The weather forecast is suggesting highs in the mid 20s and lows around 10 degrees over the next week. After highs in the low teens and single digit lows this comes as welcome news, especially given the size of the seedlings that are still indoors.
Beginning yesterday we’ve been starting to harden off our pepper, tomato, squash and cucumber seedlings in anticipation of planting. In full transparency we’ve had issues with hardening off vegetables every year so far, but remain hopeful that each experience has provided learnings to limit risk going forward. Seedling hardening issues encountered include:
Unexpected high winds. Our growing space is on the roof of a multi-story building. While there are raised borders around the rooftop, they are only typical railing height and provide a windbreak for a few feet from the edge. In year one we positioned plants on a quiet morning, and winds picked up quickly, damaging the young plants before we realized the weather had turned.
Fix: Choose wind-protected areas on the roof, especially early on when transitioning seedlings. Over the days, slowly expose the young plants to increasing amounts of wind up to the levels expected through the summer.
Significant sun sensitivity. I read about the importance of not leaving young seedlings out in direct sun at the height of the day, but I didn’t appreciate just how sensitive some plants could be. This isn’t about leaving them in direct sunlight all day… it could be about leaving them in filtered sunlight all day, or direct sunlight for a full hour on day 1. These guys are sensitive.
Fix: In the first few days, be cautious about filtered light. Day 1 we’re using full shade for plants, moving to filtered light and only later to direct sunlight. Similarly, starting with very brief periods of exposure. It’s surprising how little exposure is required on day 1 before your seedlings start to show signs of stress.
Pests. First year we moved plants from the outdoors back into the room where they originally germinated. This didn’t affect the seedlings themselves, but transported pests into our home. Shortly after we started, we round ourselves with an aphid issue with our houseplants.
Fix: When not outside, plants being hardened are held in our building stairwell. Fortunately the stairwells in this building have sizeable east and west facing windows, so the plants aren’t in darkness.
That’s it. Take this info not as guidance, but as a one person’s experience and modify as appropriate for your situation. Good luck!
In my earlier post I noted that I was planning to try out grow bags for my peppers this year. The reasons for testing this route are as follows:
I would like to bring the healthiest of my peppers indoors to over-winter.
Our soil quality is very poor, and improving it too much over the years may prove problematic as on our roof we need to keep soil weight down. With grow bags I can focus application of manure and compost in a very constrained area and limit the long term addition of weight.
Once it’s clear which plants are strongest I can adjust placement to maximize light, heat etc to those that will best deliver against those inputs.
When I wrote the earlier post I was looking at Vivosun grow bags (Canadian grow bag link here), and specifically the 5 gallon size. After some additional reading I’ve changed direction, at least for my first purchase. Yesterday I received my shipment of 9 Bekith 3 gallon grow bags (Canadian link to the Belkin grow bags here). I chose to go slightly smaller as several sources suggested that 3 gallons would be sufficient for first year peppers, and to limit the expense to fill all the bags with quality potting soil, manure and compost (at least the compost’s free as we have 2 Worm Factory 360 composters on our roof (Canadian link to the Worm Factory 360 composter here).
While I haven’t yet filled the bags (I’ll do so when the peppers are ready to transplant directly into them) I can say that they appear to be of decent quality. I’m hoping to get 3 or 4 years out of them, and given thickness and apparent construction quality I can see that happening. I’ll be curious to see how water permeable they are, and as a result how much more frequently I may have to water them.
I can’t wait for temperatures to get a bit higher and more consistent so I can get this rolling.
As written in earlier posts the “soil” in our rooftop garden is miserable, made up of sand, lava rock and who-knows-what else presumably to keep it light given the volume up there. I’ve had reasonable success growing in this medium with limited use of compost / worm castings and fertilizer, but my compost bin is limited and the soil volume is substantial.
This year I’m considering fabric grow pots / bags (Amazon Canada has Vivosun grow bags here) for some of the more demanding produce so I can supplement the soil more deliberately through the season, and recover that soil at year’s end rather than have to remember where supplementation occurred for the next year.
From what I’ve read, the 5 gallon fabric grow bags should do for my needs, in particular for use with some of my super hot peppers. I’ll continue to grow most of them in the main planters, but intend to use 3 or for grow bags for comparison this season. I’m assuming the 5 gallon size would suffice for tomatoes as well, and so I’ll likely consider a comparison there as well.
If anyone has any experience using these I’d love to hear about it. I’m particularly curious how well they stand up to weather… can you really expect to get 5 to 7 seasons out of a single bag?
So I’ve been away since the 15th and left my seedlings to fend for themselves under a full spectrum lamp, and a plastic cover. I have to admit, I was assuming I’d come home to dead peppers… but I’m pleasantly surprised. The pepper seedlings are a bit leggy, so I’ll have to work on correcting that, but they look pretty good given my shameless neglect. Here’s where we sit:
Just a quick update on the super-hot seeds planted recently. Frankly I’m surprised at how many have already sprouted given past experience. All were planted in seeding mix, on a heat mat. There is a single grow light over the seedlings as they sprout (and they are sitting at a south-facing window).
This might be a new one for many of you, but Seasoning Peppers (Tobago Seasoning Peppers, Granada Seasoning Peppers, Trinidad Pimento Peppers and other names) are peppers that look and smell very similar to Habanero Peppers and some of the super hots, sharing some taste, but don’t have the heat.
I’ve never tried growing these before, but I’ve used them in cooking anytime I can find them in Caribbean specialty shops (which isn’t often). I’ve been coming across more and more recipes calling for Trinidad Pimento peppers, so I figured it was time to give them a try. I found some seeds on eBay and planted them earlier today, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a) they germinate and grow and b) they’re actually Seasoning Peppers (I’ve had some surprises when purchasing pepper seeds on eBay). Stay tuned.
To hold you over, here are a couple videos I found on Youtube that discuss these unusual peppers.
I realize I’m a bit late to the game and should have planted seeds in December…. but I’ll remain hopeful and give it a go anyway. Peppers are being started in Jiffy trays (Buy from US / Canada) on heat mats (Buy from US / Canada), under full spectrum lights (though admittedly not an ideal lighting setup in this case, but the best I already had on-hand. Seeds in the “ground” at this point include:
Yellow Brain Strain
Red 7 Pot Brain Strain
Yellow Carolina Reaper
Trinidad 7 Pot Douglah (chocolate)
Moruga Trinidad Scorpion
Of the above group I’ve previously had success with the Thai Dragons, Red Habaneros Moruga Scorpions and Carolina Reapers, but the others are new to me and we’ll just have to see how things go.
I’m convinced that without full spectrum lights I would have no chance of growing super hot peppers quickly enough to get a harvest in the Pacific Northwest. Similarly, I’m convinced that without heat mats I would have not chance of germinating super hot peppers reliably and early enough to get a harvest. If you’ve tried one but not the other, make sure you try them together, and start early .
In addition to the heat mat and lighting setup, I’m planning to add a fan after they’ve germinated to try and strengthen the young plants early. I’ve had a tough time in the past hardening pepper plants for the transition outside. I’m not sure if this is a common issue, a reflection of having started them late and trying to transition when too young, or just a fact of life given Vancouver’s somewhat unpredictable weather.
This past summer I tried tested black landscape fabric as a weed barrier, and heat retention tool for my pepper plants. The idea being that a) any weeds that germinated in that planter would be starved for light unless they could find a path to one of the holes where the peppers were planted, and b) the black colour of the fabric would serve to capture the sun’s heat, bringing the soil up to a temperature preferred by peppers even on cooler days.
What did I learn?
Weed suppression. Well, a single layer of landscape fabric doesn’t seem to starve weeds of light or water. Weeds still germinated and grew under the fabric. In some cases they surfaced through one of the pepper holes, but in many cases they didn’t, yet still appeared to grow well. Despite this, they were restricted to the height they were able to push the fabric, and so didn’t compete with the peppers vertically for sun. Not what I’d expected, but less work than the constant weeding needed with bare soil.
Heat capture. Landscape fabric does seem to trap the sun’s heat in the soil. Comparing the temperature of the soil under the fabric to the surface soil of a neighbouring bed showed clearly that this worked.
Surprise! There was another learning from this ‘experiment.’ When the pepper plants were the only plants accessible in this particular bed, they were the only plants that avian pests targeted. Crows are smart, and they watch every year as I prepare the soil and plant seedlings. It seems that the black tarp may have brought an appealing focus to the seedlings planted, and almost half of them were uprooted by curious crows over the course of several weeks. Eventually they seem to realize that pepper seedlings represented nothing of interest , but in the meantime halved the number of plants for the 2019 crop.
So, would I do it again? No. At least not the same way. I think next year I may encircle my seedlings with some of the fabric in service of heat capture, but I’m not going to blanket the entire bed. Additionally, I may consider covering the bed with netting or something similar until the plants are off to a good start to prevent the crow disaster from this past year.
Most of our super-hots were grown outdoors on the roof (as one might expect given the title of this site), however we did keep two inside in our south-facing solarium. Both Trinidad Moruga Scorpions, the peppers grew well indoors, producing peppers, though not nearly as well as the top outdoor plants. At season’s end we noticed aphids on both plants and so pruned them back to just the major stems, sprayed them down with insecticidal soap (Buy in US or Canada) and tried to start again.
It appears we were successful.
Despite it being December in gray, rainy Vancouver we currently have two healthy Trinidad Moruga Scorpion plants. One with 4 nearly mature peppers colored and waiting to cause pain. Both plants have new flowers forming as well, promising additional harvests through the winter.
We did not use grow lights of any sort, though during the day the room is kept slightly warmer than the rest of the home. I will admit that I do have a grow lamp at the ready should it be needed, however I’ve been able to keep it in storage thus far. Other than that, no special treatment. Plants are watered regularly (with water from a nearby aquarium) and that’s about it. So… give it a try and you could find yourself in peppers through the year with little extra effort.
My single largest plant in 2018, and also the heaviest producer was a ghost pepper (bhut jolokia). This one was from a purchased start (I didn’t grow it from seed), and after a brief period to acclimate it took off. By season’s end it was about two feet high and equal in width, and LOADED with peppers. The other 5 bhut jolokia plants weren’t as big, but they put up a decent effort and production as well.
Observations were as follows.
It took a bit after the transplant for them to grow at all. I was initially worried, but once they started they didn’t stop.
Production happened all at once, but again, fruit growth and ripening was very slow at first to the point I wasn’t sure would get ripe peppers before the season ended.
The ghost peppers can get quite large. Of all the hot peppers I grew this year they were the largest… but they were also some of the thinnest walled. Some seemed almost dry when cut open with huge hollow cavities.
I don’t know that I’d do much different next year. One thing that was common across my largest plants was that they were closest to a glass barrier that shielded them from direct wind while letting late day sun through. Other plants benefited from this same wind break, but not so completely. I expect it resulted in cooler temperatures the further away the plants were as the wind increased. Given this I may think about how I can extend the wind protection without reducing sun/heat exposure across the board.