The best part of gardening is the harvesting season. For new growers, it can be tough to know when to pick ghost peppers and other chilies. Thankfully, it is easy!
In this article, I’ll share how to know when to pick ghost peppers. I’ll also show our simple method for harvesting ghost peppers from the plant so you can get picking.
Types Of Ghost Peppers
As with any common pepper cultivar, such as jalapeno, bell pepper, or cayenne, there are many different varieties of ghost pepper. Most growers focus on the classic red bhut jolokia, but there is a wide selection, each with its own unique characteristics.
Different ghost pepper types may ripen to red, dark green, mustard, brown, orange, yellow, or peach. In this article, we’ll focus on harvesting the classic red ghost pepper, but here are a few other types that you may be growing.
Ghost Pepper Growth Stages
To understand when to harvest ghost peppers, it is helpful to know the plant’s stages. Since ghost pepper plants are not as common as other varieties, you are likely growing yours from a young age. Here are the four main ghost pepper growth stages with pictures.
1. Seedling stage. Ghost peppers start off growing very slowly, developing their first sets of leaves and establishing a root system. The plants are fragile at this stage and should be kept under grow lights for 14-16 hours per day.
2. Vegetative stage. After the seedlings have been alive for 3-4 weeks, ghost peppers are transplanted into larger containers. Transplanting at the right time is important to avoid root bound plants and to maintain consistent and speedy growth. The length of this stage will be dependent on container size, with smaller containers leading to earlier flowering.
3. Flowering and fruiting. Once a ghost pepper plant reaches a mature size, it will begin producing flowers. Flowers ultimately become the fruits, so the more buds the better. Pollinators such as bees and flies will fertilize flowers and initiate fruiting. Fruits typically take 1-2 weeks to reach a full size.
4. Ripening stage. After ghost pepper fruits reach their full size, they will begin the ripening process. This stage will test your patience, as ghost peppers can take 4-6 weeks to change color and become fully ripe!
How Long Do Ghost Peppers Take To Grow (Time to Harvest)?
Ghost peppers are among the Capsicum chinense species, and most varieties within this species require a long growing season. From planting to harvesting ripe ghost peppers can take anywhere from 130-150 days (4.5+ months) or longer!
In our experience, ghost pepper plants will not produce too many peppers when temperatures are very high (above 90°F). In fact, our plants usually produce best later in the season, after the hottest part of the summer is over.
When To Pick Ghost Peppers
How can you tell when a ghost pepper is ready to be picked? The best way to know when to pick ghost peppers is to wait for the pepper to change its color.
For example, red ghost peppers will ripen from green to a bright red color when they are fully mature. Never pick a ghost pepper before it has ripened (unless you have to).
How long does it take? Once you see your ghost pepper begin to change color, it should be fully ripe within 7-10 days. This will depend on the weather conditions, but in general it is pretty quick.
One other thing to consider before harvesting is seed saving. If you plan to save the seeds from one of your ghost peppers, leave the pepper on the plant to ripen for an additional week after changing colors. This will ensure the seeds inside are fully developed before the pepper is removed from the plant.
Will Ghost Peppers Change Color Off The Plant?
After picking a pepper that was not fully ripe, will it continue to change color? This depends largely on the stage at which the pod was harvested.
If you pick a ghost pepper that was partially ripe (color had begun to change), then it will continue to ripen through to its final color.
However, if you pick a very immature green ghost pepper, there is a good chance that it will not change colors off the plant. Green ghost peppers are still edible (and will have plenty of heat and flavor).
How To Pick Ghost Peppers
If you are not sure how to safely harvest ghost peppers, there are some simple techniques that we recommend. Thankfully, the outer skin of ghost peppers do not contain any capsaicin, so harvesting bare handed is okay (as long as you are careful).
- Find ripe peppers (color fully changed)
- Hold green stem
- Pull up and away from the plant
Tip: If you are nervous about getting capsaicin on your hands (peppers can break open while picking), wear a pair of nitrile gloves. Nitrile are the only type we have tried that truly keeps the oils from getting through to your skin.
To better illustrate how easy harvesting ghost peppers is, watch our video below. The plant in the video was about 7 months old when we harvested about 150 ripe pods from it.
Watch us harvest our huge ghost pepper plant (video):
Will Ghost Peppers Continue Producing?
So you’ve harvested the ghost peppers from your plant, but will it continue to produce peppers? Or do ghost pepper plants die after they fruit?
Thankfully, ghost peppers are perennial in nature, meaning that they can live for many years, producing many flushes of fruits. They will require nutrients, warmth, and plenty of sunshine to produce another strong harvest.
What will kill a ghost pepper plant is freezing weather. Most growers in winter climates will allow plants to die in the cold weather. I always leave late peppers out as long as possible before the first frost comes.
If you don’t want to let your plant die, you can always overwinter it and keep it alive indoors until next spring. This may or may not be worth the effort to you, but if you have a healthy plant, it is an option.
Can I Pick Ghost Peppers Before They Ripen?
As the season draws to a close, you are likely to have some unripe ghost peppers left on the plant. This can cause a dilemma; leave the plants out and risk frost damage, or pick the peppers early?
In short, ghost peppers can be eaten unripe (green), but will likely have less heat and less sweetness. If you can, always wait for the peppers to ripen to their final color before picking.
If temperatures are dropping into the 40s (Fahrenheit) or lower, you can bring potted plants into a warm room overnight to prolong the season a few weeks. In-ground plants can be protected from cold weather with protective row cover fabric.
Are Ripe Ghost Peppers Hotter?
If you’re growing ghost peppers, you probably want them to be as spicy as possible, right? Well, thankfully this topic has been studied from many different angles.
In this study, peppers were found to produce optimal capsaicin levels around 45-50 days after fruit set. After that, the capsaicin levels declined.
Based on these results, your ghost peppers should be at their hottest about 6 weeks after setting fruits, or right around the time the peppers change color.
Tips for growing hotter ghost peppers:
- Keep them warm. Warmer climates tend to grow hotter peppers, and particularly, warm nighttime temperatures. If you have a greenhouse, use it to keep the plants warm through fall.
- Water less after fruits form. Reducing watering after the fruits form has been shown to increase capsaicin levels.
- Fertilize with higher nitrogen. If you’re going for heat, it has been shown that hot peppers become hotter with more nitrogen during fruiting. They also become hotter under stressful conditions, with very low nitrogen availability.
I hope this article helps you know when to pick ghost peppers from your plants. Harvesting is the most exciting part of growing hot peppers, and I hope you enjoy the heat!