Get ready to make killer hot sauce (or tasty salads)!
Preparing your soil
Like tomatoes, capsicums enjoy a soil pH slightly lower than neutral, which explains why they grow so well together. Aim for between 5.5 and 6.5. To lower your pH organically, add in some manure or well rotted leaves. You should add these to your soil a few weeks before planting to allow them to lower the pH. Another common way to lower soil pH is using peat moss, however, this is not a sustainable practice and should be avoided. In addition, when peat moss dries out it becomes hydrophobic and from then on repels water. An alternative is sphagnum moss which is similar but a more sustainable option.
Like tomatoes and other fruiting crops, capsicums will thrive with a few banana peels planted underneath them. The peels break down and provide potassium to the plant which encourages fruiting.
Poke your finger in the soil to the first knuckle and place 3 seeds in the hole. If all seeds sprout, in about 6 weeks, keep the biggest and gently remove the other seedlings. To prevent disturbing the roots, you can cut them off at the soil level.
If you live in warm or cool temperature region of Australia, it is recommended that you start your seedlings indoors approximately 6 – 8 weeks before planting. This will allow you to plant more mature plants which will give you an advantage in the short growing season.
Growing capsicums in cooler regions
Capsicums like hot conditions, which means those living in the cool temperate regions of Australia will not have as great a success as those in the tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate areas. But there are some ways you can improve your crop.
- Greenhouses of any kind is an obvious one. These create a hotter area for your plant to grow.
- Plant your capsicums in pots and place them on patios and near the house. These areas of concrete and brick radiate heat and create a micro-climate hotter than your garden beds.
- Place a dark coloured object, like a compost bin lid, on the south side of your plant. This will absorb heat and radiate it back on to the plant.
As mentioned, capsicums grow well with their other nightshade family member, the tomatoes. But they also benefit from companion planting with basil to deter thrips and okra for aphid protection. All of these plants benefit from companion planting with flowers to attract beneficial insects to pollinate them. I choose marigolds and nasturtiums (which have the added benefit of being more attractive to aphids than anything else you are growing!).
As you know, capsicums can be eaten green, however, most people prefer to wait until they turn red, yellow or orange (depending on your variety). If you want to harvest some green, choose the female capsicums. These have 4 bumps on the bottom of the fruit and are sweeter than the male capsicums which have only three bumps.
Author: Diana Barnes, Growing Vegetable Down Under