Growing Peppers Indoors Overview:
Peppers are a staple in my indoor and outdoor gardens. I love to eat them raw or cook them into a dinner dish. Since I live in a part of the world that enjoys all four seasons, I can’t always grow peppers outdoors. This post will primarily focus on the essentials of growing peppers indoors. I have experience growing indoors as a means of starting the plants for my outside garden, but I also have experience growing pepper plants inside during the winter months from start to finish. Throughout the rest of this post, I will discuss some of the basics of growing peppers indoors, and give information that can help the novice grower become more astute and competent with the indoor grow process. Growing peppers indoors is very rewarding, and my hope is that this information can be used to help many growers practice successfully. Time to grow big at home! Good Luck.
Why Grow from Seed Indoors?
Some have asked me why I go through the trouble of starting the seeds indoors when I can go to any local nursery and get pepper plants that are already started. If you are reading this article, I’m sure my reasons for starting pepper plants may overlap with your interests and motivations for growing indoors. I have three primary reasons for doing this. Number one, I like being in control of how my plants are grown. I like observing the process and knowing exactly what goes into the water and soil that I use. Number two, the process of growing my own vegetables is very rewarding. Putting the seed into the soil is an act of optimism, and every action that supports germination, vegetative growth, and the eventual plant yield are careful and nurturing. It is a very rewarding process overall. The third reason that I grow indoors is due to geography and weather. I just can’t grow outside all year where I live, so I use LED grow lights, some soil and some seeds to grow indoors. What an awesome experience it is putting food on the table that I nurtured from start to finish! I have been growing vegetables indoors and outdoors for over 15 years and in that amount of time, the produce I harvest is often better than what I could have purchased at the local market. The yield I get is a product of my time and effort which always adds to the reward.
Using LED Grow Lights for Indoor Grow:
I mentioned that I was happy to know what I was putting into my plants as they grow. LED grow lights allow me to access the specific light wavelengths that best excite plant growth. Although getting into the light spectrum and the photosynthetically active radiation range of light is a little beyond the scope of this particular post (click here for more information on light spectrum and PAR), it should be noted that LED grow lights are designed to emit the exact wavelength of light that plants need most to produce healthy yields. Research reveals this fact. LEDs can emit the right “light recipe” to optimize plant growth. When plants receive the right light wavelengths that are research proven to optimize growth, quantity and quality of yield are improved. I have found success using LED grow lights to support my indoor plant growth.
What LED Light Will Support Pepper Growth:
During my most recent grow, I utilized an LED grow light with an actual power draw of almost 400 watts. This was sufficient for supporting healthy plant development during the vegetative and bloom stages. The light incorporated 3 watt LEDs and was engineered to emit 8 bands of color spectrum when powered on. The broad range of light spectra included blue and red wavelengths, as well as IR, UV, and white light. I included this range of light spectra to closely align with the natural light that the tomato plants would have received had they been grown outdoors. Making sure that the LED grow light you are utilizing covers a broad range of wavelengths, especially the red and blue light spectra that research shows is best for plant development, should be a priority. Some LED grow lights are intentionally designed to support only specific plant growth stages. Be aware and do a little homework on the grow lights specifications. Make sure that the LED grow light is engineered to support the vegetative and flowering stages of a plant’s development and be sure that the light emitted includes both blue and red wavelengths. Light within the photosynthetically active radiation zone is key.
After the light is prepped and ready to go, you need to think about the soil! I do not recommend just digging up soil from outside. It is too difficult to know exactly what you are getting and like I said, I like to know what I’m feeding to my plants. Using a potting soil mixed with another medium is a great way to pot your plants properly when growing indoors. Check on the soil pH level. A pH level of 7 is considered neutral and peppers grow best in soil that is moderate to slightly acidic. A pH soil reading of about 6.5 will work well. The potting soil that I use contains organic matter, but you need to be careful not to over fertilize soil early on for fear of burning the plants out. You do not want the soil to be too “hot.” I always mix a hydroponic growing medium to the soil I use when growing peppers. It is pH neutral and is made from natural coconut coir. This helps to increase nutrient retention and also enhances soil aeration. If your wondering, the potting soil I currently use is Happy Frog and the growing medium I mix in is CocoTek. The ratio of soil to CocoTek that I use is 1:1. If you are looking for ways to raise the soil acidity level, many options are available. Fertilizers are available that can increase soil acidity. For potted plants, I sometimes use a solution of water and vinegar. A tablespoon of vinegar mixed into a half gallon of water will boost soil acidity in a potted plant by about a half of a point after watered several times. Elemental sulfur can be used to acidify soil outside. Elemental sulfur is slow to react however and can take several months to correct acidity readings. It is best to add elemental sulfur at least four months before planting the outside garden.
Although I may start my plants in s smaller cell units at the beginning, I will eventually transfer the plant (once the plant is four to six inches in height) to a pot that is 10-inch in diameter or larger. The larger pot size gives the root system more room which will result in a larger plant size. If you have less room, you can use a smaller pot size which will minimize root spread and overall plant growth. Once you have selected your pot size, fill about 3/4 of your pot with the soil/coir mix and when inserting the seeds, push the seeds about 1.4 inch beneath the soil. I often will plant more than one seed per pot and then thin out later according to the look and health of the sprouting pepper plants.
Room Temperature and Watering:
Be sure to maintain a room temperature that is somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees. Select a room that you can easily manage the ambient temperature. Keep plants away from vents that might be blowing out direct heat or air conditioning onto the plants. I normally keep the room temperature between 70 and 75 degrees when growing peppers indoors. The soil and coir mixture will hold a more consistent moisture level during the grow process. I don’t often rely on a moisture meter when watering, but some prefer to utilize this method to be very precise. If I am starting the plants in a small cell (3×3), I give about 10 – 15 ml of water at this point. The soil and coir mix hold water well and will probably not need watering every single day. There is no hard and fast rule to watering though, too many other factors, like the room’s temperature, will affect how often watering must take place. Be sure to focus watering at the base of the plants near the rooting zone.
Starting Pepper Plants Indoors and then Transplanting:
When I plan to transplant to my outdoor garden, I often start my pepper plants about six weeks before I expect the last frost in my region. I just recently went through this process again and my pepper plants grew to be approximately six inches high prior to the move outdoors. I waited until the nighttime temperatures averaged above 55 degrees. Although you can transplant with the average nighttime temperature below this level, the lower temperatures are not ideal. Pepper plants will grow sluggishly with cooler nighttime temperatures and the transplantation process will be more volatile. A week before I transplant my plants, I often place them outside for a period of time each day so that they can slowly experience outside conditions. I used the same soil/coir mix to add to the outside soil when I transplanted each pepper plant. I don’t consider enhancing the soil in any way during the week after the initial transplant so as not to burn out the plant while it is acclimating to the change. The peppers acclimated well and I can’t wait for the big harvest!