Advice on pepper seed starting

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

I have not had much success with sweet bell peppers and almost swore off of them for good, but had a lot of suggestions from other members about other peppers to try. Long story short-I'm going to try Gypsy from seed, and I was able to find Carmen plants. Question-I'm also starting quite a few different varieties of tomatoes this weekend. I thought I would start the pepper seed a week or two later. It looks like one thing I did wrong last year was start them all together. I'm considering starting my pepper seeds in Cowpots. I do the tomatoes in a seed-starting tray. I "warm" everything up on the top of the fridge till germination. Should I cover the Cowpots with plastic bags. . .would that work?
Any suggestions? Am I on the right track?

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

Most of the time people start their peppers a couple of weeks BEFORE their tomatoes. Peppers usually take longer to germinate, the seed doesn't age as well and they are slower growing. Because peppers are slower germinating I've found that covering the pots help.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I think you're on the right track growing Carmen and Gypsy. Both are real good sweet pepper varieties and they're not prone to some of the problems bell peppers experience.

As Doug9345 says, pepper seeds are slower to germinate and slower growing than tomatoes. I start both at the same time and it works out OK, but if I were to start one earlier it would be the peppers. Similar to what you're doing on top of the 'fridge, I let my seedlings germinate in our furnace closet sitting on top of the water heater. They don't get any direct heat there, but the air temp stays about 75 and that helps get them going. Don't get impatient with the pepper seeds, some of them may take two weeks to sprout and just when I'm about to give up I usually (finally) get close to 100% germination. I wouldn't cover them with bags or anything - that might trap moisture and encourage mildew.

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

Thank you both SO much!

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I see you're in growing Zone 6b there in Lexington (I've had some great bass fishing in your state, btw). Technically our town is in Zone 6a, just a notch colder - but my garden is on the south slope of a hill and I think that gives it a 6b climate, same as yours.

It might be handy for you to know that I always plant my pepper and tomato seeds indoors on March 15. I harden the seedlings off outdoors the last week or so of April (gotta watch those thunderstorms), and transplant them into the garden in the first week of May. I could put them in the ground a week or more sooner but there's no point - they won't start growing until the ground warms. The 6-to-7 week old tomato seedlings are stocky and about 8" tall at that point, and the peppers are around 4" or 5".

I'll wait and plant mine at the same time again, but you could start your pepper seeds indoors any time now.

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

Ozark, You're right-the fishing here IS good! Thanks so much for your advice. If I get any peppers of any significance to grow this year, it'll be a first, so I need all the help I can get!
Rule of thumb in Ky.-plant tomatoes on Derby Day and peppers the next Saturday. That's why I thought I'd wait a week to plant the pepper seed, but I was looking at it the wrong way. Glad I listened to someone on the Tomato forum and consulted the Pepper people! Soon as I get a few minutes off from work those pepper seeds are going in the pots! :)

Carmel, IN(Zone 5b)

I agree with the advice you've been given--pepper seeds seem to be slower to germinate, and I try to give mine some heat via a heat mat. That being said, I'm guilty of starting my tomatoes and peppers at the same time today, although I know the tomatoes will be much larger than the peppers when it's time to transplant.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I started my peppers after my tomatoes bc I couldn't get it together and I knew I had to start something, soon. Lol. I'm trying to grow my peppers in containers as perennials. I've had about 20 as houseplants this winter and they have produced pods all winter long but now they are all starting to flower.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"I'm trying to grow my peppers in containers as perennials."

Lisa, that has worked fine for me. Pictured by our breakfast table are two refugees from Missouri's winter - a dwarf Eureka lemon tree from Southern California and my pot of Maui Purple Peppers. I've kept both going in those pots for 14 years or so now - from May through mid-October they live on our outdoor deck. There are 9 or 10 individual pepper plants in the pot as M.P.P. is a small variety that enjoys crowding. I think the individual plants only live three years or so, and when one dies I pull it out. They re-seed. Right now, they're blooming and setting on a new bunch of peppers. This pot provides the year-round "heat" for lots of salsa and various Mexican dishes.

Thumbnail by Ozark
Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

WOW !!

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

That is SO cool. I don't have much luck with houseplants. As soon as I bring whatever in, it dies. That was especially true when we smoked. Maybe I should try again now that we have a healthier environment!

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I have some of those seeds directly from Ozark. When I read that many ornamentals peppers were grown inside I couldn't figure out a real differnce so now they all grow in pots. I can save the seeds and the produce fine.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"I have some of those seeds directly from Ozark"

I remembered I sent you seeds, but I wasn't sure which ones. I've sent so many folks seeds of Maui Purple Pepper, the two strains of the new OP tomato varieties I'm working on, Stewart's Zeebest okra, and Japanese Long cukes - I should have kept a list. That way I could avoid posting things here that people already know. I'm glad the M.P.P.'s are working out well for you - we really get good use out of those and the plants are pretty, too.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I also got Cukes from you but I haven't tried them yet. Don't worry about the list there are others that can enjoy your posts and I still enjoy them.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Here's the difference between starting tomato seeds and starting pepper seeds. I planted seeds indoors on Mar. 15 as I always do, in moist Jiffy Mix, in trays made from plastic egg cartons. Some egg cells were planted with tomatoes and some with peppers. My first tomato seedlings emerged 4 1/2 days after planting, the first pepper (a Jimmy Nardello) sprouted this morning, 11 days after planting. They've been in the same conditions of course, in our furnace closet at about 75 degrees.

Another thing - a few of the tomato seeds I planted are very old, saved in 2008 and 2009. One variety didn't come up at all and I had decided the seeds were no longer viable. Two seedlings of that variety are up this morning, though, along with that first pepper. I guess weak seeds sometimes just take longer to sprout, like that line in "The Princess Bride": "He's not dead, he's just mostly dead." lol

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

[quote="Ozark"]Here's the difference between starting tomato seeds and starting pepper seeds. I planted seeds indoors on Mar. 15 as I always do, in moist Jiffy Mix, in trays made from plastic egg cartons. Some egg cells were planted with tomatoes and some with peppers. My first tomato seedlings emerged 4 1/2 days after planting, the first pepper (a Jimmy Nardello) sprouted this morning, 11 days after planting. They've been in the same conditions of course, in our furnace closet at about 75 degrees.

Ozark, yeah, there's a big difference in my seedlings too. Same deal-my tomatoes came up immediately. The peppers took about twice as long. One pepper didn't come up at all, and I planted 3 seeds in each cell. Anyway, I planted all these around the first week of March. The tomatoes are about ready to pot-up. The peppers are just sitting there with their 2 little nurse leaves. . .pretty and green, but tiny. It's real cold in my back room where the light racks, etc. are though, and I know the peppers are like me-they like it HOT!!!

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

If there is anyway you can put them in a warmer location, at least until they germinate, you will have much better results. Really cold isnt the right conditions for growing peppers or eggplant, they will just sit there.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Ozark, off topic question: Do you have problems with those heat vents near your over-wintered plants. That is always my downfall--the heat vents.

When I start my pepper and eggplants I do cover the tray for the first couple of days to really keep the heat in (I also use a heat mat). After the first couple of days, even thought no one has sprouted yet, I open the vents on the cover to start the air circulating. Once the seeds have sprouted I remove the cover entirely and the heat mat. I've never had a problem with mildew or damping off doing this. I bought these Bio Domes years ago and they came with instruction for several varieties of seeds. Those were the steps for peppers and eggplants so I've just always followed them. I don't use a heat mat to start my tomatoes and once I see the seeds spouting I open the vents. Once all have sprouted I remove the cover.

My germination rate for peppers and eggplants varies from seed vendor to seed vendor. Invariably, my best germination rates come from Willhite's, Seeds from Italy or Italian Seed and Tool, Territorial, Victory Seed and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I used to say Johny's too, but recently I've been having some poor results with their lettuce seeds. Might just be me (I always blame myself). But lettuce is usually pretty easy for me. I also think that the same lot of seeds from one seed vendor might do better in one northern garden and not as well in a southern garden. Or vise versa. Just my opinion....

By the way, Lisa, I started the eggplant seeds last week. I am already getting a few sprouts. I dont' know which ones and I'm at work but it is fun to sit here and think about them growing up and getting transplanted into the garden☺.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Ozark, off topic question: Do you have problems with those heat vents near your over-wintered plants. That is always my downfall--the heat vents."

No, no problem - but that's because of the kind of heating system we have. Some years back, we had a "heat pump" installed and we love it. In the winter it runs a lot and draws whatever heat there is out of the air outside. The result is that the heat vents blow air that's pretty cool, just a few degrees above the air temp in the house. The plants seem to like that just fine, and I think the "breeze" from the heat ducts is good for them.

When it gets too cold outside the heat exchange becomes inefficient and will no longer heat the house, so a backup is needed. I have it set so our propane furnace backup kicks in below 17 degrees F, which doesn't happen much here. When we're burning propane the heat ducts put out real warm air like a regular furnace system, so yeah, having plants near them would be a problem - so I move the pots away from the vents temporarily.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Ah! Thanks for the advise. I knew there was a reason why I wanted a heat pump....

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

Lots of good tips here!

Here's what I do:

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Hi, critter - that's a great article (the one that taught me to do it), and it's good to see you posting again. For the first time since you told me about Gypsy hybrid years ago, I'm not growing it this season. My old seeds from 2008 didn't come up and I've got other peppers going, but I'll sure get fresh seeds and grow Gypsy again next year.

I planted my tomato and pepper seeds in Jiffy Mix in egg cartons on March 15, and today I transplanted 54 seedlings (36 tomato, 18 pepper) to 3" x 3" x 3" containers in flats and re-assembled my light table. The peppers are shorter than the tomatoes of course, but they'll all be fine to transplant into the garden the first week of May.

Under the lights now are:

Tomatoes: F4 generation unnamed Orange, F4 generation unnamed Pink, Big Beef, Super Fantastic, F5 generation supermarket Campari (I'm suggesting this new OP variety be named FLYBOY), German Red Strawberry, Grandma Mary's Paste.

My last flat of 18 cells under lights is reserved for planting Stewart's Zeebest Okra later on. I saved seeds from one very impressive plant last fall.

Peppers: Pepperoncini, Corno di Toro, Jimmy Nardello, Mariachi.

Thumbnail by Ozark
Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

The first week of May? I think I'm going to plant out much earlier this year, even if it means smaller plants going in. Last year, my "usual" planting time (mid-May for tomatoes, Memorial Day for peppers) was much too late with the weather getting hot so soon... I think everything was just shocked by the heat, and I harvested almost nothing.

The article has links to the other ones in that "Seed Starting 101" series I did... I'm really proud of how many people have said they've been successful following those articles! There are so many ways to do seed starting, but especially for those who have had problems or who are new to it, it's good to have one method to follow, knowing it's a way that has worked for a whole lot of folks.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Yes, our summer last year got hot early and stayed hot. Peppers would hardly set on all summer, let alone tomatoes. If this year is going to be like that, we should transplant to the garden early, for sure.

Thing is, you don't know. In a normal year if I put tomatoes and peppers out before the first week of May they just set there without growing because the soil hasn't warmed. When that happens, the flea beetles get the word and come in droves - AND, often as not, there's a late freeze and I'm out there with a flashlight at night putting buckets and covers over seedlings.

I think I'll bet on a fairly "normal" year and stick with transplanting in the first week of May. :>)

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Why is it warm up there and those of us in the south are watching another cold front? Many of us haven't even planted out yet..weird.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Hey, my favorite sweet pepper, Gypsy Hybrid, didn't quite abandon me after all. I planted OLD seeds meant for planting in 2008, gave up on them ever sprouting, and two seedlings finally came up yesterday 29 days after planting. Well, I sure got my money's worth out of that seed pack - 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and now 2013. Guess I'll buy some fresh Gypsy seeds next winter.

They've already been transplanted up to 3" x 3" cells and they're under lights with my other tomato and pepper seedlings. It's only two plants, but we'll have some Gypsy peppers this year after all. That's a great variety - thanks again, critter, for introducing me to it years ago.

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

You're welcome! I think I'm about out of hybrid seeds again also... wasn't somebody going to offer to do a co-op next winter? *whistling*

(I'd help with setup, or with orders & labels, but I think somebody else should have the experience of counting out a zillion pepper seeds this time. I do have some helpful tips!)

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