Planting pepper seeds indoors

Peppers (Capsicum annuum).


Is there anything more boring than photos of planted seeds. I don’t think so. Photos of nothing.


Hot peppers and sweet peppers were planted indoors on April 6. Each variety is allotted 2 little seed pots, except for the Havasu. Winding up with some new Havasu seeds, plus some seeds left over from last year, I decided to keep track of the success rate of the old versus the new. So, Havasu (new) and Havasu (old) are duly noted on the back of each marker. Keeping track of varieties is never easy. I’m amazed every year at the mixups in pepper varieties, as well as tomato varieties. I sometimes blame cross-pollination, but it’s most probably due to my carelessness in the transplanting stage. Perhaps this year will be better.

I use Eliot Coleman’s recipe for organic potting soil found in Four-Season Harvest. Making the potting soil the previous fall and storing it in the basement in 5-gallon buckets with lids means that the potting soil is ready for use at any time throughout the winter and early spring. When the outdoors is frozen and snow-covered, it’s a great luxury to have warm potting soil ready for use indoors. The alternative is to buy potting soil, which is fine, but preparing it in the fall just seems like a gardener’s way of doing.

Preparing potting soil takes an initial investment for peat moss, perlite, rock minerals–phosphate rock and greensand–plus cottonseed or alfalfa meal, all of which can be found at most nurseries. With the exception of alfalfa meal. More about that later.


The first step is make a fertilizer blend of equal parts of the rock minerals and the cottonseed or alfalfa meal. I store this blend in the large plastic containers that whey powder comes in. This fertilizer blend can also be added to the green layer when building a compost pile.

The rock minerals are slow-release sources of phosphorus and potassium, as well as many trace minerals. As I wrote in the post Sweet peppers, Eliot Coleman, in The New Organic Grower, encourages organic gardeners to feed the soil, not the plants. Most chemical fertilizers used by agribusiness are highly water soluble. Rock minerals, such as phosphate rock and greensand, are not highly water soluble, depending instead on microorganisms in the soil to break them down and provide nutrients to the soil at a slower rate over an extended period of time. Nature’s way.

Rock phosphate provides, guess what, phosphorus. It’s the second letter in N-P-K, the “big 3” of minerals. As Coleman points out, bone meal can also be used to provide slow-release phosphorus. I’ve used bone meal for years as fertilizer for daffodil and crocus bulbs. Dogs love it, Daisy included.

Interestingly, just last week on PBS’s This Old House, Roger Cook, the landscape contractor, recommended using “superphosphate” rather than bone meal for bulbs because squirrels, although they don’t seem to like daffodil or crocus bulbs, love bone meal, and will dig up bulbs for the bone meal. According to a quick online search, superphosphate is made by treating rock phosphate with sulfuric acid, resulting in “big 3” numbers from 0-18-0 to 0-40-0 and more. Lots of phosphorus. Although agricultural land is often lacking in phosphorus, too much of any water-soluble fertilizer will pollute if it runs off the land it is intended to fertilize.

Coleman says that phosphorus is the nutrient most likely to be deficient in garden soil as well. I would have guessed nitrogen. Go figure. He recommends adding slow-release rock phosphate directly to the soil to start the garden, and adding it to the compost pile once the garden gets going.

Greensand is mined from old sea-bottom deposits. Again according to Coleman. It provides slow-release potassium as well as trace minerals. Potassium is the third letter in N-P-K. As with rock phosphate, add greensand directly to garden soil to start. Add it to the compost pile after that.

I keep reminding myself of the beauty of slow-release minerals. They become part of the soil and don’t go anywhere fast. Thanks to microorganisms in the soil, they are available when plants need them but don’t cause pollution due to runoff. What a beautiful thing. So, while it would be silly to spend money on excessive use of rock minerals, doing so won’t hurt much except your pocketbook. Coleman encourages gardeners to have their soil tested, but he also says that healthy vigorous plants are a good indicator that the soil is providing the needed nutrients.

Cottonseed meal or alfalfa meal is the third part of the fertilizer blend. It provides nitrogen, the first letter in N-P-K. Coleman stopped using cottonseed meal when GMOs became a factor in cotton production. He switched instead to alfalfa meal and other locally available sources of slow-release nitrogen. This information can be found in The Winter Harvest Handbook, where Coleman is concentrating on keeping unheated greenhouses healthy.

I found cottonseed meal at local nurseries but have yet to find a source for alfalfa meal. I will keep looking.

OK. Back to potting soil for the green pepper seeds. At the rate I’m going, the peppers will be harvested and eaten before I finish writing this post.

Again, the fertilizer blend described above can be made in large or small amounts, just use equal parts of the three ingredients and make as much as you need. It stores fine too.

Use an 8 qt. bucket.

peat moss–3 buckets

perlite–1 bucket

compost–3 buckets

fertilizer blend–2 cups

Mix them up. I use the wheelbarrow as a handy mixing container. Store until needed.

When pepper-planting time arrived, I wet down some potting soil and filled as many small pots as needed. In this case, 10 pots for sweet peppers; 14 pots for hot peppers, including an extra 2 for the old Havasu seeds; and 2 pots for Galine eggplant seeds. Hoping to end up with at least 2 healthy plants per pot, I planted 3 to 6 seeds per pot, depending on whether the seeds were new or old. Thinning will be important. Having 4 healthy plants for each variety is good insurance. Only 2 for each variety are needed, considering the space I have allotted to peppers. More about that at transplanting time.

The pepper pots were covered and placed on heat mats. No grow lights are necessary until the plants sprout. Should be soon.


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