Capsicums are mainly self-pollinating and do not need bees for pollination. Green fruit is mature for picking 30-35 days after flowering and red fruit takes a further 20-25 days. Pollination may be poor in hot or cold weather, after mositure stress, when the humidity is too low and in high winds.
Fruit is ready for harvesting 10–15 weeks after planting, depending on season and stage of maturity required for market.
Capsicums or chillies are cut or carefully snapped off by hand and the stem is trimmed with secateurs or a knife. Avoid damaging the shoulders of the fruit and the branches, as this may lead to bacterial soft rot. Capsicums may be picked at the mature primary or secondary colour stages. This gives more flexibility in harvesting compared with most crops. Harvest at 7 to 21-day intervals depending on the season and the need to pick.
Pick capsicums at the mature primary stage (usually green), when they are firm, with thick walls and dark green. If picked too early, they have thinner walls and are inclined to wilt. If desired, capsicums can be left on the plants to the secondary stage (usually red) before harvest. At this stage, they are sweeter, but not so firm. Also, yields may be reduced by 25–50%, but prices at the secondary stage are usually higher than for fruit at the primary stage. You can pick only fruit of one colour, or pick both colours.
Once the initial fruit has set, few additional flowers will set until the first fruits are picked. The heaviest crops are from the first three picks. Some pickers are allergic to chillies.
Yields of capsicums usually vary between 10 and 30t/ha, but yields of 50t/ha are not uncommon, with some of the highest yields up to 80t/ha.
Cool the fruit with forced-air cooling or by vacuum cooling. Store at 7–10°C and 90–95% relative humidity for up to three weeks. Fruit which is to be stored for some time must not be stored with fruit such as tomatoes and apples which will give off ethylene gas and reduce the storage life. Green fruit has the longest storage life.
Machines are available that will wash, brush and grade capsicums for size. The fruit also need to be visually graded for colour, so the package contains fruit only of one colour. They may also be voluntarily graded into special or premium and No. 1 grades. Fruit are preferably packed on their sides in cartons, but plastic returnable containers are also be used for marketing. Chillies may be packed into small ventilated 1kg polythene bags with eight bags per carton or into trays.
About three-quarters of capsicums are sold as green fruit, and the remainder are a mixture of colours, mainly red, but yellow and orange are also popular. Most chillies are sold as red fruit.
Fruit which is turning from one colour to another should not be picked. Fruit will not change colour after harvesting. However, to obtain higher prices, some varieties may be red-ripened with ethylene gas providing the fruit are gassed at the 30% ‘chocolate or turning’ stage.
Imports of capsicums are significant from eastern Australia and overseas if there is a shortage from Western Australian growers. There is also flexibility in time of picking. For these reasons, very high prices are generally not received for capsicums.
Capsicums and chillies are not exported to overseas markets from Western Australia.
Most paprika is imported. Red capsicums are dried with forced-air heaters and ground to a fine powder to make paprika. Strict attention must be paid to hygiene. Oleo-resins may also be distilled from paprika and used in pharmaceutical products.
The original version of this material was authored by Harry Gratte, Margaret Graham and John Burt.