Germinating Hot Pepper Seeds

Germinating hot pepper seeds is a little different from germinating sweet peppers, at least in my experience.  And the more exotic the pepper, the more particular they may be about sprouting.

Here are some tips for growing hot chile peppers from seeds.

Peppers Like it Hot!

While you can coax sweet and bell peppers to germinate in a moderate soil of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit, the chile peppers like their roots warmer…sometimes much warmer!  In fact, some of the hottest of the peppers — like habanero, jolokia and scotch bonnet — prefer soil temperatures of 85 degrees or more before raising their little heads.

If you’re lucky enough to be gardening in a warm climate where the soil is already 80 degrees or more, you’ll likely be able to get the seeds to sprout.  If you’re like the vast majority of us, those hot pepper seeds will need a little help.  Even I need help in S. Florida during the winter and early spring!

Have They Spouted Yet?

Another trait hot peppers like jalapenos, cayenne, datil and more share is a long germination time.  While sweet peppers can spring above ground within 7 to 10 days, hot peppers tend to take longer.  Sometimes a lot longer!

I’ve found that most of my hot peppers sprout within a 12 to 18 day period.  However, the very hottest can take up to a month (and boy, is the wait ever hard).

Help for Germinating Hot Pepper Seeds

Warmth is the biggest key in successfully germinating the chile pepper seeds. If you have a very warm spot in your home, like on a radiator, you may be good to go. For the rest of us, a seed germination mat is the best way to safely and gently warm the soil.

Something else I’ve found very useful, which surprised me in my trials, is using Terracycle. Terracycle is a gentle liquid fertilizer made from worm castings. After I moisten my seed-starting mix normally, I plant my seeds. After lightly covering my seeds with more soil mix, I spray Terracyle on the soil to dampen. Then, I give the soil a spritz every 2 or 3 days, to keep things moist.

Between the heat mat and the Terracycle, I’ve been able to shave time off the normal germination period, between 2 and 7 days.  That may not sound like a lot earlier, but for anyone who’s (impatiently) waiting, any time saved is helpful.

One thing you don’t need for germination is light — seeds germinate fine in the dark. However, once the seeds have germinated, you’ll need to ensure the seedlings get 12 to 16 hours of light a day. A sunny windowsill is great, but I’ve also found that using fluorescent light bulbs works well (especially when I run out of space on my windowsills). 🙂

If you are looking for a seed germination mat, here are some for your consideration. Happy hot peppers!!!

Organic Fertilizer and Growing Peppers

My preference is for organic fertilizer, especially when it comes to growing anything (like peppers) that I plan to eat.   And while I realize that not everyone is comfortable with using organic, I really do think it’s best.

Organic Fertilizer and Worms

Now my absolute favorite is worm castings, but in the past it’s been difficult to find in small enough quantities for a reasonable price.  However, here are some earthworm castings in the smaller quantities — I usually get it in the 15 lb size.

I like earthworm castings because they have always seemed to me (in my growing) that the plants just like the nutrients the castings give to the soil. No burning, totally organic, but nevertheless, quite concentrated; a fairly little amount can fertilize a lot of plants.  Instead of mixing it in with my potting mix or garden soil, I just put a handful in each hole before I plant my seedlings or starters.

But I’ve found something else pretty recently that I like; it’s called Terracycle organic fertilizer.

You may be asking…TerraCycle?  What the heck it that? Well, it’s liquified worm castings…or as described on the container, “worm poop”. Inelegant, but accurate.  ;)   So, think worm castings, dissolved in water so that it’s neat and super-easy to use on your plants.

And one other thing about TerraCycle is that it’s actually packaged in recycled materials, which is better for the environment.   So altogether it’s great for the organically-inclined gardener.

Other Organic Fertilizers

Another organic fertilizer that I like is called fish emulsion.  Yep, it’s pretty much what it sounds like; liquified fish.  Great for the plants, although a little on the aromatic side.  Still, it feeds the soil as well as the plants, so it still gets a two thumbs up in my book.  You’ll find it in just about any garden center.  Sometimes it’s in a power form other times it’s a concentrated liquid.  In either case, you need to add water to it before using.

Can’t forget about plain old compost!  You can buy it pretty much at any garden center, but try to find one labeled organic.  I know, in theory it should be organic by definition, but labeled organic means that the manufacturer had to pass some pretty stringent guidelines to be able to call it organic.

If you have the space and the time to make your own compost, it’s absolutely fantastic!!!!  I highly recommend it.  Basically you need things like household garbage (not including anything with protein, fat or plastic) and a means to compost it, like a compost bin. Personally, I am eyeing the Yimby Tumbler Composter — it’s on my wish list.

It generally takes a few months to create good compost, but there are some that can create compost in a month or so.  But whether it’s one month or six months, the most important thing is that the result is well-composted.  Here’s a hint; it’s ready when there is no smell to the compost; if it still has an odor, it’s not “done”.

Let’s not forget about cow or horse manure.  Cow manure is easily found in a garden center.  Horse manure is generally only available if you have horses or know someone else who does.   Poultry manure is relatively easy to locate as well.

These are the major organic fertilizers that are whole-plant.  There are others that can be used as supplements, such as blood meal and bone meal.  There are also soil amendments like vermiculite, perlite, coconut coir and sphagnum moss that can help you to lighten dense soils.  You can also check out my post on soil amendments for more info.