How to Grow Hot Pepper and Make Money

Pepper belongs to the Solanacea family. Other members of this family includes tomato, tobacco, eggplant and Irish potato. There are different varieties of pepper available to choose from. You just have to go to the pepper sellers in your area and find out the variety that sales well. Then visit a state ministry of Agric. and find out where you can buy the seeds. Some people who sell agro-chemicals in markets may also sell seeds.

Is there money to be made in pepper farming? Yes. Pepper mature in 3-4 months and with proper maintenance, you can harvest it continually for 6 months or more. You’ll make much more money if you have access to irrigation facilities so you can irrigate your plants during the dry season. This can either be in the form of borehole or stream/river. In most places in Nigeria, you can easily rent farmlands that are close to rivers that flows even in the dry season.

When I planted the Nsukka yellow pepper in a village called Ozeh, I made N21,000 with just a small portion of land that accommodates 358 pepper plants. This means that I got N58.6 per plant. I would have made much more if I had applied fertilizers more than twice and weeded it. A plot of land (100x60ft) will contain 1080 plants (50cm space between plants and 1m between rows), giving you much more than N63,288 if well-managed. I plan going into pepper farming full scale and when I do, I’ll come back with more accurate data.

My Yellow Pepper Farm

My Yellow Pepper Farm

Soil Requirement: Peppers can tolerate most types of soil that are well-drained. But they do well in sandy loam or loamy, fertile soils. Optimal soil pH is 6 to 6.8.  The soil pH strongly influences plant growth, the availability of nutrients, and the activities of microorganisms in the soil. It is strongly recommended that you carry out soil test before planting (I didn’t, but for large-scale farming, I definitely will). Soil test will help you know how much fertilizer to add and whether to lime or not. If your soil needs liming, lime should be broadcasted and thoroughly mixed with the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches. This is important because lime/calcium have limited mobility in the soil. So you have to make them reach the root zone. The neutralizing effect of lime is very slow. So add lime 2-3 months before sowing or transplanting. If this is not possible, add lime at least 1 month before sowing or transplanting.

Air Temperature: Hot peppers tend to grow well when temperature is 24-32oC during the day and 18-24oC at night. Significantly higher or lower temperatures can have negative effects on fruit set and quality. Temperatures for good fruit set is between 20 and 29°C. In drought and heat stress, pepper plants not only lose flowers, but also buds. Loss of buds delays flowering by several weeks and reduces yields dramatically. Factors influencing flower drop or loss of buds include poor light intensity, excessive nitrogen and insect damage.

If extreme temperature is a problem for you, inter-crop pepper with tall plants like maize, okra, trellised legumes and vines. This plants will cast shade on the pepper plant and help relieve extreme temperature effects.

Hot Pepper Nursery

For better growth and yield, young pepper plants have to be nursed in a nursery. This is where they will be protected from harsh environmental conditions like high temperature, harsh sunlight, drought, heavy rain etc. They’ll stay in the nursery for about 5-10 weeks before being transplanted to the main farmland.

Nsukka Yellow Pepper Seedlings

Nsukka Yellow Pepper Seedlings

Making the Nursery Bed: Make a nursery bed that is 120-150cm wide and as long as necessary. To facilitate drainage during the rainy season, bed height should be about 15cm. It can be lower in sandier soils that drains faster. Lower bed height should also be used during the dry season to conserve water.

Fertilizing Nursery: Fertilizing pepper can be done in several ways. Below are just a few:

1.    Add 1 bucket of composted or aged manure for every 2m2 (2 square meter) of bed or 20kg manure per square meter.

2.    Add NPK 15:15:15 fertilizer at the rate of 100g per square meter with some manure.

3.    Mix topsoil and composted or aged manure in a 1:1 ratio by volume and use it for the nursery.

To ensure successful germination, mix and sterilize topsoil-manure mixture by adding water and heating to 70oC for 30 minutes (don’t heat chemical fertilizer!). Fumigants like formalin (not effective on nematodes) or metam sodium may be used instead. Sterilizing helps control soil-borne diseases and pests that might attack the seeds or seedlings.

Sowing: After making the nursery, water it deeply before sowing. Sow pepper seeds in rows 0.6cm deep and about 10cm apart. They germinate in 12-21 days depending on soil temperature. After germination, thin out to a spacing of 8-10cm between plants.

Shade: Lightly shade the nursery the first 2 weeks after germination. Continue to shade them from midday sun or when the sun is too hot and from heavy rain. A simple shade can be made from palm fronds supported by stakes.

Pepper nursery should be shaded like this

Pepper nursery should be shaded like this.
Image from teca.fao.org

Watering: When watering, sprinkle water only on the space between the rows. Watering the buried seeds directly will cause the seeds to float out of the soil. Water daily in the morning but avoid excess watering – keep the soil moist, not waterlogged.

Pest & Diseases: Spray seedlings with recommended dosage of insecticides if you encounter pest problems. Examples of insecticides include chlorpyrifos, lambda-cyhalothin, permethrin, cypermethin etc. Fungal diseases may occur under moist and wet conditions. If that is the case, prevent them with fungicides like mancozeb or chlorothalonil. Most seeds companies treat their seeds with fungicide that will protect the seeds from soil-borne diseases and insects. Untreated seeds can be treated with Thiram (dithiocarbamate) at 1tsp. per pound of seed.

Hardening off: This is a technique used to make seedlings get use to the less favorable conditions they’ll face in the main farmland. It involves decreasing water and nutrients for a short period before transplanting. They are also gradually exposed to the full heat of the sun. Start hardening off pepper seedlings 7-10 days before the transplanting date. Avoid over-hardening transplants, which can delay the start of growth in the field and reduce early yields. It should be done slowly.

For maximum production, transplants should never have fruits, flowers or flower buds before transplanting. So remove flowers and buds as they appear to direct more energy to vegetative growth (see section on pruning and flowering below).

Main Farmland

After the nursery comes the main farmland, where the pepper plants will stay for the rest of their life. The nourishment they received in the nursery will help them to better cope with the harsh conditions that exist here.

Transplanting: The plant will stay in the nursery for 5-10 weeks. A research on sweet pepper showed that keeping pepper in the nursery for 8-10 weeks gave better yield than those transplanted at 12 and 14 weeks (Source: 1). I don’t know if this applies to hot peppers as well. However, my own hot pepper seedlings (Nsukka yellow hot peppers) transplanted at 9 and 10 weeks did well.

So after 9-10 weeks in the nursery and after hardening-off, water the seedlings deeply so that uprooting them will be easy. Transplant to the main farmland and water them deeply. You must have cleared the main farmland, made the ridges, and added manure and fertilizer.

At transplanting, apply some fertilizer (like 8g of NPK 15 15 15 per plant) into the planting hole and cover with shallow soil. Put the transplant in place and completely cover the root ball with soil and water deeply. Set transplants as deep as the lowest leaves so that the plant will develop deeper roots. After transplanting (especially within the first 2 weeks) maintain soil moisture so that plant roots can become well established.

Row Making: Pepper are best planted in rows. They are moderately deep rooted. Under favorable conditions, roots will grow to a depth of 36 to 48 inches (91-122cm). But the majority of roots will be in the upper 12 to 24 inches (30-61cm) of soil. Since root development is severely limited by compacted soil, proper land preparation should eliminate or significantly reduce soil compaction and hard pans.

To facilitate drainage during the rainy season, row height should be about 10-20cm. It should be in the lower range in sandier soils that drains faster. Lower row height should also be used during the dry season to conserve water.

Spacing: 45-60cm between plants and 75-100cm between rows. Use greater spacing during the rainy season to facilitate ventilation and minimize disease problems.

Pruning and Flower Removal (This is a SECRET in pepper farming!): After transplant into the field, wait until they start producing flowers or are about 30cm tall. Then cut them in half – but leave about 2 leaves or more for photosynthesis. New branches will grow out from the nodes. When those branches reach about 20cm long, cut them in half and more branches will grow. Don’t be afraid to do this because without it your plant will not develop a lot of branches and stronger stem and roots. Pruned plants also produce more peppers!

fruiting pepper seedlings

If your plant start putting out flowers and buds when still small, remove them allWhen the plant is still small, nip off all the flowers and buds that appear to direct all energy into development of strong roots and branches. If you leave these flowers your plant will not grow taller or wider and you’ll lose yield. Below is a helpful video on pruning.

Also remember to remove the lower leaves to promote easy air movement and prevent diseases. The pictures below showed how I did it.

Unpruned lower leaves

Unpruned lower leaves

Pruned lower leaves

Pruned lower leaves

Companion Crops: Peppers grow well near tomatoes, carrots, onions, okra etc. Yes, despite the fact that tomatoes and pepper are of the same family, they can still be planted together and rotated to another field next season. But they should not follow each other – as in you plant tomatoes this year and next year you plant pepper.

Fertilizers: From soil test result you’ll know how much fertilizer to add and whether to add lime. Avoid excess nitrogen as it will result in a rich leafy plant with few or no fruits. Urea fertilizer can tie up calcium in the soil and cause blossom-end rot.

As a rule of thumb, apply compost or aged chicken manure at 10tons/ha during land preparation. Apply NPK 15 15 15 two weeks after transplanting at 1 match box for 2 plants. Apply in a circular groove 4-7cm round the plant and cover with soil. Second application should be applied when 50% of the plants are flowering – at 1 match box per plant. But remember that if any plant start to flower when it is still small, remove all the flowers and buds to make it grow taller and branch out as you prune. Leaving the flowers will make your plant stunted no matter how much you fertilize.

Weed Control: Peppers are very sensitive to weed competition, particularly12 to 48 days after transplanting. You can control weed by cultivation (manual or mechanical), plastic or organic mulches, herbicides or stale seedbed method.

To control weeds with herbicides, apply glyphosate and allow all the weeds to die. Do this before land preparation. Glyphosate is a post-emergence herbicide, meaning that it kills weeds that have already come out from the soil. After ridge making but before transplanting, apply pre-emergence herbicides like Clomazone, Pendimethalin or S-metolachlor on ridges. Allow some days to pass before you transplant. The pre-emergence herbicide will kill young weeds as they try to grow out from the soil. The result of all these is that you won’t have to weed your farm for a very long time.

If you did not apply pre-emergence herbicide on the space between ridges, use a post-emergence herbicide like paraquat to control weeds that will spring up there (you may do this to save cost because pre-emergence herbicides are more costly than post-emergence herbicides). Glyphosate may be used instead of paraquat, but great care must be taken because one drop of glyphosate on your plant will cause the plant to die completely. On the other hand, paraquat will only harm the affected leaf.

If you’re weeding with hoes, know that peppers are moderately deep rooted. So cultivate around the plant with care to avoid destroying the roots

Preventing and Controlling Pests and Diseases

Pepper has a lot of pests and diseases that may afflict them. So you have to be prepared. 3-4 times per week, move around and take a close look at your plants. Try to identify color change on the leaves which may signal disease or nutrient deficiency. Lookout for insect pests. But don’t confuse bad insects with good ones like lady’s beetle, praying mantis, bees etc. Below are some guidelines that will help you control pests and diseases.

a. Don’t plant pepper where a member of the Solanaceae family (pepper, tomato, tobacco, eggplant and Irish potato) have been planted in the past 2-3 years.

b. Under wet and moist condition, alternate between fungicides like mancozeb + copper and chlorothalonil + Tanos routinely every 7 to 10 days to prevent fungal diseases. Complete coverage of the top and bottom of the leaves is very important since these are contact fungicide (except Tanos). Better still, use systemic fungicides in combo with contact fungicides as described in this forum discussion: Best Time to Apply Fungicides?

a.      Control insects with insecticides if they become a problem. Examples of insecticides include Diazinon, Alpha Cypermethrin, Chlorpyrifos, Diflubenzuron, Trichlorfon (Dipterex), Chlorantraniliprole, Spintoram, Emamectin benzoate, Indoxacarba, dimethoate, Imidacloprid and Lambda cyhalothrin. Read: Insecticide Resistance: How to Use Insecticides Correctly.

Some of these chemicals are very harmful to your health. Always wear protective clothing, face mask, respirator, hand gloves, boots and cap. Read manufacturers health precaution and obey it.

Harvesting

Yellow Pepper Harvest

Yellow Pepper Harvest

You can start harvesting after 3-4 months of sowing. When they’re ripe, cut them off the plant with a sharp knife or razor blade. Pulling them can cause a branch to snap and breakoff. Go to the market and see how peppers are bagged and do the same. Meanwhile, you must have secured buyers before you even start your pepper farm.

Processing

One good thing about peppers is that they can be dried and stored for a very long time. If properly dried and stored, they can last a few years. So when market price is ridiculously low, you can dry and store your pepper until the price is right.

You don’t have to depend on the sun to dry. You can build a simple forced-air dryer. Dried pepper from such dryers have better quality than sun-dried peppers. They retain their color better.

Here is how to dry your peppers. Remove the pedicles and calyx and wash them. Dip in hot water (65oC) for 3 minutes (this is called blanching). Drain and cut them open to decrease drying time, increase color retention and decrease mold infestation. You may not cut them open if you like, but it’ll take longer to dry. Next, place them in the dryer. Dry at 50-60oC, turning them every few minutes until they are leathery or slightly brittle, but not brittle and as hard as rock. Allow them to cool before storing in air-tight drums or polythene bags to prevent them from re-absorbing moisture. Store in a cool, dry and dark place to prevent loss of flavor.

Do you have any questions? Comment and ask your questions.

 

 

 

Ref.

  1. www.netjournals.org/pdf/NJAS/2013/4/13-040.pdf
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