image by JDK Atlanta/flickr.com
If you love cayenne peppers but hate paying outrageous prices for them or have trouble finding them in your area, just grow your own. Growing cayenne peppers from seeds is cheap and easy, and they don't take up much space. Whether you just want a single plant or you'd like to grow enough for canning, freezing and sharing, get the jump on spring by starting cayenne seeds indoors, and you'll have plenty of zesty peppers come summer and fall.
Start your cayenne pepper seeds indoors, 6 to 10 weeks before the last predicted frost date. Soak them overnight in a glass of water. Fill the cells of a 6-plant plastic grow-pack up to about 1/2 inch from the top with a good commercial seed-starting mix. Sow 3 or 4 seeds on the surface of each cell, and cover with ¼ inch of medium.
Moisten the soil surface, but don't wet it so much that it will be soggy. Seal the entire grow-pack with clear plastic cling wrap, and set your little greenhouse in a warm, brightly lit location. The best temperature for successful germination is 75 to 85 degrees F. If your home isn't quite that warm, set the seeds on top of your refrigerator or above the hot water heater.
Check the soil every couple of days to make sure it remains evenly moist. If it begins to feel a bit dry, dampen it slightly. Remove the plastic wrap when the seeds have germinated and begun sprouting, in 1 to 6 weeks.
Cut off the weakest seedling in each cell at the soil line with scissors after all of them have developed their first set of leaves. Cut off all but the sturdiest plant in each cell after the second set of leaves forms.
Continue watering just enough to keep the seedlings evenly moist, and provide the brightest sunlight possible. Remember to keep these tropical natives warm. If they're growing tall but leggy, open a window for an hour or so to shock them with cool air. This will slow the height a bit and thicken the stems.
Acclimate your cayenne seedlings to the outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. The first week, set them outside in the sun from early morning until about noon and then bring them back inside. The following week, let them stay outside all day and bring them in at dusk. Transplant the seedlings into well-drained, sandy soil in a very sunny location the third week, spacing them about 2 feet apart. Keep the soil evenly moist, and feed them with a good 15-15-15 fertilizer, as per the package instructions.
Pick mature cayenne peppers in 70 to 80 days from germination, when they're 3 to 6 inches long. Cut the stems rather than pulling the peppers from the plant to avoid damaging it.