Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sprouting Peppers and Hopes for Spring


Right now, the view above is the only one I can see out my front door.  Luckily, I have a better view inside:

That's better!

The pepper seeds I planted around Groundhog Day started uncoiling their little white backs out of the soil after just 7 days; by Valentine's Day, I had a full tray of little seedlings, each with their bright green first pair of leaves unfolded to the light.  So, it is time to give them something to reach for.

Many seed-starting handbooks (and virtually all gardening catalogs) will start you salivating over "seedling condominiums," these sets of shelves with adjustable banks of grow lights suspended overhead.  They are lovely, and they will set you back somewhere around $200-$300.  If you are going into commercial seedling production, this may be a reasonable capital expenditure.  I, however, just want a nice cheap supply of peppers and salsa next summer and winter.

So, I took an old desk lamp, and I inserted a $3 grow bulb in it.  The bulb will provide the correct spectrum of light for the peppers to grow, and you are only out the cost of the bulb.  (Sorry, a traditional fluorescent or incandescent bulb won't do it, because it won't throw the correct parts of the light spectrum for the plants.)

The low-cost grow light.

The drawback of this approach is that you will need to shift the light during the day so each pot of seedlings gets direct light.  They like to have at least 14 hours of light, so it helps to have your seedlings in a high-traffic area (remember, mine are still in the kitchen) so you will nudge the light whenever you pass.  However, this system has worked very well for me for years. 

We won't need to do anything else to the peppers until we see a first set of "true" leaves, which should be in a couple of weeks.  Until then, just turn that light on in the morning and let them grow!

The Analysis

Fast:  You can pick up a grow bulb at any hardware store or greenhouse, or most grocers.  I know you have an old desk lamp sitting around, or some other lamp with a goose-type neck that will shine down on your peppers.

Cheap:  I haven't purchased a grow bulb since last year, but I usually purchase one a year at about $3.  As you will see, this ultimately becomes part of an array of lights and windows for seedling growth, so it works out to be a good deal, and much better than those seedling condos.

Good:  Peppers are still the goal here, and we're one step closer to salsa!

Note:  If you do not have an outdoor greenhouse or sunroom and are in zone 5 or north, you can still grow peppers with us here at FC&G.  Start your seeds now, and you will be about 2 weeks behind me, or just perfect for "adult" plants ready to set out on the first of June.

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