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health Starting outdoors

Hello everyone,

I live in South Florida and am an avid gardener but I have taken a liken to peppers and tobacco. I sowed many hundreds of peppers and dozens of varieties this year with intent to sell, the plants that is. Unfortunately I don't have space to grow the peppers to maturity and start a little pepper farm here. South Florida land is beyond a premium, it's reserved for a certain type of individual that isn't me.

I cannot start my seeds indoors with grow lights and heating mats, I just don't have the space. Last year I started them outdoors in basically complete shade. The would received a negligible bit of filtered sunlight each morning but that's it. Didn't work well. So I upgraded to 1020 cell trays and bottom watering trays to try and start my seeds outdoors. I made my own mix of peat moss and sand, and apply liquid kelp fertilizer occasionally, as well as a very diluted Epsom salt spray. I don't use any formulated fertilizers, only liquid kelp, compost from my own bin and mushroom compost.

Question : Can anyone pease tell my if these plants look "correct" having sown on Jan-22-2023 (one month old as of time I post this)? They have gone through a number of small cold patches but no freezes, very close at one point which destroyed parts of my coffee trees. It gets into the 60s at night right now but during the day it's bright sunlight in the 80s.

Their cotyledons seem to be in permanent prayer position, as my tobacco does at night, without going back down at night. Is the direct early spring sunlight already too much for them? Surely I cannot move them to shade right now and I'm not sure if I have options should this be the issue. I have kept them relatively watered but I removed their bottom trays and am seeing what a brief dry out period will do. I figured drying out is nowhere near important right now for young peppers as it is for older, established plants. Even a few days of neglect and they will die from previous experiences.

Lastly, how should I proceed with watering from here on out? How wet or dry should the soil be as they grow for the next few months?

Thanks everyone!

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They look okay to me and will be tougher being hard grown than if you'd started them inside and moved them outside after a brief development period indoors, in which case those cold temps or hot days might have gotten them. 60's nights and 80's days should be fine for them. I see the cotyledons are reaching. I don't think it's any big deal that they're not relaxing overnight. The plants will need to continue to get bigger and develop better root systems to deal with Florida's oppressive heat as it ramps up.

I agree that the biggest risk to you now (assuming temps stay reasonable) is drying out and I'd risk overwatering to avoid them going dry, as they die super quick when dehydrated at sprout size. When do you intend to transplant them into bigger containers? Once they have a little time to root into bigger containers they should be less at risk.
Thanks for the comments….

When do you think? I have small 3 inch pots and half gallon right now, trying to find a cheap-ish source of nicer 1 gallon pots.

This is my first time growing in direct sunlight in these trays as I said. I’m not sure when I will transplant. Must be best when the root ball is well formed? For now it’s still a bit small and scraggly.

I could always test a plant variety in succession and see how a single variety responds to transplanting at different stages.
Thanks for the comments….

When do you think? I have small 3 inch pots and half gallon right now, trying to find a cheap-ish source of nicer 1 gallon pots.

This is my first time growing in direct sunlight in these trays as I said. I’m not sure when I will transplant. Must be best when the root ball is well formed? For now it’s still a bit small and scraggly.

I could always test a plant variety in succession and see how a single variety responds to transplanting at different stages.
Do they have to be pots, or nice for that matter? A few people in the community grow in pandafilm grow bags, amazon brand name vivosun/vivohome. Those will be cheapest per container, there's also traditional grow bags which will still be cheaper than pots.
Cheaper than pots? I don’t like to replenish things every year so I do what I can to buy something that lasts.

I have some textile grow bags and they were expensive, but they were 7 ”soil” gallons or whatever the term is, which I believe is more like 4-5 liquid gallons. Maybe 10 of them for over $20.

The half gallon pots that will last at least a few years were not too expensive. 100 pack for $34. I will look into grow bags though and what you’ve mentioned.
I'd probably look to transplant them quite soon - as early as starting now - into the half-gallon containers.

If I were transplanting in your situation, I'd do so being very careful not to disturb the roots at all. I'd transplant only at the time I'd normally be watering, so that the cells are toward the dry end of the spectrum. At this stage of dryness, it should be fairly easy to remove a perfect block of soil and roots from each cell without disturbing the roots or root ball (if you try that when they're wet, the soil block will tend to crumble and you may have temporary root issues, which you really want to avoid in your situation). Then, I take the complete root cube without reshaping it or damaging it at all and plant that into the new pot.

By doing it this way, the root hairs on the roots aren't damaged and you should have no issues with transplant shock. This is particularly important given the intense natural sun and heat and the current small size of the sprouts. Despite that when you transplant this way they should be able to keep going without missing a beat, I'd still keep them out of direct sun for 24 hours. This works well, because you don't want to water heavily around the time of transplant when they should be expanding their roots into the new soil.
Really? Transplant as soon as now? Is this often the size these trays produce? I figured they’d be a little bit bigger before transplanting seeing as how tiny the pots at stores at yet large the plants are.

You are right about the hairs. I popped one out to inspect and tons of hairs on the root, not the most dense rootball but it’s alright.

Aside from growing in direct sunlight to prevent leggy seedlings and stunted growth, I am relatively new to these trays as well. I often direct sow here in FL because, well it’s Florida, if you water everyday it’ll germinate no matter the time of year. That is for larger seeds though, things like tobacco and oregano are too small to do that with without them spreading all around.

Forget the direct sown seedlings for a day or two and they might die, but it’s surprising how little water something like yard long beans or okra need when direct sown. It must be a robust seed to sprout in such heat so it’s fitting.

I will begin translating tomorrow then! One tray a day!

Here is my list, let’s hope it works! A mix of Southwestern USA, South American, Mexican, and Asian (mostly Japanese) peppers.

My Sandia seeds I got for the first time are performing rather poorly compared to Strictly Medicinal’s and it’s a bit upsetting. Almost a 100% germination rate for SM within 2 weeks. The Sandia seeds are just about 20 days old and I have probably had only one or two rather weak seeds germinate.

- Cayenne
- Ancho Hot
- Gochujang King
- Fushimi
- Chilhuacle Negro
- Xigole
- Himo Togarashi
- Santaka
- Yatsufusa
- Thai Hot
- Aji Sivri
- Criolla Sella
- Guajillo
- Pasilla
- Poblano
- Hatch Red Hot
- Chimayo
- Habanero
- Cascabella
- Chiles de Arbol
- Pequin
- Scotch Bonnet
- Jalapeño M
- Serrano Tampiqueño
- Trinidad Scorpio
- Aji Colorado
Great list!

If you were in a greenhouse or indoors and had better control over things, I might wait longer on transplant, but I still might not. If you do a clean transplant without disturbing the root ball, they shouldn't miss a beat. Plus, after transplant the roots will appreciate the extra depth and the sprout will tend to grow a little faster than in a shallower starter container. Other advantages are that once you've transplanted, you can move the plants independently of one another; the containers will hold more water, which should provide a better sustained optimal air/water balance in the soil and give you protection against missing watering; and the plants will quickly develop a bigger root ball which will help them deal with changes in conditions that they'll experience outdoors. That's my take on it, anyway.
First tray has been transplanted at 1 month old. Any commentary on expected growth rates from here on out so I have some sort of guidelines to compare to? I really hope somehow they haven't become stunted. I did half 3 inch pots, half 1/2 gallon to test things out.

Himo Togarashi, and Santaka! Next up for a beloved of mine... Cayenne.

Perhaps growth has slowed because the roots were too hot? Direct Florida sunlight in those trays? Hmm... I'm not sure. I moved the un-transplanted trays to underneath some filtered sunlight from here on out.

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That's awesome!

Since this is the first group, you might consider watching them for a couple days to see how they settle in and if they were disrupted by the transplant before starting on the others. How did it go? Was it fairly easy to get the complete root balls out of the small cells without disturbing them or were they crumbling and such? How full of roots were the cells?

I'd expect them to slow down a bit before they pick up visible growth again. I've compared the continued development of sprouts where some were potted up and the others left longer and the transplanted ones typically appear to lag behind just a bit while they focus on pushing roots into the new space, then they'll blast right past the others and not look back.

Having the extra soil of a larger pot should help them by providing greater environmental stability. They'll have a bigger root system, experience more gradual temperature and moisture changes at the roots, etc. With more established root systems, they should grow better.

For comparison, I have a bunch of peppers at 15-20 days from sprouting and mine look about a week or two behind yours. All have only the first true set of leaves, which aren't as big as the true leaves on yours. I'll have to hold off on potting mine up though, as I have multiple sprouts in each cup - I'll have to separate roots versus planting the whole root ball undisturbed so I want them to have more developed roots before I do that.

Good luck with those. I hope they take off again quickly!
Thanks I hope so too. Your peppers look amazing in the photos, so healthy and vibrant green.

I am wondering if my Sandia seeds have not sprouted because the environments are so different... Surely it cannot be? It is so dry in New Mexico compared to here.

The root balls were not dense at all, really, however they were almost entirely secured. I experienced one or two with the very bottom fall off.

This is my first time using this potting mix formula. I did a large bunch of peat moss, bag of mushroom compost, bag of topsoil, and eyed some perlite. I am going to get seashells from the local beach to add to the top as a mulch and for calcium, because I can't find pelletized lime as per internet suggestions. I believe you would know more about that than a random Google search can provide.
I've ordered seeds though Sandia before and they're generally good. Odd things can happen though. Sometimes I'll drop several seeds and have nothing happen so I'll try again and every one will pop right away. Same conditions and everything. I don't think Sandia has improper methods or anything; just the luck of the draw sometimes.

My take is that lime isn't really needed with peat moss, despite that it's often recommended. This is based on my experience and studies that suggested the acidic conditions of the peat-based media don't last for a significant length of time - plus peppers don't mind things just a little acidic. I don't imagine you need extra calcium, but shells are composed of calcium carbonate so they aren't going to provide soluble calcium to the plants within the time frame of a season. Same with egg shells. However, crushing egg shells and mixing them with some vinegar will make the calcium soluble and of immediate use to the plants. I just googled this site quickly, but it appears at a glance to be how I do this when I'm doing it in bulk. Also, I dissolve a little Epsom salts into the end product, for the Mg.
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I would agree about the slowed visible growth after a transplant - they're focused on growing roots at that point.

As for Sandia, I've been buying from them for years and always had good luck. But I guess a bad batch is possible. How long have they been in and what varieties?
I’m very disappointed. I didn’t do anything differently than with the almost 100% germ rate of Strictly Medicinal Seeds.

I in no way blame Sandia I just don’t understand why this has happened. Basicaly every Mexican/New Mexican variety in my list is Sandia.
Sorry for the bump… Any further comments? I’m stumped at the nearly 0% germination rate after 3 weeks, I cannot deny I was looking forward to the Sandia seeds more than any because I am a Mexican food addict. Maybe it’s not hot enough yet in Florida for a landrace from New Mexico? Heck though, I’d imagine it’s hotter in Florida right now than anywhere else tough.

I have since stopped watering. I am letting them dry out for the first time. I had 2 Tobasco pepper plants germinate spontaneously in pure sand without a drop of added water, so that is what inspired this. Maybe I have been overwatering? Although it says keep moist… I’m so confused.
Which are the varieties you ordered from Sandia and have any of them germinated? By 3 weeks you should expect that they'd very likely have sprouted if they're going to. I'd drop additional seeds and try again. Most annuum should sprout in maybe 5-12 days. Who knows why they don't come up sometimes, but it's happened to me where nothing sprouted, then I planted seeds just the same again and had good results.

Keeping proper moisture levels is going to require different maintenance depending on how you're germinating the seeds. I usually germinate in a warm container with a closed lid or dome on top for humidity and without lighting. I can start with damp, not overly wet soil and the soil will hold moisture just fine usually for at least 7-10 days. Much of what I plant sprouts within that time-frame, then I water again if needed for the remaining ones. If you germinate in the natural sun or under lights without a dome/lid for moisture control, it will be harder to maintain a proper moisture balance and you'll have to water more often. That's more challenging and avoiding overwatering is important. I've heard people use a moist cupcake as guidance for how moist the soil should be.
What are your daytime & nighttime temperatures?

If it's on the cool side I might give them at least one more week before giving up!