You Can’t Make Mole Without the Olé!

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all of you in the United States! If I did not have a calendar I would swear it was only mid-April and not close to turning over to June. Our brief period of sunshine and warm temperatures has not lasted and even though the calendar says we’re on the cusp of summer when I look outside I swear it’s only mid-April. The burst of frenetic gardening energy brought on by the warmth and the sun of a few weeks ago has been tamped down by the weight of cool and damp days and cooler nights, which have yet to abate and show no definitive signs of retreating.

The silver lining of the the temporary halt to gardening activity is giving me an excuse to indulge my curiosity.  If you’ll recall my post Late Starters and Slow Growers from a few weeks ago, we tried tot throw a germination hail mary of a few additional varieties of peppers that would maybe or maybe not have enough time to fruit. As you can see in the photo below, that effort was less than successful:

serrano.pasila.germination.jpg

Two serranos and one pasilla bajio out of around ten seeds of each. A success rate lower than ones I obtained in many of my college calculus exams. In hindsight, buying a few serrano seedlings proved to be an excellent choice, but I’m still disappointed by how few sprouted, not to mention I was looking forward at taking a crack at making mole sauce. Garden space is already at a premium though so maybe a smaller number of seedlings is a blessing in disguise.

So thus we have my experiment. I’ve placed a half dozen pasilla bajio seeds, for no real reason other than only one plant has survived thus far and also because I’m less concerned at this point about getting them into the garden and their fruit into a sauce than I am at coercing better germination rates out of our seeds, into a cup with moist dirt and a lid.

germination.growlight.setup.jpg

I did a little research and it seems like the most important thing is to keep the seeds warm and evenly moist. That would explain my poor germination rates with the original batch of seeds, where I placed them on top of the dirt and left the temperature of the soil up to the whims of mother nature. This time around I buried the seeds just below the surface to ensure they do not dry out and stay more insulated than if they were on top. I’ve placed them on a seed mat and underneath a grow light to keep them at a consistent mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, which I think will be the key difference. They are a central American pepper variety so it was no wonder they did not do well in an environment subjected to the springtime weather patterns of the upper Midwest. We’ll check back in a week or so and hopefully see a few plants starting to peek out of the soil. Until then, adios pimientos picantes!

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Let there be light. And lots of it – Troubleshooting Pepper Problems

Starting seedlings can be hard. Starting them during an insufferably grey spring in Chicago is even harder. I am still trying to revive my ostry cyklon peppers under some LED grow lights and while heat is one of the components, so is light. Perhaps even more so given that light emits energy which in turn produces heat. As an aside, I’m not taking any chances and germinating a few more seeds. Okay. So. How much light does one of our baby pepper seedlings need?

To start that discussion, we first need a concept of brightness and a unit of measurement for it. In comes the idea of  “lux”. A lux is a international scientific standard unit of measurement for illuminance and luminous emittance, equal to one lumen for a square meter. Whoa– maybe some vocab first?

  • LED – Light-emitting diode. It is speculated that led lights have the potential to offer greater efficiency, longer lifetimes and wavelength specificity. 
  • lumen – a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units perceivable by a human, that is equal to the amount of light given out by a source of one candle intensity radiating equally every direction.
  • illuminance – the amount of light level measured on plane surface perceivable by the human eye. Correlates to human brightness perception. 
  • luminous emittance – the luminous flux per unit area emitted from a surface. (so how much bounces off). 
  • lux (lx) –  lumens per square meter. One lx = one lumen per square meter. 

As I understand it, the lux is the unit of measurement that answers the question “how many candles would have to be crammed into a square meter to produce equivalent brightness?” . Here are some examples for frame of reference when we start measuring around the house.

Common Lux Light Levels Observed In Nature Table
Recommended Light Levels (Illuminance) for Outdoor and Indoor Venues – National Optical Astronomy Observatory

For pepper seedlings we want to reproduce the equivalent of direct sunlight through most of the day for our peppers. Damn tropical plants. With that amount of brightness the chlorophyll in our plants’ leaves will have the best conditions for photosynthesis which in turn creates energy for plant growth.

But wait, lumens aren’t everything! Consider that when we talked about lumens, we discussed human perception of brightness. Not plants. Humans see more light on the yellow/ green wavelengths but plants utilize red/blue wavelengths which the human eye is poor at perceiving. Plants use prefer lights beginning at 450 nm (nanometers). 450 – 650 nm rays are required for plant photosynthesis, the production of food from light, water, carbon dioxide through the catalytic action of the plant pigment, chlorophyll. The 650 and 730 nm wavelengths control flowering through light-induced changes in the plant pigment, phytochrome.

Graph of visible light on the electro magnetic spectrum
http://tobyrsmith.github.io/Astro150/Tutorials/EM/

It is worth mentioning that there is currently some research being conducted where scientists are trying to determine what waves have what affects on plants. I was not able to find too much info on that.

electromagnetic_spectrum_and_peppers
The effects of light-emitting diode lighting on greenhouse plant growth and quality — Margit Olle & Akvile Virsile. Agricultural and Food Science, [S.l.], v. 22, n. 2, p. 223-234, june 2013. ISSN 1795-1895.
However, unfortunately, the measure for that Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) is not commonly advertised on those colored LED lights, so we will not be using it in this discussion. Hopefully, in the future this will be how we rate and describe grow lights.  But what little I found suggested that every wavelength plays its own special role in producing a healthy plant. So just defaulting to using lux doesn’t seem to be without merit.

So how bright are our overcast Chicago days rating? I downloaded a simple app on my phone to measure lux. Today was a partially cloudy day and the reader measured between 1,500 – 5,500 lux at 5:30 pm when I get home from work. Hovering my phone parallel to my led grow lamps, at about three inches away,

Fish pepper seedling under led grow light
Fish pepper in a seat of high honor.

I am reading about 100,000 – 114,000 lx. However, every inch I move away from the bulbs, my lux reading drops significantly. At six or so inches, I am lucky to get a reading of 14,000 lx. Given the strength of the LEDs and their consistency, the fact that I can keep them on for how long I see fit, I’m inclined to keep using them. I think it makes sense to put my most sensitive and beloved plants as close to the grow lights as possible. The remainder, I guess will go on the window sill and we pray for some sunny days.

I wish I had records for what the lux light level was like when I was at work. I have an extra RaspberryPi lying around and now am inspired to put together a light logger so I can have a better idea of what kind of suffering I am putting my seedlings through. What about you guys? Have you created any smart gardening tech tools to help you better understand the conditions of your plants? How much — if at all — do you utilize extra lights in your gardening?

Hot Peppers Need Hot Temperatures To Grow – Troubleshooting Pepper Problems

In the world of starting vegetables from seeds, there is a whole host of things that can go wrong. Especially without the tools of a commercial garden. These problems can be difficult to troubleshoot. Unfortunately, I find myself having to do that now and hopefully we can take a slightly scientific approach while trying to fix the problem. All the inforgraphics in the world are not as helpful as photos and data. So the plan is to track it.

My once healthy ostry-cyklon seedlings have been looking a bit stunted, yellow and sad lately. After transplanting them to bigger containers from peat pellets, I found we no longer had room for them in our incubator, and off to the south facing windowsill they went. At the same time, this has been a miserable late March/ early April in Chicago. The weather has been constantly hovering in the low fifties during the day and low forties at night. The sun only poked out for the first time this weekend and promptly went back into hiding today. Sitting against an 1890’s single pane window sill, what once were sweet, vibrant green, happy looking seedlings, are now stunted, slightly yellowing seedlings. I worry about them daily. Growth has not been as quick and vigorous as I was hoping for — even for a hot pepper. Remember these hots are supposed to be mild.

Without any Photoshop filtering, here is a sad month long progress picture. With a lot of research and a bit of prayer to the pepper gods, we start our healing journey.

Troubleshooting pepper problems
One month without sufficient heat  (among other things)

After some internet reading, I have decided to be optimistic and diagnosis this as a light/ heat problem and not root rot. So with a heating mat to the rescue hopefully I can provide a happy update soon. My soil is currently hanging out at about 68 degrees during the day, and surely a bit less at night.  The seedling in question is four inches tall. And the leaves… well, you can see those.  There is five or six of them. They don’t look good.

Here is what I have learned about pepper growth and temperature along the way. Per a 1986 University of Arizona study, root temperatures of 25 – 30 Celsius (77 – 86 Fahrenheit) were optimal for pepper root growth. At 35 degrees (95 Fahrenheit), plant growth was adversely affected.

Chili Pepper and Temperature Growth Hot Pepper
Root Temperature Affects Pepper Growth Sarni Laibi, N. F. Oebker and M. H. Jensen College of Agriculture, University of
Arizona (Tucson,AZ)

Root growth is important for plants because roots absorb water and nutrients for the plant. Even more so, they provide growth regulators, such as cytokinins, which travel up the plant’s xylem and help top growth especially when a plant is experiencing adverse conditions (like perhaps too little light?).

On a final note, just as a precaution I am going to lay off on the watering till I see some slight wilt. I typically stick my fingertip in the dirt to check if the soil is dry, but I think maybe the sensors on my fingertips are off.

Hopefully, in a week or two I will have a happy update! How have you remedied stunted seedlings in the past?

Until then, I have to sacrifice some money to the gardening gods.