The ghost pepper, also called bhut jolokia or bih jolokia, is one of the most famous of the superhot chili peppers, considered the world’s hottest in 2007. Some argue it’s the threshold between very hot and superhot. Either way, it’s a face melter.
But it’s not just about pure heat. Ghost peppers are also highly aromatic and flavorful when added to dishes, and make excellent chili powder (my preferred way to use them). So, if you’re growing them, you’re in for a real treat.
Generally, from the moment you see your first ghost pepper sprout, it should take at least 5 months to harvest your first ripe ghost pepper pod. Because of this, it’s recommended to start your ghost pepper seeds indoors 1 to 2 months before your average last frost date to ensure you get a harvest before the end of the growing season.
From Seed to Harvest – How Long Should It Take?
While peppers do take some time to ripen, superhot peppers like ghost peppers are notoriously slow but will give you dozens or sometimes hundreds of peppers. The seeds also tend to take longer to germinate than other pepper varieties. My ghost pepper seeds usually take 1 to 2 weeks to germinate, but it can sometimes take over a month.
In fact, if you have a short growing season and you’re sowing seeds outdoors, you might not get any ripe ghost peppers to harvest. I always recommend sowing your ghost pepper seeds indoors, at least 1 to 2 months before your average last frost date, in order to get a harvest before the end of the season.
Expect to wait at least 5 months to harvest your first ripe ghost pepper, possibly up to 6 months from planting the seeds.
Let me give you an example from my garden. I planted the all my pepper seeds indoors on March 17, and transplanted them outside in late May. My sweet, mild, and semi-hot peppers were ripening as early as June and July. However, my two hottest pepper plants (at least as hot as a habanero) didn’t start ripening their peppers until the first week of August.
In my experience, growing in hydroponics tends to give me pepper harvests more quickly, but you will still be waiting at least 4 months if you’re growing ghost peppers hydroponically. Hydroponics won’t make your peppers ripen faster but will overall increase the rate that your pepper plants grow and mature.
How to Tell if Ghost Peppers are Ready to Harvest
Ghost peppers reach peak ripeness and peak heat when they completely turn their final color, which is normally red. This is the best time to harvest ghost peppers if using them fresh.
While you can harvest green, unripe ghost peppers, they at their hottest and most flavorful when fully ripe. Ghost pepper pods should be somewhat firm and have a vibrant red color. If they are soft, they are either overripe (which is completely fine to pick and eat) or are starting to rot on the plant before ripening.
Note that there are lots of ghost pepper varieties that come in different colors, such as yellow, orange, peach, brown, yellow-green, and white. Some varieties of ghost pepper will change to orange before finally ripening to red. A lot of “chili heads” say the yellow and peach ghost peppers have more fruity or citrus notes, but I can’t tell because they melt my face off.
Can I Harvest Green (Unripe) Ghost Peppers?
Yes! Ghost peppers are perfectly fine to eat if unripe. Ideally, you should wait until they reach their full size (stop growing) before picking. Ripe ghost peppers have more heat and more flavor, but traditionally, green ghost peppers have also been used in sauces, curries, and stirfries.
How to Harvest Ghost Peppers
Ghost peppers are very easy to harvest. Use a pair of scissors and snip them off.
You can also pick them by hand, grabbing them by the stem attached to the pepper and tugging. Be careful not to rip off part of the branch.
I don’t wear gloves when harvesting ghost peppers, but if you’re very sensitive to them, or if you’re picking a lot at the same time, wear them. As long as you don’t pierce or tear the peppers, releasing the juice inside, ghost peppers are safe to handle for short periods of time.