Sweet Capsicum is produced under cover in glass or plastic greenhouses (forcing system) and in the field, depending on the environmental conditions (similar to other European countries).
Growing structures can be: glass covered or plastic covered. According to production periods we recommend the following forcing seasons:
Early forcing: Sowing in September—October, transplanting in November-January to heated glass house.
Mid-early forcing: Sowing in November—December, transplanting in January—March to heated plastic house.
Cold forcing: Sowing at the end of February and transplanting at the end of April to unheated plastic houses.
Autumn forcing: Sowing in July and transplanting in September to heated plastic houses.
Growing in the open field: At first the seedlings are grown in hotbeds or in heated greenhouse usually until the middle of March. Transplanting could commence after the spring frosts approximately at the end of May.
SOWING AND GROWING SEEDLINGS
Using any production technology seedlings are grown under controlled conditions in seedling media (trays, pots, etc.).
Transplanting varies according to the production technology and cultivars used; 4-5 plant/m2 are planted for early forcing, or 8—10 plant/m2 are planted in the field.
The use of natural soil, both in forcing or open field production, is typical of the Hungarian sweet Capsicum industry. Growing without soil has only been recently achieved in greenhouses, which represent only 1-2% of the total production area. Because of the above-mentioned tilling, weeding is one of the most important cultivation projects. It is done by small garden machines or by hand in greenhouses. Drip irrigation is used for the irrigation and fertilization in 80% of the growing systems. Micro-dispenser irrigation is used for the rest. Overhead dispenser irrigation system (linear) is typical, but recently several farms switched to drip irrigation to save water.
Sweet Capsicum has to contend with two serious diseases when grown in greenhouses; they are the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and powdery-mildew (Leveillula taurica). Most of the cultivars intended for forced production have TMV resistance. Licensed pesticides are used against powdery-mildew. The cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and Xanthomonas could cause damage in the field. For protection against the last two diseases, pesticides are used as well. Among the numerous insect pests Thrips, Aphids and Whitefly can cause significant damage. Biological and chemical methods are used for protection.
Harvesting by hand in greenhouses is done on an average every 7—10 days. Fruits are always harvested at market maturity (white, pale green). An exception is the tomato-shaped sweet Capsicum that is harvested and sold at biological maturity (red).
Harvesting begins at the end of July or beginning of August in the field. It finishes with the first autumn frost (end of September—middle of October).
For a long time paprika was only grown on a small area by a small circle of growers mainly in Szeged—Alsovaros during the 1880s. However, it was a completely new crop in the region of Kalocsa. Originally paprika was directly seeded in the gardens of the villages and towns. Since cultivation technology has improved (transplanting, etc.) it became a field crop. Because of the changes of cultivation technology, direct seeding became an important technology.
Paprika is considered to be an intensive farming system, and a row crop. Paprika is generally known as a transplanted crop today, but it was originally directly seeded. At the early stages the growers had no facilities for growing seedling. At the end of the nineteenth century the technology of growing cold-bed seedlings became popular. At the beginning of the twentieth century a lukewarm-bed or molinos seedling production was introduced, and later the warm-bed (Dutch) seedling production became accepted (). As a result of improved technology during the last decades seedling production in plastic houses was widely used, in most cases with complementary heating equipment to protect against sudden cooling. Direct seeding of paprika is practised as a large scale because of logistic and economic aspects of production. Additionally, the increasing cost of labour and energy are a powerful argument for direct seeding. Even though transplanting requires less seeds for sowing, the vegetation period of these plants is a bit shorter, so the production safety and the harvested crop’s quality are better. Several authors have studied this issue, namely Szepesy (), Kapitany () and Kapitany and Szepesy (). They agreed that direct seeding can have the same result as transplantation if early cultivars, perfect agronomy and a “good year” occurs. For these reasons this method should only be used on a portion of the property.
Our observation is that most of the Hungarian paprika cultivars – except the semi-determinate and determinate ones — are able to compensate for the fewer number of plants per hectare by heavier growth and higher fruit production per plant. They could also manage the same production per hectare under suitable climate and production technology conditions. This observation supports the hypothesis that there is justification of growing hybrid paprika if certain conditions are secured in the Hungarian climate.
SOWING AND PLANTING
Considering field production under Hungarian climatic conditions, two kinds of production technology are known and applied: growing seedling and direct seeding. When seedlings are produced the seeds are sown in unheated plastic green houses during the second half of March or in the first few days of April, at the rate of 20—25 g/m2. The seeds are then covered by a 1 cm layer of sand. It is advisable to use pre- and post-emergence herbicides before and after sowing. After the seedlings emerge they can be treated, if necessary, with bactericides and fungicides. Weeding has to be done manually. Planting of the hardened seedlings should start in the second half of May, or in the first days of June. Usually, it is carried out by a transplanter ranging from two- to four-row units. The seedlings should be planted in 60-75 cm rows with 18—25 cm between plants by using two to three seedlings in each spot. This process will result in 200,000-250,000 plants per hectare.
To employ the method of direct seeding a suitably prepared land is needed. The sowing can start at the end of April depending on the weather. A pre-irrigation assists in seed emergence. The optimal number of plants is 400,000-500,000 per hectare. After applying pre- and post-emergence herbicides the weeding is later done mechanically or manually.
IRRIGATION AND PLANT PROTECTION
The growers must ensure the availability of an additional water supply because paprika requires more water than is naturally available under the Hungarian climate. This problem is solved with a water-gun. This is not the best for the crop because of the high pressure and the large size of drops. It is better when the irrigation is done by the linear system. There is less mechanical damage and the dispersion is better.
Fumigation of the soil protects against pests in the soil (most of the time nematodes). The damping of seedlings during the early growth needs to be considered. This disease can cause considerable damage and is caused by fungus, namely Rhizoctonia solani and occasionally Phytium debaryanum. Practical preventive protection includes fumigation or using fungicides for the sterilisation of the soil. After transplanting, and in case of direct sowing, protection is important against Xanthomonas vesicatoria pv. campestrh, especially if it rains a lot around the end of May and in the beginning of June. If cooling follows the precipitation, Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringea may induce infections. In paprika a symptom called “infectious wilting” is often observed. Most of the professionals agree that this symptom is caused by several pathogens (e.g. Verticilium sp., Fusarium sp., etc.). A significant loss in yield can also be caused by Stolbur disease. Various cicada species spread a mycoplasma called Stolbur mycoplasma that causes this disease. During the second half of the vegetation period different sucker pests (aphids, cicada) may induce heavy damage on crops. They are vectors for CMV and Alfalfa Mosaic Virus. CMV’s typical symptom is the so called “new-faith”, with a large number but very small fruits. “Vetesi bagolylepke” may cause notable damage.
Yeilds vary widely in Hungary, but are generally between 8 and 20 tonnes. The harvested fruit’s dry matter content is between 15—18%. The large farms use a modified bean-harvester in addition to manual labor. The disadvantage of using mechanical harvesting is that the percentage of damaged fruits is higher, the possibility of second infection and loss during storage could be higher and consequently, the quality of the milled product will deteriorate. Hand harvesting is done only on small parcels of land. Usually it is done in several steps. The advantage is that pickers harvest only the healthy, red fruits. The quality of fruits picked by hand is better when compared to the mechanical harvesting, and the mechanical damage is less. Traditionally harvest started in the last days of August, but it is preferable to begin after September 8. Red and semi-ripe fruits were only harvested in three to four steps before the first autumn frost (). After two to three days of wilting, the harvested crop is stringed and exposed to four to six weeks of after-ripening. During this time the fruits undergo a useful biochemical change. The total red pigment content is increased, the sugar content is lowered and significant moisture loss occurs. At the first picking, 60-65% of the crop could be harvested, depending on the cultivar. Ideally, 75-80% of the crop should be harvested at the first picking. The general belief is that after the first picking the remaining fruits will ripen faster. Due to this belief some growers start the first picking earlier than necessary. This way the second harvest can be done earlier and the total yield will be higher, contrary to a delayed first picking and a milder, risky second picking. To have a good quality product the aim is to harvest as much fruit as possible at the first picking.
Selected fruits go through a four to six week after-ripening period. Ripping, the removal of the calyx, drying and milling is to follow. This is the base of the traditional processing technology. The processing methods as known today developed in parallel with industrial development. In the eighteenth century, the general procedure was that harvested crops were stringed (Figure 9-13). Following the after-ripening period they were dried, bagged and crushed in bags and sifted. A foot driven mortar and pestle later became the usual practice employed for the crushing stage. In the second half of the nineteenth century it became common practice to remove the calyx before drying. The paprika was then crushed, milled by using water-, wind- or steam-mills before sifting.
By the end of the nineteenth century ripping became an accepted step because it satisfied all the requirements of preserving the important biological traits of the fruit, and a really good milled product could be made without any external material (and of course without calyx, which has no spicy taste at all). Ripping ensured the possibility of producing the completely sweet powder before the appearance of sweet varieties. The job of processing developed in parallel with ripping in Szeged. Ripping became a trade and provided a livelihood separate from growing.
After removing the calyx, they ripped the shorter side of the fruits, taking out the placenta (containing septum and seed). They stringed the pericarpium and kept them in a heated place until they became bone dry. The seeds were then separated from the placenta and the septum and washed until they were free of capsaicin. The dried seeds were added to the dried, crushed pericarpium in the required amount and then milled.
Traditionally, milling — by mortar grinding — took place in a couple of two stone water-mills, and later in wind-mills. These kind of mills were forced out rapidly by the use of steam-mills. Due to their specialisation of paprika milling they were used right up until the end of the nineteenth century. By that time newly built steam-mills working with 10—14 couple of stones won the battle over them ().
Unfortunately, the large processors cannot take into consideration the biochemical processes which affect the quality of the milled product.
In Hungary, one can only find a good quality milled product using the traditional processing technology, such as home milling (), and not with the large scale operators. The large processors buy raw fruits and after a temporary storage, without the necessary after-ripening and hand selection, dry it immediately. This practice can cause problems such as the half-product may not be suited to make a good quality milled product after six to eight months of storage.
One of the deficiencies of modern harvesting and processing methods is that the problem of after-ripening is not solved which is the key to good quality.
Selections from the book: “Capsicum. The genus Capsicum”. Edited by Amit Krishna De. Series: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants — Industrial Profiles”. 2003.