Firstly, we would like to say that there are many different ways to germinate 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. This having been said, the method we will demonstrate in this article is the wet towel and ziplock method, which is very popular among chilliheads the world over.
This method is mostly used for early season starts. This means starting indoors before spring. The reason for this being that starting your grow early before spring has sprung means plants will be that much bigger by the time spring roll around and you will get a good head start on the grow season, a longer grow period and hopefully more pods ultimately.
What makes this method so attractive is that you have a more hands on control of things. Seeds are not buried in soil, so you can physically see when the seeds germinate. Also, germinating your seeds in sterile conditions such as this, means seeds being affected by mold and organisms is less likely. If you are looking to start growing your seeds early season, with a more hands on control of things, this may be a method for you.
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. In the same token we have had seeds that did not germinate this way and once thrown into soil, seeds suddenly start germinating.
We need to point out that we are providing this article and method as it is a recognized method of germination. We are not guaranteeing that this method will provide germination for you. We are not endorsing this method for success over and above any other method. Nor will we accept responsibility for germination not taking place. This method is as a guideline and help resource only. It is a method we have used and it has worked for us.
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 10ºC 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.
Pro's & Con's of this method
This method is cheap, easy and simple. Very hands on method that affords you to check on the seeds and see what is happening. Good for small batches of seeds. Not suitable for growers growing multiple batches of seeds - can become very time and labour intensive checking on seeds.
Our success rate with this method has NOT been as successful as other methods. This may be due to chemicals in the tap water or the kitchen towel. There is also a line of thinking that seeds require certain trace nutrients for successful germination and this method does not provide these. Rot is quite common. This may be due to pathogens being present on the paper, more alkaline conditions or lack of air flow.
As such, we do not recommend this method of germination. Many growers swear by this method, but we would recommend one of the other methods for germination - see Our Recommended Method and Coco Peat Coir Method
What you will need
There are a couple of things you will need to organise to follow this demonstration:
- Packet of Chillihead Chilli Seeds
- Kitchen Paper Toweling (unbleached if possible - whiter papers are bleached and may contain chemicals that may interfere with germination)
- Plastic Container with lid
- Rain Water or Spring Water (Recommended) Tap water may contain chemicals that interfere with germination.
- Gloves (Latex/Nitrile/Vinyl)
- Ziplock bag (min 100x100mm)
- Permanent Marker
Lastly, a warm place in the house to put your seeds once you have completed this process. A dark spot out of direct sunlight where temperatures are more stable - this may be on top of a fridge or another appliance that radiates heat. PLEASE NOTE: You must ensure container with seeds placed on appliances is sealed properly. Any water spilled on appliances is dangerous and can result in electrocution or the appliance being damaged. We recommend seeds be sealed in a zip lock and ziplocks we placed in a Tupperware sealed tight. Not window areas as temperatures fluctuate too much. Germination temperatures vary per species, but we would advise a temperature range of 28-32ºC. While it is not necessary, having a Heating Pad does provide your seeds with this constant optimal temperature (± 30ºC) and will improve germination speed and results. Any serious chilli grower should look into getting one of these heating mats. Heating mats can be found at most Pet Shops and are not that expensive and definitely a good investment to ensure best germination results.
- 8. Heating Pad
We recommend wearing gloves when handling your seed material. This is not only to protect your hands from burning while handling the seeds that may be coated in capsaicin, but also to prevent the spread of pathogens through plant materials. Pathogens found in the garden can be transferred to your chilli seeds through hand contact. Included in these sources of pathogens is Tobacco found in cigarettes. If you are a smoker, we strongly recommend using gloves when handling plant material as Tobacco can carry the TMV (Tobacco Mosaic Virus) which can be spread to your seeds and is fatal. An article in the US Library of Medicine reported as much as 53% of cigarettes in their study carrying the TMV virus. Tobacco Mosaic Virus in Cigarettes
1 Label, Label, Label
Chilli seeds look alike, so labeling is a vital procedure when growing plants. Packets and containers should always be labelled before you do anything. There is nothing worse than not knowing what you are growing - as it will only become apparent some months later when you have the actual pods to tell the plants apart.
2 Paper Kitchen Toweling
It is important to use Paper Kitchen Toweling as it will not turn to mush when you make it wet. So, no serviettes - it will not work! Also, if possible unbleached Paper Kitchen toweling if possible. Trace bleaches in the Kitchen Toweling may interfere with germination.
We would strongly advise investing in disposable gloves when handling our hot chilli seeds. Once Capsaicin has transferred to your bare hands it will burn your hands and everything your hands make contact with.
Tear a sheet from the roll of Paper Kitchen Toweling.
Fold your sheet in half.
3 Place seeds in Paper Kitchen Towel
Take your seeds out of the packet and arrange on the Paper Kitchen Toweling that you have folded as shown. Place your seeds on the lower half of the Paper Toweling as this will then be folded again.
Again, we strongly recommend wearing gloves if you are handling our very hot seeds!
Fold the top half of the Paper Toweling over the seeds as shown.
You can fold this again to suit the size of your ziplock bag.
4 Wet the Paper Kitchen Towel with the seeds in it
Take your Paper Toweling with the seeds in and soak in the water. No hard and fast rule as to how to do this.
You just want to make sure that the Paper Toweling with the seeds in is well soaked with water. We do recommend distilled water as water out of our taps have fluoride and are high in calcium and other trace elements that again may interfere with germination.
Once soaked, gently squeeze your Paper Toweling to remove excess water. The Paper Toweling with the seeds should be moist but not water logged/squishy.
5 Place in Ziplock bag
Once wet, you can further fold up the Paper Toweling to suit your ziplock bag and insert the wet Paper Toweling into a ziplock bag.
We recommend a ziplock bag for convenience sake, but you can also use a plain plastic bag. Nothing too big though.
The main thing is to seal this bag so the moisture does not evaporate and your Paper Toweling with the seeds does not dry out.
Again, make sure you label as you go. While you know what seeds you have just put in the bag, in a week or two you may not be so clear.
Also, when adding other bags with other seeds to the mix, you will get muddled up if things are not labelled.
It is also a good idea to put the date on your packet so you know when you started germination. This will become important later on.
6 Place in container with lid
Place your ziplock bag in a plastic container with a lid.
Well done! That is it.
7 Place container in a warm spot in your house
Now you will need to put the container in a place in your house where the seeds will be kept warm.
For best germination results, the seeds should be kept at a constant temperature that is between 25 - 32ºC (depending on variety).
For germination to occur, your seeds only require warmth and water. Sunlight does not figure in the equation yet. Much to the contrary, most of our customers that have complained about zero germination have kept their seeds near windows or in direct sunlight. Especially if using a heating pad, direct sunlight during the day while you are at work will cook the seeds (get too hot) and night time temperatures by windows in winter can get way too cold for germination. So please keep the seeds in a warm spot away from windows and direct sunlight. Also, be aware that sunlight coming into your house moves around the room during the day. Choose a spot where the seeds will not be exposed to direct light through the day.
With optimal germination conditions, germination can take 10 - 14 days to show any signs of the seeds having germinated.
If your temperatures are lower, germination may take longer. Some varieties are quicker to germinate and others take longer. So don't panic. We have some varieties that take over a month to germinate!
You can check on your seeds after day 10 by opening the Paper Toweling and looking for little shoots coming from the seeds. Do not get disheartened, this can take longer with certain varieties. All things going well, you will have germination and will need to plant your seeds.
Remove any seeds from the Paper Towel that you will be planting and re-seal the package and return seeds to their warm spot so the other seeds that have not germinated can continue germination. Please ensure to reseal ziplock bag properly again!
If for that inexplicable reason you do not have germination after 1 month - try planting the seeds in soil. We have found on many occasions that seeds that have failed to germinate using this method suddenly germinate when thrown into some soil! As we have said, no method is fail safe. Sometimes seeds do not germinate for odd reasons. This is not a guaranteed thing. Nothing about Mother Nature is guaranteed!
Once your seeds have germinated, you are ready to plant them on. This can be straight to Potting Medium or (our recommendation) into Jiffy® 7C pellets.
*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.