There used to be an ad on Australian TV which was put out by the Kiwi fruit board (or whoever it is that promotes Kiwi Fruit) in which the tag line was: “more Vitamin C than an orange!” (the orange was weirdly pronounced as Oraarnj). Well guess what….. the capsicum not only has more Vitamin C than an orange it also has more than a Kiwi Fruit. Apparently raw red capsicum contains about twice the vitamin C as the same amount of orange. Of course cooking it destroys quite a lot of it but it you munch it raw you can keep scurvy well and truly at bay.
The name capsicum at once refers to both the genus of flowering plants to which they and chillies both belong, and the vegetable (which is actually a fruit) that we cook and
eat. Interestingly what Australian’s, New Zealanders and Indians call Capsicums is the only member of the capsicum family not to produce Capsaicin (the substance that makes chillies hot). In the UK they are called peppers and in the US they are known as bell peppers, which is helpful to know if you are looking for ways to use this vegetable on the internet.
All capsicum fruits start out green then different varieties change to different colours upon ripening. My personal preference is for red as I feel they are sweeter than most other colours but if you want a colourful salad there is no reason not to grow some of the other varieties which can produce yellow, orange, purple even chocolate coloured fruit. There are also elongated varieties of capsicum if you want a variation on the more common bell
Once harvested peppers will continue to ripen for a couple of days if stored out of the fridge, so you can pick them at about 75% ripe and they will continue the process inside.
Good to know if you are concerned about pests attacking your crops.
How I grow them
I have struggled with my capsicums this year, or probably more accurately they have struggled with me. I put it down the lack of warmth this summer (its amazing how many
things I do put down to that – if its hot next year and they still fail I’ll have to look for a new excuse). Having said that I have had some beautiful ripe capsicums for the past month with a few more to come, so all is not lost.
This year I grew my capsicums in 40cm pots, I bought one plant as a large seedling and grew two from seed sown in August. The one I bought as a large seedling produced one fruit which ripened in late December and then the plant basically stopped growing and flowering so I ripped it out. I don’t think I will be buying seedlings again. The other two have grown well but it took them so long to flower and set fruit that I am only now using home grown capsicums, and given that winter seems to be setting in I don’t hold out to
much hope for the plant setting any more fruit. I do intend to try to get these plants through winter and see if they will fruit much earlier next year. We shall see.
I always stake my capsicum plants as the weight of the fruit is often too much for the branches. I use old pantyhose as plant ties (I have a large supply as I am particuarly good at laddering them).
For a family of four I think about 4-6 plants would probably be sufficient (unless you have a good preservation recipe), especially if you staggered their planting throughout the growing season. In Melbourne this would mean staggering planting out of capsicum seedlings between late October and January.