We have a bed in the garden completely devoted to peppers. It contains 10 pepper plants – 2 Jalapenos, 1 Ancho, 1 Shisito, 1 Habanero, and 5 Corno di Toro. Yes, 5 Corno di Toro. Why? Because now that I have grown and tasted these, I would never grow any other sweet pepper (also because I had 100% yield in my seeds :O and ended up with 5 and just couldn’t trash 2 of them).
For my first garden 6 years ago I could not decide what sweet peppers I wanted to grow so I picked up a “carnival” mix with 5 different pepper seeds in it (it was probably from Burpee but I can’t find the exact one I bought available now). Included in those seeds was a long, red pepper shaped like a bulls horn. Not only was this pepper the best tasting of the sweet peppers I grew that year, but it was also the most prolific. I was smitten and harvested the seeds to grow them the next year (see my seed harvesting tips below and why I got lucky…).
So how do you grow a better bell pepper? You don’t grow bell peppers, you grow Corno di Toro peppers! Make this change and you will not be disappointed, I promise you. These peppers are prettier, sweeter, and go well in so many dishes. I eat them straight, in salad, stuffed, or in stir fries. They are SO GOOD in my Chicken & Eggplant with Thai Basil.
My Corno di Toro plants grow tall (all are between 3 1/2 and 4 feet) and currently have an average of 7 peppers on them with more coming. The only down side to these plants is that they do take a while to progress from seed to red pepper. I planted my seeds at the beginning of March and I only picked my first fully red pepper at the end of August. That is pushing the 175 day mark from seed to first full ripening (Burpee’s website says 75 days after transplant until fruit, and I think that is pretty accurate). Still I would not grow any other sweet pepper.
Now I do still have a few peppers growing tips I follow to get the highest and most delicious yield:
- I put a tablespoon of epsom salt in the hole I dig for the pepper when I transplant the pepper plant in the garden bed. Epsom salt adds magnesium to the soil which is important for the growth of plants like tomatoes and peppers, especially in places with high alkaline soils, like here in Colorado. I have not done a full scale experiment to see if it really makes that much of a difference. Maybe next year!
- Some people even spray their plants with 1 tablespoon epsom salt in a gallon of water when the plants flower (source). I have not done this, but again maybe next year. I am now curious.
- Always have supports. You don’t have to have crazy cages. I use old, dried out blackberry vines from my blackberry bushes. Free and rustic looking! This is especially important for the Corno di Toros as the plants grow tall with many branches coming off them. If they don’t have support they will fall and break.
- Don’t pick peppers when they are green, let them change color. They will be sweeter this way. This might be self explanatory for some of you but many people don’t realize this. This is also why colored peppers are more expensive than green peppers in the grocery store – they take longer to produce. Obviously if you are going to get a frost, pick your peppers and don’t loose all that work you put in!
My Corno di Toros are now 4th generation from that original pepper plant I grew from seed my first summer. The plants have gotten taller and the peppers are a little bigger. I like to think this is because I am slowly creating a Corno di Toro that is “my own”. How do I do this? Seed harvesting and saving!
I harvest seeds from a lot of my heirloom plants and flowers. You can read my post here about how I harvest seeds from my tomatoes. Harvesting peppers seeds are really easy but there are a few guidelines that I follow. Disclaimer: I am NOT an expert on this by any means. I use trial and error and have been successful with my Corno di Toro peppers.
- As I said above, first make sure the pepper you are growing is an heirloom variety. With hybrid plants you never really know what you will get in the next generation, or even if you will have viable seeds at all. I got lucky when I first harvested seeds from my Toros and they were viable and have stayed so.
- Harvest seeds from the peppers in the middle of the pepper growth. This is important for two reasons:
- This allows you to see how successful the plant will be. You want a plant that produces a lot of peppers and by waiting for a middle pepper you will know how many peppers came before or after it. Also this allows you to see if any of the other peppers develop disease. One of my plants the first cluster of peppers looked amazing but the second cluster have yellow, not fully formed soft flesh. Not good. I won’t be harvesting seeds from this plant.
- I can only imagine, though I might be making this up at this point, that harvesting early peppers could move your plants to the earlier producing variety. This could be a good thing but it depends what you want out of them. I want high yield plants so I wait a bit.
- Taste, taste, taste! You are growing these peppers to eat. Taste the pepper you plan to harvest the seeds from. Do you like it? If it isn’t sweet enough or is too sweet, don’t harvest seeds from it. You want to grow your perfect pepper so only harvest seeds from your perfect pepper!
- For the pepper you are harvesting seeds from, let it grow completely. You want fully formed seeds. I actually let the pepper grow a little past the point where I normally would if I were eating it to make sure.
Once you have the perfect pepper to harvest from the seed harvesting part is easy. Cut the top of the pepper off and pull out the white part with all the seeds on it. Put the seeds in a jar and allow to dry. Once seeds are fully dry, store in a cool, dark place.
With the combination of the growing tips and seed harvesting you can get some pretty good bell peppers I am sure but I am hooked to Corno di Toros and I am never going back to the bell. This horn shaped Italian peppers are the only sweet pepper for me.