I tried my hand last season to start some hot peppers and had a difficult time. I read they need warmth and used bottom heat by placing pots on top of my aquarium lights. That did nothing so I put them in a sunny window sill. Still nothing. No matter what I did the seeds never sprouted. So I put the pots on my back steps and forgot about them. I kept them watered just in case the seeds were good. I had heard it can take some time to sprout these pepper seeds.. but by now it had been months. It had been long enough to get into the early part of our summers and too late to really expect any kind of production. Still, I wanted to see if they would sprout. And if they did sprout, what temps did it take to get them going.
One day, during our typical scorching summer heat here in Texas, I noticed some seeds sprouting. The temps were in the 90’s and now the seeds had decided to grow. I managed to get the seeds up and growing and just about the time they started to flower and bear fruit it was time to bring them inside as we had some expected cold snaps coming. I tried to winter them over inside with the hopes to have a head start next season, but lost all but two due to a white fly infestation I could not get rid of. This year I wanted to get the peppers going a bit earlier so I could get some peppers from them. Taking notes from the temps they finally began to sprout, I decided to fake them out and create an environment that would make the seeds think it was a hot summer day and OK to grow.
With my aquatic hobby I had grow out tanks on reptile heat mats to heat the water in the tanks. The heat mats were laid down and the tanks of water were put on top. I adjusted a timer to turn the mats on and off to keep the water temps were I wanted them. Since I have reduced my fish hobby I had some of the mats not being used, and also some empty tanks. My plan was to create a micro climate inside a tank to make a warm ambient temp that would hopefully encourage sprouting of my seeds.
This tank is a 20 gallon and I put the pepper seeds into 4″ pots filled with a mostly shredded wood mix. I get it at Lowe’s and it is called a landscaper mix. It has various sized particles and a lot of wood content. I had read that peat yields poor results when trying to start or grow peppers so I avoided peat pots. I did add a little peat to the mix to provide some wicking ability and also some manure/compost mix I also got from Lowe’s. Since I add water to the tank bottom and allow it to wick up into the pots for watering, I did not want the heat mat to sit on the bottom of the tank. I had my heat mats in 4′ lengths to fit on my shelves so I just coiled the heat mat around the tank around the top of the pots and plugged it in. I also put one of my LED lights over the top to provide light. Then I waited.
As you can see the temp holds in the mid 80’s with the single heat tape. This heat tape is 4″ wide and I think my 6″ would actually be a better application. Since I wanted temps to go up over 90 degrees, I added a second 4′ tape in there as well and plugged it in. This time the temps got up to slightly over 100 degrees. Hotter than desired but still workable. I decided I would plug in the second tape during the day and unplug it at night. I felt this would simulate warmer days and cooler night time temps. Since these hot peppers can take months to sprout I figured I would try this approach for a few weeks and adjust if needed.
It only took a few weeks before I started to see the seeds sprout. I was amazed they were actually all coming up. My plan is to gradually decrease the heat in the aquarium and get them moved outside to get toughened up and ready for planting. I must admit I did not expect to have this kind of success with these pepper seeds. But the closed tank did give me what I was looking for.. a micro climate that mimicked warmer summer temps. I am really glad it only took two weeks to get them sprouted and it will make starting these seeds next year much easier. Now that I know I can get them sprouted in two weeks I can decide when I want them outside and count backwards to a sowing date. Then they will have the heat and length of our summers to produce.
Though last years attempt at growing these peppers was not successful in producing any peppers, it still was useful in teaching me something I needed to know going forward to be successful in the future. As Henry Ford once said ..Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.