Starting Peppers

Today was the day for starting peppers–and a rainy, chilly day it is.

But inside it’s warm and bright and the radio is playing South Dakota Public Broadcasting, and the afternoon stretched out before me with the calendar marked, “Start Peppers!”

Because I have been making smaller batches of seed-starting mix this year, and because I used up the entire first batch starting onions, leeks, and parsley, my first task was to empty another tray from my worm bin in order to have that composted goodness to add to the mix.

I screened the vermicompost into a big tub to remove any of the chunks and lumps of not-yet-digested kitchen scraps in order to put them back into the bin and give the worms another go at them.  Once that task was complete, I donned my trusty dust mask to mix in the peat, perlite, vermiculite, sand, and a touch of horticultural lime.

Love your lungs--wear a mask

If you use peat in your mix (and this may be true of coir as well–I’ll be switching to that once this bale of peat is used up), you must wear a dust mask–if it’s dried out, it’s horribly dusty, and all those fibers will end up in your nose and in your lungs.

Then the germinator flat went into the bin with the soil mix to get filled and smoothed off across the top.  I brought it upstairs to the kitchen table then, and used a finger to press to mix down into each channel, to provide room for the seeds and a top covering of more seedling mix.

This year, I’ve got three sweet varieties and three hot ones, and I’ve gone all open-pollinated and heirloom–no more hybrids.

I don’t have a problem with hybrids, really, except that if I did want to save pepper seeds, I wouldn’t be quite sure what I’d get (though as close as my different varieties of peppers are typically planted to each other, I’d be pretty sure of crosses anyhow).

I might plant one variety on the hill across the farm this year to achieve optimum isolation distance for seed-saving, but I’ll have to set the steel grid cages over them until they reach mature size–we don’t have deer protection on that part of the farm.

This year’s line up features Napoleon Sweet, Jimmy Nardello, and Italian Sweet for the mild side and Long Thin Cayenne, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Fish peppers on the hot side.

Seeds in place--time to cover

Each variety got about eight to ten seeds per channel dedicated to that variety–sweets got 4-5 channels apiece and hots got 2-3 channels apiece.  Each variety gets a tag–I save the plastic markers I’ve used in years past, and label the reverse side of an old tag if it’s a new variety.

Once they were seeded and the light layer of seedling mix was sifted over the top (and lightly pressed down), I set them on my seedling heat mat (peppers really appreciate that extra warmth), gave them just a sprinkle of water to make sure the medium was moist, and clapped a plastic dome on top to hold the warmth and moisture.

Once they start popping up, I’ll remove the plastic cover to allow better airflow around the young seedlings to avoid the dreaded pythium, or damping off.

It should take about 7-10 days for the pepper plants to emerge, and another month or so before they’re ready to “pot on” to larger quarters.  By that time, I should have my soil blockers, so I’m hoping to avoid using the plastic four-packs for the ones that will go in my garden.

Any extras will go into sterilized and re-used four-pack cell packs for ease of transport to friends’ gardens.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by gordon hill on April 16, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    My third year without any results. Tempature and type of soil used for sprouting would be good to learn. We are in washington and have a green house and do good with other vegetables and flowers.

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