Growing Capsicum

Latest Update 19th March 2017.

Capsicum  
  • I grow red capsicum plants each summer in a Small Ecobed.
  • The soil is cleared of organic debris from the previous crop and top dressed with lots of homemade thermal compost.  Its then covered with organic sugar cane mulch and left for a few weeks to get those microbes pumping.
  • I propagated 2 seedlings in jiffy pots (compressed sphagnum peat moss and wood pulp) in an EcoPropagator.
  • When the seedlings are in 4th leaf, I remove the weakest one in each jiffy pot (at ground level to reduce soil disturbance).
  • They are transplanted into the Ecobins when mature enough.  I plant them in their jiffy pots, to reduce root disturbance
  • When flowers appear, I buzz pollinate them to ensure plenty of fruit sets, and harvest them when fully ripe.
  • I store my crop surplus in a chest freezer.
Description.
  • Variety:                                                    Californian Wonder. 
  • Family group:                                           Solanaceae. 
  • Crop rotation group:                                  Solanaceae.
  • Garden bed type:                                      Small Ecobed.
  • Recommended soil pH:                             5.5 - 7.0. 
  • Minimum sun per day:                               8 hours.
  • Plant spacings:                                         1 per Ecobin.
  • Weeks to harvest:                                     10 - 12 weeks.
  • Climate:                                                   Warm temperate.
  • Geography:                                              Southern hemisphere.
Nutrition.
  • This food is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. 
  • It is a good source of vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, potassium and manganese, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), vitamin B6 and folate.
  • More from nutrition data.self.com.
Growing Conditions:  
  • Californian Wonder capsicum grows best in full sun in warm to hot weather. 
  • They need well structured rich organic soil and a continuous water supply for best results.
Soil Preparation.
  • Clear the soil of organic debris from the previous crop and top dress with 60mm of homemade thermal compost.  Cover with fresh organic sugar cane mulch and leave for a few weeks to build up worm and microbial activity before planting.
Growing Instructions.
  • Sow 1 or 2 capsicum seeds in each of 2 jiffy pots in August filled with good quality organic seed raising mix and cover with a 2mm layer of finely sieved mix.
  • Soak the pots for 30 minutes in a tray containing 10mm of dilute seaweed extract (dilute to about 25mils per litre of rainwater).
  • Transfer the jiffy pots into an EcoPropagator and sink them up to their rims in the wicking medium.  This will keep the soil moist until the seedlings are ready to transplant.
  • Select the strongest seedling in each pot when they emerge and nip the others off at ground level.  Don't pull them out as this will unnecessarily disturb the soil.
  • When the seedlings are ready to be planted out, make a space in the mulch in a prepared Small Ecobed and plant a capsicum seedling still in its jiffy pots.  Water it in once with dilute seaweed extract and then leave the Ecobed to take over the watering.
  • Apply a foliar spray of aerated compost tea every 4 weeks with all the other edible plants.
Pollination
  • Capsicum are self pollinating, however the pollen grains are securely held on the plants anthers.  Moderate vibration will release this pollen and often a strong breeze will be enough.  
  • Bumble bees buzz pollinate capsicum by grabbing the flower and vibrating their flight muscles vigorously.  Honey bees don't use this technique and consequently they are not very efficient pollinators of capsicum plants.
  • In mainland Australia where there are no bumble bees, we must rely on native bees (like the blue banded bee) or the wind.  Both are unreliable in suburban gardens, and barriers like greenhouses and pest exclusion netting make the problem worse.
  • To ensure a good fruit set, buzz pollinate by hand.  I do this using an electric toothbrush. See related video.
Harvesting and Storage.
  • Capsicum can be harvested from December onward. 
  • Pick some capsicum early while still green.  This encourages more flowers, but leave some to ripen to their beautiful red livery.
  • Capsicum can be stored, chopped into small cubes (skin on), in the freezer after removing seeds .  I blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes and cool them rapidly in cold water.  I dry them and pack them into resealable plastic bags for storage in my chest freezer. 
Organic Pest Control.
  • Slugs and snails.
    • Capsicum should be protected against slugs and snails using self adhesive copper tape bonded around the base of your Ecobins.
    • If these molluscs get into your Ecobin as eggs laid in your compost, kill them with organically approved iron based snail pellets as soon as they are dicovered.  You should only need to use a small number of them.
    • Mollusc eggs will not be a problem if you use thermal compost, the heat destroys them.
  • Greenhouse whitefly.
    • Aerated compost tea strengthens the plants foliage against whitefly damage.  
    • Exclusion netting is effective against them but they are very small and will occasionally breach your defences.  You will need to check your crop regularly. 
    • Control any infestations by spraying the insects thoroughly with organic horticultutal oil (Eco-oil in Australia).  The oil blocks breathing tubes and they suffocate.
    • Spray again in a few days to ensure a second generation does not survive.  (Eggs will not have been effected by the first spray).
  • Aphids (greenfly).
    • Use the same method on aphids as described above for whitefly.
  • Root knot nematodes. 
    • Crop rotation helps suppress root knot nematodes by moving their favourite food to a new bed every year.  They are not given enough time to establish and become a significant pest.
    • If you regularly apply fresh homemade compost, the beneficial microbes in the compost and soil will restore the soils microbial balance and significantly reduce the negative effect of root knot nematodes.  Periodic drenches of active aerated compost tea is even more effective.
  • Powdery mildew.
    • A monthly foliar spray of aerated compost tea helps keep powdery mildew at bay.   It does this by coating the plants leaves with a colony of beneficial microbes which resists the establishment of the fungi.
    • A solution of 1 part cows milk to 9 parts water also makes a reasonably effective organic fungicide against powdery mildew.  However, it needs to be applied early before the fungi gets well established, and frequently to keep the mildew in check.
    • As a last resort spray the plants foliage with an organic fungicide (Eco-fungicide in Australia). This works by creating a high pH environment which stops fungal growth.
  • General:
    • Regular applications of aerated compost tea boost the natural defences of capsicum by colonising leaf surfaces with beneficial microbes.  They defend the plant against airborne pests and diseases.
    • Similarly, proper soil preparation including regular applications of home made compost boost the community of beneficial microbes which defend the plant's roots against plant pathogens.