Sunday, June 20, 2010

Garden Journal 6/20/10: How To Transplant Sweet Pepper Seedlings, the Extended Version

Planting Sweet Peppers 1
Off to Browner Pastures!

Realization of the Day:
The most important thing you need to do in the garden is get your seeds and plants in the ground. Otherwise nothing else matters.

As obvious as it sounds, it's amazing how often I forget this simple fact, missing out on growing so many things each year because I'm focusing too much on all the prep work I need/want to do and not enough on the actual planting. Lettuce season in southern Missouri has come and gone, yet despite always telling people how easy it is to grow lettuce from seed, I don't have a single leaf to show for it this spring—and you know how much I love lettuce.

Your seedlings don't care if the soil isn't perfectly amended, or the pathways around your raised beds are full of weeds, or it's not the absolute ideal day for transplanting according to the lunar calendar. They just want to be put in the ground. And yesterday morning—after worming 30 lambs and before it got quite all the way up to the 103 degree heat index predicted for the day—some of the poor suffering seedlings I bought over a month ago finally were.

Along those same Just plant it already lines, I'm going to skip past several other blog posts that were supposed to precede this one in order to record—since this is supposed to be a garden journal, after all—doing something when I actually did it.

Planting Sweet Peppers 2

So here's what I planted yesterday:
3 Quadrato D'Asti Giallo sweet bell peppers ('giant yellow bell pepper, beautiful and blocky, with very thick walls, sweet and rich outstanding flavor')
2 Emerald Giant sweet bell peppers ('heavy yields of 4+" long by 3+" wide, thick-walled peppers that turn from dark green to red when mature')
1 Yellow Monster sweet pepper ('gigantic, sunshine yellow sweet and meaty fruits can grow 8" long by 4" wide)
4 Red California Wonder sweet bell peppers
1 sweet basil plant (learn how to extend your basil growing season here)

The first six pepper plants were purchased for $1 each from a little rack outside a hardware store in town that a local gardener sets up each spring. They're all heirloom varieties from Baker Creek Seeds here in Missouri. The Emerald Giant and Yellow Monster are new varieties for me.

The Red California Wonder peppers are one of two 4-packs bought from the greenhouse down at the highway junction for $1.39 each. They're boring but reliable and aren't hybrids. I couldn't find any of my favorite Aconcagua sweet peppers for sale (a gorgeous variety from Baker Creek I've been growing for 14 years), but beggars buyers can't be choosers.

I bought the basil plant at the end of March from a supermarket in St. Louis when I picked up my English friend Betty Western at the airport. I wanted to mix up some homemade Italian sausage during her farm visit, and the 'fresh' basil for sale in little plastic packets looked pathetic—and cost almost as much as the locally grown live herb plants they'd just put out. That choice was a no brainer.

Planting Sweet Peppers 3

And here's how I planted them:
1. On Friday morning, re-weeded the 4'x8' mini greenhouse raised bed I'd cleared out back in March, and then scuffle hoed a few weeks later, in preparation for planting lettuce seeds (which never got planted) and fed most of the green matter I pulled out to the chickens (which they mostly didn't eat). You can see photos of my raised beds here and read about the mini greenhouse beds in the comments section of that post.

Planting Sweet Peppers 4
Free food!

2. Discovered several volunteer kale plants growing among the weeds, which the chickens do love to eat. (One of those previously planned posts is all about how to grow almost free green food nearly year round for your chickens. I'll get to it one of these days.)

3. Decided not to bother picking out all the little rocks staring up at me in the bed after weeding because it would take too much time, I was too lazy to empty out the nearby bucket already filled with rocks from last year or go find another one, and they always seem to somehow grow back anyway.

4. Used a hoe to turn the soil and then smooth it out.

5. Sprinkled the bed with 2 cups of granulated corn gluten, an organic method for preventing weeds from growing that really works (another previously planned post!—hopefully up soon) and worked it into the top two inches of soil with a metal rock rake.

6. Laid out the planting holes so they were at least 2 feet from each other, then adjusted because the kale plants were in the way. If any of the plants had had flowers or tiny peppers on them, I would have snipped them off so the plant would expend its energy growing bigger before fruiting.

Planting Sweet Peppers 5

7. Dug the holes with my beloved Korean style hand plow (also called a Ho-Mi Digger/Cultivator and an EZ-Digger), then in the interest of streamlining the operation, skipped putting any amendments in the planting holes. These would normally be most or all of the following: compost, sheep manure, granulated kelp (fed to the livestock), calcium mineral mix (livestock), two aspirin tablets, epsom salt, crushed eggshells, and probably something else I'm forgetting.

The plan is to heavily mulch the plants with sheep manure/bedding hay soon (like this) which will prevent weeds from growing after the corn gluten stops working in six weeks, while providing a slow release of organic fertilizer each time the plants are watered.

8. Picked up at least a couple dozen of the rocks while digging despite my plan not to, and since there was no bucket handy, tossed them in the corners of the raised bed, which means they'll still have to be picked up again and/or they'll just end up getting mixed back into the soil.

Planting Sweet Peppers 6

9. Built up little circles of soil around each plant to help hold water, then watered the seedlings and the volunteer kale plants with 4 gallons of water.

Planting Sweet Peppers 7

10. Clipped two old bedsheets over the mini greenhouse PVC frame to shade the bed and keep everything from keeling over in the blasted heat. Ideally, seedlings should be transplanted in the late afternoon or evening before a cloudy day, but if you can't, shading them helps tremendously. You can make a similar setup with bamboo stakes, which have countless uses in the garden. You can read more about making your own shade in my previous post, Gardening on the Cheap.

Planting Sweet Peppers 8

11. Looked with pleasure at a job finally done.

I really wanted to get some tomato plants in the ground first, but that mini greenhouse bed (which looks a little odd because it's missing a piece of pvc pipe at one end) was the easiest one to clear out, and the tomato plants would have been too tall for it.

Last summer my sweet pepper plants went into the ground so late they were still loaded with unripe fruits when the temperature started dropping in autumn. I picked a bunch of the green peppers and let them ripen indoors (yet another blog post), but my plan this year is to cover the mini greehouse frame with plastic and be able keep the plants alive at least through October.

During previous years, it seems like the plants I make the most detailed notes about usually end up dying. Let's hope that doesn't happen with these!

Did you know that you can easily freeze sweet peppers to enjoy all year long? No blanching required. Click here to learn how.

So how's your planting going this year? Everything in the ground? Nothing in the ground? Somewhere inbetween? I can't be the only one so behind with everything can I? I haven't give up hope yet (there's always autumn lettuce!), but I have to admit I've already started planning for next year.

©, the tired of the summer heat and summer hasn't even started yet foodie farm blog where I once read about a woman who got so fed up with the sun baking all of her plants that she spent a small fortune erecting a shadecloth cover for her entire two acre garden. I can totally relate.


  1. My gods, I'm so far behind in my planting. I've never been this far behind before, ever. I feel as if my entire life is root-bound in cell trays. But I try to stick one or two things in the ground every day and if I can't do it all...I can't do it all. Amen for the abundance at the farmers' market.

  2. I am not sure if we are 'early' or 'behind'. This year we had the longest spring - half of Saskatchewan is now under water. we planted some tomatoes, peppers and squash plants back in mid May. thought we were a bit early then all squash plants got killed by the nasty freezing rain-storm. and then we had half a month of rain between may and june so we couldn't plant ANYTHING without getting ourselves soaking wet - now i hope to get some plants in the ground by this weekend but i am not sure if i will get anything by sept... and we still have some fruit trees that are dying to get into our farm.... sigh.

  3. Have you tried growing lettuce during the summer with shade cloth, or partially in the shade? It's been hot enough here in NE Kansas the past month to make mine bolt, but it hasn't yet, which is making me think it's less about temperature and more about day length.

  4. I can't commiserate on this one, because I dang near killed myself to prove that I can still do it all even with a newborn (HAHA, naysayers--do not challenge me!). And I did do it--everything was planted more or less on time. But I'm pretty tired now, and dealing with the harvest of all those plants I so diligently put in the ground may finish me off for good.

    It must be nice to be a laid-back person. I guess I'll never know.

  5. Our peppers here in northern Arkansas are starting to produce. I was late getting the lettuce in, but we had a small patch of volunteer plants that kept us in salads until what I planted finally came along. Every year I think I will plant fall lettuce, but in 37 years of gardening I never have had a harvest. Last year I got it planted, but it was too late and it didn't make. This year....

  6. Love this post! Especially the tip about the corn gluten for keeping weeds down....can you provide any more details? Where to purchase, how much to use, why this works??
    I have a garden that is full of knee deep weeds, and there isn't enough time in my week to get to them all. Any info would be much appreciated...I'M DESPERATE!!

  7. I too need to keep this maxim in mind: if I don't plant it, it won't grow. Which in my case it means I better hurry up and put in that cucumber and butternut seed I still have laying around in my counter, as well as plant the tomatoes, basil and sage seedling I have in my porch.

    Thanks a lot for the reminder to do first things first, even if it seems too late.

  8. I feel ahead since we don't usually have anything in the ground until early June or on a bad year late june. This year I threw a lot of seed around at the end of April figuring if it didn't come up (ever thing was 2+ years old) then there was still time to replant. I have harvested the baby bok choy, and yanked the radishes. The lettuce is finally almost done (3 packets of seed is a bit much for only two lettuce eaters). The turnips are about ready to pull and I need to move the broccoli and Brussels sprouts around so they will have enough room to get bigger. I have carrot and basil still to get in the ground - Hopefully this weekend.

  9. We moved to a new house this winter and we had to build raised beds to plant things in. And we had to do it a very specific way because we have a pesky HOA. So things got planted late. I started my tomatoes back in March and to say they were root bound in their pots by transplant time at the beginning of June is not an understatement! I am making a last ditch effort with some chard, I think it is just too late and the bed gets way too much sun for it to do well but we'll see. Lots of basil (thai, lime and genovese) and other herbs and some Kentucky Wonder beans are all showing signs of growth even though they went in late.

    I am worried about my charentais melon, trying it for the first time this year and I don't think I'll have a long enough growing season to get fruit since the seeds got planted so late, but here's hoping!

  10. We're outside of Chicago. I planted a bunch of heirloom tomatoes- all different types- as well as lovely Kentucky Wonder pole beans and Yellow Wax beans back in May. The beans and tomatoes are growing like crazy= lots of flowers on the tomato plants, as well as 2 with some tomatoes starting, and the beans are climbing their poles.

    We got our first raised bed this year and although it isn't large, we decided on a 'potluck' of veggies, just to see what works in the location and what we like. I have a separate herb garden that is already overflowing with herbs, so in the raised bed we did:

    zuchini,leeks, cucumbers, sweet peas, bush beans, 2 strawberry plants, 2 small melons, 1 watermelon, 1 pumpkin, Rainbow swiss chard, kale, about 4 kinds of lettuce (maybe too late and too hot for it??) 2 big sweet bell peppers, and a few hot peppers and some nasturtiums and things around the edges. We'll just have to see how it goes...

  11. Our peppers have been in the ground for about a month now. Some are growing great, others not so much. Our habanero pepper plant had flowers on it, so hopefully it will fruit soon!

  12. I only have one pepper plant this year. I wish I'd planted more.

    I need one of those oriental gardening tools.

  13. Sigh, yes this is the most important thing. This morning I walked around and looked at shrivelled pepper plants, stunted basil and tomatoes all rootbound small and sad. The unloved unplanted. I've now started just going around and popping things in willy nilly just to give some of the guys a chance!

  14. Ah, I've been planting things late but I'm doing thge best I can to avoid the garden guilt from dead seedlings. But I have many things growing and certainly enough to keep me busy.

    I lost much of my lettuce seeds to the darn birds this year so I feel your pain.

    Happy planting!

  15. I just found your blog and am really enjoying it, ty!

    I said I was going to try my hand at a vegetable/fruit garden for years. This is the first year that I actually did it before it was too late. I am on my 2nd set of cilantro plants, I have basil coming out of my ears and I got 4 heads of lettuce out of 290 seeds. I need to plant more of that.

    I planted 1 roma tomato that frost got a hold of. I didn't have the heart to rip it and it now has many tomatoes on it but they are still green. Thinking that plant was dead, I planted another and it's a 4ft tall monster.

    I started 5 heirlooms from seed and they are all blooming and beautiful.

    My issue is with my pepper plants. I planted 2 California Wonders in April - 2 weeks apart. The first bloomed and started 3 peppers quite quickly. They are still the same size as they were in May. The second plant has begun to bloom and has 8 peppers that are very round. Out of no where the first plant began blooming again..but the peppers are shaped like pencils, long and skinny. I'm so confused? I'm wondering if it was mislabeled and isn't a California Wonder at all.

    Have you ever had a California Wonder pepper plant grow peppers the shape of chili peppers?

  16. Hi ! I am a wannabe gardener who just started 2 wks. ago and also just started my blog this week and I happened to bump to your blog. I love it ! There's lots of information and how tos..Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Hope to come back soon.

  17. I've never grown sweet peppers before but I think that my sweet pepper plant out on the windowsill might have a couple of mini-peppers on the way. Exciting times!

  18. I was just as behind as you, and I, too, was using the fall garden excuse in order not to have to work in that heat. Then, I slowly and subconsciously forgot about this year's garden and started planning next year's just as the first tomatoes were ripening. I made a few big mistakes that kind of disconcerted me, and the garden pests really messed it up for me, so I ended up losing interest.

    Next year, my garden will be the best! Reduced it to my absolute favorite vegetables which will be sown/planted in a staggered manner and will be using mini hoophouses like yours. Damned striped beetles, aphids and slugs will not have the chance to discourage me again next year!


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!