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Experiments in Starting Pepper Seeds

 
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Location: Ontario - Currently in Zone 4b
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Background:

I have had a great deal of difficulty with starting pepper seeds, with many years of effort, and many dollars in wasted seed.  (see this  thread) But I remain determined!

I don’t have a great heat mat (just a very small mat intended for pets) and my house is cold.  I decided to formally test an interesting process that was recommended to me in that thread, and decided to record my results for anyone else who has to give up and buy greenhouse grown pepper seedlings every year.  

I welcome anyone who wants to join my experiment (using whatever method you choose) to post their results here too!

I'm about 20 weeks from last frost here, so will likely repeat the experiment with some changes based on my experiences in a month or two. There are several other methods I'd like to formally test too.



Experiment Start Date:
January 11, 2022

Methodology

Method A:

- Seeds were planted 1/4” deep in potting soil in 1/2 toilet paper tubes
-Tubes were watered, and then put in a clear, covered germination tray (AKA a semi sealed salad container from the recycling bin)
-Germination tray was placed on a heat mat

Method B:
- Corners of seeds were clipped (where the root should exit) with scissors
- A cotton makeup pad was split, seeds were placed inside the cotton, and then the pad was closed and rolled up , with an elastic band. A plastic label (recycled yoghurt container, cut into labels and labelled with a sharpie) was also slipped into the elastic band.
- Seed balls were dipped in hot water (boiled water allowed to sit for 5 min) for 5 seconds, then squeezed out and put into a bowl of ice water for 5 seconds, then squeezed out.
- The hot/cold soaking was repeated 5 times.
-Seed balls were unrolled, seeds were left in their cotton pads, and the cotton pads were and placed in a covered glass dish on a heating mat in a 17C room for 2.5 days.

Note 1: I had difficulty with the seed clipping – my hands hurt from doing it, and I found accuracy difficult. Many seeds weren’t a perfect shape where it was clear where to cut. Some seeds were likely insufficiently clipped, some were likely clipped too far back. I kept all seeds, not just "perfect" seeds, since I am trying to see what percentage *I* can get to germinate, not what percentage of "perfect seeds" I can get to germinate.

Note 2: The original method suggested leaving them in a 25C room, not putting them on a heat mat. I don't have anywhere in my house that I would expect to be 25C overnight, even on top of the fridge. I do have a (very tiny) heat mat.

Preparation Method B-1  (Control for Method B)
- Seeds were subjected to the process as in Method A, but the corners of the seeds were not clipped.

Test Varieties:
VarietySeed SourceYear Purchased For# Seeds -  Method A#Seeds - Method B
Purple StarVeseys202043
Hot Salsa BlendBurpee202166
Hot Mexican BlendOSC202266
Marconi RossoOSC202266
Gypsy HybridOSC202266


In addition, a control was made using Method B-1 . 4 seeds were prepared in this way (random extras I found on my counter after preparing the rest)

Initial Observations and Comments

I can potentially germinate many more seeds at a time on my tiny heat mat using Method B than with Method A. Seeds are also on the heat mat for less time, saving energy/space, or allowing me to germinate more seeds. Each tiny roll could easily have held 20+ seeds.

In the future, it would be good to test Method B using the warmest place in my house (top of fridge), to see if I can get them to propagate without the heat mat at all.

I should also test another control, but haven't - seeds just soaked in the cotton pads, no complicated hot/cold procedure.
Pepper-seeds-wrapped-up-in-cotton-pads.jpg
Pepper seeds wrapped up in cotton pads
Pepper seeds wrapped up in cotton pads
Soaking-in-hot-water.jpg
Soaking in hot water
Soaking in hot water
Method-A-and-Method-B-seeds-sitting-on-small-heat-mat.jpg
Method A and Method B seeds sitting on small heat mat
Method A and Method B seeds sitting on small heat mat
 
Catie George
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January 14 - Update 1

Method A
- No seeds prepared in Method A had visibly sprouted.
- Some mold had formed on Method A cardboard, so the lid was lifted on the tray to provide more ventilation.

Method B and Method B-1

The following seeds, prepared in Method B, and B-1, had germinated
Note that "Marconi Rosso"  and "Hot Mexican Blend" had the driest cotton pads -suggesting insufficient water may be related to poor sprouting
Germination, here, is counted as seeing the root begin to appear.

VarietySeed SourceYear Purchased For# Seeds - Method B#Seeds - Method B -germinated
Purple StarVeseys202031
Hot Salsa BlendBurpee202164
Hot Mexican BlendOSC202261
Marconi RossoOSC202261
Gypsy HybridOSC202265
Control (unclipped)??42


Initial Germination Rates

Method B (all seeds) had 44% germination
Method B (2022 OSC seeds) had 38% germination
Highest germination rate - Gypsy Hybrid - 83%
Control (Method B-1) had 50% germination.


Although results for control are strong, I'm unsure of seed type (could be Gypsy Hybrid) and sample size was very small. More work needed.

Additional work today

All seeds (Preparation Method B and B-1), including those not sprouted, were placed in 72 cell pots with the same potting mix used for Preparation Method A. These seeds were not placed on a heat mat, but in a warm(ish) bright window, with a ventilated clear plastic dome lid on the tray. Approximate daytime temperature 20C, nighttime temperature 17C.  

I want to see how many seeds now go on to form first leaves.


Suggestions for Further work

Future suggestion – increase number of “Control” type seeds, and use a listed variety for a better comparison. Current control is not large enough to be statistically significant, but suggests the seed clipping may not be necessary.
 
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I'll be watching your results with interest. However, I'll be very, very surprised if B doesn't beat A. Peppers love to be on a heat mat and if you did everything exactly the same (either protocol) but had one set on heat and one set off, the heated ones would win every time. So I worry that that differential will bury any useful test between the clipping/soaking method and not.
 
Catie George
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Christopher Weeks wrote:I'll be watching your results with interest. However, I'll be very, very surprised if B doesn't beat A. Peppers love to be on a heat mat and if you did everything exactly the same (either protocol) but had one set on heat and one set off, the heated ones would win every time. So I worry that that differential will bury any useful test between the clipping/soaking method and not.



Whoops! A is also on a heat mat, the same mat the other seeds are on.  They are in half toilet paper rolls to be closer to the heat source while they germinate.  The idea is to test my 'normal' method against this other method, so yes, agree with you about needing a mat. Based on previous experience, I'd expect close to zero percent germination without a heat mat.

Not sure how I missed that in my description, thank you for your comment! I'll go back and edit.
 
Christopher Weeks
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Oh, excellent! Carry on... :)
 
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What is the purpose of clipping the seed?
 
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Location: Northern Virginia (NOVA), Washington DC Suburb, Zone 7B
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I will watch this thread to see what success you have.  I just began trying seed starts indoors myself two seasons ago.  Not real good results.  The second year I invested in some heat matts  and inexpensive lights.  Sprouting was better.  Had some mold problems, and some damping off.  Still not super results.

This is where it got interesting for me.  

I overplanted (2-3 seeds per pot).  When I thinned the pots by pulling young seedlings, I planted a couple of the young tomatoes seedlings because I hate throwing plants away.  I can’t remember if they were first leaf or first true leaf - probably true leaf or there-about. They all survived and waaay out performed tomatoes that remained indoors from the same seed that I transplanted much later.  

Anyhow, I continued reading about starting seeds indoors and was considering upping my game by purchasing a dedicated shelving unit, betters light and supplies etc.  Then I stumbled across a site somewhere that recommended direct seeding and saving all of the time, hassle, and expense of indoor starts (of course this can all be a lot of fun too). The author indicated his direct sown seeds always caught up to nursery Bought transplants or indoor starts.

I’m in!  So I did not invest in new [anything] for indoor seeding and am going to try all direct seeding for 2022 just to see how it goes.  I’m a fairly new suburban permie.  One of the things I find attractive about permaculture is that the systems promise require less work over time.  Perhaps this will be a whole set of planning and chores I won’t need to worry about - we shall see.  Compost tea is another thing I was getting excited about trying, but hit the pause button on this as well.

Good luck.  Hope to see you have great success.
 
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