This year we’ve been lucky enough to have pretty decent luck growing bell peppers. The plants have been nice and healthy, and very productive thanks in part to the very wet spring and warm summer we had this year in Michigan. We practice a yearly crop rotation in our raised beds, incorporate our own compost into the soil and mulch to retain moisture when it gets hot and dry as well.
Bell peppers are something we use quite a few of throughout the year. From goulash to chili, and stir fry to fajitas, so we grow a good number of plants to meet our needs and fill up our freezer. This year we put in 12 plants and each has yielded about 3-4 good sized peppers. When we used to buy them at the store, we usually used about 1 a week throughout the year (unless I was making stuffed peppers) so 12 plants provide about all we need for the year which is great. I think next year we may plant just a few more and we should be totally set!
Preserving peppers is actually pretty easy to do. It involves no cooking (bonus!) and doesn’t take much time either (double bonus!). We harvest some of our peppers when the are still immature and green and leave a few on the plant to ripen and sweeten, turning either red or orange depending on the variety. When it’s harvest time we take the largest peppers first so that they don’t topple the plants over. This also allows the plants to keep growing and directing nutrition to the remaining fruit.
Start off by removing the peppers from the plants. It’s best to do this with a sharp knife rather than just yanking them off the stem because you can sometimes pull too hard and risk damaging the rest of the plant.
Once the peppers have been collected, rinse them in water to remove any soil or garden residue and slice off insect damage or bad spots. We don’t use any pesticide on our plants shy of a natural product that contains only botanical ingredients so we come across a little bug bite or two every once in a while. We like this Dr. Earth spray as its compatible with our organic gardening goals and safe for human consumption.
Once washed, use a sharp knife to cut down along the sides of peppers and along the bottoms, trying not to waste much of the pepper itself and setting the seeds and cores aside. Sometimes when cutting one open you’ll find really cool stuff inside, like a mini pepper that has started growing from one of the seeds, or something even weirder like the curlicue below!
Next, slice out the white part, or rib, along the inside of the pepper and lay the pieces shiny side down on the cutting board. Slice into thin strips or chunks, whichever your preference. Once sliced, place the peppers in one flat layer on a cookie sheet and pop them into the freezer for about an hour.
When the time is up, break up any clusters with you hands and place into freezer or seal-a-meal bags. We like to portion them out into about how many slices or chunks you’d get from one pepper. We then use our Foodsaver to seal them. It pulls out all of the air from the bag and helps the peppers last longer. Label with the date and contents. They will keep for up to a year this way and can be used in any recipe you’d use fresh peppers in. Try freezing some in strips and some in chunks for use in a variety of recipes!
If you end up with really productive pepper plants like we did, you can take the seeds and save them for next year’s garden. Simply scrape your fingernail across the cores to loosen the seeds from the stem. Separate out and discard any broken or discolored seeds, and place the good seeds on a paper towel to dry for a day or so. You can then store the seeds in a plastic bag labeled with the contents and the year in a cool, dry place until next Spring.
Once finished we take whatever is leftover and drop it in into the compost pile to help nourish next year’s soil.