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The Pepper Chronicles Part I: Seeds and Dirt

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

In what unexpectedly became a New Year's Eve tradition for us, my partner and I once again found ourselves preoccupied for hours with dirt and pepper seeds on December 31st, 2020. It made sense to us, sewing the new seeds for a new year feels like having a reset button. We both know we will watch these seeds turn into plants, growing to 2 or 3 feet tall over the coming months, and we both know the lessons we've learned over the past year will yield great results for us this year. After the train wreck that 2020 was, I think we can all agree a fresh start is a great thing to have.

For the seedlings, I used Jiffy starter pot trays (the biodegradable ones that come in packs of 50) along with several bags of their starter mix. Our seeds were purchased from Tradewinds Fruit, and I must say I have been incredibly impressed with their germination rate and quality of peppers. Over the years I have run into several seed providers who I can only assume do not guard against cross-pollination between pepper varieties, and as a result the seeds the sell under one variety might easily turn out to be a completely different variety. In fact, in 2018, I planted what was supposed to be 44 Habanero plants, 8 of which turned out to actually be Habaneros. The rest turned out to be Mad Hatter, Big Jim Chile, and Jalapeno peppers. Tradewinds Fruits has consistently provided great results in not only germination but also lack of cross-pollination.

We planted a total of 200 Cayenne, 190 Habanero, and 160 Ghost Chilis this year. This is a drastic change from our strategy (or lack thereof) last year in planting dozens of varieties of plants, and instead focusing on peppers needed for our original product line, with the expectation to grow into other varieties once our infrastructure can support the expansion. We only have plans for 128 of each to make it in the beds, but it's always wise to have back -ups, as last year's hardening off failure showed us.

Within a week, we had our first seedlings popping up, which was a direct result of yet another lesson learned from last year: heating pads for the trays. Over the past few years it's usually taken at least two weeks, if not up to four, for me to start seeing seedlings but holy crap these things took off! Within two weeks we had 534 out of 550 plants sprouted, which gives us a germination rate of 97%. That is pretty damn good if you ask me.

For fertilizers, I've decided to go with Fox Farms' line, which has us starting out with their "Grow Big" product, a nitrogen heavy mix at 6-4-4, to promote lush vegetative growth. We just got this in and gave them their first dose on Friday.

As of right now, I have potted 98 Cayenne Plants, and still have 98 to go. Most of which are ranging between 2.5"-3" across their first leaves, and between 2-2.5" tall. Most, if not all, Habanero plants have produced their first set of true leaves, but as I've seen in the past, the plant tends to be smaller than Cayenne. Average width of the 185 seedlings we have is 1.5" and most stand 1.5-2" tall. As expected, Ghost Chili's have been the slowest to develop, with only roughly half of the 153 germinated having their first set of true leaves, though their size remains about the same as Habaneros.

Over the next few days, I'll be spending countless hours moving all of these peppers into their next homes, 6" pots that will house them until they go into the ground outside once it's warmer. Stay tuned for the next update!

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