By Amy Grant
The Pacific Northwest had an unusually warm summer this year, with routine temps in the 80’s and into the low 90’s. Because of this, I am in seventh heaven with a bumper crop of red peppers. This has piqued my interest in growing other sweet pepper varieties, perhaps Sweet Chocolate bell peppers next year. Just the name alone makes me excited to try them.
Sweet Chocolate Bell Info
Hot peppers have been cultivated for over 7,000 years and are indigenous to Central and South America. Sweet peppers actually developed from hot peppers through the process of natural selection. Hooked yet?
Sweet bell peppers come in a variety of hues, including a chocolate variety with, as its name suggests, glossy dark brown skin. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a green bell pepper – What did you just say? Yes, my thoughts exactly. All sweet peppers go through a green stage on the way to ripening into their final color, and the Sweet Chocolate bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) is no exception.
Additional Sweet Chocolate bell info tells us that this varietal was bred by Elwyn Meader in 1965. This is a solid, thick pepper that ripens from green to chocolate on the exterior with a brick red interior. Fruit is ready to harvest in a relatively short time, 60-85 days, so undoubtedly a good choice for gardeners in my region.
Growing Sweet Chocolate Bells
All peppers are heat lovers, thus it is best to start them indoors in most climates. Sow this chocolate bell pepper in soilless mix in flats at a depth of ¼- to ½-inch deep 7-8 weeks before the last frost. Emergence will occur between 6-15 days. Harden the seedlings off prior to transplanting. Set plants in full sun 18-20 inches apart once the soil has completely warmed in well worked, well-draining soil amended with organic matter. Peppers prefer a pH of between 6.0 and 6.8.
Keep your chocolate bells well watered, but don’t over water. Stake the plants, if necessary, to keep the fruit off the ground and mulch around them to retain water and retard weeds.
Normally, these plants are mature 58-86 days later and will be 24-28 inches tall. You may harvest this fruit at its green stage or wait until it deepens into its chocolate hue – nothing like picking your own chocolate straight from the garden, right? Cut the fruit from the stem.
Chock full of vitamins A and C, Sweet Chocolate bell peppers can be eaten raw, stir fried, frozen whole, or my favorite, roasted which brings out their sweetest nature.