We've been growing peppers on our Pennsylvania highland farm for 11 years now. The rainy spring and short growing season is a challenge. Below are step-by-step instructions, a materials list and the soil recipes we use to grow peppers.
This is one of our favorities. Its sweet, thick and crunchy. Great for eating fresh, cooked or pickled and it always looks beautiful.
We've tested store bought seed starting mix, peat pots, peat pellets, and different styles of seed starting trays with varying levels of success. Below is our tried and true, economical system for growing peppers from seed:
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Bright window: East facing is good. South facing is best. If you don't have any good windows, you'll still have success using grow lights.
Plant grow lights:
Even with a good window, winter daylight is too short. We supplement
natural light with grow lights.
Grow Light Hours
Lights need to be at the correct distance from the plants. Too close and the center plants get all the light. Too far and the light is too weak. Adjust so that the cone of light reaches the edge of your flat. A rule of thumb for fluorescent tube lights is 6 - 8 inches from the plants.
Seed Starting Soil Recipe
Mix the first 3 ingredients until uniform. Add some water, to make the soil damp. Mix thoroughly. Squeeze a handful of the mix. It should clump together, fall apart easily and definitely not drip. This mix contains about the minimum amount of vermiculite needed to prevent the peat from crusting. You can add more vermiculite if you wish. You can even start seeds in 100% vermiculite. But its expensive. This mix works great and is very economical.
Planting Pepper Seeds Step-by-Step
For really good germination and rapid growth you need to keep the soil between 75 and 80 degrees F. You can use..
Mats: Great way to get the quick germination you need. Soil temperature should be around 80 degree F. The setup can be tricky since some manufacturers instructions are inadequate. Click on our Using Heat Mats page for details.
Radient Heat Source (Best) such as wood, pellet, or coal stove. Turns the room into the perfect seed starter. Feels like a summers day. Soil is warm. Leaves and stems dry quickly to combat damping off and other diseases.
An alternative to the traditional bank of fluorescent grow lights is to use individual grow light bulbs in conventional fixtures. This one hangs from a chain so the distance from the plants can be adjusted. This bulb is not bright enough to meet the entire light requirements of these seedlings. However, this is a bright window and we have found it sufficient to fill in for when the sun goes down.
Your pepper seedlings will grow out of their flats in about 4 weeks, well before they can be moved to the garden. Growing peppers don't mind transplanting and handle it well if its done right. We move seedlings into individual cups and keep them in storage totes or crates. The totes provide portability and protection. As spring temps and sunshine arrive, we move the plants outside.
Transplant Soil Recipe
Mix the first 4 ingredients until uniform. Add some water to make the soil damp. Mix thoroughly. Peat moss is extremely dry so work the water in well until the mix is uniformly damp. Squeeze a handful of the mix. It should clump together, fall apart easily and definitely not drip. Some commercial soil mixes are provided slightly damp so the amount of water you need to add will vary.
Transplant seedlings 4 weeks after germination or as soon as they are sturdy enough for handling. The plants above are big enough. Soil should be just slightly
damp. Wet soil is too heavy and will break roots. Plants should not
be stressed. If they are a bit wilted from lack of water, water them,
allow them to recover and then transplant.
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We use a turkey baster while the tomato plants are small because it allows us to tightly control water volume and pressure. When they are larger we shift to a hose with a sprayer
Another advantage of the large transplant cups: There is little danger of stunting the plants if spring comes late. The plants can get quite large and still be perfectly happy in their cups. Great for areas with short growing seasons.Return to Page Index
Growing peppers indoors creates weak plants that can't handle wind and full sun for long periods. Hardening off is the process of getting them toughened up.
Bleached leaves (sun scald) or broken stems means the sun or wind is being increased too fast.
The tote lets in light, but protects the plants from wind. While they are small,
you can put on the
lids to stop excessive sunlight, wind, rain or chilly nights.
Once they get too big for the lids, keep them under a porch roof or other cover during rainy days.Return to Page Index
Due to their often well behaved form and decorative appearance, peppers are a great addition to ornamental landscaping as well as the traditional vegetable garden. As long as the location receives full sun, their other requirements can usually be met. Avoid growing peppers that are very hot, within reach of small children. Varieties such as Thai hot and super chili are so hot that we recommend wearing gloves to handle their peppers.
When the ground has thawed enough to be worked, its time to prepare the garden.
These are the methods that have worked for us.
Tilling: For large gardens or to quickly improve a small garden. Improves drainage, oxygenation. Helps you incorporate organic matter. Till 6 or more inches when the soil is slightly damp, not wet.
Mulch Gardening/Raised Beds: For heavy clay or very rocky soil, you can add planting material over your existing ground.
Hand Digging: Do-able if you have a small garden and good
soil. Sharpening the edge of the shovel reduces the effort. Try and turn the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Digging really dry or wet soil can increase the effort required. When its dry and hard, our soil is easier to dig if we water it well and then go back and dig it the next day.
Container Gardening: Great for reducing rabbit or chicken damage, reducing weeds and having to bend over so much.
When all danger of frost is past (early June were we are), the soil is warm and the plants are hardened off, its time for planting peppers (seedlings, not seeds). The steps are pretty much the same whether you are doing a raised bed, a pot or a 50' x 50' garden.
Planting is best done on overcast or cool days to reduce transplant shock.
Pepper Planting Step-by-Step
Mulching with Black Plastic
Many gardeners use this material. It has several benefits:
Peppers love it! Look at the picture below. On the left, the peppers don't have plastic between the rows. On the right, they do.
Rotted manure: If you have access to this, it makes an amazing garden. It doesn't burn the plants, improves the soil, releases nutrients over time and still provides the kick your plants need to be productive.
Rapid release liquid fertilizer: This is great for providing rapid results. There are lots of application systems. We like the containers that you attach to your hose and then just spray like you are watering your garden. If you know your soil is low in nutrients, spray on the young plants and the soil immediately around them. Use during the growing season if you think the plants are starting to slow down. If you buy the kind you have to mix yourself, follow dilution instructions carefully so you don't burn the plants.Return to Page Index
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Click a variety to see our results. These were grown in central Pennsylvania. You may have different results depending upon your growing conditions.
Cayenne Large Red Thick
Corno di Toro
Fooled You Jalapeno
Gentle Giant Goliath
Golden California Wonder
Hungarian Yellow Wax
Italian Sweet Relleno
King of the North
Sweet Red Cherry