Banana peppers (Capsicum annuum) come in two main varieties, the hot banana pepper and the mild sweet banana pepper. Both of these annual pepper varieties grow during the hot, frost-free days of summer in a sunny garden bed. Allowing them to fully ripen on the plant to the desired stage gives you some control over both the flavor and the color of the mature peppers.
Days to Harvest
Banana peppers take about 70 to 75 days to reach their mature size from the time they germinate. Cultural conditions can affect the length of the growing season. Cool weather, less-than-optimum soil and drought stress can all slow growth so it takes longer for the peppers to mature. Use the average days to maturity as a guideline for when to begin checking your peppers for ripeness, because some peppers may also mature more quickly while others on the same plant may need more time.
Hot Banana Types
Hot banana peppers reach about 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide at maturity. Harvest at any time after the peppers turn yellow and they snap easily from the stem. The flavor is milder at the yellow stage. The peppers develop more heat as they mature to red. If you dry peppers after harvest, pick them once they turn bright red. Yellow peppers are more suitable for fresh use or pickling.
Sweet Banana Types
Sweet banana peppers can mature at a smaller size than the hot varieties, usually only growing 4 to 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Like hot banana peppers, you can harvest sweet bananas at any time after they reach their full size and become completely yellow, but waiting until they turn completely red results in a sweeter pepper. Sweet banana peppers don't snap as easily from the stem at maturity as the hot varieties.
Harvest peppers after the morning dew has dried on the plants, because handling wet plants can spread disease pathogens. Pick hot banana peppers by grasping the pepper at the base of the stem where it attaches to the fruit and snapping the stem. Support the main plant with your other hand so you don't damage it. For sweet banana peppers, wipe a pair of shears with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol to disinfect them. Cut through the stem, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the stem attached to the fruit. Check the plants daily after they begin to ripen, because the peppers will develop at different rates and the plants will continue to flower and set new fruits.