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When And How To Harvest Hot Peppers
5 min

When And How To Harvest Hot Peppers

5 min

You've taken the time to cultivate hot peppers, giving them everything they need to flourish throughout their growing cycle. Yet, arguably the most critical moment is fast approaching; when and how do you harvest them? We answer these questions and many more, so read on for everything you need to know about harvesting peppers.

Growing peppers is definitely a waiting game that rewards the patient and attentive. As soon as pepper plants bear fruits, we instinctively want to grab them as quickly as possible.

While it's true that you can harvest chillies once they appear, it's always best to let them fully mature so they can provide the best flavour and maximum heat. So, when do you pick them, and how do you go about it? Well, allow us to tell you everything you need to know so you can have some fantastic peppers at your disposal.

What time of year do you harvest peppers?

What time of year do you harvest peppers?

As a rule of thumb, many growers in the Northern Hemisphere start their pepper seeds at the beginning of the year, sometimes as early as January or February. The seeds are germinated at this point to make the most of the light and warmth offered in later months. Of course, pepper plants have different growth rates, with some taking up to 100 days and beyond before a berry is ripe, so this should be taken into account when planning your grow. This means that projects can last well into the summer and, in some cases, late autumn.

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When to pick peppers?

When are peppers ripe enough to enjoy? Because different types of peppers have such varied growing times, it might initially be a little tricky to pinpoint when to take the plunge. Below, we examine the signs you should look for to determine if your peppers are fully mature and ready to be plucked. One by one, we'll break down the info for each pepper so you know exactly how long they'll take.

Cayenne peppers

Cayenne peppers

Taking around 85 days to reach maturity, cayenne peppers offer a medium heat level that is satisfying and hugely flavourful. But how do you know when they're ready? Cayenne pepper plants reach a height of around 75cm before the fruits begin to form. Chillies initially appear green before taking on a bright red colour. Wait until they reach around 12cm long before you pull peppers from the plant, and you'll have a healthy stash ready to be used.

Bell peppers

These sweet peppers are hugely popular for their versatility and bright colours. Although taking between 60 and 80 days to mature their berries, bell peppers can be harvested at virtually any point. They can be plucked when green, or you can wait for them to turn red, orange, and, in some cases, yellow. As long as they are of a healthy size and with a glossy finish, they are good to go. It is generally understood that yellow and orange bell peppers offer up a sweeter flavour, so depending on your preference, pick when it suits you.

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Habanero peppers

Habanero peppers

Available in roughly 100 different types and a wide range of colours, the habanero hails from Havana and thrive on direct sunlight and warmth. Taking slightly longer than the other peppers we've mentioned so far, habanero hot peppers take around 100 days to reach maturity. At this point, the plant is often around 80cm in height, with chillies that are approximately 5cm long (when fully ripe). Depending on the variant of habanero you've gone for, they will turn to their respective colour. For example, the Habanero Orange plant will let you know when the chillies are ready as they turn orange, whereas red habanero and chocolate habanero varieties will turn red and deep brown/red when ready. So keep a keen eye out.

Serrano peppers

Bridging the gap between the bell pepper and jalapeño in terms of flavour, the serrano pepper brings a mild heat ideal for salsas, sauces, and adding to dishes for a little extra spice. This pepper variety takes about 100 days to reach full maturity when grown in the best possible environment, but it's down to the behaviour of the pepper itself to let you know when it's ready to be picked.

A fully ripe serrano chilli measures around 7 to 10cm in length and is dark green in colour, just about to turn red. This is the opportune moment to pick them. If the pepper comes off the plant with little resistance, it's ready. If it's still holding on, let it continue to ripen for a few more days before trying again.

Jalapeño peppers

Jalapeño peppers

Arguably the most popular hot pepper of all time, the jalapeño is a chilli with many uses. From pickling to placing on top of your nachos or even making jalapeño poppers, there's plenty you can do with a good stash of jalapeños.

When are jalapeño peppers ripe? You only have to wait around 85 days before these beauties are ready to harvest. Much like other peppers, jalapeños start off green before slowly ripening into red. So again, it's down to preference as to when you pull them. Many wait until the pepper is an incredibly dark hue of green before attempting. Eaten green, the peppers will be spicy but not overpowering. If left to turn red, the heat level will intensify. Once ready, these peppers should come off the plant easily. Again, if not, leave them to mature a little while longer before trying a second time.

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Ghost peppers

Otherwise known as bhut jolokia, the ghost pepper is one of the spiciest peppers in existence. Formerly the world's hottest pepper, this one demands a lot of respect when handling. With a long growing cycle, ghost peppers can take as many as 150 days from seed before they're ready to harvest. A ripe ghost pepper will be around 5cm long and have intense red colouring and a slightly shrivelled appearance to let you know it's good to go. Give it a gentle pluck, and it should come away in your hand with no problem. Just be sure to handle with care once you've collected this one!

Carolina Reaper peppers

Carolina Reaper peppers

With an eye-watering 2.2 million Scoville units, the Carolina Reaper is the world's hottest chilli for good reason. So if you're looking to sample this one for yourself, what are the signs that it's ready to pluck? Taking anywhere between 100 and 120 days after germination, the plant reaches heights of around 120cm. The chillies themselves take on a top-heavy appearance that tapers into a pointed bottom. When they are around 6–7cm in length, about 5cm wide, and feature their trademark red, glowing aesthetic, they're ready to pick. Again, just give one gentle pull, and you'll know if it's ready to come off.

Can you harvest peppers early?

By all means, you can harvest your peppers as soon as they appear. However, you'd really be doing yourself a disservice by not letting them mature a little more before doing so. It's at this time that peppers take on more flavour, shape, and potency, so it's undoubtedly worth leaving them a little while before even considering picking them. Like all things, though, harvesting peppers comes down to preference. So if you want to sample your peppers “early” and enjoy them that way, give them a try.

How to properly harvest hot peppers

How to properly harvest hot peppers

We've told you the signs to look out for before harvesting your peppers, but how do you actually remove them from the plant? Follow our simple steps below to pluck your peppers without problems.

  • Prepare for harvesting your plants by wearing gloves. This will help to protect you from any spice burns if you touch your face or other parts afterwards.

  • There are a couple of different ways to pick a pepper. One method involves pruning shears or a knife. Indeed, it's entirely possible to cut the stem of the pepper away from the plant.

  • The second method allows you to actually pluck peppers by hand. However, this can result in damaging the delicate branches of the plant if you're not careful, so go easy. Gently holding onto the branch with one hand, lift the pepper up with the other hand and lightly pull, causing it to snap from the stem. If the pepper is sufficiently ripe, it should come away without any issue. This is the preferred method for many chilli enthusiasts, as the wound to the plant from a ripe snap is minimal.

Hints and tips for hot pepper picking

Hints and tips for hot pepper picking

As mentioned, a considerable amount of care and patience is required when harvesting peppers, but what are some other hints and tips you should be aware of to make sure every harvest is successful?

Storing your peppers

Once you've collected your peppers, you'll need to store them effectively. There are many ways to keep your peppers safe and viable. Of course, if you're looking to pick and use them immediately, you can skip this section.

However, if you're saving them for a later date, consider placing your chillies in airtight containers or bags, and put them either in the fridge for up to 3 weeks, or in the freezer where they can last the best part of a year. You can even look into drying your peppers or pickling them if you want to use them in different ways and really extend their lifespan.

Corking

When looking at your plants and deciding if the fruits are ready to harvest, keep an eye out for cut-like marks on their skin, known as “corking”. While at first glance you may think this scoring is a negative trait, it actually serves as another clue that they are ready to be plucked.

Wear gloves

We mentioned that gloves should be worn when harvesting hot peppers, but they are invaluable when handling peppers too. Whether you're holding, cutting, or cooking with them, it's worth bearing in mind that hot peppers can cause burning sensations should you be unfortunate enough to touch your eyes or other sensitive parts of your body after use. So be sure to keep a pair of gloves handy; you'll need them.

With our guide and tips, you should be more than prepared to harvest peppers. Above all, take your time and be patient. But if you haven't started cultivating your pepper plants just yet, what's keeping you? Give it a try; you won't regret it.

Adam Parsons
Adam Parsons
Professional cannabis journalist, copywriter, and author Adam Parsons is a long-time staff member of Zamnesia. Tasked with covering a wide range of topics from CBD to psychedelics and everything in between, Adam creates blog posts, guides, and explores an ever-growing range of products.
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