Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gardening Time: Pepper Tips

I know most of us have been getting garden catalogs in the mail since December, but it's finally time to start seeds indoors. A general guide for vegetables and flowers is the following:

Zones 9, 10, 8, 7, and 6: Start seeds indoors February/March

Zones 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1: Start seeds indoors in middle or end of March.

Peppers are a little bit challenging to grow, but with seeds you'll have access to a much bigger selection of hot and mild varieties. I've grown both types and they have a couple of things in common: grown them in full sun in a fertile, rich soil that is never soggy. Pepper plants don't like wet feet, but at the same time don't allow the soil to go completely dry.

It's best to start pepper seeds inside about 8 weeks before the last frost in your area. The thing to remember about pepper seeds and plants is they like it toasty. If you live in a hot climate you can start seeds outdoors when the soil is about 65 degrees F., but the rest of us need to start seeds indoors or buy plants. Growing from seeds offers a huge selection of sweet and hot peppers compared to the plants that are usually available at nurseries, as I mentioned.

To start pepper seeds indoors, the temperature of the potting soil needs to be between 75-80 degrees F. A covered seed starting container works great--it acts like a mini greenhouse. Clear plastic containers from baked goods or salads can be used too. Seeds should germinate/sprout in about 10-15 days depending on the variety. Keep the container in a warm location that is free of drafts to get the best results.

Once the seeds germinate, then they will need bright light. Use fluorescent lights 14 to 16 hours a day, positioned a few inches above the seedlings, raising it as they grow taller. A sunny window will work too if it's in full sun. If a window is used, the container will need to be turned daily so the seedlings don't bend one way towards the light. Don't transplant the pepper plants outside until all frost has passed and the soil has warmed up to at least 60 degrees. Always "harden" the seedlings before putting them into the garden, by moving the seedlings outside for a little bit each day when it warms up. When you are sure the cold nights are done, then plant them in the garden, and water well.

On OFL we also have an article I wrote on harvesting peppers that includes recipes:


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