Each year the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, one perennial and one edible as their "Year of the" crops. Each is chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile. For 2015 their selections include the coleus annual, gaillardia perennial, and the edible sweet pepper.
Most people are familiar with sweet bell peppers but there are many more available in a range of colors and shapes.
Sweet bell peppers are named for their shape, which has 3-4 lobes. The regular bell pepper is 4 to 5 inches across and blocky in shape. Although most bell pepper varieties are green changing to red, yellow, or orange; Purple Belle has purple fruit that changes to red; and Chocolate Bell starts green and matures to a chocolate brown.
There is also an elongated bell pepper that is longer than it is wide, growing 6- 8 inches long. These also change from green to red or yellow, depending on the variety grown.
The other popular sweet pepper is the sweet banana pepper. Sweet banana peppers are 6 – 8 inches long and narrow. If left on the vine, they ripen from green to yellow to red as they mature. They are listed as a sweet frying or salad type of pepper. Be careful though because there are also hot banana pepper varieties available.
If you follow Facebook you might have come across a hoax claiming that the number of lobes on a bell pepper determines the fruits sex and flavor. This is not true. Pepper plant flowers contain both male and female reproductive parts and thus the developing fruit is neither male nor female. The number of lobes also don't affect flavor. Instead, select peppers that are firm and fresh with no signs of soft spots or discoloration.
The National Garden Bureau website (www.ngg.org) says, "No matter how they are grown or used in the kitchen, sweet peppers add beauty, variety, and health to any garden or home."
For more information about growing sweet peppers and other vegetables, visit the University of Illinois Extension Watch Your Garden Grow website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/index.cfm. There you'll find information on vegetable gardening basics, planting the garden, and a vegetable directory.
Whether you grow peppers in a traditional vegetable garden, in a container on the patio, or intermingled among your flower gardens, you'll enjoy this versatile plant.