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School me on peppers please

 
Posts: 184
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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I want to grow peppers.  Initially paprika and cayenne.  Not really interested in super hot peppers like habanero or ghost pepper.  At least for now.

I'm in northern Puget sound, about 200' elevation, so not terribly cold in winter, but teens aren't unheard of.  We're USDA Zone 8A.  Typical summer is 70-85F, 90's happen but are uncommon.  Very little rain, most years, Memorial Day to Labor Day, maybe an average of 50" yearly rainfall

I've never really grown much in the way of veggies.  My wife has done some, but not a lot.  So don't assume any prior knowledge.  

Will those peppers (or others as alternatives if not) grow well in my area, and what do I need to do for best results?
 
pollinator
Posts: 1196
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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A couple of thoughts about peppers.

First, they don't germinate very easily.  You almost need a grow light or grow mat to get the temp right.  I've had a bunch of them planted in little cups on my window ledge for two weeks and only a couple have sprouted.  So look at germination temps and try to get that right.

Second, they are slow growers that take their time.  I used to live in Tacoma and I didn't have much luck with getting big ripe peppers -- the summers just weren't long enough I would imagine.  But maybe you'll have better luck than I did.  If you could grow them under a poly tunnel or in some sort of greenhouse, maybe you'll do better.  But waiting 6 months for mature fruit isn't unusual, so I would imagine that you'll want to get them started indoors and then put them out in the sunniest spot you've got once it's warm enough.

Third, down here in California, they'll grow for 2 or 3 years -- longer perhaps, although I always pull them out after a couple of years.  I had a beautiful big serrano chili that went for years.  I'll pick the bright red ones and ferment them for hot sauce (easiest thing in the world to do).  So perhaps if you get them growing in a pot, you might be able to bring them in for the winter and put them back out the next year.

Finally, they like well-drained soil.  Yes, pretty much everything does -- but I find that when I try to grow a chili in a spot where the soil is still pretty heavy clay, they don't do as well as when they've been planted where there has been a lot of mulch for a number of years.  Take that into consideration.
 
Posts: 20
Location: portlandia, oregon. zone 8b
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Peppers are persnickety for sure. NW Edible Life is my go-to for growing guides, and is based in your area. Erica grows hot and sweet peppers, I believe.

If you really want to get fruit this year, you should plan on starting your seeds indoors, up-potting at least once, and transplanting into the ground when it is nice and warm. Peppers like it hot, and they are slow to take off when they are growing.

Getting started
Start your seeds indoors, in small pots. I start mine in the germination cells that are about 1" square, but if you don't mind using the space you can start them in the little 2" nursery pots. The seeds take forever to germinate, and like soil temps between 65F and 90F, depending on the variety. They don't like to be too wet when germinating, but can't be completely dry either. I've tried a few different methods of getting them to germinate in seed trays, and have had mixed luck. Most people online report the best luck using heat mats under the soil trays to get the needed soil temperatures, which is the one thing I haven't really tried yet. Don't waste your money on those cardboard pots that "break down" when you plant them -- I grew the same seedlings side by side in those and regular plastic nursery pots, and the paper ones were awful. Lots of other people like the peat pots too, but I also hate those. To each their own.

Sow one or two seeds per pot, in a loose seed starting mix. Don't tamp it down, just sprinkle it in the pot and mist with a water bottle. It's okay that the soil sinks, you can top it up later. No need to sow them deep, I often just throw mine down on the top of the soil and mist them with a spray bottle so I can stare at them to see if they have germinated.

After germination, it's time to get those babies under lights! Invest in quality seed lighting. Good recommendations on NW Edible. I think I got my first seed starting lights for around $50, so it's not an enormous investment. Put your lights on a timer so your plants get 16 hours of light per day (and 8 hours of darkness).

Seedlings!!!
Once your peppers start growing, they'll put out a couple of seed leaves first (cotyledons) that are long and thin and look nothing like pepper leaves. Next will come the first true leaves. After you have two sets of true leaves, you can feed your peppers with a *very* dilute liquid fertilizer. I usually use fish or kelp meal, diluted to 1/4 of what the package suggests. But you can use other gentle, balanced (5-5-5) fertilizer. If you want, you can set the peppers up with a fan to gently move the air around them. This helps prevent fungal problems and (according to some) creates stronger seedlings.

Your seed lights should be about an inch away from the tops of your plants, that way your growing peppers will get the most lumens. Keep lifting the lights as your peppers grow.

Don't overwater. This is hard. I overwater like crazy. But your plants don't NEED to be constantly wet, though the soil shouldn't ever dry out all the way. I usually mist/gently top water my plants for the first few weeks. I start bottom-watering by pouring water into a tray below the pots instead of over the top of them. Bottom watering lets the seedlings suck up water through their roots as they need it.

Up-potting will need to happen 4-6 weeks after germination. Your seedlings will out-grow those 2" nursery pots. But in a 2" pot they can honestly get pretty big, maybe 10 or 12 true leaves? Up-pot to a 4" pot or a 6" round -- or whatever you have space for. You can also pot them into a standard potting soil. DON'T use "garden soil" sold in bags. It is too strong for your baby plants still. If it's getting sunny outside when you up-pot, you can also start letting your seedlings feel some real sunlight!

You will also need to do something very painful. Something that hurts me every time I do it to my peppers.

You need to pinch off their tops.

It's awful, because you're basically cutting off the top few leaves of your beautiful, magnificent, baby pepper plants. However, by doing this you are stimulating greater branching and bushiness in the pepper. So instead of ending up with one long stem with leaves coming off the side, you'll have a branched plant that has a greater photosynthetic potential and more shoots and buds overall.

I pinch off my plants around 6 true leaves -- or around maybe 4" in height. That way they have enough leaves to capture a lot of light and keep growing, but are still small enough for this to not stress them too much.

Transplanting
Once soil temperatures outside are above 60F at night, then you can transplant your peppers outside. I'm not sure when this will be for you. As Marco suggested, you can use season extension techniques to achieve this -- low tunnels or black/clear plastic covering the soil where you intend to plant your peppers can be very helpful. Before you transplant, you must harden off your plants. This means putting them outside for a couple of hours each day and slowly increasing that time over the course of about a week. I usually start by putting my plants out for 2 hours in the morning, in a sunny spot. The next day I leave them out for 4 hours in the morning. By the end of the week I leave them out overnight, and they live outside until I'm ready to transplant.

Marco made great suggestions about transplant location. Pick a spot with at least 6 hours of sun a day. More is probably better in your area. If you have a sunny, South-facing wall, that's a great microclimate for your peppers. If you put them in pots, I would use a standard potting soil mix. A lot of people like to use "vegetable mix" or "vegetable fertilizer", but most of these fertilizers are too high in nitrogen and too low in potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) for plants to effectively fruit and flower. If you want to fertilize the soil you put your plants in, I suggest just using compost (yard waste compost can usually be bought in bags). Stay away from chicken manure and horse manure. Cow manure can be ok. I have no experience with mushroom compost.

If your peppers are anything like mine in the last five years, they will do nothing for a few weeks after you transplant them. Then they will BURST into growth, and seemingly change overnight. They'll get big and green and amazing.

Then it's just a waiting game for fruit!

Like Marco said, you can grow them as perennials in pots if you have a way to protect them over winter. And then next year, you'll get peppers earlier (and probably more of them!) than anyone else! Pots are also a great way to take advantage of the best microclimates in your yard throughout the season -- you can move your peppers around to the best spots in the yard as the season progresses, and potentially extend your fruiting abilities.

Hope you don't mind the verbal diarrhea -- but I love peppers! And I hope you have a great time growing yours!
 
pollinator
Posts: 2385
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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This cultivar, Feher Ozon Paprika Pepper, only takes 70days to reach maturity.
http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Feher_Ozon_Paprika_Pepper_Seed/all_pepper_seed
A month less than other paprika
 
master pollinator
Posts: 2850
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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At first glance, I thought the thread title read "School me on Preppers." Then I got here and you're all talking about fruit.

I have never had great success growing peppers, although I grow tomatoes regularly, with varying amounts of success. My grandmother, however, who has a green thumb that goes up one arm and down the other, had a dozen or so green peppers, the sweet variety, volunteer for her out of the compost last spring, along with the tomatoes and butternut squashes that also popped up.

I have read that the plants themselves require as much direct sunlight as possible, I think something like 8 hours daily, but that the fruit require shading, so cropping the peppers close together, or polycropping with a beneficial plant that can grow with the peppers, shading their fruit, but not shading much of the plant, will increase yield.

I have also read that, for those using coloured mulch, that during flowering and fruiting, putting a layer of red mulch under the plants will increase the level of red light hitting the plants, increasing yield by as much as 20%. For this, especially on the backyard garden level, I would find me some red cardboard and lay it down atop the organic mulch I intend to turn eventually into soil, not wanting to incorporate the dyed cardboard.

Also, I have heard that a lot of the techniques used with tomatoes, also in the nightshade family, work well with peppers. These might include polycultures including basil and oregano, planting in close proximity to onions and garlic, and something I like to do for both pollinators and to dissuade pests, interplanting with marigolds.

Finally and not to be overlooked, if you don't live beside a large area that hosts pollinators, such as a meadow rife with wildflowers, you might want to give some serious thought to planting some pollinator food and habitat. Borage is my go-to, as well as anything in the mint family, chives, lavender, really anything with tonnes of tiny little flowers in huge clusters; I would also give sunflowers a serious shot.

Or you could go ahead and hand-pollinate, but I like my way better. Better for the ecology all around.

There are many knowledgeable people here on this site who love to help. Whenever you have questions, ask. But keep us posted, and good luck with the preppers peppers.

-CK
 
gardener
Posts: 1160
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Never grown paprika but grew cayenne every other year in TX. Bell peppers & jalapenos, & salsa peppers every year. They all did very well zero effort. Surprisingly, that was the same zone as you are in. Beautiful plants when they are full of ripening peppers. A little cayenne goes a long ways.

Never had much success with direct seeding peppers & they do need considerable time to mature. The recommendations to start them indoors (or buy transplants) are good. Especially due to your shorter growing season. Having a hard time believing that your summer is as warm or long as Texas summer. Same zone or not. They are slightly harder to grow here in TN, zone 7.

Chili petin is a perennial pepper in places where it can survive winter. Hot beasties & require no care other than don't let them freeze for an excessive length of time.

Your local ag department or university might have relevant local pepper info. Good luck!!!
 
Andrew Mayflower
Posts: 184
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Great info from you all!  Thanks.

Mike Barkley wrote:Never grown paprika but grew cayenne every other year in TX. Bell peppers & jalapenos, & salsa peppers every year. They all did very well zero effort. Surprisingly, that was the same zone as you are in. Beautiful plants when they are full of ripening peppers. A little cayenne goes a long ways.

Never had much success with direct seeding peppers & they do need considerable time to mature. The recommendations to start them indoors (or buy transplants) are good. Especially due to your shorter growing season. Having a hard time believing that your summer is as warm or long as Texas summer. Same zone or not. They are slightly harder to grow here in TN, zone 7.

Chili petin is a perennial pepper in places where it can survive winter. Hot beasties & require no care other than don't let them freeze for an excessive length of time.

Your local ag department or university might have relevant local pepper info. Good luck!!!



Definitely a shorter growing season.  It doesn't get very cold here, but also doesn't' get very hot.  The Puget Sound is great for creating a temperate climate even being as far north as we are (48.53N, which is 1.7deg farther north than Fargo, ND).  And with the northern latitudes the daylight, and therefore growing seasons are shorter.  

We may try to knock together some kind of greenhouse to allow us to start growing peppers this year.  We shall see how much time we have to build that.  4 kids (almost 6-14) keeps things busy.  Definitely will have some raised beds for strawberries, peas, lettuce, and herbs.  Hopefully onion.  Looks like if we wanted garlic we should have started them back in the fall.
 
Posts: 94
Location: Oakland, CA
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Hi Andrew,  I am sure you can have success with peppers like like cayenne and a small sweet pepper variety.  There are a lot of sweet snacking pepper varieties now that are very productive. In the past, I grew Hungarian wax peppers, Not the hot ones.  If you want to try something interesting Rocoto or Manzano (Capsicum pubescens)might overwinter well in your area, they like cool weather, so they would do well in a protected spot.
 
garden master
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Marco Banks wrote:So perhaps if you get them growing in a pot, you might be able to bring them in for the winter and put them back out the next year.



Even here in Oklahoma where the growing season is close to nine months, I have gotten frustrated with my pepper plants only just getting fully into production when the freeze comes around and kills them.  

So this year for the first time I dug up the most promising four plants (they were in large containers too heavy to move) and transplanted them into pots small enough to bring indoors.  I don't have a formal grow lights situation but LED light bulbs have gotten awful cheap to buy and operate.  I have filled a room with makeshift branching candelabras of those things that you screw into a light socket to give you two outlets and a light socket -- into which you can plug two more light sockets -- giving you three light sockets where you had one before.  And it's safe to put three LED light bulbs into that Rube Goldberg contraption because each one only draw about 12 watts and the original socket was rated for 60W incandescent.  I typically use one 100W-equivalent soft white, one 100W-equivalent daylight, and one 60W equivalent grow light -- making a nice spectrum mix overall that costs a lot less than formal grow light setups would.  

One of my transplanted peppers got eaten by some kind of mites and died a horrible death.  But the other three are blooming like mad, and are crawling with those invasive Japanese lady beetles that come inside in the winter (which eat mites) and are throwing out new leaves up and down their stems.  Given that it's late January already, I really think I'm going to be able to get them through the winter and back outside into the ground as healthy mature plants.  I recommend the experiment to everyone.  
 
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Try Red Cheese or other 'Cheese' types. Basically paprika peppers that look like mini-bells but more adaptable imho. Most will produce peppers in 60 days or so. 'Super Shepard'  is a sublime early Italian sweet pepper variety, very early (most list it at 65-70 days) and productive on compact plants. If you've never tasted Italian sweet peppers, be forewarned, you'll forever find regular bell peppers to be vastly inferior. They taste similar to Mike & Ike candy.

If you'd like a bit of spice, try Shishito peppers. These small peppers are basically a Japanese version of Peperoncini peppers. Super early and productive; most are very mild but you might find a spicy one occasionally.

Use a heat mat or germinate your seedlings on top of your refrigerator. Start them as early as you dare. Last week might not be too soon for your climate. Some people keep their peppers in pots so they can bring them inside through the winter. Most struggle without supplemental lighting, though.

To speed things up in mild-summer climates like yours, there are two other things worth trying:
1)  Use clear plastic mulch. This will warm up soil temps a lot, which is really the key. Biggest problem with this method is weeds love the heat as much as the peppers.
2) Make a low tunnel using thick gauge wire and cover it with a small piece of greenhouse plastic and secure the edges tightly to the ground. Cut 6-12" vertical slits in it every 12 inches or so on both sides or it will get too hot in there, even for heat loving peppers. If you get a freak hot spell in the summer or notice any heat damage to the plants, remove the cover entirely and put it back when temps moderate. There is also slitted low tunnel plastic available commercially.
 
Posts: 97
Location: Central Indiana
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Zone 6A here in central indiana and i really haven't had issues growing peppers here.  Read up on how much rain they like...for example when we've had dry years, my hotter peppers have done very well think my scotch bonnets, habenaros and cayenne.  Last year was a very moist summer for us and the scotch bonnets did fairly well, but my habs and cayennes didn't.  My Serrano peppers however went through the roof.  My bell peppers also did really well.  Other than about 2 weeks were it was almost 100 and no rain i didn't water at all.  I always start indoors but i haven't really had any germination issues as mentioned above and while we have an ok length growing season i've never had a shortage of ripened fruit.  Personally i think Peppers are easier than tomatoes to grow, but everyone will have different experiences.
 
Andrew Mayflower
Posts: 184
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Well, we have a heat mat and grow light ordered, several seed trays, and some other stuff.  I know my wife included probably 3-4 peppers in the seed order.  Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
 
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I think N Murray covered most of what I would say. Peppers like it hot, so even if you don't have heat mats for everything inside, you should have one for peppers. It'll make a big difference. They are the earliest thing that I start here in Pennsylvania's Zone 6, now that I'm not growing commercially and don't start onions from seed anymore. They take a long time to get going. I planted them last week (Feb 5) in anticipation of transplanting around the 1st of May.

Peppers don't like a lot of nitrogen once they're going (as mentioned above). They'll grow giant amounts of green shoots and leaves, get to be six feet high, and take their sweet time making any fruit. If you've been taking good care of your soil in general I wouldn't bother putting any other fertilizer on there when growing peppers. (Obviously if you have a conventional farm that just treats soil as a sponge to temporarily hold nutrients in you'll need some sort of fertilizer, but a backyard garden that's got lots of compost and worms in it should be fine already). This is sometimes the problem when people say peppers take forever to fruit - their soil is too fertile and the peppers grow like crazy without making any fruit.

Depending on the sturdiness of your plants (the pinching off will help) you may decide you want to trellis them. They won't need it if they get a lot of wind exposure early on and don't have too much fertility in the soil, but if they start to get long and leggy you might as well not let them get killed - put a couple little tomato cages or something over them so they don't blow over after getting heavy with peppers.

 
Andrew Mayflower
Posts: 184
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Got the seed order yesterday.  SWMBO got quite a few peppers.  At least some of the seeds are good for 3 years, so we won't plant them all this year.  Looking forward to seeing how it goes.
 
Jonathan Ward
Posts: 97
Location: Central Indiana
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Awesome.  Good luck Andrew and let us know how it goes.
 
Andrew Mayflower
Posts: 184
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Thanks.  Grow lights arrived today, heat mat should be here Monday I think.  We're going to get the potting soil ready today and figure out how many more raised beds to build.
 
Andrew Mayflower
Posts: 184
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Wife got 5 of the 72 cell seed starters planted tonight and on the grow mats  Lots of various peppers, plus broccoli.  Some of the slow tomatoes will also go in soon, plus cabbage and rhubarb.  Once those are out of the starter cells off the grow mats we'll start the remaining tomatoes plus herbs, cucumbers, and anything else not direct sown outside.
 
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