Main : 2001 : Plan

Mike's Pepper Garden

Plan for 2001

Starting seeds
Early lighting
Early fertilization and watering
Indoor transplanting (re-potting)
Fertilization and watering
Garden preparation
Hardening plants
Transplanting to the porch
Transplanting to the garden

Starting seeds   (Notes)
Target start date: 6 Mar 2001: waxing crescent moon in the constellation of Cancer, the most auspicious sign for planting crops that bear fruit above ground.

Use 1:1:1 potting soil/vermiculite/pearlite mix- 4 fluid ounces in a 5 ounce plastic cup. Dampen soil with 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) of half-strength Miracle-Gro Quick Start solution (1 Tbsp MGQS per gallon water or 3/4 tsp per quart). Plant 3 seeds per cup, 1/4" deep. Cover with 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" pieces of cut-up Ziploc Vegetable Bag and keep warm directly under fluorescent light rig.

When seeds sprout, remove plastic covering.

Thin to one seedling per pot when seedlings are about 1" tall.

Early lighting   (Notes)
Use banks of two circular 30 watt fluorescent bulbs each, with the lights clamp-mounted on a piece of 1x2 that is suspended via two pieces of parachute cord from a convenient overhead horizontal surface (like the underside of a closet shelf or a piece of plywood attached to the ceiling with drywall mounts). Parachute cord is also known as '550 cord' because of it's working load of 550 pounds; it is super-handy stuff to have, being stronger and easier to deal with than common twine or other cordage of comparable diameter. After cutting off a piece, simply melt the cut ends with a cigarette lighter to keep it from unravelling. The best place I know of to get 550 cord is Cheaper Than Dirt; many other surplus suppliers carry cheap imitation 550 cord that is not US Milspec and provides inferior performance. I run each piece of 550 cord from an end of a 1x2, through a standard cordlock, up to an eyehook secured to the overhead horizontal surface, and then back down through the cordlock. This allows me to easily raise or lower the lighting rig by temporarily releasing the cord locks. Cordlocks should be available at most camping or backpacking stores.

Keep the lights within 1.5" of the tops of the plants by raising the lighting rigs as necessary. This will prevent the plants from growing quickly up toward the light, resulting in more compact, bushier plants. Do not allow the tops of the plants to touch the bulbs, as this will burn them. This may require checking the plants more than once a day.

Use a 16 hour light cycle once all of the seeds have sprouted. Rotate plants as needed to prevent leaning.

Early fertilization and watering   (Notes)
When first true leaves appear (4 leaves total on plant), fertilize with 1 Tbsp half-strength Miracle-Gro Quick Start solution (1 Tbsp MGQS per gallon water or 3/4 tsp per quart). Use half-strength Miracle-Gro Plant Food three days later, and full-strength weekly thereafter.

Water as needed when the top of the soil is dry, using 1 Tbsp per watering until plants are big enough that 1 Tbsp per day is not enough water. Increase water ration to 2 Tbsp at this point.

Indoor transplanting (re-potting)   (Notes)
Re-pot plants whenever their size, and the size of the pot that they are in, dictate. In a 5 ounce cup, this will be when the plants are 2 1/2" to 3" tall. Repot into 16 ounce plastic cups. Use high-grade potting soil. Water the plants well several hours before transplanting. After re-potting, fertilize with Miracle-Gro Quick Start. Starting water ration for a pepper plant in a 16 ounce cup is about 1/4 cup.

Fertilization and watering
Most pepper plants do not seem to like really wet soil, and peppers are prone to a number of bacterial and fungal diseases that flourish under hot, humid conditions, so my number one rule for watering pepper plants is *do not water a pepper plant until the top of the soil is absolutely bone-dry, and the heat of the day has passed*.

I have seen overwatering kill pepper plants, so I try to give them enough water for a day at a time, rather than watering them heavily every few days. In a 16 ounce cup under cool fluorescents, and under my grow room conditions, this is about 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup). If a high-output grow light is introduced, the daily ration increases to about 1/3 cup per day. Your mileage may vary.

Fertilize plants weekly with Miracle-Gro Plant Food.

Once I have repotted the plants for the first time, I start water-stressing them about once every two or three weeks. I do this by withholding water until the plants start to show signs of distress (drooping leaves), then giving the plants a normal ration of water. This forces the root systems to develop thoroughly, and also helps prepare the plants for the harsh realities of the garden. At first, a day is about as long as they will go, but by the time they are transplanted outdoors, three to four days without water will not even bother them. As a bonus, water-stressing pepper plants that have peppers ripening on them has been demonstrated to increase the capsaicinoid levels in the peppers (Ref 11, p. 121).

Garden preparation:(Notes)
Use westernmost vegetable plot. Till soil deeply three weeks before expected transplant date (first week of May). Amend soil with compost, organic soil conditioner, and/or commercial topsoil as needed. Broadcast fertilize and lime per soil test results, with a target pH of 6.0-6.5, about two weeks before expected transplant date. Rake fertilizer and/or lime into soil.

A week before expected transplant date, form plant beds: rake soil into foot-high, flat-topped mounds that taper from about 2.5' x 2.5' at the base to about 1' x 1' at the top. A mound will hold 3-4 plants.

Hardening plants:(Notes)
Begin hardening a week before transplanting outdoors. *Watch plants carefully*, especially early in the process. If a plant shows extreme distress (extreme leaf droop) before its allotted time is up for the day, it should be brought back indoors and allowed to recover; then the exposure can be continued. Use wind barriers as necessary to limit exposure to wind early on.

Day Time Sun
1 1 hour Shade
2 3 hours Shade
3 3 hours Partial sun
4 5 hours Partial sun
5 4 hours Full sun
6 6 hours Full sun
7 8 hours Full sun

Transplanting to the porch:
Water the plants well several hours before transplanting. Transplant to: 1) standard 6" diameter clay pots using high-quality potting soil, or 2) high-density planter #1. After transplanting, fertilize with Miracle-Gro Quick Start.

Transplanting to the garden:(Notes)
Transplant in the late afternoon. Water the plants well several hours before transplanting.

Transplant to beds, three plants per bed; plant spacing will be about 10-12". After transplanting, fertilize with Miracle-Gro Quick Start. Mulch beds with a double layer of newspaper, covered by at least 3" of grass clippings.

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