Bell peppers fall into the sweet peppers category as they don’t register on the Scoville Heat Scale like spicy or hot peppers do. In Canada, the majority of bell pepper production takes place in greenhouses in Ontario and Quebec which allows Canadians access to fresh, colourful bells all year long.
All bell peppers start out green but different varieties have been bred to mature to yellow, red, and orange.
Green Bell Pepper:
Harvested before they have a chance to change colour, green bells have a slightly more bitter flavour than the sweeter, ripened colourful bell peppers. Their strong earthy flavour and slightly tangy taste lend well to tomato-based dishes and make them perfect for stuffing.
Red bell peppers:
Crisp and crunchy with a high juice content, these versatile sweet peppers provide vibrant colour to dishes and lend well to grilling, roasting, snacking and stuffing.
Yellow bell peppers:
Crisp and crunchy with a high juice content, their bright yellow skin adds a pop of colour to any dish. Their sweet flavour also makes them great for juicing and they are full of vitamin C (5 times the recommended daily intake), niacin and folate.
Orange bell peppers:
Their vibrant orange colour and fruity flavour make them ideal for fresh consumption and they don’t stand up as well to heat as yellow or red bells. Orange bells have 3 times your recommended daily intake of vitamin C.
How to Buy:
Choose peppers that are smooth and firm with thick, shiny skins that are free of soft spots or cracks. Bell peppers that feel somewhat heavy for their size indicate fully developed walls.
Green peppers are simply yellow, orange or red peppers that have not yet ripened; however, they will not continue to ripen once picked.
How to Store:
Peppers will keep in the refrigerator crisper for a week, possibly a bit longer. Peppers are sensitive to ethylene producing produce, such as tomatoes, which can cause colour change. Improper temperatures can cause discolouration and shriveling.
You may dice peppers into desired sized pieces and freeze in sealable bags. You may also blanch them prior to freezing.
How to Prepare:
Just prior to using, rinse peppers well in cold water, remove the core and seeds, and cut into desired sized pieces.
Peppers are delicious raw or in salads and sandwiches. They are a versatile ingredient in omelettes, casseroles, soups, stews, stir-fries, side dishes and may be grilled, stuffed and baked, or oven roasted.
Read More: How to Make a Stir-Fry
Sweet Red Pepper:
How They Are Grown:
Peppers are a warm season crop and so they grow best in greenhouses in Canada. However, Ontario and Quebec do produce a summer field pepper crop that is harvested in August by hand.
Field peppers require a longer growing season so they are started in greenhouses and then transplanted to the field. Pepper plants use wind pollination to produce the fruit and are staked to hold them upright and separate the peppers so they don’t get squished, deformed or misshapen. Consumers expect aesthetically pleasing produce from the grocery store and peppers that don’t meet the standard are discarded or used in the processing sector.
When the peppers are 80% mature (the colour they are supposed to be), they are picked by hand by skilled labourers and shipped to a packing house to be washed, sorted and graded.
Because they require 3 ½ to 4 months of frost-free weather to produce strong yields, the majority of commercial peppers are grown hydroponically in greenhouses under conditions that employ computer-controlled temperature, light, nutrients and humidity. Production is based on a full year cycle. In the late fall, the seedling nursery is cleaned and disinfested. Fresh seed is planted into rockwool plugs which are kept moist and warm. As leaves begin to form in two to three weeks, the seedlings are transplanted into larger woolrock cubes or coco coir bags or another growing medium.
The transplants are moved into the production greenhouse when the first flower bud (or king flower) appears, at approximately six weeks after seeding. Various methods, such as ozonation, UV lamps and slow sand filtration, are employed to sanitize re-circulating water in order to ensure a balance between beneficial and harmful microorganisms. A great deal of care is taken to ensure the plants have sufficient space, light, heat, nutrients and carbon dioxide throughout their development.
Farmers prune the pepper plants to two to four main stems and remove the king flower to encourage more growth before the flowering and fruit set begins. The stems are trained to grow up vertical strings attached to an overhead frame. Lateral branches and side shoots are pruned regularly, every ten to fourteen days, as this helps establish a balance between vegetative growth and fruit growth. This is vital for continual, steady pepper production over the long production season.
Some greenhouses keep small bee hives along the rows as bumblebees help pollinate the plants in the winter and early spring for improved seed set and larger fruit. It is important to manage the bumblebees as they can eventually scar developing pepper fruit if they visit the individual pepper flowers too aggressively.
Greenhouse pepper growers use an Integrated Pest Management strategy that includes tools such as biological control agents, predators and parasites, the greenhouse environment and some biologically-friendly pesticides such as insecticidal soaps to control pests. This is a virtually pesticide-free way to maintain healthy crops.
Bell peppers are individually harvested when they are at least 80% coloured. The first pick usually starts in late February through April and continues through to December as more fruit sets on and matures. The peppers are cut off with a small, sharp knife at the base of the stalk to minimize potential infection of the rest of the plant and promote healing.
The sweet peppers are then graded for size and colour. They are usually dipped in chlorinated water to reduce the possibility of bacterial soft rot and shipped to markets throughout Canada.
Canadian Crop is Available:
Greenhouse peppers are available February through December.
Grown in: Ontario (65%), BC (32%), Alberta (2.4%)
For More Information:
- BC Greenhouse Growers Association
- Okanagan Grown
- Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
- Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers
- Red Hat Co-Op
- les Producteurs en Serre du Quebec