Published Jul 8, 2011

Growing peppers like a master

By Sally Worley

John Whitson of Sunrise Produce near Woodward has been growing peppers for twenty years. John specialized in habanero production until he began focusing on large-fruited Anaheim and poblano roasting peppers for Juan O’Sullivan’s Gourmet Salsa the last three seasons.

“Growing peppers to maturity has been a challenge during recent cool seasons. A few years ago Gary Guthrie (Nevada farmer and Wheatsfield supplier) was the only person I saw fortunate enough to successfully grow large peppers. He had planted them on black plastic.” John recommends putting peppers on raised beds, if possible, and mulching them to capture heat. Black plastic is effective; John uses straw or black landscape fabric for mulch.

For big peppers, John spaces plants two feet apart and supports each plant with the cheapest tomato cage he can find. “Cheap tomato cages won’t support a tomato, but do great work supporting large peppers.” John’s favorite pepper seed suppliers include Gourmet Seed International, Pepper Gal, and Totally Tomatoes.

Big Jim Numex is John’s preferred Anaheim variety for size and flavor. “Once you get hooked on eating those, there’s no end.” John recommends selecting peppers with early maturity dates and disease resistance if you have trouble getting peppers to mature. This year he will grow Anaheim variety Numex Espanola hybrid, which is earlier to mature than Big Jim. “For poblanos, Giant poblano is a lot of fun to grow. This year I will also test out some Ancho ranchero hybrids with shorter days to maturity.”

Learn more about best chile growing practices, irrigation, pepper varieties, commercial kitchens, and preparing value-added products for sale in retail stores while eating salsa at a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day, Juan O’Sullivan’s Secrets to Successful Salsa, August 3rd near Cumming. Call Practical Farmers of Iowa at (515)232-5661 or visit for details.

Farming Practically is a monthly column I write for Wheatsfield Cooperative’s “The Field Journal.” The newsletter can be viewed in its entirety at