Growing Hot Chilies in Northern Ontario

 

When to start your seeds (Hot Chilies)
Our Canadian weather means we have a much shorter season than a lot of peppers need so it is important to start them early, indoors. I usually start around the end of March for the less hot varieties and even earlier for the Super hots.

 

1 .Germinating your Seeds
First you need your containers for starting as well as a growing medium. 

 

Containers: 
You can use anything that holds dirt really. Start small as temperature control is essential. I use the plug trays that they use at the nurseries. I start with the 288 cell trays. For the average person that grows a few plants I recommend the cell packs that have 4 cells each. One tray is 48 cells. These are a bit larger and will make for less transplanting in the end. I grow thousands of plants each year and I have a small house so I have to  buy time everywhere I can. You will also need something to cover the trays. You should be able to get dome tops at the place where you get your trays and cell packs.

Growing medium: 
You can use whatever potting soil you like. I am only familiar with the stuff I use which is an organic triple mix. The brand name is Sunshine Mix #1 or #3. The difference in # is the courseness of the material. These mixes are made of Peat, Perlite and Lime. A lot of the mixes out there have a wetting agent which reders them non-organic so watch for that if it is important to you. I also mix in some form of compost so that the plants have something to eat as they start to grow. My compost of choice is Meeker's Magic Mix fish compost. It is made here on Manitoulin Island and it is really great stuff. I am not sure how widely distributed it is but I think they ship across Canada at this point so you can find it in a lot of hardware stores and some nursery type places. I'll try to find a list of places to find it.
I mix the compost at 1/3 compost to 2/3 soil roughly. As I'm mixing I add enough water to moisten the soil mix. You want the soil as moist as a wrung out sponge. Not too wet.

Incubating area:
This where you need to be creative and vigilant. Temperature is essential and I really can't stress this enough. You need temps between 75 and 85 degrees F. This is soil temperature. I use a large commercial 2 door fridge with lights and a heater. This allows me to keep a constant temperature in there. I have used a small closet before as well but felt uneasy about a heater in a closet so I switched. Many people use heat mats under the trays. This is by far the best but it is very expensive if doing many trays.

Lighting:
I use old T12 flourescent bulbs. There are much better systems out there now. I am thinking of switching to the T5 which give much more light with less energy. There is also the T8 setup which is in between and a whole slew of other options.

Starting your seeds:
- Fill your cells up level to the top with soil. 
- Plant seeds 1/4" deep and pack the soil enough to make sure it is making good contact with the seeds. Not too compact.
- Cover the tray with the domes or a bag. Something to keep moisture in.
- Place your trays on the heat mats or in a warm spot with lots of light.
- I keep my lights 1/4" from the leaves of the plants. Depending what type of light source you have you may need to do it differently.
-  If the lights are hot then you need more distance.
- Wait. Some of your seeds will germinate very fast. In a few days they may start popping. Thai chilis, jalapenos, cayennes, etc... tend to pop faster than the super hots so I keep them all separate. The super hots like Ghosts, 7 pots, scorpions, etc can take over a month to germinate. They require patience. some will come up withing a couple or a few weeks but some will take their time. 
- Temperature and moisture control are very very important with seeds that take time. If they get too moist they will rot. If they get too dry they won't germinate. If the temperature is too cool they will mould and if too hot they will die. They are finicky and it's why a lot of the small chili companies have a hard time with refunds. Too many factors involved. 

 

2. Caring for your plants:
- Once your plants germinate and continue to grow, you will need to think about transplanting. I go up in small increments to save space and to buy time. 
- Here in Northern Ontario I can't plant peppers outdoors until July. I need space in the house until April when I can affordably heat my small greenhouse. I grow around 3000-4000 peppers but also need space for the other plants as well so it's a balancing act that makes my wife crazy. 
- Once your seedlings have their second set of true leaves you can start to feed them with a light fertilizer. At this point it is better too dry than too wet. 
If your soil is too wet they will dampen off. That is where the stem shrivels in the middle and the plant falls over and dies.
- For fertilizer I use Drammatik Fish and Kelp emulsion. I mix it 1/2 oz per gallon of water at this stage. I apply with a water bottle spritzer for better control.

3. Transplanting:
- When the roots start to get bound up it is time to transplant. - When they are ready the plants should easily pull out with a small sqeeze of the cell and a light pull.
-The entire rootball and all of the soil should slip out of the cell pack.
- I use the same mix of soil and compost as before. I  transplant in to the 105 cell trays next. This usually buys me enough time until the greenhouse is ready.

- Make a hole in the dirt a bit bigger than the root ball and place the plant into the dirt.
- Pack firmly but don't compact the soil. The idea is to let the roots grow freely.
- As your plants get bigger and stronger you can strengthen your fertilizing solution. Mine maxes at 1oz per gallon. Now it's time to think about where they will spendd the rest of their lives.

- I plant everything hotter than a Fatalii in the greenhouses. Everything else goes in the garden.

 

4. Final Planting:


Greenhouse: 
- Peppers get large dense root systems so if you are growing indoors you will need large pots. I use 4 gallon pails and they are often not large enough. 
- This gets expensive if you are buying the soil. Depending how many plants you have. 
- I buy the large bales of sunshine mix for $27.50 each at the local nursery. The nursery closer to me charges $39.00 plus 13% tax so I think that is what someone buying just one will probably pay.I'm not sure how many buckets that would fill. I go through 20 - 30 per year plus a few big bins of compost.
- I mix a large pile of soil together with Triple mix, compost, calcium (bonemeal). I then moisten the soil with my 1oz per gallon of fertilizer solution 
-The compost is around 1/3 of the amount of triple mix and the bonemeal I just dump some in. I don't use a measuring system so I'm not sure of exact amounts. My peppers always need extra calcium. 
- Cut drainage holes in your buckets so you don't drown the plants. Fill you buckets to the top with the soil mix. Don't pack it down
- transplant into these when you are ready and water as needed. too dry is better than too wet.  Mine get watered once per day unless it is really hot...then they may need a bit more in the late afternoon.
- I use a light solution for fertilizer and just use it every day instead of a strong fertilizing every other week.  The fish emulsion isn't a harsh fertilizer anyways.

Well that should get you on your way in the greenhouse anyway.

 

Garden:
Anything outdoors for me goes in the garden. then the plants have a lot of space for root growth and it's free other than a bit of work and the plastic to cover the ground (which cost me nothing). I have been working my soil for years so it is fairly loose and has decent drainage. 
- First i till my dirt and add manure, compost and bonemeal
- next 1 rake the soil in to long deep beds by shoveling all of the loose soil from the areas that will be walkways on to the beds.
- When that's done I rake them out and shape them into very square rectangles and smooth the top flat. This takes time but the better job I do here the better the plastic fits. If there are pockets then the wind starts flapping it and it will destry the plants.
- Black plastic gets put over the beds. It has to fit tight. I make sure it's tight by placing some rocks on top to keep it down. I secure the sides and ends with fabric mulch pins and soil.
- The plastic warms the soil a tonne. Keeps moisture in, draws moisture up and keeps the weeds out of the picture. Even the harshest droughts here have little effect with this method. 8 weeks with no rain this year and very little after that, the plants didn't even notice.
- Next you need holes in the plastic. Mine are in a staggered patterns like the 5 on dice.  The centers of the holes are roughly 2.5 feet apart. (peppers don't mind being close but when it comes to ripening you need to get the sun in there.
- Now you just need to dig out the holes a bit larger than the root ball.
- I then throw one handful of compost in to every hole, add the plant and cover with dirt.
- Pack firm but not too compact. 
- Water them as needed.

Extra Steps:
I live in a place that peppers hate. The season is short, the nights are cool and the days get pretty warm for 6 weeks that is 42 days. A lot of these peppers are 90 days plus. I also have hundreds and hundreds and thousands and millions of deer. They can jump an 8 foot fence so unless I build a fortress they are going to get in. I also have to keep pollen out of my seed peppers so I take extra precautions. I use a very fine mesh woven fabric row cover. This keeps out deer and pollen and raises the temperatur inside a few degrees. It also traps the heat in at night like a mini greenhouse. Once these are in place I don't see my pepper plants again until harvest time. If I pull the covers back I risk cross pollination and that is a no-no. 

Hopefully this was helpful. 

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