Starting Pepper Seeds & Seed Starting Tips

I’d planned to write this post a little earlier since lots of people are getting ready to start their seeds about now, but I ran in to a bit of a dilemma when my local Ikea did not have the shelves I wanted in stock. I’d had plans to expand my seed starting operation (more on this later), but unfortunately I needed to resort to stalking the Ikea website until the shelves were back in stock. Finally last week they were available and I made a special trip there to pick them up. In case anyone else is looking to buy these shelves at Ikea, I will explain a very useful tip that I wish I would have known before bursting in to an Ikea fit of rage at home later that evening. Here’s the story: I am very organized when I go to Ikea – I have a list of the things I want that includes name, product number, and location (I really don’t like spending more time than I have to in most big box stores). So that’s exactly what I did – I went in with my detailed list, went directly to the self-serve furniture area and picked up exactly what I needed, assuming the hardware would be in the plastic packages that were dangling from the shelf frames. Nope. Of course, they don’t actually tell you this anywhere or make it at all obvious. And why would I bother actually checking that little dangling package? It’s Ikea, you would think they have their shit together. Also, these shelves do not include assembly instructions, so how are you supposed to even know what you need hardware wise? You don’t. And most people wouldn’t actually notice any of this until they get home and start trying to put their shelves together. Luckily instead of going all the way back to the store, I decided to google “How to put Ikea Ivar shelves together” and stumbled upon this blog post on Making It Lovely which told me where THE HARDWARE WAS HIDING! (and it seems she didn’t know either until a reader commented on her post. Curse you, Ikea!). Anyway, luckily everything is sorted and now I feel like I can write this post properly.

The peppers! Back in January I wrote about the big seed order of 2015 and about a week after that, I sat down and made a seed starting schedule. If you’re new to gardening, you may or may not know that many seeds require to be started indoors several weeks and occasionally several months early. The timing is really dependent on your climate and what you’re planning to grow. I like to grow a lot of peppers, squash, and tomatoes. I usually start the peppers several months early because they will be transferred to my greenhouse in early spring – plus they don’t get leggy if they live inside the house for too long, like tomatoes tend to do. The tomatoes are started about 6-8 weeks before they will be transferred outside (I usually aim for the first week of June because most of the danger of snow is gone – but I live in Alberta, so is the danger ever really gone? Not really). The squash get started about 4 weeks early and go outside around the same time as the tomatoes. Most seed packets will give you a general outline of when seeds should be started indoors or planted directly outdoors, and you can easily find information online on ideal seed starting times for your climate.

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So the first round was getting the peppers started. I had a few pepper plants that I started mid-summer indoors last year that I’ve been keeping indoors – they are not doing great (see photo at bottom of this post). In the late fall they suffered from an infestation of spider mites that I didn’t catch right away and most of the peppers did not survive. The two that did are runts. I have managed to keep them alive and I think being put under the grow lights will do them some good. Aside from the sad peppers I already had growing, I started about 1/2 tray of new pepper seeds. I didn’t bother waiting until I had my shelves set up, I just went ahead and let them grow on the counter (so there are currently 24 pepper plants started right now – all different varieties. Am I insane? Yes.). They have since been moved to the seed starting shelf below.

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Now back to the actual set-up: I’ve expanded my seed starting set up this year using some of the things I wrote about a few weeks ago here. For almost the last 10 years I’ve been using a seed starting greenhouse that my Mom bought for me, which has worked great (I’m still using it, it just isn’t in any of my photos). I highly recommend these types of shelves for people who do not have a ton of storage room as the whole unit breaks down and fits in to a medium sized rubbermaid container in the off-seasons. For my new expanded section, I decided to use these Ivar shelves from Ikea because I could use them in the off-seasons as basement storage. I will also be purchasing another inexpensive shop light from Home Depot, although right now I only have one (it’s all I need right now but I’ll need more in a few weeks when I start more seeds) – and I just used those screw in hooks to hang the light from. The shop lights are adjustable so I can move them up and down as needed. I am also planning on purchasing a couple more heavy duty plant trays from the greenhouse as I’ll need sturdy trays for schlepping plants in and out of the house during the hardening off phase in spring (this means gradually introducing the indoor grown seedlings to the outside world in order to prevent plant shock, which can cause damage and possibly death to your seedlings). Altogether, I will probably spend around $200 this year on expanding my seed starting set up. In addition to that, I also purchased good quality seed starting soil and the seeds – but those costs are fairly minimal. $200+ is a good chunk of change to shell out at once, but for someone that grows as many plants as I do from seed, it is much, much cheaper than purchasing young plants from the garden centre. And if I think of the cost spread out over many future growing seasons, it isn’t that much. I’ve been wanting to expand the set-up for a few years because I’m finding myself growing more and more plants from seed, but I just didn’t really want to spend the money. Now that almost everything is set up, I don’t know why I just didn’t go ahead and do it earlier. Another incentive for expanding the seed growing operation this year was dining room space. Honestly, we do not use this room for its intended purpose (I can count on two fingers the amount of times we’ve eaten at our dining room table this year) – it is my sewing/crafting area and for a few months a year it also acts as my seed starting area. So in order to continue using it for my crafty projects, I need to ensure the seedlings are contained to one area. It doesn’t look like I’m using much of the shelving right now, but in a couple of months when everything is bigger and has been transferred to larger growing containers, it will look like a jungle.

So now that I’ve talked about the expanded seed starting operation, I wanted to touch on some of my go-to seed starting tips. Seed starting is very easy and I really love taking care of the young seedlings and watching them grow. I never get tired of seeing the first plants pushing their way out of the soil.

Seed Starting Tips
1. Make a list of all of your seeds that need to be started early indoors. This may include tomatoes, peppers, squash, flowers, herbs, etc. Your seed packets will have recommendations on indoor seed starting times (if your seed packets only have a “direct sow” date, you can plant these directly in the ground in the spring, they do not need to be started early indoors). Like I mentioned above, you can easily search online for ideal seed starting times for your climate. I am in US zone 3, so most of my seeds are started in April and May (my last frost date is May 23rd, but I usually push it back to June 1st for my own peace of mind for my delicate plants like tomatoes and squash). After I’ve determined which plants need to be started indoors, I usually make a seed starting calendar. It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, I have a list of chronological dates with all the seeds I need to start on that date listed underneath.
2. Put together a dedicated seed starting area and gather your seed starting supplies – here are some of the things you might want to get for your set-up.
3. The most important things to remember are good soil, consistent water, heat, and airflow. Starting seeds in a basement works, but you need to provide adequate lighting and heat (this is where those shop lights and heating mats come in handy). Seedlings do not like to have dry soil, but they also do not like wet soil. Think about how a wringed out sponge feels and that’s what you want your soil to be like. I usually use a misting bottle initially and mist my soil a couple of times a day until the seedlings appear, and then I use a watering can with a very skinny spout that is easy to control. Airflow is important because it promotes strong stems and roots, and also prevents mold and other diseases caused by poor airflow and high humidity. When my seedlings get a little bigger, I like to set up my table fan nearby. Remember that your plants will be exposed to wind when they finally make it outdoors, so you want them to be prepared with strong roots (you know how it feels to jump in to a swimming pool after you’ve simmered in the hot tub? Prepare your seedlings indoors before bringing them in to the outside world, the last thing you want is for their seedling bodies to go in to hot tub/pool shock).
4. Always label your starts with name and date planted. You may think you’ll remember what you planted in which container, but lots of seedlings look exactly the same, so save yourself the frustration later and label everything. I like to also make a little note on my tomatoes on what type they are (dwarf, tumbling, determinate, indeterminate so I don’t have to refer to the packets later when mapping out where I will be planting them outdoors).
5. When your seedlings outgrow their containers, transplant them in to larger containers. You don’t want your plant’s roots to become suffocated. Alternatively you can start your plants in larger containers to begin with, which is what I like to do with my tomatoes and squash which grow large fairly quickly.
6. How about fertilizers? I actually don’t fertilize my seedlings at all. The starting soil that I use has a natural slow release fertilizer in it already, so there is no need for me. I’ve used starting soils without this as well and it has been fine. I don’t like my seedlings to grow too leggy or spindly in their containers while they are living indoors, so it works for me to go without the additional fertilizers. Once everything gets moved outdoors for the season, they get a good douse of fish fertilizer.
7. These are your babies – talk to them and pet them. I know it sounds weird and if you didn’t think I was nuts before, you do now. I always talk to my seedlings because I’m crazy and I talk to everything, but giving them a light brush with your hand has a similar effect as the fan – it helps them to grow strong roots that will help them when the hardening off adventure begins. You don’t actually need to talk to your plants, I’m just insane. Or am I?

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So now here is the first round of seeds started, it’s so great having everything set up again because it means spring is coming! I’m sure I’ll be complaining about plants taking over my house in no time, but for now I will enjoy it. Have you started any seeds yet?

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