Starting a Pepper Garden

Posted: 5th April 2012 by Preppers in Survival Gardening
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I have recently started a journey into a world of pain and I can’t be more excited. I have been a chili head for years. My father would buy Frank’s Red Hot by the gallon and toss a few dashes on most meals he consumed. Understandably, I picked up the habit. With the ever expanding interest in spicy food, exotic peppers and bizarre hot sauces that has occurred over the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to nurture this culinary masochism into something truly terrifying. It is time for the next logical step. I have started to grow my own peppers.

 

Gardening is another area where my father has been a big influence in my life. I have been helping him with his landscaping business and our family garden from the first day he decided he could hand me a trowel and not hurt myself too badly. My mother never had to deal with fake flower arrangements in the house. A new bouquet was on the table every week, each flower carefully plucked from our own garden, grown right next to our vegetable and grapes. I have always loved growing my own food and there is nothing quite like making it from the ground up. Sure, I could go to the store and buy a bottle of hot sauce. But why do that when I can grow my own pods, ferment my own pepper mash and make a better sauce for less money while taking pride in the reactions of my friends as they taste each one? Combinations of pain and elation streak across their faces as the sauce hits their tongues.

 

So, where do we start? The seeds are the source of all our fun and I have been very lucky to make some great friends who are also chili heads. Get on some forums, talk to some old growers and see if you can set up a trade or buy some seeds off of them. Not only will you save money, but you will also get hearty seeds for more interesting varieties. There is no reason to pay some faceless seed company for questionable seeds marked up to ridiculous prices. Support a friend and a fellow pioneer. Once you’ve got a good library of seeds and a garden churning out hundreds of pods each season, give back to another new grower and participate in some trades to get your hands on some truly unique seeds.

 

Now that you have seeds, you need to germinate them. I don’t buy into any special germinating trays, nutrient solutions or growing mediums. I put some seeds on paper towels, moisten the paper towels and put them in partially sealed plastic bags. I then put these packs in warm spots like the top of a stove with a pilot light. Remember that peppers need warm conditions to germinate and grow properly. These are tropical plants and they are very picky.

 

Another thing to consider when germinating seeds is the time that different strains take to put out their tap roots. Super- hot peppers are known for taking a very long time to germinate. In this last season, I had some seeds that took over a month to start growing. The general rule of thumb, the hotter it is the longer it is going to take. That goes for germination, rooting, growing and fruiting. With the variety that I have growing, ranging from about 80k to well over 1million scoville units, the hottest peppers are taking the longest to really get going.

 

You can hold this packet up to the light one in a while to see what kind of activity you have going, kind of like checking an egg with a candle. Once you see some roots extending from the seeds, open the bag entirely and let some air get to these little guys so they can start producing real sprouts. I usually wait until I see a little bit of green to actually plant these new sprouts.

 

I am a frugal gardener and I plant my sprouts in left over, metal cans with holes punched in the bottom. The soil you want to use must have good drainage and a fairly rough texture. Peppers don’t like to sit in water and can be very easily over watered. Anything with high clay should be avoided and don’t add any peat moss to your soil mixture. If you do not have the time and ability to mix our own soil, Miracle-Gro orchid blend is just about perfect for peppers. Wet everything down properly and let the soil drain outside. The plant your seeds with the tap roots pointing downward and cover lightly.

 

You should see some green poking through the soil in a little while. Make sure to keep the solid fairly moist, but do not over water. I only water my plants once a week at the most. A soil moisture meter is astoundingly useful for making sure that you do not drown your plants. When they are still sprouts, peppers are very susceptible to droop and mold. Over watering is the biggest factor in both of these cases.

 

Once your plants start to produce their true leaves, it is time to re-pot. I suggest moving to a 3 gallon pot from your little planters. At this point it is time to really start to think about nutrition. Wood ash is good in small amounts, but the most important things that peppers need in this phase are blood and bone. I know that sounds terrifying, which is appropriate for peppers with names like “the ghost pepper” and “the Trinidad scorpion”, but I am talking about bone meal and blood meal. Calcium is very important for peppers and there are a couple ways to get this into your soil. Bone meal at the time of transplant is the easiest, but I like to be a bit more of a pioneer than that.

 

If you like to eat hard boiled eggs then you have a good source of calcium at your disposal. The water you boil your eggs in can be cooled and fed to your plants in place of plain water for some immediately useable calcium. You can then crush up the egg shells and add them to the soil for some calcium deposits that the plants will make use of over a longer period of time. The finer you break them up, the more easily used the calcium will be. If you can use a strong food processor to take them close to a powder, that is even better.

 

Blood meal is hard to replicate at home and I really suggest buying it, unless you want to start a meat scrap inclusive compost pile, but that’s a whole article on its own and comes with a lot of headaches and unique smells. Fish fertilizer is a good option for adding some of the nutrients that may be lacking in your soil and it covers a lot of different nutritional needs.

 

Another great bit of nutrition that you may want to consider using on your plants is unsulfured, black strap molasses. A tiny bit is all you need to promote the growth of good microbes in the soil and add some much needed nutrients to your soil. The ratio of 1 part molasses to 1 part water is just about perfect. Add this ratio of molasses to the egg water and you have a hearty soup that your plants will love.

 

One your plants reach a good size and start to form a true stalk with a slightly bark like appearance, it is time to transfer them to their final resting spots. As with the transfer to the 3 gallon pits, you are going to want to toss a handful of wood ash and bone meal into the transplant spot to promote a healthy and smooth transfer. If you are continuing to use planter 5 gallon pots are a good step up without getting too crazy.

 

If you live in an area with lots of wild herbivores or cats, you can use the peppers from your plants as a safe an natural way to keep them from digging up your gardens and chewing on the leave. The capsaicin in the pods evolved to keep mammals from eating the fruit and you can use that to your advantage. Mash up some hot peppers in some water and put that concoction in a spray bottle. Lightly spray you’re soil and the leaves of your plants. Cats and deer won’t be spending too much time around plants that make their eyes burn. Just make sure that you are standing up wind from the direction in which you are spraying. Remember that capsaicin is the active ingredient in mace and that is essentially what you made.

 

If you follow these steps, you should be able to grow some beautiful plants that will give you some really amazing fruit. Smaller plants can be kept in the house and the vibrant colors of the flowers and pods make those fake flower arrangements completely obsolete. If you are going to keep these plants in the house, I suggest skipping the fish fertilizer. Just trust me on this one.”

 

Guest Post by: Robert Lobitz

 

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