If you like hot peppers, they are easier to grow in your vegetable garden than sweet peppers because pests stay clear of them. These hot peppers can also be used medicinally and used to protect other plants in your garden from pests.
Although you can buy hot peppers from your local nursery, you have more choices when you grow your own from seed. Some hot peppers are relatively mild while others are flaming hot. Peppers don’t like to be transplanted, so it makes sense to plant them indoors in biodegradable pots. Plant them indoors about 2 months before the last frost date and sow three seeds into each pot. Keep the soil temperature at 75 degrees. If temperatures in the growing area fluctuate too much (more than 5 degrees), place the peppers on a heating pad designed for that purpose.
Keep the seedlings in moist, but not wet soil. Prior to germination cover the tray containing pots with plastic to help maintain moisture. Remove the cover when the peppers begin to germinate in 3-4 weeks. For the best results, grow the peppers under grow lights to prevent them plants from becoming leggy. Once the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, thin the plants by cutting the unwanted plants at the soil level in each pot while leaving only the strongest individual plant in each pot.
The seedlings will be ready to plant outdoors when they are 4-6 inches tall. Harden the plants off for about a week to 10 days before transplanting. To harden off the plants, on the first day, leave them outside in shady area for 3-4 hours in the evening then bring them in at night. Protect these plants from the wind to prevent drying out and causing breakage. Increase the time outside by 1-2 hours every day for 2-3 days, then move them to a sunny location in the morning and then move them back to the shady location in the afternoon. After 7-10 days they will be ready to plant in the garden.
Plant them in the garden as you would sweet peppers. Plant the hot peppers around the edges of garden beds to help protect other vegetables from pests (including the four legged kind one bite of a hot pepper sends them running). However, do not plant them within 20 feet of sweet peppers. The peppers can easily cross pollinate and your sweet peppers can become nearly as hot as your hot peppers.
When picking, handling, or cutting hot peppers for use in the kitchen, be sure to wear gloves. The oils that produce the heat in the peppers will get on your skin and can make your hands very uncomfortable. Keep your hands away from your eyes when handling hot peppers as the pepper oils will cause a severe burning sensation in and around the eyes.
If you do handle hot peppers without gloves, water will not wash off the oils. To get rid of the burning on your hands from hot peppers, soak your hands in milk. After several minutes, the proteins in the milk will sooth your skin.
In addition to adding heat to your culinary creations, hot peppers can be used for medicinal purposes as well. The capsaicin in hot peppers will kill internal parasites when ingested which is one of the reasons that peppers are so popular in equatorial parts of the world where parasites flourish.
Hot pepper seeds can also be ground and incorporated into a salve, ointment, lotion or oil to help ease the pain of arthritis or general muscle aches. The capsaicin in the peppers creates an intense heat that causes the body to send endorphins to the area where the pepper was applied. These endorphins are what rid your body of the aches and pains.
In addition to flavoring your favorite dishes and the medicinal applications, hot peppers can be made into a spray that protects other vegetables in the garden. Use cayenne pepper fruit or seeds by grinding them and mixing them with water and a little liquid dish soap. Spray this infusion on plants infested by aphids. You can also dust ground dried peppers onto tomato plants that have been attacked by caterpillars. Ground red peppers can also be placed around eggplants and rubbed onto the leaves to keep pests away. This powder can also be sprayed on the corn silks to deter raccoons.
For protecting flowers like roses, azaleas and mums, grind hot pepper fruit, an onion and a clove of garlic, cover with water and let it steep overnight. The next day, strain the concoction and add enough water to equal a gallon of this solution. Bury the solids used for making the solution around your flower plants. Spray plants as needed with the solution.
If you are growing heirloom peppers, you will no doubt want to save seeds. Be certain that you kept your hot pepper varieties growing separately so that your peppers will be true to their variety. According to the USDA, because peppers are pollinated by insects as well as being self-pollinated, pepper varieties should be grown at least 30 feet apart.
To save seeds allow the peppers to mature. Once you have a good ripe pepper, remove the seeds from any other pepper debris and put on a paper towel to finish drying for about a week. Be certain to label the type of pepper that you have saved seed from. Seeds from green peppers will not germinate.