My plants have now been out on the balcony permanently for a full week. After they’ve had their chance to adjust to the conditions outdoors and to harden off to the sun and the wind, they now go into their final pots with a different soil-mix than before.
Video to celebrate the plants reaching the final re-potting stage.
Most of my new plants have now been in their one-liter pots for five to seven weeks. During this time, they’ve been putting out roots and foliage which they produce from the nutrient-components they pick up from the soil. In order to prevent them from “burning up” from the inside by overfeeding, the soil used for their time in the one-liter pots was a mix of three parts regular potting soil, three parts starter soil and one part earthworm castings.
The latter two ingredients do not supply too many instantly available nutrients but rather help to loosen up the mix and to stimulate microbiotic life. The low level of nutrients will cause the plants to keep “searching” for them by putting out more roots. And much like kids who play in the mud now and then, the plants build up a stronger immune-system through the exposure to the enzymes and bacteria present in the worm castings.
In their final pots, though, the soil-mix must have the capacity to supply the plants with everything they need in order to grow nicely, to yield plenty of peppers and to stay healthy for the entire remaining season. Therefore the mix should be rich in nutrients for a long period of time, which calls for a blend of some instantly available feed and some slow-release long-term one.
To achieve this, I compound four parts tomato-soil, one part earthworm-castings and five grammes of Guano per liter of soil-mix. The tomato soil holds enough nutrients for roughly the first six weeks, and they’re instantly available to the plants. Plus the soil’s nutrient-profile perfectly matches the one of vegetables and nightshade plants (which chillis are).
The brand I use (Neudorff Neudohum) is peat-free which I like and support for environmental reasons. It’s made exclusively from organic materials and has bits of coco-fibres and swelling clay in it which helps permeability, ventilation and water-storage. Also, it’s laced with a beneficial fungus called Mycorrhiza which lives in symbiosis with the roots. It supports the plants’ uptake of nutrients while protecting the roots from harmful fungus at the same time.
The Guano on the other hand will act as a long-term fertiliser. The product I use (Compo Guano) is a mix of 70% sea-bird droppings (the actual Guano) and 30% rock-meal. The two components will keep enriching the soil with everything the plants need to feed on throughout the season, and they will also help to stabilize the soil’s micro-climate and pH value.
Guano gains its long-term effect from being an organic matter. Plants can only take up nutrients from the soil in mineral form, not organic (i.e. carbon-based). They feed on substances like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, and Guano holds plenty of these. First though, they need to be transformed by soil’s micro-organisms into a condition that makes them available to the plants. So the fertilisation will kick in with a bit of a delay but will then keep on going throughout the season. Since the effect is based on a biological process, though, it will only show as long as soil-temperatures allow some microbiotic activity (20+ degrees Celsius, most soil-microbes are mesophiles).
The worm castings work much the same way, too, but will also keep stimulating the plants’ immune-systems and defense-mechanisms. One of the latter is the production of capsaicin, so the pods will come out hotter. The original pods, for example, that earned the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T its current entry on Guinness World Records, were grown by Marcel DeWitt of Australia-based Chilli Factory using “tea” made from worm castings as a fertiliser.
Once the soil-mix is prepared, the next thing to sort out is which size pots to put the plants into. Different varieties of peppers do have different preferences in that respect. Pubescens varieties (most commonly known as Rocotos) for instance grow a lot of roots and therefore do best in pots holding thirty liters or more. Most chinense and annuum varieties are fine with seven to ten liter pots, while baccatums (oftentimes called Aji) are kind of inbetween and like volumes of ten liters or more. Of course all these varieties will grow in smaller pots, too, but then they’re likely to stay small and to produce only small-sized pods. So in order to end up with a proper harvest, it’s best to try and cater to their individual preferences as much as possible.
Unfortunately, I have to compromise here and there in order to fit all my 33 plants into the limited space that my balcony offers. So I’ve put some of the annuum and chinense varieties that will not grow too big from their natural habit in the first place into five liter pots. This will allow all of them to get the most of the light.
Things are well on the way, as it seems. Keeping my fingers crossed that the kind of beautiful sunny weather with temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius during the day will hold on for some more weeks.