Banana peppers, Capsicum annuum, are a very popular variety of chili pepper that is particularly liked for its non-pungent yet flavorful characteristics that come in both sweet and spicy varieties.
Specialty peppers are becoming increasingly popular due to an uptick in the desire for ethnic cuisine, spicier meals, and locally grown ingredients, but there is a delicate balance between production rates and harvest times that makes it tricky to know when to pick banana peppers.
This article ascends into the details, including when and how to harvest your banana peppers for the optimum harvest.
- When Are Banana Peppers in Season
- Banana Pepper Growing Stages
- What Does a Ripe Banana Pepper Look Like
Harvesting Banana Peppers Outdoor Vs Greenhouse
In colder climates, greenhouses allow you to start your growing season earlier and prolong your growing season past what you could if only growing outdoors in the elements. Banana peppers that are grown inside a greenhouse can be harvested in the early summer months and into the late fall, compared to only a few months that an outdoor crop can survive in most climates.
In warmer climates that are located outside the tropics, greenhouses can help keep banana pepper plants in their natural perennial state. That would keep pepper plants producing fruit all year long, which would also create a need to use continuous harvesting techniques instead of just seasonal.
This could be a disadvantage to large-scale growers as studies have shown that the most profitable approach to harvesting a large field of banana peppers is to only harvest once via a mechanical harvester. Timing the harvest when most of the field is ripe, they would use a machine to lessen the labor-intensive burden of continuously picking peppers throughout the season.
If growing a small field of banana peppers without a greenhouse, then the harvesting season will occur during a smaller window of time, typically only late summer to early fall. In small fields, handpicking continuously throughout the short season should net you the most produce compared to one single mechanical harvest.
When Are Banana Peppers in Season
Whether in a greenhouse or outside in a garden, you can begin harvesting your banana peppers after at least 70 days of plant maturity. Banana pepper plants are perennials in their native tropical climates, which means that they come back every year and can remain in season all year long.
But in colder climates, banana peppers are treated as annuals and must be planted every spring after the threat of the last frost. Banana pepper harvest season typically begins in mid-summer, lasts into the fall or until the first frost, and can be extended by using a greenhouse.
Banana Pepper Growing Stages
From seed to harvest, a banana pepper is typically ready in about 75 days. After that, the plant will continue to produce more peppers until the next first frost.
Plant banana pepper seeds inside 4-6 weeks before the last freeze. Keep the soil consistently moist and wait 4 – 7 days in mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit for sprouts to emerge. It is best to use a heating pad to increase the chances of germination.
2. Vegetative Growth
Wait to move the plant outside until 2 weeks after the last frost or until outside temperatures have consistently reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Banana pepper plants will continue to grow in height by adding more stems and leaves until flowering begins. When grown in large numbers in tight quarters such as in greenhouses, banana peppers can benefit from light staking. Use several rows of secured string on the outside of the pepper rows to give the plants extra support without risking damage to their fragile stalks.
Banana peppers will produce white or yellow flowers that once pollinated will mature into pepper fruit. Banana pepper plants are self-pollinating, which is why they are a highly-producing species. Adding a fertilizer regiment focused on flower and fruit production to the soil is useful during this stage.
Banana peppers will start as a pale green color, turn yellow, then progress to orange or red during their final stages of maturity. Typically picked during the yellow stages, these plants will continuously ripen their fruits if not harvested. Harvesting throughout the season will encourage pepper production.
What Does a Ripe Banana Pepper Look Like
Completely ripe banana peppers are actually red! Most people harvest them when they are yellow, which is technically slightly less than ripe. This gives the pepper a crunchier texture and a more flavorful outcome.
They will be about 5 inches long, slender, and firm to the touch. Corking, which is the development of small brown lines that create a slightly cracked appearance on the outside of the pepper, is an absolute indicator that your banana peppers are very ripe and ready to be harvested.
Types of Banana Peppers
While there are many different types of banana peppers, all the domesticated varieties are long and slender, typically yellow in color when harvested and mature to bright red. Some varieties produce capsaicin while others have a sweet flavor.
Ripe banana peppers are ready to be harvested when they are around 4 – 5 inches long. They should feel firm to the touch and appear shiny. Never use peppers that don’t have a fresh and fragrant smell.
Sweet Banana Peppers
The longer that you leave a sweet pepper on the plant to ripen, the sweeter it will become. Sweet banana peppers are commonly used fresh or pickled. Sweet banana peppers are most often harvested when yellow but will progress to orange even after the fruit is removed from the plant. Typical Scoville heat unit range of 100 to 500.
Hot Banana Peppers
The longer that you leave a hot banana pepper on the plant to ripen, the spicier it will become. The hottest banana peppers are those that have been allowed to ripen on the plant, producing a bright red or orange color by the time they fully mature. The longer they are left to ripen, the softer and less crisp the outer skin will become, which is why many people choose to pick their hot banana peppers when they are still in the yellow stage even though they get hotter with age. Typical Scoville heat unit range from 5,000 to 10,000.
How to Harvest Banana Peppers
Harvesting banana peppers is easy to do. Simply determine the amount of ripeness you desire from your particular banana pepper variety and prepare for a mass number of peppers heading your way all summer long!
- Pepper plants and their fruits are very fragile. When picking a pepper, make sure not to pull on the plant while trying to rip the pepper off its stem. Instead, grab the pepper with one hand and secure the plant in the other. If the pepper is ripe enough, then it will easily snap right off with one easy motion.
- You can also use scissors to carefully cut the pepper off the plant. This is particularly useful when harvesting yellow banana peppers that aren’t completely ripe yet. Always clean and sanitize your cutting implements to ensure you don’t expose your plants to pathogens or diseases that could stall further pepper production.
- It is best to leave a little stem and cap on the pepper to protect the vulnerable inside flesh, which will make the pepper last longer. This also gives you a place to tie onto if you plan on hanging your peppers to air dry.
- When picking banana peppers, wait until the early morning has passed. The dew and cooler temperatures make the plant more vulnerable to breaking. The best time to harvest banana peppers is in the early afternoon before the hottest part of the day.
- Don’t leave a ripe pepper on the plant because it will trigger the plant to senesce and produce few to no new pepper pods.
- Rinse and dry your harvested banana peppers and store them in a paper bag in the crisper of the refrigerator, lasting for at least a week.
Will Banana Peppers Ripen After Picking
Banana peppers will ripen after picking. Unlike bell pepper varieties, which must be allowed to ripen before harvesting, chili pepper varieties such as banana peppers can be harvested green and allowed to ripen while they dry. This is useful in large production or shipping, but the best-tasting pepper will always be the one that was allowed to ripen on the plant and picked fresh.