Vol.1, No.9

How to start chili seeds

Chili pepper plants can be started from seed by the most inexperienced of gardeners. They are fun and easy to grow in any climate, indoors or outdoors.

Young chili plants
Starting chili peppers plants from seed is simple and fun. Provide your plants with the right conditions from the beginning, and you'll be making salsa all summer long!

Chilies come in many varieties that can range from very mild—almost sweet, to burn-your-tongue hot. Be sure to read the seed packet for specific varietal descriptions.

The first consideration is where to plant your chili seeds. If you don't live in a tropical climate, container planting can be the best and most rewarding choice. Chili plants require a long, hot growing season, and in many northern areas, the season is too short for the chilies to mature fully. This is where containers come in handy. When the weather turns cold and your chilies are still green, simply set the pot in a sunny window and let them ripen.

If you are planting outdoors, a spot closest to the house is recommended. These areas are warmer and more protected from frost, the deadly enemy of your delicate chili pepper plants.

Either in the garden or in a container, soil is the next consideration. To start the seeds, use a soil-less or sterilized seed starting mix, available at most garden centers and nurseries. Chilies prefer and acidic soil; adding coffee grounds or diluted vinegar is an easy way to accomplish the needed acidic levels. Your goal is a PH between 5.0 and 6.0. Amend the soil with composted organic material, peat moss and lime for a healthy mix.

Lightly cover your seeds with the planting mix, and water to keep evenly moist. Using a spray bottle to mist the plants is a great way to avoid drowning the seeds. If the seeds are kept too moist, damping off can occur, which will kill the seedlings.

Sprouts should emerge in about three weeks, depending on soil conditions or humidity. Seeds should be covered with a clear plastic cover, such as plastic wrap, to retain moisture and humidity. Once the seedlings emerge, remove the cover and place in a sunny area.

Seedlings are ready to transplant to the garden or final container when two sets of leaves appear. Once transplanted, your seedlings will need daily watering, especially in the hot days of summer. Chili plants in containers need special attention as they dry out more quickly. In very hot areas, watering in the morning and evening can be necessary. The soil should remain evenly moist, but not soggy. Any soil you use should be well drained. Containers should have holes drilled in the bottoms. You can add sand or gravel to the soil mix to improve drainage.

Chili peppers need fertilizer about once a month. Use a complete mix labeled for fruits and vegetables. Be sure to mix according to label directions. Too much fertilizer can burn plant roots, especially in containers.

Water and the weather can affect the taste and hotness of your chili pepper plants. Too much or too little water can cause the chilies to taste bitter rather than hot. Long, sunny summers with high temperatures will grow hotter tasting chilies than short, cool summers with many overcast days.

Your chili peppers, started from seed, will be ready to harvest in roughly one hundred days. When peppers are ripe, they will remove easily from the stem. Pulling the off too soon can damage your plant.