by Pepper Joe (joe(at)pepperjoe.com)
Growing your own hot peppers from seed can be very rewarding. The selection of hot peppers available at the supermarket is very poor. Although the selection of plants from a nursery or store is a little better, when you start from seeds, there is a terrific variety available. And as hot pepper popularity is growing constantly, the varieties just keep expanding. One catalog, Pepper Gal boasts over 200 varieties! So for starters, pick out your selections.
I LOVE this part. It's a blast in the dead of winter to plan out your garden, ordering tried and true seeds. But we're all addicted to trying out new, different and exciting variations. I'll give you some input to fit your different needs and preferences in a just a little bit.
MAKING THE PROCESS EASY
If you live in a year-round warm climate, such as southern Florida, you can direct-sow your seeds into your garden. If you have a greenhouse, good for you!
The majority of my customers don't fit into these two categories, so I'll tailor this article towards them, although the same basics apply. I prefer a plain and simple approach that gets results. The 2 main ingredients are soil/seedling mix and containers/trays.
Soil There are many good seed starting mixes available at nurseries or discount stores. They work very well and I would recommend them as there is no mixing, measuring, etc. If you prefer to make your own mixture, go with 1/3 good garden soil (don't go with clay soil as it compacts badly), 1/3 vermiculite or similar growing medium, and 1/3 sand. Hot pepper plants LOVE sand as many varieties originate in areas with sandy soil. Also it provides excellent drainage. Mix all 3 ingredients together very well.
I like plastic gro-packs for 6 to 12 plants, peat pellets or peat pots. Gro packs are especially good because you can cover tightly with "cling-wrap" after first watering and create a little "hothouse" environment. The soil stays moist longer at a higher temperature. Just remove cling-wrap when seedlings emerge. Put your soil/seedling mix into containers. Don't fill to exact top but leave at least 1/4 inch for watering or it will run off.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Find a good and warm sunny windowsill. Seedlings prefer at least 6 hours of sunlight, the more the better. Hot pepper seeds need to be coaxed through the germination and transplant stages. Remember they all originated from a tropical environment. But keep in mind you'll be rewarded with a healthy, robust, prolific plant for your patience.
Some varieties can be finicky to germinate. I recommend soaking seeds overnight in warm water to give them a head start. I am a 100% organic gardener, but of course there is many people are not. Some of them soak the seeds overnight in Saltpeter (potassium nitrate). (When sowing outdoors, the Saltpeter actually simulates the digestive tract of birds that eat wild hot peppers, therefore accelerating germination.)
Then sow seeds 1/4 inch deep 6 to 10 weeks before the last frost. Keep seeds moist, but not soaked, through germination phase. They germinate best above 65 degrees. Ideal is 75 to 85 degrees. Because most homes are not this warm, another tip is to place them on top of your refrigerator until seedlings emerge. It stays pretty warm there. Don't forget my cling-wrap tip in a sunny windowsill.
Again, be patient, some varieties can take 4 to 6 weeks to germinate. Others can show up in 7 to 10 days. It depends on temperature,sunlight, soil and variety. After they emerge I believe in the mother nature theory: "Survival Of The Fittest". I plant 3 or 4 seeds per growing area.
As they develop their first set of leaves I'll snip off with a scissors the weakest one. As they develop their second set of leaves I'll snip off all but the healthiest one. If any variety starts to grow tall and too "leggy", open the window just a little bit to shock the plant with cooler air. This will slow down its growth and make its stem thicker and more conducive to transplant. Once you have healthy seedlings you're ready for the transplant and growing stage, then the harvesting stage, then my favorite the cooking and eating stage.
Pepper Joe's "Best & Worst" hot pepper seed list:
- Best for small gardens or container planting...Thai, Tabasco and Pueblo.
- Best for dried powder...Cayene, Turkish Cayenne, Serrano and Charleston.
- Best garden novelty...Peter Pepper. Rated "most pornographic" by Organic Gardening magazine.
- Most abundant yeild...Bolivian Rainbow, Fatalli, Hot Lemon and Purrira.
- Pepper Joe's favorites...Golden Habanero, Barney, Jamaican and Fatalii.
- Hottest...Red Savina, Caribbean Red, Orange Habanero, and Golden Habanero.
- Worst..Bulgarian Carrot (Tough skin, no flesh), Rocoto (hard to grow, and a poor producer), and Mexibell (not hot at all).
Most varieties available at Pepper Joe's .