Get Red Hot Chili Peppers with Cold Frames
Bested in popularity only by the tomato, the chili pepper remains one of the (literally) hottest plants for gardeners of all stripes and palates. Chilies boast hundreds of varieties and have developed a reputation as ample producers of myriad spicy fruit. The similarity between tomatoes and chili peppers as well known classic gardening staples runs deep.
Both plants adore the lengthy stretches of torrid heat that characterize the summertime. Both plants can challenge more inexperienced gardeners who fail to respect their hunger for nutrients, susceptibility to particular diseases, and general need for abundant attention. But most importantly, chili peppers (like tomatoes) perform their absolute best when first started in the protection of cold frames.
Bottom line: chilies require hot climates to truly blossom. The ideal temperatures for growth range from a nighttime low of 60 degrees Fahrenheit to an average of 80 degrees during daylight hours. Smart gardeners residing in most areas of the country (essentially anywhere NOT in the South or the Southwest) use cold frames to prepare their chili seedlings during chilly spring weather, having them readied to enter the warmer earth of early to midsummer.
Great cold frames, especially the model that we at Carnival Gardens manufactures, ensures that young chili plants grow in this temperature range without fear of a cold blast or of overheating — our cold frame features a self-opening mechanism that vents the structure when the interior temperature gets a bit too hot for comfort.
Critical to the success of cold frame cultivated chilies is the process known to pepper professionals as “hardening off,” or allowing the seedlings to adjust to the more rigorous climate outside the shelter of the cold frame. When “hardened off,” chilies experience incrementally longer periods of cold temperatures, breezes and gusts of wind, and other characteristics of the natural elements. The process ultimately results in sturdier chili seedlings with tougher stems and more deeply set roots.
With the Carnival Gardens’ cold frame, gardeners can prop open the unit to accommodate exterior weather’s entry inside. This can begin with a few hours of such exposure, and can elongate to overnight stretches after a couple of weeks. Savvy chili gardeners know to maintain a close watch over every weather forecast, watching out for an errant dip in temperature or a particularly windy night. In such cases, it’s best to close the cold frame and potentially cover it with a blanket (for a chilly evening).
Previously mentioned was the threat that diseases and pests pose to pepper plantings in the process of being primed for optimal performance. Even when propped for only a few hours, cold frames can unwittingly invite aphids or other small critters that love a tasty chili seedling. Professionals thwart such little baddies with crushed laurel leaves, either strewn around the seedlings or placed in a small bowl. The non-toxic acid from the leaves kills many insects’ eggs dead.
Entire books have been written on the bounty of tips and tricks like these to improve gardeners’ chances of a successful pepper patch, from seed to finished spice. Yet no matter what, starting chilies in a Carnival Gardens cold frame can only ensure a phenomenal start to these tender heat lovers. Even those in prime chili growing territory can find great use in giving their capsaicin-containing chilies a gently protecting foundation before the rugged challenges of growing in an outdoor garden.