Growing Pepper Plants as a Plant Murderer

It was late at night one fine day in March, and as is often the case I found myself struggling to fall asleep. Frustrated from staring at the ceiling, I ended up browsing /r/all on Reddit where I came across a thread on “Victory Gardens“. In short these were small makeshift gardens made during World War II in which people would grow a crops. These gardens wouldn’t be enough to live off, but great for supplementing government issued rations with fresh produce and tasty herbs.

This history lesson, along with many positive comments on growing crops, convinced me I should attempt to grow something myself. Not strawberries, not lettuce, but peppers! So after a a night of sleep I set out to find a seed supplier and ordered them a bunch of seeds. Oh, did I mention I have zero knowledge on how to take care of plants and murdered even cacti and succulents? Yeah this is going to be a fun journey!

Day 1: Seeds arrived and planted (March 10)

Day 0 and my order arrived. In it were the following peppers I decided on growing:

  • Rawit (Bird’s Eye Pepper): my most used pepper in the kitchen. Rawit are small and spicy with a neutral flavour. They go great in just about anything stir-fried and curries. 2 peppers per person is enough.
  • Buena Mulata: a type of cayenne pepper that starts out purple and turns a deep chocolate red. Not all that spicy, but the I liked the idea of having purple peppers. I mean come on, purple and green on a plate? It doesn’t get any more Evangelion than that!
  • Thai Dragon: similar to rawit and my substitute for it whenever my local asian market ran out of them. Added these to save a whopping €3 and get free shipping.
  • Jalapeño: turns out the webstore added these for free. I don’t like jalapeños all that much but I might as well give growing them a shot.

I also ordered peat tablets that would make the germination process easier. My plan was to plant 2 of each seed (1 plant to raise, 1 to fail) so I had ordered 7 in case a tablet would fail on me. Turns out these were sold per 10 so I got 70… Whoops! No biggie, I gave away the remaining bags to my mom and she made great use out of them for her sunflowers and what not.

With all seeds planted I placed them inside a plastic box in front of my bedroom window. With the window the south-west there should be plenty of heat and sunlight to get things going during the next 2 to 3 weeks. As for watering, I just kept things damp with a plant sprayer, but not soaking wet. I also decided to grow the best plant of each indoors to give them the highest chance of surviving here in the Netherlands.

Day 10, 11 and 12: First sprouts! (March 20, 21 and 22)

We have life! The first seed to sprout was a Buena Mulata and the next day the 2 other Buena Mulata seeds also started to sprout. On the 12th day the first Rawit sprouted and a Thai Dragon started to peak its head out of the ground. It was around this time I did some more reading on when to pot and feed these plants. I bought some coconut fiber mixed soil which other Dutch growers had success with it.

Day 18 and 19: MAKE MY MONSTER GROW! (March 28 and 29)

With some help from Rita Repulsa the plants started to grow like crazy. It’s amazing to see how things when from a small seed to this already. I noticed one of the leafs starting to yellow on one plant and according to the wise experts this meant the plant wasn’t getting enough nutrition. As I had to pot the first few plants over anyway I decided to pre-emptively pot all the plants over, with fresh rich coconut fiber soil.

For the first potting people suggest a 9cm pot. Luckily for me there were plenty of empty Jodenkoeken containers in the shed that are perfect for this. I placed the potted buena mulata in a larger plastic box to help keep them warm, with the others having a second container flipped on top of them for the same effect.

Day 24: More sprouts, end of jalapeno (3 April)

The weather took a hard turn here in the Netherlands on the last day of March. Nothing but wet snow, cold wind and overcast. Luckily the radiator in my bedrooms is positioned right below the window sill and double paned glass meant less cold creeping in so it wouldn’t get too cold for the plants. To help the seeds stay warm I placed them on my central heating radiator which 2 days later resulted in the remaining 2 rawit seeds to sprout, as well as 1 more Thai Dragon. I carefully dug around the jalepeños at this point to find none of them showing any signs of germinating. The same applied to the last remaining Thai Dragon seed so I decided to throw them out.

I did learn one important lesson, which was heat seems to matter more than light when to comes to germinating seeds. Next time I’ll probably place them on the radiator or a 3D printer heatbed to help speed things up.

I also picked up a hydrometer to help figure out the watering process and 2 types of plant food. The first is a formula to help overal growth and leaf production. The other food is for once the plants start to blossom and is low on nitrogen which apparently reduces leaf production and instead increases flower and fruit production.

Day 37 – Final Repotting and more goodbyes (16 April)

Over the past week I continued the usual routine of providing sunlight and warmth to keep the frail plants alive with the cold weather just on the other side of the window. Aside from providing food I had also started to rotate each pot 45 degrees every other day. This should help have the plants grow stronger on all sides according to the internet. Now, these plants had finally reached the point where they have 3 sets of real leafs and were roughly 10cm tall. In other words, they could be repotted to their final pots!

Repotting proved to be tricky. Partially due to the plastic jars and me not filling them to the top, but mostly because the coconut fiber soil was just too loose and would crumble into bits. Luckily for me the peat blocks were still solid, providing a strong base and protection to the majority of the roots. I dug the buena mulata plants in 4cm deeper than before, partially as I noticed they had a few more roots growing along the stem and it being recommended by the seed seller. As I only had 4 pots, I decided to put the two weaker buena mulata plants together. Not ideal but they should manage just fine, not to mention I could always remove the weaker of the two.

Immediately after repotting I noticed all plants had started to drip. To aid them out I added sticks to support them, watered the soil around the stem. To help keep the plants warm I once again used flipped empty transparant plastic buckets on top of each pot. Out of curiosity I measured the temperature inside the buckets and found it would heat up to a peak of 32 degrees Celsius which is fine until they start to blossom. Within an hour all of the plants were back to standing tall and happy.

Sadly the same could not be said of the late rawit and thai dragon sprouts. They hadn’t grown any further during this period and one had died completely. Defeated, I called it quits on these late sprouts.

Day 43 – Growth update and realising a few mistakes (April 22)

It’s been roughly another week since potting the plants over. Each plant is growing strong with more leafs forming and even showing the first branches are now slowly appearing. Surprisingly enough the weaker buena mulata plants ended up growing the quickest in height with smaller leaves, while the strongest is staying smaller and opting for wider leaves.

Remember when I said I added buckets on top of the pots to keep the plants warm? Well, they also created a lot more condensation which combined with harsh sunlight burned white spots into the leafs of all the plants. Another mistake I made was providing too much sun. The buckets and all their condensation blocked some light, but without them the plants would start to drip around 17:00 on bright days. Closing my translucent blinds to block off some of the light helped. So the lessons learned here are to only use the buckets during the night and on cold days, and to lower the translucent blinds when skies are clear. Gotta love going head first into a hobby without any prior knowledge!

Day 70 – First flowers! (May 19)

It’s been a while, but the plants are still going strong. The buena mulata are about a meter tall now, the rawit is starting to become a bush and the Thai Dragon is growing… tall? That’s not supposed to happen. But more importantly, the first flowers are here! I use a cotton swap to pollinate each flower daily.

Day 80 – Just a bit more (May 29)

All plants except for the Thai Dragon have flowers now. The Rawitt has 4 peppers ready for harvest if I want them green, the buena mulata 2 with plenty more on their way. The only plant that doesn’t seem to flower just yet is the Thai Dragon. No idea if it’s the weather or something, but it’s just growing taller and taller despite it supposed to be a low bush. Weird, but we’ll see where it goes.

Day whatever – End of harvest (September 30)

I was too busy dealing with convention related work to update his journal. Anticlimactic, I know. But things went okay in the end and I will be going at it one plant at a time.

The Thai Dragon plant had a hard time growing indoors. I moved it outside as a final Hail Mary which did help the plant recover. I only got a single harvest of this plant, around 18 peppers total. Sadly these had zero spice to them and went straight into the green bin.

All 3 Buena Mulata plants did well during the summer. After 2 harvests I moved them outside early August which resulted in a large final harvest. The peppers produced by these plants ended up black instead of purple and had a nice bitter touch to them. They pack a real punch with the heat creeping up on you, building and easily lingering for 30 minutes. I used these to make a few bottles of concentrated cayenne sauce which go great with beef.

The Rawitt plant I kept indoors all year round and provided me with 2 large harvests so far which I used for a pure sriracha-style sauce, a tropical pineapple sauce and a mild grilled piri piri sauce. The plant is currently still blossoming with a few ripe peppers here and there. I picked up a cheap LED grow light to try and make it survive the winter. Even if it fails the grow lights will come in handy next March when I plant the next batch of seeds.

So that’s it really. The most important lesson learned was to move the plants outside in June/July to increase fruit growth. I will definitely grow some more next year and will aim for 2 Buena Mulata and 2 Rawitt plants. Being able to make my own hot sauces has been a lot of fun, especially with the more experimental flavours like a tropical hot sauce which goes great with chicken. The sauces being vinegar and salt based and vacuum sealed in sterile glass bottles they should probably last for a year, right on time for the next harvest in 2023. But until then, that’s all folks!