Pepper seedlings are among the hardest vegetable plants to grow, and some of the hot peppers are even more difficult than sweet peppers.
Seeds should be planted at least 8 weeks before the ALFD (average last frost date) in your immediate area. And you should not transplant the seedlings into your garden until after the ALFD.
Use a soil mixture of 65% sawdust and 35% sand. Peat moss, perlite, Coconut husks, rice hulls, coffee hulls, or pine needles can substitute for the sawdust, alone or in any combination.
Mittleider Magic Pre-Plant mix should be applied to and mixed with the soil before planting seed – at 1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) per cubic foot of soil – then NO fertilizer should be applied until after the seedlings emerge. Water with plain water and keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet.
If you’re only growing a few (less than 50) plant the seeds 2″ apart in a seedling flat. For hundreds or thousands of plants place 100-125 seeds per row in 1/4″-deep furrows 2″ apart in a tray.
Cover the tray with burlap to avoid moving the seeds as you water.
Keep the planting soil-mix moist and between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. No light is best until the seeds show above the soil, then immediate sunlight is needed for 8-12 hours each day, to prevent the stem from “stretching” to seek adequate light.
If you can’t give the seedlings direct sunlight they must have grow-lights within 1″ of the plant leaves for 16+ hours per day. Two Fluorescent lights – one warm and one cool – work well.
Again, constant temperatures should be maintained in the 75-85 range.
A Constant Feed solution of 16 ounces Weekly Feed mix to 55 gallons of water (a scant 1 ounce per 3 gallons water) should be used for watering the seedlings immediately after emergence.
Seedlings should be transplanted 2″ – 2 1/2″ apart by the time they get their second set of true leaves. The soil for this transplant should contain both Pre-Plant at 1 1/2 oz and Weekly Feed at 3/4 oz per cubic foot of soil mix.
Peppers grow slowly and need warm temperatures to do well. They will also require a few days to recover from the transplant, so don’t be discouraged if they are still small after 3-4 weeks.
Before transplanting to the garden take seedlings outside onto tables in full sun for 2 to 3 days, to “harden them off”, or acclimatize them to the outside growing conditions. If the nights get very cold bring the plants back inside.
Some protection may also be needed after the seedlings are in the garden. Mini-greenhouses made with greenhouse plastic over arched PVC frames will keep cold winds off the plants and allow the sun to warm the soil much faster.
Remove the covers when outside temperatures approach 70 degrees, and make sure that temperatures in the beds do not exceed 80-85 degrees. Some air flow during the daytime is important.