In the Garden

Q: My wife thinks I should hang my pepper plants upside down at the end of this growing season. She said it helps to fully ripen them even if they are already red. Do you agree?

A: Once hot peppers completely turn their ripe color, they’re as fiery as they’ll get, so hanging them to ripen further shouldn’t be necessary.

On the other hand, if the peppers haven’t turned to their ripe color before the end of the season, your wife’s idea probably will work. It all depends on how much they’ve colored up.

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Just like tomatoes, if there is at least a touch of ripe color in the fruit, your peppers should ripen if you dig the entire vine, roots and all, and hang it upside down in the garage. The warmer the conditions where the vine is hung, the faster the fruit will ripen.

Unfortunately, this method generally only works with fruit that are beginning to color up. If the peppers are still completely green, the best way to ripen them up is to dig the plants, pot them up and bring them inside to keep them growing as houseplants.

I admit I’ve never tried this, but others tell me the peppers ripen up fine as long as they’re in a brightly lit, warm location. Of course, keeping a bunch of beat-up pepper plants growing as houseplants can have a slightly detrimental effect on the appearance of one’s living room.

Before you try this, you might want to check what those peppers cost at the grocery store. Chances are they’re a lot cheaper than marriage counseling!

Q: My artichokes open early before they are big enough to eat. Any suggestions?

A: Artichokes are gourmet treats that normally grow and produce fairly well in our climate. The buds should be harvested when they are plump and tight, before they start to open.

Unfortunately, the buds sometimes begin to flower before they size up. When that happens, they tend to be woody and anything but delicious. The key to producing well-sized tender buds is water. Artichoke plants resent hot, dry conditions, and tend to flower early if they suffer drought.

In a hot, dry summer like our recent one, artichokes require regular watering to keep the soil evenly moist. Incorporate plenty of compost into the soil before planting and mulch with compost to conserve moisture.

Despite the need for moist soil, make sure the area where the artichoke is planted drains well. The crown of the plant will quickly rot if it is sitting in water. Artichokes are big eaters as well. Work a cup of organic tomato food into the soil around each plant when growth begins in spring and follow up with a second cup in midseason.

In late October, cut the stalks to about 8 inches above the ground and cover with straw. Select the best of the offshoots to be new plants next spring. Then pay attention to water and fertilizer, and you should enjoy a bumper crop next season.

When you eat them, remember Julia Child’s famous motto: “More butter!”

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.