Part 1. Getting the seeds started
Tacoma WA is not the first place you think of for growing Hot Peppers. In fact it would be one of the last. Peppers, especially Super Hot ones like Ghost, Scorpion & Carolina Reaper, require lots of sun and warm temps. But if there is a will there is a way, and I have a will .. so there is a way.
I actually started growing hot peppers when I was still living in Glenwood Springs, CO back in 2013. It was an even more challenging task there. By 2015 I was in Tacoma and with a lot of research, and trial and error, I found some real success in 2017. I believe it was 30-50 plants that year, with maybe half of them actually producing much fruit. In 2023 I had 300 plants. I sold around 100 plants and used the rest for harvest, selling some fresh peppers and storing the rest. Probably harvested over 1500 peppers this year.
Here’s how I did things in 2023:
- Be realistic about how many plants you can really grow in your space. I have lots of room and a very understanding wife. Know that the plants will need a greenhouse of some kind where they get good light (grow lights usually) and maintain temps above 50 deg. My plants live in the greenhouse outside from Feb to June or July, depending on outside temps. At this stage they are in 6″ pots or smaller. I can fit about 300 – 6″ pots in my 10′ x 16′ greenhouse.
- Order seeds online for reputable seed sources. I will list the supplies I use at the end. You need extra seeds. If you want 5 Reaper plants, plant at least 10 seeds. If you are lucky they will all germinate and do well and you might have to kill off a few baby plants. Plus seeds are not terribly expensive.
I plant my seeds in 2×2 pots, 3-4 seeds in each, in trays on a shelf in my office. The trays sit on seed starter heat mats, essential for good germination. Good starter soil is also essential. I use ProMix, somewhat pricey but I believe totally worth it. It goes a long way in the small pots.
3. There is no need for grow lights at planting, but you will need some light once the seedlings appear. It can be fluorescent, LED or HPS. I use fluorescent for my starts which are on shelves in my office upstairs, and some LED, and use big HPS (High Pressure Sodium) lights in the Greenhouse. HPS puts off a lot of heat, not good in the house, but great in the Greenhouse when the temps outside in Feb-May and colder.
If the seeds are good and conditions are right, not too much or too little water and temps above 60, you should see seedlings pretty soon. Hot Pepper seeds can take months to germinate in some cases, but I never see that. These came up in under 2 weeks.
Not pictured but I cover the seed trays with clear domes to keep the warmth and moisture in until the start showing. Them remove the covers entirely, it can cause wet related issues like mildew, fungus, etc and quickly kill a seedling.
Watch the seedlings closely for leaf curl, signs of lights too close, or lanky plants reaching for the sky, signs of light too far away. The closer the better for light as long as you’re not burning the leaves.
These pictured are a little tall so I lowered the lights a bit.
Once the seedlings have 3-4 pairs of leaves we break them out into their own pots. Usually at least 2 of the 4 seeds planted will be viable (that’s why we plant extra). Be very careful transplanting the seedlings as the roots are very delicate.
Now we just let them grow for a month or so before moving to the greenhouse. Then we start transplanting them into 6″ (1 gal) pots and wait. Watch them closely for signs of Aphids or Fungus .. both real issues with small, young plants, and treat accordingly.
Here are some of the starts sitting in the Greenhouse waiting to get repotted. Repotting is quite a process with 200-300 plants.
Watch for Growing Hot Peppers in the PNW, Part 2.