A Sowing Primer

April 29, 2012

Early Spring weather has restless gardeners eager to get outside and plant the garden quick! But it’s still too early to sow pepper seeds outdoors: the nights are too cool. Best to start those seeds indoors or under the care of a hotbed or cold frame outdoors. That’s what Bernard M’Mahon recommends.

Growing Hot Peppers

America’s first-ever gardening handbook, published in Philadelphia by Bernard M’Mahon in 1806, is a handy primer for home gardeners of all abilities.

The handbook’s full title says it all: The American Gardener’s Calendar; Adapted to the Climates and Seasons of the United States: Containing a Complete Account of All the Work Necessary to be Done in the Kitchen-Garden, Fruit Garden, Orchard, Vineyard, Nursery, Pleasure-ground, Flower-garden, Greenhouse, Hot-house, and Forcing Frames, for Every Month in the Year; with Ample Practical Directions for Performing the Same.”

Search inside its pages and find step-by-step instructions of what to do, when and how. Here’s what M’Mahon says about planting capsicums or peppers in April:

“Sow capsicums, towards the end of this month, on a warm border, to produce plants, for planting out towards the latter end of  May, or beginning of June; the large heart-shaped capsicum, is in the greatest estimation for pickling, but the small upright kinds, are the strongest for pepper: if they are desired at an early season, sow them on a slight hot-bed, the beginning of this month, and with due care they will be fit to transplant, where they are to remain, towards the middle of May. In the eastern states, the tenth of May will be soon enough to sow them, in the open ground, but in the southern states, they may be sown any time this month.”

Spicy Pepper Plants from Hot Head Heaven

Many modern-day seed merchant catalogs and websites present equally helpful growing tips about starting pepper plants from seed.

“You’ll find an enormous range of choices available from seed,” writes Jill M. Nicolaus for Dave’s Garden, which publishes a “Seed Starting 101” guide for all kinds of garden plants. “If you’re new to growing peppers, you’ll be amazed at the varieties available at seed racks, in catalogs, and on on-line websites.”

Bartram’s Garden has just published its latest garden catalog, offering ten kinds of sweet and hot peppers.

Sweet varieties include the Bullnose Red Bell, originally introduced from India in 1759; the Doe Hill Golden Bell, a pre-1900 family heirloom from Virginia, described as a “cheese-shaped pepper”;  and the Chervena Chushka, a Bulgarian heirloom traditionally used for roasting.

Hot peppers include the Bulgarian Carrot; Fish Peppers from William Woys Weaver’s collection of Afro-American varieties; the Hinkelhatz, a rare Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom,  used mostly for pickling and pepper vinegar; Long Red Cayenne, a pre-1827 heirloom; Habanero, a fiery Scotch-Bonnet variety originally from Cuba or the Yucatan and a key ingredient in West Indian jerk sauces; Willing’s Barbados, a useful ornamental with tiny peppers, featured before on this blog; and, the Numex Twilight, a hybrid ornamental, originally developed by New Mexico State University, that’s also good for cooking.

Most growers warn gardeners that unlike tomatoes or some other kitchen garden plants, peppers take a bit more patience as they’re slow to germinate and picky about soil and temperature conditions.

Here’s another gardening website that feature tips for growing hot peppers GrowingAnything.com

Photo credits

“Growing Hot Peppers,” a Facebook photo essay web page.

“Spicy Pepper Plants,” from Hot Head Heaven, featured on the Daily Loaf website.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

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