"To prepare soil and promote the growth of a plant, crop, etc. by labor and attention."
The cultivation of chile peppers in the Americas began about 6000 years ago in the southeast part of present day Mexico and Central America. Chiles and squash were the earliest plants to be grown, followed by maize, beans and gourds. The art of cultivation has been a driving force in the evolution of civilizations. Gardeners will always have their own tried and true techniques, but not completely agree on details. However one thing they have in common is dedication and focus on the task at hand. Just putting some seeds or seedlings in the ground and watering occasionally will not guarantee a good outcome. There are several practical factors to consider in cultivating a good crop and reaping the deserved rewards. For more than 20 years of growing chiles, I have experimented with techniques, soil preparation and nutrients. I have learned that timing is very important. Enough sunlight, soil preperation, proper nutrients, and well drained soil will generally yield good results. You will also get the best results using raised beds or “Smart Pots.” I live in Sonoma County, CA and plant outdoors in mid May when night tempratures are around 50 degrees F. The following is very brief, given the limited amount of space, but you can go to the “Chile Patch” page of my website for links to more growing data. If you have any questions feel free to send an email to email@example.com and I will help in any way I can.
MY FORMULA FOR A THRIVING CHILE PATCH
• Starting from seed: First I like to soak each variety of seed in a weak chamomile tea for 24–48 hours before planting into seed flats. The chamomile is a mild anti fungal. It is claimed to clean up any mold spores or fungi that are on the seed coat. This could be great for preventing damping off, and while the effects are probably negligible, it can't hurt. I also use it to mist seed flats until seeds sprout for possible anti fungal benefits.
Plant with a starter mix in seed flats (with a clear cover), tag and name them, and use a Propagating Heat Mat. Start this process mid January–February. Seeds will generally sprout in about 10 days (c. chinense varieties take longer). Place a grow light over the sprouted flats. Use a spray bottle with distilled water to mist seedlings. When they get a third set of leaves, add kelp solution to the water. It is also important to harden off the seedlings before planting them outdoors. Refer to growing guides for that. See below.• Starting from commercial seedlings:Find a reliable source. I have been burned many times buying from garden centers. Many turn out to be disappointing, mislabeled or a cross-hybrid. I buy my plants from www.chileplants.com and have always received healthy, vigorous plants. They also have an excellent Growing Guide on their website.• Replenish soil each spring: I use only organic products such as powdered kelp, bone meal, manure and compost. If there is also some leftover rice straw on the surface from the previous year, mix all of these well into the soil and water well. Let it rest and meld for 2–3 weeks before planting. When you plant, the soil should be moist, not wet or soggy.• Planting seedlings: It is important to tag your plants; when they all grow up it will be hard to remember who is where. Plant them in rows, 18” apart. Dig a hole and sprinkle some EB Stone “Sure Start(contains beneficial microbes including Mycorrhizal Fungi), place the chile and gently pack the soil around it. I place a quart size PET bottle (top and bottom removed) around a plant to protect the seedling from wind and garden pests until it is well established. I also cover the soil with about 3 inches of rice straw to help maintain moisture and to protect the roots when watering. Water after planting. To avoid root disease, DO NOT OVER WATER. Soil should be moist to the touch, not wet. I water at the base of the plant 2–3 times a week as needed, with a deep soak.
• Hot Weather: If it gets severely hot (95–100+ degrees F), I cover the babies with an elevated 40% black shade cloth so they don’t burn until they are safely established. It will allow plenty of light and they also seem to thrive in this shade. Most chiles seem to performe best in the mid-80 degere F range for producing pods. 40% shade cloth is hard to find in stores, I go online to buy it. shadeclothstore.com, greenhousemegastore.com or Amazon
- During severe hot spells, I sometimes cover the plants with an elevated 40% shade cloth to avoid sun scald. - Feed your seedlings once a week with EB Stone Fish Emulsion with Kelp. They love it. - If you have a problem with aphids, disburse a container of Lady Bugs–best weapon.• When plants start producing pods: If they are about 12”–18” high, I start using the ultimate nutrient, “Fat Flowers” formula (an organic, biostimulant, rhizo-tonic elixir) from www.dragonflyearthmedicine.com. It may seem pricy but it’s the bomb! You make a tea and apply to the plants every 30 days and the pods will start popping. Best option is E.B. Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food and it works very well.• Harvest: During the season, I collect pods for cooking and dehydrate or freeze extras, depending on what they will be used for and process them at the end of the season for powders and sauces.• Late Fall harvest: Some plants like Aji Amarillo come very late and I cover them with a frost protection and harvest into December. When the late green pods get an orange blush, take inside to a sunny window to ripen in just a few days.• Bottom Line:Treat your chiles with love and you will get back the same.