Learning how to tell when banana peppers are ripe helps you maximize your harvest. Banana peppers (Capsicum annuum) come in two main varieties, hot peppers and mild, sweet banana peppers. Both of these annual pepper varieties grow during the hot, frost-free days of summer in a sunny vegetable garden. 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. Looking at the calendar and having a general date for maturity helps you know when you start checking your peppers. 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.
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.
Signs Banana Peppers Are Ripe
Once you know the general time frame for your banana peppers are ripe, you can start looking for the signs of ripeness. Banana peppers that are ready to harvest can range from 4 to 8 inches long with differences based on the variety you plant. Before they're ripe, banana peppers appear green. The color when ripe can vary anywhere from bright yellow to bright red depending on the type and your preferred ripeness.
Hot Banana Pepper 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 Pepper Types
Sweet banana peppers are ripe 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, sweet banana peppers are ready to harvest 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.
Banana Pepper Harvest Method
Once banana peppers are ripe, harvest them 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 pruning 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.
Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.