Bell pepper plants (Capsicum annuum) produce lush foliage and glossy fruit that add texture to the backyard. Unlike some other vegetables, a green bell pepper doesn't change color to indicate when it's ready to be harvested. Instead, you'll need to watch for other signs of maturity. To enjoy the fullest flavor, pick bell peppers when they are at their peak.
Count the Days
Time from planting is an important indicator of when the green bell peppers can be picked. Make a note of when the plants were started. In most cases, bell peppers approach maturity and are ready to be harvested approximately 70 to 75 days after planting. Once this date has arrived, start checking the bell peppers for signs of ripeness.
Inspect the Peppers
Size matters when it comes to bell peppers. A pepper is mature when it is approximately 3 to 4 inches long. Additionally, bell peppers take on a distinctive shape when they're fully developed. The peppers should have a blocky shape and have three or four bumps or lobes on the top of the pepper where it connects to the plant. As a final test, give the pepper a gentle squeeze. If it's ready to harvest, it should feel firm and crisp to the touch. Don't worry about the green color. You can pick and eat green bell peppers as soon as they are a mature size and shape.
Wait on Red
As the green bell pepper ripens, it turns yellow, orange and red and increases in sweetness. If you want yellow or red bell peppers, leave the mature green pepper on the plant and monitor it closely. The pepper's color will begin changing approximately 10 days after the mature green pepper would have been otherwise picked. Harvest it as soon as it reaches the color you want. Keep in mind that not picking a green pepper and allowing it to ripen further on the plant will decrease the total yield of the pepper plant.
A mature pepper comes off the plant easily. Wipe down a pair of pruning shears with rubbing alcohol to sterilize them, then cut the ripe peppers off of the plant, cutting through the stem. You can also grasp the pepper around its middle and twist and pull to snap it off of its stem. But bell pepper branches are brittle and may break if you're too rough.
Place the harvested bell peppers in a plastic bag. Don't wash the peppers in advance, as the moisture may reduce their shelf life. Chill the bell peppers at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, they can be stored for up to three weeks.