Gardeners in most regions should plant seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. In colder climates, however, you can plant your seed 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost. Avoid starting too early as plants may become root-bound or leggy. Optimum soil temperature for seed germination is between 80 and 90 degrees. You may need to supply bottom heat with the aid of a propagation mat.
Plant seeds no more than 1/4-inch deep and use either plastic trays, shallow flats or a small peat pot to plant in. Try to use pots that are light and have good drainage. Peppers will not tolerate soggy conditions at any stage of their growth. Don’t forget to label your peppers according to variety.
When you are ready to plant, first moisten your soil mix, then plant seed 1/4 inch deep, (if planting directly into the garden, plant 1/4 inch deep, once the soil has warmed to 75 degrees). Water well and your seeds can germinate in 10 days up to 2 or 4 weeks, depending upon soil temperature, but do not over-water, especially when seeds are germinating—this may lead to dampening off, a fungal disease that causes young seedlings to die. To help prevent diseases, allow the above-ground portion of the seedlings to somewhat dry before re-watering. Drain off water collected at the bottom of the planting tray so that seedlings are not sitting in water.
Provide adequate light for seedlings. The light plants receive on a windowsill is often insufficient and may lead to leggy growth where plants are stretching for the sunlight. Consider setting up fluorescent lighting just a few inches above the tops of the seedlings. This will result in a more compact, healthier transplant to set out in the garden.
When your seedlings put out their second set of leaves, transplant them into larger pots. If you started your plants out in peat pots, they may remain until planted outside. A liquid fertilizer designed for seedlings will give plants a boost; always follow instructions on the label. As seedlings mature, they will need a little less heat, but watering, air circulation, and lighting must be optimal.
In order to reduce transplanting shock, once the last frost date for your region has passed, and about a week or two before being set into the garden, you can harden off your plants by moving them outside for longer intervals each day. Start by taking them out for a few hours in a shady location, then build up to longer periods in a partly sunny spot. Do this for one or two weeks, bringing plants indoors at night and until slowly you are leaving them outdoors day and night.
Plant the peppers in a site that receives full sun at least 6 hours per day. Like most vegetables, peppers will not yield well in a shady location. Plant them after the last frost date, when daytime temperatures are at least 65 degrees and night temperatures are above 55 degrees F. Temperatures any lower will weaken plants, making them susceptible to pest problems and environmental stresses.
Give plants good air circulation and room to expand, space them 1 to 1 1/2 feet apart, in rows that are 2 ft. apart. If you germinated the seed in peat pots, carefully break open the bottom to promote downward root growth. If your plants are in plastic pots, pop out the root ball and gently spread the roots. Put the peat pot or rootball in the ground and fill with soil. When choosing a chile pepper variety to grow, keep in mind the level of “heat” you desire or can handle and the number of plants you will need. As a rule of thumb, five to six plants of each variety you desire should be more than enough to satisfy a family of four.
Biad Chili offers all the chile varieties that made New Mexico Hatch chile famous. Click the link below to get your own chile seed.