Peppers can be very challenging to grow, especially your hot varieties. Following are the steps we take each year from seed to seed.
Keep seeds in a cool dry location until you are ready to plant.
Buy a proper seed starting medium for your peppers. I prefer Miracle Grow Organic seed starter.
Start seeds 8 weeks before you plan to put outside. Keep in mind your very hot varieties can take up to a month to germinate so you may want to plant them earlier.
Plant only 1 variety per plant tray and clearly mark which pepper is in that tray. It is very easy to mix up which peppers are planted where, especially if you mix them in one tray.
Plant your seeds approx. 1/8” deep in your starter mix. Dampen your mix before planting and then lightly water in again after planting.
If you are able use rain water or distilled water on your seeds/seedlings
!!What is probably your most important tip: seeds must be kept at a temperature range of approximately 80 -85◦ F or 27-29◦ C for germination. You can do this by using a proper seedling heat mat or by placing them in an area that remains a constant warm temperature. The seed only needs this to germinate, once they are growing they can be kept at normal room temperatures.
NOTE: it can take up to 30 days for hot pepper seeds to germinate. Be patient.
Be sure to keep your seed starting mix damp (not soaked). Do not let dry out.
Your seedlings will require a light source other than just a window. If you don’t have adequate light, you will end up with poor leggy seedlings.
Once your seedlings have 3 sets of true leaves you can plant them into a 4” container to grow.
Put approx. a tablespoon of bone meal into each pot before planting your seedling. This is especially important for the very hot varieties in which I would put 1-2 tbsp.
Feed your seedlings with a fish fertilizer. Do you not use harsh manures or chemicals.
Sprinkle additional bone meal into each pot every 2 weeks. If your seedlings/plants are becoming deficient you will notice them getting bumpy. See troubleshooting section below.
Harden your plants by giving them some time outside during warm days starting first in the shade and slowly working up to direct sun. Too much sun too soon WILL burn your plants.
Do not leave your plants outside at night until temperatures reach over 50◦ F.
Your peppers will appreciate large pots instead of the going into the ground. They prefer to stay warm. I'm in zone 5. If you are in a warmer zone with longer summers, you shouldn't have this problem.
If you plan to keep your peppers in the garden rather than pots, be sure to wait at least 3 weeks after the last typical frost date to allow the soil to warm adequately. Peppers do not like cold soil and will not grow for you well there. Once they are acclimated to the outdoors, they like a sunny location.
*Seeds must be kept warm to germinate
*Use proper seed starting mix
*Keep damp (not soaked), do not let dry out before germination.
Bumpy leaves: Plants need bone meal: this bumpy looking texture on the leaves is your clear indicator you are not using enough bone meal. Give them more. You will find the hotter the variety, the more they require.
Leaves are light in colour: feed fish or seaweed fertilizer.
Leaves are puckered/wrinkled: you may have aphids/whiteflys. Wash off. Do NOT use store insecticidal soap spray on your peppers. This can cause their leaves to fall off and in many cases completely kill your plants. If you have a bad infestation, you can make your own by mixing 2 teaspoons mild dish soap and 1 teaspoon of grape seed oil to 1 gallon of water and spraying lightly, repeat as necessary. Always do a test on one plant and then review the next day to ensure you never spray anything on your plants that might hurt them.
Seedlings fall over: dampening off. Don’t keep them too wet. Using a fan to provide some air movement can be helpful; using sterile seed starting material helpful.
Leaves pale green and small: Nitrogen deficiency
A lot of nice leaves, no flowers/fruit: too much nitrogen.
Flowers fall off: too hot / too much nitrogen.
Finally, to avoid other problems water your plants at ground level rather than soaking the entire plant. However, if you use compost tea, it is very beneficial to your plants to cover the whole plant.
Saving your own Seeds
Peppers are a perennial plant, however in colder climates like mine (5), they are considered a or grown as annuals.
You should ensure that your pepper is an heirloom variety. If you grow seed that is from a hybrid you will either not get any fruit or the fruit will not be the same as the original pepper.
Examples of heirloom, Sweet: King of the North Hot: Jalapeno, Habanero. While you may be able to source these fruit in a grocery store, you cannot be sure that they have not cross polinated. Source your original seeds from a reputable grower. All peppers are self polinating. However if different varieties are grown in close proximity to one another, they will cross polinate. This will create a hybrid seed rather than a pure seed of the original fruit. In order to preserve your seed purity you should ensure that peppers of differing variety are separated by at least 500'. If you do not have this kind of space and would like to grow more than 1 variety, you must cage your peppers. Build cages to suit either 1 plant, or plant only 1 variety per cage.
It is a good idea to agitate your plants to ensure polination. By lighting rubbing or tapping each flower you can help ensure that they are adequately polinated.
You must wait to harvest your seeds until the fruit is fully mature. While many peppers start out green and are eaten at that stage, they are not ripe. You must wait until they change colour and are fully ripe before harvesting.
If you are going to eat the peppers carefully cut into your pepper and scrape your seeds from the flesh. If you are saving the seeds only, you can put your peppers (or pepper cores for the larger sweet varieties) into a blender, add water and blend on low until broken up. Your seeds will sink while everything else will float to the top. Pour off the pulp at the top add more water and repeat until you only have seeds remaining.
When cleaning large peppers use only the core with the stem cut off. When cleaning small hot peppers, cut off the stem and use the whole pepper. At this stage rinse your seeds and spread them on a plate to dry. Leave them in a warm dry place out of the sun until they are fully dry (break when folded), then store in a cold dry place until spring. Some people use zip lock bags, some use jars, some store in the fridge, basement or cold celler; the most important thing to do is ensure that your seeds will stay cool and completely dry.
Enjoy the harvest!