Super-hots are notorious for having long germination periods and long times to maturity. Let’s minimize the wait with a good system: priming the pepper seeds.
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Priming pepper seeds
Peppers have evolved to be eaten by animals that don’t grind their seeds to eat them. They did this by excreting a neurotoxin (capsasin) that really only effects animals that chew their food: mammals. We humans love to put this toxin on our eggs.
However, this means that many peppers have evolved to also go through certain processes in their lives, namely being eaten by birds. It is hypothesized that this evolution has led to them responding favorably to being soaked in certain chemical compounds found in the digestive tracts of birds.
While we may never know if this is true, what is true is that priming pepper seeds has been shown to provide faster germination, more germination, or both.
Pepper seed priming salts
Let’s look at some common priming solutions:
|Salt||Concentration (gm/L)||Priming time||Time to 50% germ*||Notes|
|None||–||none||~week||Germinates about 95% of seeds|
|KN03||30.4||12-24 hours||< 1 day||Reduced germination rate compared to water, but fast and cheap. Additionally, it’s a useable fertilizer to add nitrogen and potassium to your soil|
|NA2SO4||28.4||12-15 days||1 day||Best performing for seed germination rate|
|K2SO4||34.8||12-15 days||< 1 day||It’s potash. A great fertilizer regardless of the use as a seed priming salt|
*tested on commercially available bell peppers, not exotic hot peppers. This counts the time after you remove them from priming solution.
What you need
You don’t need much for equipment. While I’m using some petri dishes and lab wash bottles, you can do all of this with stuff you find around the house. Anything you do have to buy, will last for a long time. You need:
- Some containers to hold your seeds while they soak. These should have lids. Side, note, acrylic petri dishes are awful for this.
- A container to hold premixed priming solution. A flip top liquid container, or squeeze bottle works great.
- A scale that works in grams
- Distilled water or RO water
- Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
- Your choice of priming salt
- Seed germination media. I like to use self-watering seed tray and peat pucks
- Nursery pots or 16Oz party cups with slits cut in the bottom
- Seedling soil or your choice of grow media
Making the priming solution
According to research, peppers germinate better when they’ve been soaked in priming salts for a while. These salts remain stable even in solution, so a small bottle should last you a decade or two.
To make the priming solution:
- Put the liquid container on the scale and tare it to 0
Scales are different, but most digital scales work by starting the scale with the container on it, or putting it on and pushing the “T” or “Tare” button.
- Add distilled or RO water
I tend to make about 500ml at a time, but make as much as you want. Make sure you leave enough room to stir or shake.
- Determine how much salt you need
Multiply the grams of water you put in the container by the recommended concentration above, and divide by 1000. Add that many grams of the salt into the mixture. For example, if you are using potash into 275g of water, we would be adding 8.7g into the solution.
- Shake to incorporate
Get it good and dissolved. You can heat the solution if you need to.
- Create a disinfecting solution
Mix 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide(H2O2) to 9 parts RO or distilled water. This will be your disinfecting solution.
- Soak you seeds for 15 minutes
This will disinfect your seeds and help prevent mold from causing any issues with germination.
- Remove seeds and rinse them
Take your seeds out of the H2O2 solution and rinse them with clean water.
- Move them to priming solution
Move them to the priming solution. Soak your seeds in this mixture for time shown in table 1.
Preparing a place to sprout them
The best way to deal with long germination periods is a self-watering seed tray. They keep your seed consistently moist for long periods of time with minimal work. I recommend adding 30ml of 3% H2O2 (3ml/Gal if you’re using 29%, industrial H2O2) per gallon to the water you use to start the seeds to sanitize the peat pucks and prevent mold. H2O2 has been shown to help germination in other seed types and will not hurt the pepper seeds if used in small quantity, but the molds that set on the pucks sure will.
Setup your sprouter and heat it to about 80F. Within a couple of weeks you should have seedlings. As they pop, and develop, move the seedlings to a starter soil. That station should be gently heated to 75-80F, and get a little light (100-200PPFD).
When these get to a few inches long and have 6+ true leaves on them, it’s time to move them to their final pot.
To recap, here’s your checklist:
- Soak seeds in .3% hydrogen peroxide solution for 15 minutes then lightly dry
- Soak seeds in a priming solution for an appropriate amount of time
- Setup self-watering seed tray, and plant seeds in individual peat pucks
- Keep watered with clean water and a touch of hydrogen peroxide until they sprout, which might be a month later
- Transfer seedlings, as they get a couple inches tall to starter soil and a small pot
- Move them to final pot when they get about 6 leaves.