Pre-soaking my chilli seeds

Pre-soaking my chilli seeds

FREE Step-by-step guide on Pre-soaking your Chilli Seeds.

Firstly, we would like to say that there are many different ways to pre-soak your seeds. Opinions and methods vary and the starting point for any undertaking these days always warrants checking the internet. The internet has a wealth of information on this and there is no hard or fast rule as to how to do this. We also encourage you to join a chilli forum to learn from other like minded chilli growers. Chilli forums are a great start for information and you can learn from others and usually have help on hand should you encounter any problems along the way. This having been said, the methods we will demonstrate is the more common method for pre-soaking used by chilliheads the world over. We use this method to pre-soak our seeds.

Before we get started we would like to say that there is no fail safe method that will guarantee germination or success. Mother Nature is not a guaranteed thing and sometimes for inexplicable reasons germination will not take place. We experience this too from time to time. Usually it has to do with temperature or growing conditions. If any one of the criteria for germination is not met, germination does not take place.

We need to point out that we are providing these articles and methods as they are recognized methods of germination. We are not guaranteeing that these methods will provide germination for you. We are not endorsing these methods for success over and above any other methods. Nor will we accept responsibility for germination not taking place. These methods are as a guideline and help resource only.

When is the best time to grow Chillies.

In South Africa our chilli grow season ranges from first weeks of October until first weeks of May (weather depending). Unfortunately chillies will go dormant and even die off if exposed to winter temperatures - in particular sub-zero temperatures. This having been said, chillies require minimum temperatures above 100C to grow and thrive. They generally enjoy as much sunshine as they can get and prefer very hot climates.

Some growers with the facilities, will grow their chillies through winter indoors (called "overwintering"). And it is good practice to start germination of seeds a few weeks before the last frost.

Chilli growing calendar

Why Pre-soak my seeds?
The aim of these tutorials is to help you get the best possible outcome/results from your seeds. Pre-soaking your seeds will not only speed up the time it takes for your seeds to germinate, but it will also increase your germination rates. This is one of those steps you do not have to do, but we highly recommend this process as it does have several benefits. By pre-soaking your seeds, you will soften the seed coat that can sometimes be pretty tough. Softening the seed coat will speed up the time it takes for the radicle to break through the seed coat.

What you will need
There are a couple of things you will need to organise to follow this demonstration:

  1. Packet of Chillihead Chilli Seeds
  2. Plastic Container with lid
  3. Clean Distilled Water, Rainwater or Spring Water. (Recommended).
  4. Gloves (Latex/Nitrile/Vinyl)
  5. Masking Tape
  6. Permanent Marker
  7. Heating Pad (optional, but highly recommended)
  8. Liquid dishwashing soap (optional)

We now sell our specially formulated presoak liquid in our shop. If you have our Chilli Seeds Presoak Liquid, you can dispense with items 3 & 8.

1 Container
You will require a plastic container. This container should not be too big and just big enough to hold your seeds and a little water. We use plastic pill boxes. These usually come with 7 compartments (for each day of the week). These pill boxes also have lids - which is perfect, Pill boxes can be found at your nearest pharmacy and also Westpack (South Africa).

Two important things - 1) Not too big. Just enough to house the seeds you need to pre-soak. 2) With a lid - this is important as you do not want your pre-soak liquid to evaporate! Alternatively, you could use an ice tray with cling wrap over the top.

Pill boxes are great for pre-soak containers

2 Pre-soak liquid
As a basic pre-soak liquid, distilled water would be best. Alternatively, tap water left to stand for 24hrs is just as good. We recommend you use Rainwater or Spring water for your pre-soak.

Just a quick note on water. Normal tap water will contain Chlorine and Flouride (among other things) and water purification plants may use Chlorimination to treat water that comes through your taps. This may adversely affect the outcome of seed germination.
While boiling, filtering or letting tap water stand for a period of time may fix the issue of Chlorine & Flouride in water, these methods will not resolve water that has been Chloriminated.
For the best results from your grow, we recommend using spring water that you can buy at your local store, or using collected rainwater.

We would also like to point out that while water is totally ok, there are other pre-soak liquid formulations that can be found on the internet. We will not be covering these, but just to give an idea - these involve adding diluted hydrogen peroxide and also saltpeter (sodium nitrate) to the water. The purpose of these being to clean the seeds of any possible undesirable fungi and also further aid the break down of the seed coat. These are all legitimate reasons and well worth reading up on. But as mentioned, we will only explain the water based pre-soak method.

3 Gloves

Chilli seeds will always have capsaicin coating the seed coat. Capsaicin is an irritant and can be very painful if it comes in touch with eyes, the face and other sensitive body parts. Especially when dealing with the very hot chilli varieties. This burning sensation can last a long time and not even washing will help once the casaicin has soaked into the dermis/skin. So while it is not so macho, disposable gloves are a great way to avoid the consequence of touching chilli seeds with your bare fingers.

Also, if you are a smoker - we recommend wearing gloves. Tobacco carries the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, which is easily spread to your chillies (all Solanacaea family of plants) and can be devastating to your plants. If you are a smoker, you run the risk of infecting your chillies at a very early stage. To avoid thi from happening, always wash your hands before touching seeds or your plants and ideally protect them by wearing gloves.

4 How to

Fill the cell of your container with sufficient pre-soak liquid to cover all your seeds. Typically with a whole packet of seeds, this would only be 2 or 3mm deep.

5 Floating seeds

There is a misconception that floating seeds = dead seeds. That floating seeds are dead as they have no nucleus/placenta, which is why they float. This is not entirely true! It has been our experience that even floating seeds will germinate and the fact that seeds float are down to some basic factors. When packaging your seeds, we carefully select the best seeds from the lot. What to look out for is damaged seeds, seeds that have a black centre or are totally translucent without a little bulge in the middle. These are usually a good tell tale sign that seeds will not germinate. We do our utmost to ensure your seeds are healthy and viable but do also include extra seeds in case one has slipped through the quality check.

Dried chilli seeds vary from variety to variety. If your seeds are small enough they will float as they are not heavy enough to break the surface tension of the water. Larger seeds (such as chinense) can also float as they have a very large surface area, so they too do not break the surface tension of the water. To make things even more tricky, most seeds are coated in oil, making the impervious to soaking up the water and sinking. Some seeds like Annuum seeds will sink readily as they are very compact and much denser seeds. What can be said is if the seeds being pre-soaked are fresh seeds and still moist, only healthy seeds will sink and damaged (immature) seeds will float. In fact, when we harvest seeds, we will soak seeds when they are freshly taken out of the pods and we will skim off any floating seeds, as these seeds generally are either immature or defected (have no nucleus/placenta).

Don't worry about floating seeds!

6 Remedy for floating seeds

When your seeds float on the surface of your pre-soak liquid, you can help them along by adding a tiny drop of liquid detergent (sunlight soap) to your pre-soak liquid. As we all know, dishwashing liquid will rinse oil and grease off cutlery and plates. It will also help remove the oil coating the seed coat. Gently massaging the seeds between your finger tips will help massage off the oils. (Gloves recommended to do this). If your seeds are still floating, don't worry too much... the seeds will soak for a good 24 hours and at the end of the pre-soak the seeds will most likely have sunk.

Always wear disposable gloves when handling chilli seeds.

7 Label, label, label

Once the seeds are in the pre-soak liquid, close the lid. If you are using an open container without a lid, cover up the top of your container with cling wrap. This is to prevent the pre-soak liquid from evaporating while on the heating pad for 24 hours.

Use the masking tape over the lid or container to make a temporary label. Always label as you go. Always use a waterproof permanent marker. Seeds all look alike and once muddled... will be impossible to tell apart until the plants reveal their pods. Which is a pain! So make sure you label as you go and use a permanent water based marker - nothing worse than looking at a blank label down the line!

8 Heating Pad

We recommend you avail yourself of a Heating Pad. These are available at most pet shops and not too expensive and definitely a great asset when growing chillies. These are also re-usable.

Now that you have the seeds in the pre-soak liquid in your container and the lid closed - and your seeds labeled. Place your container on the heating pad. this will provide your pre-soaking seeds with a good 300C. This is the ideal temperature for your seeds to presoak. Record the time and date you started your presoak. You will leave these seeds to pre-soak for 12 - 24hrs NO LONGER! Leaving your seeds in the liquid for longer than 24hrs can kill/drown the seeds.

It is also important to note that you should find a spot in your house that is away from natural sunlight. Sunlight together with the heating pad can spike the temperature and you will end up cooking your seeds - which means they will not germinate! So find a spot that does not get any direct sunlight.

If you do not have a heating pad, you can place the seeds in pre-warmed water (@ 300C) in a thermos flask. This can also work, although you are limited as you can only process one variety of seeds at a time.

Reptile heating pads are a great asset when growing chillies.

9 24hrs later...

Remove the seeds (carefully/gently) from the presoak liquid and plant in your growing medium and proceed to germination stage. You may even find that after having soaked for 24hrs, some seeds already have radicles protruding from the seed coat. Be extra careful not to damage the radicle on those seeds.

10 Patience

Usually the guideline for germination is on average 14 days. This is not guaranteed. Mother Nature has a mind of her own. Sometimes this can be longer or shorter. It also varies according to variety. Wild chilli seeds for instance can take months! When using the pre-soak method, the average germination can be reduced right down to 6-8 days and for fast germinators, shoots can even materialize after just 3 days. It does depend largely on the variety!

*Please note that you are free to download and use this information for personal use only (not commercially) and while free, copyright laws do apply. This means you are allowed to download but all content and images remain the property of Chillihead and may not be disseminated or reproduced for financial gain in any way or manner what so ever.


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