Florida Is Second-Largest Producer of Bell Peppers in U.S.
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
If Peter Piper lived in Florida, he would love this time of year – it’s a great time to pick a peck of peppers! In fact, Florida is the second-largest producer of bell peppers in the United States. In the 2018–19 growing season alone, Florida growers harvested 11,800 acres of bell peppers. Although bell peppers can be grown throughout the year in the Sunshine State, they are a warm-season crop, and October through June is their period of peak production.
Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that fills you up fast, bell peppers are mostly water, so they are very low in calories. Think you know which Florida crop is highest in vitamin C? Here’s a hint – it’s not oranges! Green bell peppers have roughly twice as much vitamin C as an orange, and red bell peppers up to three times the amount.
Bell peppers are a member of the Solanaceae family and come in a variety of colors – green, yellow, orange, red, even purple, brown and white. Green peppers are by far the most common, and while some bell peppers will remain green once they are completely mature, many of the green peppers that we see are simply immature bell peppers that were harvested before they could fully ripen into their true, bold, color.
When harvested while still green, bell peppers have a slightly bitter, some say grassy, flavor profile. If allowed to ripen into a yellow or orange hue, the pepper becomes sweeter and somewhat fruity. Red bell peppers are the sweetest and most flavorful form of the peppers. Because the red pepper fruit is allowed to remain on the vine longer, it will have higher levels of various nutrients than green peppers. Red peppers contain 11 times more beta-carotene than green bell peppers, for example.
Due to their vitamin C and fiber content, bell peppers can help regulate blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. The carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein contained in bell peppers can improve eye health, and their phenolic compounds may protect against a variety of ailments, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and mental decline. These are just a few of the potential health benefits of bell peppers, as they contain an array of nutrients that can positively impact many systems within the body.
Bell peppers are originally native to Mexico, Central America and South America. They grow best in moderate temperatures and loamy soil with full sun and enough moisture. Certain areas of Florida are particularly well-suited for growing peppers, such as Alachua, Hardee, Hillsborough, Collier, Lee, Putnam and Suwannee counties.
When growing bell peppers in home gardens, it’s a good idea to start the seeds indoors to avoid accidentally washing them away while watering the garden. Late winter and midsummer are the best times to start seeds indoors. Once they are ready to go in the ground, peppers prefer to grow in full sun and well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of about 6.5. Bell peppers can be harvested about 80 to 100 days after planting the seeds, and you can choose to pick the peppers when they are green or leave them to ripen on the vine until they achieve their mature state.
Some of the varieties that grow best here in Florida are “Big Bertha,” “Red Knight,” and “California Wonder.” Bell peppers can be enjoyed raw, roasted, pickled, stewed, or frozen for future use. Any way you slice it, a bell pepper serves up plenty of tasty health benefits.