How to grow and farm Hot Peppers

Sow several seeds 1/4-inch deep in 2-to 3-inch earth-friendly containers such as peat pots filled with lightly moistened seed starting mix. Water well and place the pots in a well-lighted, warm area (80º to 85ºF) such as under fluorescent lights. To prevent the seedlings from damping off, keep the soil damp but not wet, and provide good air circulation around the plants. Feed the seedlings with half-strength water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks. When seedlings are about two inches tall, thin to one plant per pot by cutting out the smaller ones. Once the plants are about five inches tall and the nighttime temperatures are above 60ºF, harden the plants off by slowly acclimatizing the peppers to the garden.

After two weeks, plant them in the garden. Peppers need full sun, rich soil (amended with compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mold) and good drainage. Allow two feet between plants. If the peppers are starting to produce flower buds, pinch them off and continue to do this for 1 to 2 weeks; this forces the plants to put their energy into growing leaves and roots. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter. Mulch keeps weed growth down and maintains soil moisture. Stake varieties that grow taller than 2 feet. To avoid problems with cutworms (they can chew young seedlings off at the soil line) place two-inch-tall cardboard or aluminum foil collars around the new plants – with 1-inch below soil level and 1-inch above.

Keep the plants lightly moist, but not soggy. Pull any weeds if they appear. Feed the plants with an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer about six weeks after transplanting and again if the plants start to look pale or the leaves are small.

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