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When To Pick Peppers – How To Know When Peppers Are Ripe!

Have a hard time knowing when your peppers are ripe and ready for picking?

Peppers can be one of the toughest vegetables of all for judging when to pluck at just the right time. We know this simply by the sheer number of questions that come flying into our inbox every year as summer hits full stride.

In fact, here is just a small sampling of the questions that have come in during the last week:

  • What shade of green do my peppers need to turn before I harvest?
  • How long does it take for my peppers to turn red or yellow?
  • How firm should the outer skins be before I pick?
  • Can I pick peppers early and allow them to ripen off the plant?
  • Where is the best place to store my peppers once I pick them?
when to pick peppers
Peppers can be tough for knowing when to best harvest for flavor and crispness. Unfortunately, unlike tomatoes, peppers do not continue to ripen as easily off of the plant.

It’s certainly easy to see why there is so much confusion when it comes to harvesting peppers. Peppers grow and mature much later than most summer crops. And they also seem to take forever to turn to their supposed “final” color.

Will They Ever Ripen?

Unlike cucumbers, zucchini, or other vegetable plants, the fruit of a pepper plant can seem to hang for weeks on end without any signs of growth or change in color. But believe it or not, there are a few tips and tricks that can make knowing when to pick your peppers a breeze. Even more, a few of the harvesting tips can even help your plants to a bigger crop!

With that in mind, here is a look at how to know the best time to pick your peppers – and how to keep them as fresh as possible once picked.

How To Know When To Pick Peppers

One thing is for sure, although both are members of the nightshade family, there are a lot of differences when it comes to harvesting peppers vs. tomatoes. And the biggest of all differences is how the two ripen off of the plant vs. on the plant.

With tomatoes, it is far better to pick them as soon as they start to turn. This allows them to ripen far better and with much less problems from cracking, rotting and insects. See : When To Pick Tomatoes – And The Best Way To Ripen Them!

when peppers are ripe
Picking a few of your peppers early in the season can pay off with a large harvest in late summer.

Peppers on the other hand are better left to ripen on the plant. It’s not that peppers won’t ripen and mature a bit off of the plant. However, they do so at a much slower rate, and certainly not as efficiently as tomatoes. They are also far less likely to ripen enough off of the plant to turn color.

Whether you are growing green, yellow or red bell peppers, or any variety of sweet or hot peppers, it is first important to realize that peppers will take much longer to start producing ripe fruit than your other vegetables.

Many first-time gardeners worry their peppers are not ripening correctly compared to their tomato crop. But it simply takes longer for the majority of peppers (bell peppers, jalapeno, sweet peppers, etc.) to ripen fully and turn color.

But that doesn’t mean you have to wait forever to at least taste them. In fact, as you will see below, picking a portion of your peppers early can have a long list of benefits – for you, and your plants!

Why Picking A Few Peppers Early Is Important – When To Pick Peppers & How To Know They Are Ripe

The good news is that you can pick and eat most peppers as delicious young green peppers at any point. Even when it comes to hot varieties, or the sweet red, yellow and orange bell types as well.

Not only will it give you an early taste, it actually will help your plants produce ripe peppers and more peppers even faster. The first peppers a plant produces take a lot of energy from the plant. Because of this, they also take much longer to ripen. But by removing some, you actually can help the plant kick-start better production and ripening.

Here is a great rule of thumb when it comes to picking nearly any variety of pepper from a plant: As soon as a pepper plant starts to produce peppers near what should be their full size, pick at least half to consume as green peppers.

Not only will it allow you an early harvest, but more importantly, it kick starts the plant to ripen the other peppers that are hanging, and to produce even more blooms for more peppers. And in the long run, it also helps help the plant to ripen peppers more efficiently.

It is important to note, when picking “green”, almost all will have a mild, green bell flavor. Hot peppers won’t be as hot. Sweet peppers won’t be as sweet. But by picking early, you will get your plant producing more than ever!

How To Know When Peppers Are Ripe

So how do you actually know when a pepper is ripe? The best way to tell ripeness is by size and color. Of course, you must first know what the typical size and color of your pepper should be.

For instance, cayenne peppers will usually be 4 to 6 inches and red when ripe. Green bell peppers should be 3 to 5 inches in diameter and a deep green color. Jalapeno peppers should be 3 to 5 inches long and a deep dark green.

From there, it is all about timing. If you are trying to ripen your peppers to perfection on the plant, you should wait until they turn to the appropriate color and “normal” size and then pick them immediately. Harvest when the skin is tight and has no wrinkles or aging, this will be at its crispest point.

Keep Picking – When To Pick Peppers & How To Know They Are Ripe

As the growing season rolls into mid to late August, you will notice your pepper plants producing and turning peppers at a faster rate. This is the time to leave a fair amount to ripen fully to their mature color.

The key is to allow 50% or so of the harvest to ripen on the plant, while picking the others to keep the plants going.

fruit overload
Allowing too many peppers on the plant at once can create fruit overload. When this happens, the plant limits or shuts down new bloom production.

In general, all peppers start out green, and will turn colors as they mature. Even a green bell pepper left on the plant in late season will turn red. Likewise, jalapeno peppers do this as well, turning red as fall rolls around – which by the way, is absolutely perfect for making homemade chipotle peppers! See : How To Make Chipotle Peppers

Protect Your Plants From Fruit Overload – When To Pick Peppers & How To Know They Are Ripe

In addition, as your plant starts to produce a lot of peppers, harvest regularly to keep the plant from having too many peppers hanging at once.

The problem with leaving too many peppers on a plant to mature is that just as with tomatoes and other vegetable plants, pepper plants can suffer from fruit overload. This occurs when a plant is trying to ripen too many peppers at once.

When this happens, it sends a signal to the plant to stop producing new blooms. And no blooms mean no more peppers. Keeping your plants picked also helps them from toppling over from too much weight. Remember, more than anything else, pick often!

How To Store Your Harvest – When To Pick Peppers & How To Know They Are Ripe

So what is the best thing to do with all of those peppers you are picking? And how can you keep them at their freshest possible state?

drying hot peppers - know when peppers are ripe
We dry a lot of our peppers on our DIY drying rack, and then turn them into hot pepper powder, flakes and chili seasoning. There is nothing like fresh peppers for making your own spices!

If you are trying to ripen your peppers a bit off of the plant, store them in a cool, less humid area. Also, make sure it is out of direct sunlight. Placing them on a bread rack or drying rack is best, as it will allow air flow all around the pepper.

If you will be canning or preserving your peppers, the faster you process after picking, the better. Just as with nearly all vegetables, peppers begin to lose their crispness and flavor with each passing day.

With that said, peppers, unlike tomatoes, can successfully be stored in the refrigerator for one to two weeks with little loss of flavor or nutrients. For best results, keep them in your crisper drawer as it will keep the proper humidity for longer storage.

Drying Peppers – When To Pick Peppers & How To Know They Are Ripe

If you will be drying or dehydrating your peppers, do not refrigerate at all. It is best to leave peppers for drying out on a screen or rack, and out of direct sunlight until you can get to them. See Our DIY Harvest Rack!

If you live in a non-humid area, you can actually dry them completely outdoors this way. In more humid areas, the peppers tend to mold before drying. Happy Pepper Picking! – Jim and Mary.

Jim and Mary Competti have been writing gardening, DIY and recipe articles and books for over 15 years from their 46 acre Ohio farm. The two are frequent speakers on all things gardening and love to travel in their spare time.

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