By the numbers: Sweet banana peppers

302 Lynn Drive, banana pepper, pepperI’m not a huge fan of banana peppers — don’t ask me why since they taste almost exactly like bell peppers — but they are practically bulletproof in the southern garden.  For those unfamiliar with banana peppers, they are basically a sweet frying pepper, but are most commonly pickled or eaten fresh.  They also dehydrate well.  They have thinner walls than bell peppers, and while they will eventually turn orange and red, I don’t know anyone that waits for that to happen.  Taste-wise, banana peppers don’t have the trace of bitterness that accompanies green bell peppers, but neither are they quite as sweet as fully ripe red bell peppers.  At least at the yellow stage; I’ve never eaten a ripe banana pepper.

In addition to the more common sweet version, there is a “hot” version that tastes pretty much the same but has a tiny kick.  Sometimes they are confused for Hungarian wax peppers or peperoncinis, but they don’t have the heat of the former or the hint of bitterness of the latter.

This year I planted 4 seedlings, 2 from the old fashioned heirloom variety, and 2 of an improved hybrid called Sweet Spot XR.  The hybrid produced significantly larger and thicker peppers, but one of the plants up and died for no reason I could determine after only a few peppers; postmortum revealed poor root development.  The following numbers are based on 4 plants (because that’s what I planted), but really they are the yield of 3 plants.  Each plant was given 2.8 square feet of space, which is a bit cramped for peppers.

Final tally: 11.2 square feet – 26.5 lbs., 2.36 pounds per square foot, or 6.5 lbs. per plant.

I did not break down by variety for this plant; since the plants all grew into each other it would be near impossible to accurately and consistently identity which fruit came from which plant.  Again, I reused seed from previous years, but let’s pretend I purchased seed at $3/pkg

Seed: $6
Fertilizer: Cottonseed meal, maximum value $0.50
Irrigation: Yes, twice this year, but usually I’d need to water 5 times or so,  $1.
Pesticides: None.
Row cover and other tools: None.
Labor:  Started seedlings indoors and transplanted.  Minor weeding.  Harvesting.  Re-used seed pots, cost of potting soil and electricity for lighting, $1.

Total cost to grow first year: $8.50

The USDA doesn’t track retail prices for banana peppers, so I am going to use the bell pepper price.  Depending on your region, banana peppers could sell as an exotic pepper, or they could be of a lower value as they are here in the South.   As of last week (this link updates, so if you click on it you will get the latest report and not the one to which I am referring), the average price of conventionally grown green bell peppers is $1.53/lb. and $2.99/lb. for organic.  As always, this is the lowest price point per year, but unless you are preserving them it’s a realistic figure to compare to what you’d be purchasing.  My price for home grown organic-ish banana peppers?

Pounds Cost to grow Cost per pound
Banana peppers 26.5  $  8.50  $   0.3208

That’s a huge savings for a fresh, nutritious vegetable that takes up a very small space to grow and is liked by most people.  Banana peppers also rarely succumb to disease or pests or fruit rot.  I declare banana peppers a winner in the cost effectiveness category.

So why did I give away most of my banana peppers?  Because I had a great year for bell peppers, which I prefer.  The banana peppers are just a fall-back plan, because here in the South, bell peppers don’t always do well.  More on that in our next installment of By the Numbers, coming tomorrow.

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