Sunday, March 13, 2011

Peppers from seed ... part 3

Well, there was a minor disaster in the pepper patch this week. I noticed something was strange several days ago when a pot of pepper seedlings started to decline. I figured it might be due to bad seed or a virus or something, but then the malady started to spread to other pots.

Here's a typical specimen. The seed leaves started to shrivel and then fall right off. Once it started moving to other pots, I figured it must be something in the soil or a bug that was hanging out it the other plants I have in the basement. My money is on spider mites, but who knows. I gave the seedlings I have a blast of insecticidal soap (not great for the poor things when they're this small, but there's not much choice at this point) and put the sickly ones in quarantine. I also got another batch of seeds on the go as backup (which I'll grow in another area if this problem continues). This is one good reason to start pepper seeds extra early so there's still time to deal with a disaster like this. It also underlines the old bit of garden wisdom: "never plant all your seeds." (Until you only have 1 left, I suppose.)

ANYWAY, this post is supposed to be about potting the seedlings on and some of them are still in fine shape, so I'll 'splain that process. The idea is to gently move the seedlings out of the nursery container and into a larger one where they can grow until it's time to plant them out (about 10 weeks from now). You don't want to start them out in the larger container because the soil is likely to get all compacted and gross before the roots can colonise it properly. So you start in a shallow container or flat, and then move up to the big leagues once you have some good roots. (See part 1 and part 2 of this saga for more info if you like.)

First, get some pots ready. It's good to get the soil watered outside since it is super messy. Use warm water so the pots are still nice and warm for your seedlings when you bring them back in.

Make a decent sized hole in each pot. A butter knife works great for this (as long as no one catches you) because you want to slice down into the pot rather than smush your way down -- I have some funky Japanese tweezers with a flat paddle on one end that keep me out of the cutlery drawer.

Next ease the seedlings out of the pot. Wedge your knife or whatever down one side and lift out as gently as you can. I like to do this operation while the seedlings are young, since there isn't a lot of leaf area, and a shock to the roots is not a huge ordeal. The disadvantage is that the seedlings don't have much in the way of engines (i.e. leaves) to get back on track so you need to be extra nice to them.

As you can see, the seedlings have been busy underground even though not much activity was visible above the soil. Keep as much of the soil attached as you can to minimise the shock to your little friends.

Ease the root ball into the hole you made. Be as gentle as possible. No shoving! If you need to hold the plant, hold it by a leaf rather than the stem (it's too easy to crush the stem and kill the poor thing). Hold the leaf while you water the roots into place.

Don't tamp the soil down or anything, just water the pot carefully and the soil will settle in around the roots. See?

Get your babies back under the lights, and wait for spring! (And watch out for those nasty mites!)

Happy gardening!


  1. You're using All Treat Farms potting soil?

  2. Obi 1 you are the best!