As the growing season progresses your immature pepper pods will start to grow un-
til they reach their full size. The peppers themselves then start to change color turning from
their immature green color to the final color of the variety (red, yellow, orange etc.). As
the pepper changes towards its final color, its composition changes also - depending on the
pepper or variety chosen, this can involve an increase in taste, sweetness, heat or the vitam-
in C composition of the pepper. As peppers can be harvested and enjoyed once they are full
size, it is a question of personal taste when you should harvest. Different peppers and vari-
eties tend to mature at different rates, typically between 50-70 days following transplanting
(your seed packet should indicate this), so this figure can be a good benchmark of when
you should start harvesting. Like all things in the garden, the best rule for you is one that
you establish through trial-and-error! Pick at different times and see what works best for
you and your palate.
There is a second thing to bear in mind when deciding when to harvest. The time
from your peppers reaching full size to turning its final color can take up to 4 weeks. When
a plant has the full amount of fruit that it is able to bear, it will not produce any new flowers
i.e. it will not overburden itself. Therefore until a pepper has been harvested no new flowers
(or new peppers) will be produced by the plant. Therefore you have a dilemma, between
waiting for your peppers to fully ripen and having a lower yield (this can be anything up to
a 25% reduction), or picking peppers earlier (with potentially reduced sweetness, heat etc.)
and having a heavier harvest.
I tend to harvest at regular intervals through the season to get a lengthy staggered
harvest. I tend to harvest on a weekly basis. By this I pick the largest immature peppers
to allow for fresh flowering to occur. Depending on the expected maturation time for the
particular pepper I am growing (as indicated on the seed packet etc.), I calculate backwards
from the date of the first expected frost of fall, and then stop picking immature peppers
from that point. This then ensures a supply of fully ripened peppers from that date onwards.
As an example, if I expect the first frost to occur on November 1 st , and my peppers have
a maturity of 70 days, I count back 70 days from November 1 st , to August 23 rd , and from
that date on as a minimum (or more typically a few weeks earlier e.g. August 1 st , to al-
low for error), I allow all the peppers on my plants to reach full maturity on the branch.
Of course, should you see a pepper showing signs of disease or sun scald, you should pick
those immediately, to prevent the fruit from rotting and disease spreading. Similarly some
peppers show signs that they have reached full maturity and so require picking at this time.