Canadian Pepper Farm supplying Sorry Sauce Canadian Hot Sauce and others in Ontario.
Growing peppers is easier than you think, and if I can learn to do it, then anyone can!
I try to keep the process as simple as possible, so I don't bother with some of the extra steps you might have seen in other growing guides. I've tried a few methods, and I can say I get pretty close to the same results however I do it, so I don't waste my time using a black tea soak, wet paper towels or anything like that.
Make note of your growing zone and the instructions on the seed packet so you know when to start the process. I start in January most seasons, but that's so I have time to do 15 germination rounds before it's time to get outside. You should be fine starting late February or March if you have a more reasonable volume of plants.
Here's how we do it.
1) Fill a tray with seed starter mix. I use Jiffy seed starter here, usually in 144 cell trays. This tray itself is an insert and it fits into a standard 1020 plant tray. Before I started accumulating these larger trays, I did several years of successful germination in a 72 cell germination tray.
You'd assume that germination would happen in a germination tray, right? There are a few options available - Jiffy and McKenzie both make them. The important thing is that it has 3 parts: a bottom tray to hold water, a cell tray to hold seeds and medium, and a clear dome to keep heat and moisture in.
2) Pack down the seed starter mix in each cell and add a seed or two. Once each cell has seeds, sprinkle a bit more seed starter mix on top to cover them.
3) Fill the bottom tray with warm water. It's always better to water pepper seedlings from the bottom up rather than top down, so it's good to start that process right away. Bottom watering prevents splashing the seeds out of the cells with the force of the water, and with plants, it helps mitigate the surface moisture that can produce mould. As a bonus, bottom watering encourages the young seedlings to send down deeper roots.
If you do end up with a bit of surface mould, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on it.
4) Put the dome on the tray and place it somewhere warm. I have heated seedling mats that I use here, but you can use an electric blanket if you have a waterproof one, or you could put it on top of your fridge where it could pick up heat from the coils. As long as it's someplace warm, you're good. You don't even need light until the seeds come up.
5) Check the tray every few hours to see if anything has happened yet. This step isn't necessary, but I understand that we get excited and will probably do it anyway.
6) Calm down and be patient. Annuums and Baccatuums tend to start coming up in 4-7 days, but Chinenses can sometimes take a few weeks before you see any plant loops.
7) When the seedlings pop out and are standing up, I recommend that you transplant them immediately into their own pots (or cells in a different tray). Seeds and seedlings both need different conditions, and the humidity of the germination dome can harm or kill the fragile newborns. It's best to get them out on their own pretty quickly. I use ProMix with mycorrhizae as the grow medium for this stage.
8) Once the seedlings are transplanted, water them when they're dry and ideally from the bottom up. Don't overwater them or you run the risk of moulding up your grow medium or worse, dampening off the plants and drowning them.
9) If you're using fertilizer, I recommend a very mild, evenly balanced NPK added every second or third watering. Read the directions on your package, then use half that amount so you don't burn your babies with nutes. Don't use Miracle Gro or any Scott's product. Monsanto sucks.
10) When it's warm enough to get outside, introduce your seedlings to that environment slowly and in installments so they can harden off. Start with about an hour in a shady location, and every 3-4 days you can increase that time outside by an hour or two. Keep an eye on the plants, and they'll tell you how they're feeling. If the leaves start to wilt, or if they get white, papery spots then the plants are getting too much sun.
11) Once the plants have hardened off for a few weeks, they'll be strong enough to withstand the elements and their leaves can accommodate the sun's direct UV. That's when the plants will be ready for their permanent homes. Many peppers work well in containers, but if you're planting in the ground, it's best to wait until after Victoria Day. Watch your own local forecast for overnight frost, and when you're clear of that, then you're good to go. If you do get hit with a snap frost, don't despair! If you have strong seedlings with a robust root ball, then they'll bounce back and replace any dropped leaves.
12) I have clay loam soil in my area, so when ground planting, I'll throw a trowel of compost into the hole with a handful of ProMix grow medium before I add the plant. Also, adding a bit of calcium at this point can help prevent blossom end rot down the line. I use ash from the wood stove, but you can use something like CalMag instead.
13) Water them when it doesn't rain, and fertilize occasionally.
14) Enjoy your peppers!
15) Note: when frost finally reappears in autumn, you still have a bit of time. Frost hits the outer extremities first, so the inner parts of the plant will survive and keep ripening until the next frost. Any pods that do take frost damaged can be salvaged if you pick them and get them into the freezer within the day. Any longer than that and they'll start to mush up and spoil.