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Capsicum are a popular pick to grow in the vegetable garden. They are close relatives of tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and even tobacco, all being in the Solanaceae family. While tomatoes and potatoes are fairly easy to grow, Capsicum and chilli peppers can be challenging in some areas, because they need a good deal of heat and sun to set and ripen their fruits. In Tasmania, laying black plastic down to increase soil and ambient heat is important or using a hot house.
All peppers are short-lived tropical perennials that prefer moderately warm days and nights and do not really start producing until 2 months into the growing season. Peppers are not terribly fussy about soil. They like a good amount of organic matter, good drainage and a neutral soil pH of about 6.0 to 6.8.
In shorter season zones (Tasmania), you will need to start seed indoors or purchase seedlings. Peppers are slow starters. Start seed 8 to 12 weeks before your last frost date (ie: August for planting outside). Seed can take a while to germinate, although Capicum are usually faster than hot peppers. Using some type of bottom heat, either with a heating pad or simply placing the flats on top of the refrigerator, will speed germination. It will also dry out the soil faster, so remember to water.
When the seedlings are about 6 weeks old, they should have their first true leaves. Transplant them into larger pots (about 8 cm) and continue growing indoors.
Harden off the seedlings before transplanting in the garden. Capsicum and chilli are long season plants but don’t rush them. They are very susceptible to cold. Transplant after all danger of frost and once temperatures remain reliably above 10 C.
Transplant about 3 to 5 cm deeper than they were growing in their pots. The base of the stems will send out small roots, making stronger plants. Pepper plants grow slowly when temperatures are below 13 C and they may lose flowers and/or leaves. Warming the soil with black plastic or covering the plants with a floating row cover will allow you to plant a bit earlier.