My Pepper Starting Secret Weapon

Starting Peppers

Last year on April 16 I had to restart my pepper seedlings. The seeds had been sitting in their cells for 5 weeks and nothing had germinated. I have had this problem before. Even though I start my seeds in a south facing window in a homemade germination chamber my house is just not warm enough for these heat loving vegetables. They prefer 85 degree soil temperature for germination. My thermostat dips into the 50’s at night and doesn’t often go above 65 in the day time. Too cold!

I bought a seedling heat mat a few years ago but it doesn’t seem to get warm enough to encourage pepper germination. Peppers are an important crop in my garden. I grow around 35 plants a year, use a lot fresh for salsa canning, and freeze many quart bags for winter eating. It’s not an option to not have peppers in the garden. Plus, I have a few varieties I love to grow and their seedlings are hard to find in Madison. So, in desperation last year I biked to Jung’s Garden Center right down the street from my house to look at the heat mats again. While browsing in the aisle I noticed a soil warming cable. Since it was pepper starting round #2, I decided to try it out to see if it would speed my germination along.

Wow! My peppers germinated in less than a week with the warming cable. I was ecstatic! They grew very quickly as well since I decided to leave them in the flat with the cable plugged in. This year I am starting my peppers earlier with the cable, so I will most likely up pot them to 50 cell trays once they grow too big for the flats.

The cable needs to be in the soil to work properly. I cut a piece of hardware cloth to fit in the bottom of a tray and used wire to fasten the cable to it. I then fill the tray with soil and seed my peppers in rows. For a $35 investment I can now ensure that my peppers germinate every year, no matter how chilly my house gets.

If you live in the Madison area you should have already started your onions, leeks and shallots. It’s now time to start peppers, eggplant, parsley,broccoli, lettuce, collards, kale and perennial herbs.

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