Let’s be honest about banana peppers – you either love them, or you hate them. These tangy peppers are not a common garden staple for most homesteaders, yet they have a place on just about every dinner table.
Hosting a myriad of health benefits, banana peppers can really spice up your diet and are incredibly easy to grow. All you need is the right soil, a bit of water, a few seeds, and the right know-how to be successful.
Health Benefits of Banana Peppers
Banana peppers are closely related to bell peppers, but they are different in both size and color. These tasty peppers aren’t quite as spicy as jalapenos, and have an interesting tang that adds a unique taste to a sandwich or meal. Even better, banana peppers have dozens of exceptional health benefits.
These small vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals. In particular, banana peppers are known to contain high levels of vitamin B-6. This vitamin can promote a positive mood and also help relieve symptoms like cramping, fatigue, and depression.
Banana peppers are also good sources of fiber, helping you to become more regular and to maintain a health digestive tract. Because they are somewhat spicy, they can also help relieve minor nasal and chest congestion.
Banana peppers also contain a property known as capsaicin. Responsible for giving the peppers their mild spice, capsaicin helps burn fat and can aid in more rapid weight loss. They can even help to lower your blood pressure and serve as an anti-inflammatory. If you’ve been suffering from a chronic disease or heart health problems, banana peppers can help with that,
Types of Banana Peppers
There are four main categories of banana peppers, with dozens of sub-varieties falling within those categories. Banana peppers can be found in either sweet or hot varieties, and are typically harvested when they are orange, yellow, or red.
Harvesting your fruit earlier in the season will result in different color variations as well as different tastes, with later-harvested fruits providing a mellower, sweeter flavor.
The Sweet Banana Pepper is one of the most common type of banana pepper, changing in color from a pale yellow to orange as it matures. It is often confused with hot yellow wax peppers, but these have tapered shapes and a sweet, mild taste. They are ideal when used as substitutes for bell peppers or when added to salads or sandwiches.
Banana Bill Hybrid Peppers are also sweet banana peppers, ranging in color from light yellow to red. These peppers are large, growing up to 8 inches in length, with an exceptionally sweet flavor. These should be planted in the spring, and provide high yields for gardeners seeking more bang for their buck.
The Hot Banana Pepper is an heirloom pepper from Europe, and it is relatively hot to taste. These grow to about eight inches in length and take a minimum of 65 days to mature. Inferno Hot Banana Peppers are hybrid species, also hot when ripe These grow up to eight inches long and cannot be planted before June, as the nights are still too cold in most areas.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Banana Peppers
Banana peppers need lots of sun and warm soil in order to thrive. Because they require a longer growing season than other types of vegetables, they should be started from transplants instead of seeds.
If you live in an area with an extended growing season, you may be able to start them from seed, but be careful and mindful of the weather so that an unexpected late or early frost doesn’t kill your plants.
Before planting, make sure your soil is fertile and well-draining. Mix equal amounts of compost, peat, and manure into your soil, which will help build the soil’s organic matter and improve its overall structure and pH.
If you’re growing your banana peppers in a container, make sure you use a good quality potting mix, which can also be supplemented with the mixtures specified above.
Banana peppers prefer a location that has access to direct sunlight for at least eight hours every day. Try to avoid planting sites that are overly windy, and make sure the climate is nice and warm.
If you live in an exceptionally humid climate where the temperatures regularly rise above ninety degrees, consider adding an organic mulch to the soil to help your plants weather the summer heat. If you are growing in a tropical environment, afternoon shade is also preferred.
Planting Banana Peppers
Start your seeds indoors about forty days before you wish to plant the peppers in the ground. Research your area’s specific growing requirements, and count backwards based on your expected date of last frost.
In most cases, you can expect to transplant your banana peppers in June. The soil temperatures need to have warmed to at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 Celsius), and there can be no prolonged danger of frost – banana peppers cannot tolerate even a mild cold snap.
Sow your banana pepper seeds in the spring, and transplant outside once the weather has warmed. If you want the ground to warm more quickly, consider spreading down a layer of black plastic. This will help warm the soil more rapidly after the snow has melted, allowing you to plant your peppers a few weeks earlier.
When you’re ready to plant, you don’t even need to remove the plastic – simply cut holes into it to plant, and you’ll have an excellent weed barrier already laid down, too.
When you’re ready to plant, regardless of whether you are planting directly into the ground or not, you should start by digging a hole of the same depth and twice the width of the root ball of your plant.
Loosen the roots lightly with your fingers, then place the ball into the soil. Your plants should be grown about six or seven inches apart, with at least a foot between rows so that you have plenty of room to walk among them to harvest.
Caring for Banana Pepper Plants
Banana peppers are relatively easy to care for, but they don’t contend well with weeds. Too many weeds can result in plant death or decreased yields (or simply fruits that are smaller and less flavorful) so it’s important that you stay on top of your weeding duties.
Mulching can help reduce weed populations and also conserve moisture. Consider laying down a two-inch thick layer of an organic mulch like wood shavings or straw to help keep your garden balanced and healthy.
These vegetables need regular watering, much more so than other types of vegetables. Make sure you water the plants regularly and deeply, allowing the water to reach down to the bottom roots of the plant.
The soil should be consistently moist throughout the growing season, but make sure it’s not too wet, as this can cause the soil to become waterlogged and root rot can develop.
To help ensure adequate and balanced moisture levels, consider adding a mulch to the soil or install an in-ground irrigation system. This can help water reach the roots of your plants only, preventing rot from developing on your plant’s delicate leaves.
Banana peppers are relatively resilient to most pests, but they can be prone to typical diseases caused by moisture, like fungal growths. To prevent disease from developing, try not to water overhead and use seeds that are disease-resistant.
They are commonly affected by insects like aphids, whitefly, cutworms, thrips, and flea beetles. These pests can be controlled by manual elimination (ie, pulling them off the plants when you see them and disposing of them in an area outside of the garden) as well as natural pesticides.
Diseases can also be prevented by avoiding overwatering and watering in the evening. This helps prevent fungal growth, as does using disease-free soil.
If you did a good job of creating fertile, nutrient-dense soil before you planted your banana peppers, you don’t necessarily need to fertilize throughout the growing season. However, your banana pepper plants will benefit from organic fertilizer added twice a month.
Do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer, as this can inspire excessive foliar growth instead of fruit development. You might need to spray Epsom salts occasionally if your soil is magnesium deficient; otherwise, basic compost or worm tea works just fine as an organic fertilizer.
Some gardeners swear by the pinch method of encouraging banana pepper growth. As an alternative to pruning, this method involves pinching off the tips and shoots of the plant.
This makes it bushier and more productive, removing pieces that may be weaker and drawing unnecessary nutrients and resources away from the plant. You might also need to provide some kind of trellis or support system if the plant becomes too lanky.
Harvesting Banana Peppers
Banana peppers are ready for harvest when they are full-sized (anywhere from six to eight inches in length) and have firm skins. Check the firmness of the skin with your fingernail, and try not to harvest before the skins have hardened. While they will likely taste fine, they will not keep for very long, even if they are refrigerated.
You can harvest your peppers from the plant when they are yellow, or wait until they mature to a darker color. Just keep in mind that the pepper plants will show a huge drop in production when nighttime temperatures begin to cool. Most plants are ready to be harvested about seventy days after they were transplanting.
When you are ready to harvest, cut the stem about a half of an inch above the fruit. Don’t pull it off by hand, as this can damage the plant. After the season has ended, you can harvest your remaining peppers and dispose of the plant in your compost bin.
Growing Banana Peppers in Containers
If you’re limited on space or restricted by a lack of ideal growing conditions, you can also grow banana peppers inside in containers. Peppers thrive in containers, as many varieties were adapted to grow well in pots.
Make sure you choose the appropriate sized pot, ideally one that is at least two gallons in volume (five or ten will be even better). Your container also needs plenty of drainage holes so that water has a way to escape.
Use bagged soil, ideally one that is a mixture of compost and organic potting soil. Do not use houseplant soil, as this is often pre-fertilized and can contain too many nutrients for your delicate plants.
When you are growing plants in a container, they will need more fertilizer than if they were being grown outside, but you should still veer away from synthetic fertilizers as these do not introduce beneficial microbes into the soil (which organic fertilizers do).
You will also need to water your plants more often. If you can stick your finger into the soil and it is dry, you need to water. While plants that are being grown outside can get by with only weekly or twice-weekly waterings, those grown in containers may need to be watered every single day.
Make sure you place your container in a spot that receives plenty of warmth and sunlight, and know that you may still need to cage or stake your peppers as they grow larger. Besides that, there is really nothing different that you need to do when growing banana peppers indoors versus outside.
Storing, Preserving, and Using Banana Peppers
Banana peppers are versatile vegetables, and can be used fresh or preserved in a variety of methods. Many people pickle banana peppers, saving them to use on salads or sandwiches. You can also string the peppers up and allow them to dry, or slice them lengthwise to dry in a dehydrator.
Banana peppers can also be frozen. You do not need to blanch them first, as you do with other vegetables, but they should be stored in airtight containers. If you plan on using your peppers as a garnish, pickling them is always a good method, as it gives the vegetables a nice crunch.
Once they are pickled, they can be canned in a water bath canner. When preserving banana peppers, you should always cut and remove the seeds. They can be canned whole, but develop an odd texture if they are frozen or dehydrated with the seeds intact.
Whether fresh or preserved, there is no shortage of tasty recipes for banana peppers. If you find yourself with a bumper crop this year, consider using them as a pizza topping, slicing them for a sandwich creation, or stir frying them as you would bell peppers.
No matter how you choose to use them or how spicy you prefer them to taste, the banana pepper is a vegetable that should be grown in any homesteader’s backyard.