salads.
Banana peppers can be grown in most Louisiana soils. They prefer soil rich in organic matter with good drainage with an ideal pH range of 6.2-7.0. A full-sun location is required for optimal fruit production. Not enough sun results in leggy plants with few peppers.
Plant these frost-sensitive veggies after all danger of frost has passed. They can be direct seeded when soil temperatures are consistently 60-95 F. Seeds will sprout in 10-28 days. The target dates for transplants are April 10 in the northern part of the state and March 15 in the southern part. It is easier to purchase transplants from local nurseries or feed stores. The young plants should be 4-6 inches tall and dark green. Transplants will need protection in the case of unexpected low temperatures to prevent stunting. A light frost can damage plants (28-32 F), and temperatures below 55 F slow growth and cause leaves to take on a yellowish color. Allow 18-24 inches between plants. You should be harvesting these self-pollinating fruits 50-70 days after transplanting.
Banana pepper plants are heavy feeders. Fertilize the garden area where you plant to plant the pepper plants one to three weeks before planting with 8-8-8 or 13-13-13 and again three or four weeks after transplanting, and then a final side-dressing three or four weeks after the second fertilization. Older plants may require staking to support the branches, which become brittle with age and the weight of the peppers.
A good layer of mulch will suppress weed growth and maintain soil moisture. Black plastic mulch can also be used to keep the soil warm in early spring. Peppers are shallow-rooted plants, and therefore require consistently moist soil throughout the growing season. Hoe or till lightly to prevent disturbing the roots. Water stress will reduce quality and quantity of peppers. Slow deep watering with drip hoses is recommended. If rainfall is lacking, watering twice a week should suffice.
Insect pests to be on the lookout for include aphids, stinkbugs, leaf-footed bugs, and worms. Insecticidal soap is great for the soft-bodied insect pests. Carbaryl or permethrin insecticides are effective for stinkbugs. Be sure to read the labels for pre-harvest intervals and correct application rates. If you have any questions, call your local cooperative extension agent. Hand picking is an option if you have only a couple of plants.
Early blight, tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), bacterial leaf spot, and anthracnose are potential disease issues. Humid weather (in gardens with heavy clay soil and poor drainage) can invite fungal diseases, such as leaf spot. Selecting disease-resistant varieties is the best control method. Quick removal of infected plant material can help combat spore formation of foliar leaf spot disease.
Sweet banana pepper varieties to try include ‘Sweet Banana’, ‘Banana Supreme’, ‘Sweet Sunset’, ‘Ivory Banana’, ‘Boris’, and ‘Pageant’. ‘Hot Banana’, ‘Hot Sunset’, ‘Inferno’, and ‘Blazing Banana’ are recommended for those who like their peppers with a kick.
Banana peppers can be harvested early, but they reach peak flavor when allowed to ripen on the bush. Use pruning shears or scissors to cut peppers with a short stem attached. Pulling peppers by hand can cause large branches to break off. Fruits store longer when you don’t remove the stem: stem removal leaves an open wound, resulting in faster spoilage. You can store unwashed peppers in the refrigerator. Use a loosely closed plastic bag because moisture is pepper’s enemy and hastens spoiling. For the best flavor, use stored peppers within a week.
These bright peppers will also grow well in containers and raised beds. All you need is a plan in case of frost and a few basic gardening skills to enjoy the sweet – or hot – taste of banana peppers.
Karla’s Stuffed Peppers
• ½ pound crisp cooked bacon
• ½ pound cooked breakfast sausage, crumbled
• 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons onion powder
• ½ pound shredded cheddar cheese
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 10-12 banana peppers, sliced in half lengthwise and deseeded
Crumble the bacon and mix in a medium-sized bowl with the sausage, cheese, cream cheese, seasonings, and honey. Stuff the pepper halves and place them on a baking pan. Bake in a preheated 425 F oven for 20 minutes. Cool and enjoy.