Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Monday, January 13, 2014

First Seeds of 2014: Hottest Pepper in the World!

I know you probably think I'm crazy, but I've already started my first seeds of 2014.

While it seems incredibly early, I'm once again attempting to grow super-hot chiles after last year's mixed results.

Have you ever found out after the fact that you did something completely wrong? Something that made you smack yourself upside the head and say "So THAT'S why I failed so spectacularly?" That's how I feel about my 2013 super-hot chiles. I found out that I didn't plant them early enough (super-hots have an extremely long growing season) and I didn't have enough patience once I did plant them. You see, I thought my peppers never germinated. After three weeks of seeing no growth whatsoever, I threw them out. Turns out that super-hots sometimes take up to 6-8 weeks to germinate. Oops. What a waste of extremely expensive seed.

That being said, we did get about a dozen Fatalii peppers for my efforts last year. I expected them to just blow my head off with heat and nothing else, but they were downright delicious. Blazingly hot, of course--but also sort of sweet, and lemony, and floral. We preserved them in pints of vinegar and have been using them on greens, Hoppin' John, Cincinnati Chili, and anything else that needs a kick of old-fashioned pepper vinegar. With the Fatalii to whet my appetite, I really wanted to try some other super hot chiles.

I had a small number of seeds left from last year, including the Carolina Reaper, the current holder of the Guinness record for World's Hottest Chili. This past week I set about trying to get them to germinate.

I am trying two different techniques to see if one works better than another. The first step, no matter what technique you try, is to soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Some people soak them in weak chamomile tea. I don't know if that has any benefit or not, and I only had chamomile that also had other herbs in it like spearmint, so I just used plain water.

The first technique is just to plant them in standard peat plugs, like so:

Buy the peat plugs--you don't need a fancy greenhouse with round holes to hold the plants, or anything. Soak the plugs in warm water until they fully expand, and plant your seeds. If my labels were smaller, I would have just put the lid on this container--as it is, I covered the whole thing with plastic wrap.

The second way I'm trying to germinate the seeds is to germinate them on a paper towel. You can also use a coffee filter for this. First, write your seed variety on the paper towel with a Sharpie. Wet the towel and wring out all the water. Fold it in half, and place your seeds on the towel.

Fold the towel in half again so the seeds are inside the layers, and put the whole thing in a plastic zip-top bag. Spray the paper towel with water every day. Once you see germination, carefully snip the towel around the germinated seed and plant it towel scrap and all, root down, 1/4" deep in potting soil. Don't try to just pull the germinated seed off, because the root can stick to the towel and be damaged.

Here's what I ended up with after all my planting was complete:

Once you have all your seeds planted in the medium of your choice, put them somewhere warm where you will see them or think about them every day. I have mine in my indoor greenhouse at 75 degrees F. You can also put them in a warm windowsill, or on a seed starting heat mat, or on top of your computer router--someplace warm. Super hot chiles like very warm germination temperatures, up to 80 degrees. Just don't get them so hot that you accidentally cook them, and whatever you do, don't let them dry out. Drying out just once can kill them.

I've got my fingers crossed that I'll do better at germination this year than last, and I vow to be more patient and keep caring for the seeds longer than three weeks. Wish me luck!