By: Justin Russell | October 10, 2016
Capsicums are among the elite group of vegies that tick almost every box. Consider their virtues: they grow well in every climate in Australia (with a bit of judicious plant selection in places such as Tassie, and the right timing in the tropics); they are equally at home in containers or the vegie patch; they look terrific in the garden and the kitchen; they are packed with flavour and life-enhancing nutrients; and the fruit suits our lifestyle and food culture. If tomatoes are the favourite summer vegie of pretty much every gardener in Oz, surely capsicums deserve to be high in the order too.
I’ve been growing these outstanding food plants since the get go, when I started my first vegie patch in the spring of 1999. I like growing capsicums so much that they’re now a staple fixture in my warm-season garden, one of the few plants that, like the most valued two or three players in a sporting team, invariably retain their place.
This spring I’m planning to grow a few varieties, chief among them ‘Padron’. These wrinkly little capsicums will never win a beauty contest, but they’re prolific things that are traditionally used as a Spanish tapas dish. Tapas is something I think translates perfectly for Australian culture, so my aim is to grow a big crop of padrons, pick them green in the traditional style and cook them simply – fried in olive oil, then seasoned with salt and served late on a summer’s day with an icy cold beer. Tell me that doesn’t sound appetising!
Capsicums are another in a long line of thoroughly confused plant-naming traditions. They belong to the species Capsicum annuum, which is part of the Solanaceae family of plants, and like capsicum relatives tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes, they originated in the Americas. Australia and New Zealand are among the few countries in the world to refer to the plant using the proper botanical name, and this is where the confusion sets in. Most Capsicum annuum cultivars are sweetly flavoured, but some are hot. Jalapeno is an example, but we don't call it a capsicum, we call it a chilli.
To avoid confusion, we Down Under gardeners would be smart to take the lead of places such as the US, Canada and the UK, where both capsicums and chillies are known as peppers, but are differentiated from each other with the terms sweet pepper (for caps) and hot peppers (for chillies).
Capsicums to try in your patch
Here are some popular capsicum cultivars you might want to try growing in your garden:
'Padron' – A ridiculously heavy bearer of small, wrinkly capsicums traditionally used in tapas. Generally picked and cooked green, but ripens to bright red.
‘Quadrato d’Asti Giallo’ – The largest fruit of all, this old Italian variety from Piedmont changes from green to yellow when fully ripe. Ideal for stuffing.
'Mini Sweet' – Produces heavy crops of cute little capsicums in various shapes and colours. Stocky plants are ideal for growing in containers.
'Purple Beauty' – Has fleshy, sweet, deep-purple fruit.
'Golden Calwonder' – A yellow version of the widely grown ‘Californian Wonder’. Heavy bearer of big, bell-shaped fruit.
'Marconi Red' – A stunning Italian variety producing tapered, glossy, bright-red fruit.
'Antohi Romanian’ – An heirloom variety from Romania that ripens early, making it perfect for cooler, frost-prone areas such as Tasmania.
For the full story on this super vegie, including planting times and best planting practice, soil and drainage, fungal and soil-borne diseases, combating fruit fly and images to make your mouth water, grab the latest issue of ABC Organic Gardener November/December 2016 OUT NOW!