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Culinary peppers are great garden additions

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Extension Service

The month of May signals that it’s time for me to start planting culinary peppers in my home garden.

Some fellow gardeners think I’m behind because tomatoes have been planted in many gardens — mine included — since the beginning of April. I used to start planting peppers with the tomatoes, but I noticed that these plants would just kind of sit until the temperatures really started rising.

So, I performed a little garden experimentation.

I planted a set of peppers in early April and then planted a second set of the same varieties in early May. You know what happened? Both the April-planted and the May-planted selections had peppers ready to pick at the same time.

This changed the way I looked at my annual spring transplanting. It also changed the timing of when I sow my peppers seeds, which is now a month after I sow my tomato seeds.

I love growing peppers in my home garden. These plants act as an ornamental feature without really trying. Peppers come in a rainbow of colors, ranging from the sweet bells to those packing some heat.

This year, it seems I’m growing more than ever, and some selections are new to me. In between rain showers, I transplanted Carmen, Escamillo, Mellow Star, Fresno, jalapeño, piquillo, poblano, little beak and, of course, bell peppers on the first weekend of May.

My neighbors ask what we do with all these peppers, besides sharing the harvest with our neighbors, which they all enjoy. My wife and I consider ourselves urban homesteaders, so we can a lot and put some in the freezer. But we also love to cook with fresh peppers and other veggies from the garden. You should see the dinner pictures I post online.

I think my most favorite way to enjoy fresh peppers is to char them on the grill. Charring allows you to remove the skin, leaving the tender flesh. You can do this with almost any type and heat of pepper.

A bar snack or appetizer-type dish we like is making jalapeño poppers using the thick flesh and mild heat of the Jalamundo variety. The recipe is super easy. Slice the peppers lengthwise, scraping out the ribs and seed. Fill the peppers with soft cream cheese or, for a special treat, homemade pimento cheese.

I also like to cook some of the trendy foods we see on cooking shows. Whenever chefs say they’re going to use shishito peppers in a recipe, the judges seem to be very impressed. Shishitos are an old Asian variety that are thin-skinned and about 3 inches long. Shishito peppers are mild, but it’s widely reported that one in 10 is randomly hot, which could be a pleasant surprise.

My wife, Katie, somehow gets all the hot ones at my house. Blistered shishito peppers are easy to make with our air fryer, and they are ready for a delicious dipping sauce.

There are lots of pepper transplants available at your favorite garden centers now, and the time is right to grow some of these delicious vegetables this summer season.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at southerngardening@msstate.edu. Locate Southern Gardening products online at http://extension.msstate.edu/shows/southern-gardening.]