Growing Hot Peppers

Chili pepper illustration from Martha Stewart:

I love to make enchiladas and chili, so I grew jalapenos last year. I had more fun growing these then I did other vegetables because of how quickly and profusely they fruited. It was so much fun to go out and pick what seemed like an endless supply of gorgeous long deep green peppers on just a few plants. I filled 3 freezer bags full!

If you are a hot pepper enthusiast you may already know what kind of peppers you want to grow. A very quick overview of some choices in order from least to most hot in case you’re not sure:

  • Poblanos, spicier than a bell pepper and, I think, the mildest of hot peppers.
  • Anaheim, mild to medium heat
  • Jalapenos, milder than cayenne peppers but still pretty hot. You definitely want to wash your hands after cutting them.
  • Serrano, medium to high heat.
  • Cayenne, hotter than jalapenos with smaller fruits
  • Tabasco, medium-high heat.
  • Thai, these are smaller and very hot.
  • Habaneros, and around 3 times hotter than thai peppers.
  • Ghost peppers – the hottest, I’m told. These need 120 days after planting to mature.

Growing hot peppers from seed isn’t hard, and vegetables still warm from the sun are a giant step up from supermarket produce – its hard to overstate the pleasure and satisfaction of cutting your own peppers and cooking with them.

Start them about 6 weeks before your last frost date and they will be ready to plant when it warms up outside. My seed starting primer is here, and the process I’ve outlined there is essentially the same, but I’ve added a few specifics around planting hot peppers that are worth noting. The basic supplies you’ll want to start your peppers inside include:

  • pots and plastic wrap or a a seed starting tray with humidity dome – the plastic cover is to keep seeds moist.
  • good potting soil or seed starting mixture.
  • A warming mat; hot peppers like warmth and the extra heat will help them germinate. Alternatively they can go on top of a warm appliance.
  • a grow lamp or a south facing window.

General procedure for starting seeds

  1. Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil. Water the mixture so that it’s thoroughly moistened.
  2. Sprinkle seeds in pots, cover very lightly with planting mix, about a quarter inch deep.
  3. Keep them moist. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering works too, though.
  4. Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
  5. The seed package should tell you how long until germination; extra warmth helps speed this along.
  6. Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight or under a grow lamp. They will want 6 hours of light.
  7. Thin: you cut back extra seedlings appearing in the pots, leaving the strongest seedling to grow.
  8. You can transplant them into a larger 3 to 4 inch pot with potting soil, which is more nutrient rich than seed starting mix.
  9. When plants are 4-6 inches tall and temps outside reach about 70 degrees with warm nights and no risk of frost you can plant them outside in full sun. Add compost to the beds you’ll be growing the peppers in, and space them about 18 inches apart.
  10. Let the sun work its magic, keeping the plants moist until the peppers start to flower.
  11. To encourage heat in the peppers, don’t overwater once fruits form, let the peppers dry out between waterings.
  12. Generally hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60-95 days after sowing, depending on the variety and conditions.

Hot peppers, from
peppers from:

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