The former king of the hot peppers, Carolina Reapers, has long since gained popularity after it first came into the pepper limelight and held the hottest pepper in the world title way back in 2013. Despite being dethroned only a year after, it still is considered one meanest boy in the market and has become a worldwide favorite for hot pepper lovers, farmers, and collectors even to this day. It is so hot that regular gloves will not protect you from its spicy bite if not handled carefully.
Now, eating Carolina Reapers can be quite a mouth-blowing chaos, but farmers often find growing them to be a tad more of a challenge instead. And this is especially true if you're trying to grow them in tropical regions such as here in the Philippines since this hot pepper was initially grown and cultivated in America's temperate climate. However, don't give up yet because growing Carolina Reapers can be super easy even for the newbies out there with the right farming guidance.
Growing Guide: From Seeds to Harvest
Although the Philippines is generally a tropical country, we still have varying prevailing conditions in every region from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Hence, all of these methods or practices and growth requirements are subjected to modification based on your area's environmental and climatic conditions all year round.
Read more on The Carolina Pepper In A Nutshell.
Choosing Your Carolina Reaper Seeds
With the growing hot pepper community in the country, you can easily order and buy Carolina Reaper seeds from local growers or from us (https://pepperjuan.ph). You also have the option of ordering your seeds from the US or other countries. However, many growers attested that seeds coming from temperate regions often take a long time to germinate, and the germination rate is also lower than expected.
They need to acclimatize first to a more tropical setup since their parent plants were grown in temperate conditions. Furthermore, if you plan to grow your seeds at a later date, it's best to store them in a dark, dry, and relatively cool place. Please don't just throw and store them anywhere and expect that they will still germinate eventually. Even seeds require specific storage conditions to keep them viable.
Prepping Carolina Reaper Seeds
If there's one thing you should never do with hot pepper seeds, it's planting them immediately as soon as you got them. According to the Reaper creator himself, Ed Currie, pepper seeds such as Carolina Reapers require a particular prep regiment that you should follow to ensure their germination. And this is composed of a two-step method: refrigerating and seed soaking.
Subjecting seeds under cold temperatures to break seed dormancy is what we call cold stratification. Refrigeration mimicks wintertime for a few days and then brings them out to warmer conditions as if springtime already. Smokin’ Ed advises that storing your Carolina Reaper seeds in the fridge for three days should do the trick.
Tea Soaking Method
After giving your seeds a chill in the refrigerator, the next step that you should do is known as the tea soaking method. And it calls for none other than black tea; however, you can also use green tea as an alternative. Soak your seeds on the solution for 30 minutes to about an hour. Ensure that they are fully immersed in the liquid so that the tea extract evenly covers the entire seed. Tea soaking will help soften the seed coat or shell to help ease germination.
If you ask any hot pepper grower out there, the most challenging stage for growing these bad boys is during germination. It's considered the most critical phase and requires special care and attention, especially if you're a newbie grower. Do take note that Carolina Reapers generally take 4 to 6 weeks to germinate. It's longer than other pepper species, so patience is the key here.
There are some accounts that their Reaper seeds only took two weeks to germinate; however, that will not always be the case all the time. After all, several different factors affect the germination period and rate of seeds, and some of them you cannot control at all.
Now, you have the option of directly sowing your seed after prepping them, or you can do the tissue paper method first. We recommend the latter as it’s a great way to segregate the viable seeds from the non-viable ones before planting them in the soil.
Read more on How To Germinate Pepper Seeds Using Tissue Paper Method.
An excellent organic potting mix is one of the critical ingredients for a successful Carolina Reaper germination. There are already pre-mixed medium options on various online and local agriculture stores that you can buy. But if you're the DIY kind of person, you can also mix up your medium.
The goal is to create a medium with a loose texture and is well-drained to avoid waterlogging conditions. A mixture of one gallon of sphagnum peat moss to a gallon of either perlite or vermiculite, all added topped off with cow manure, is considered the best option. Another alternative is a 3:2:1 mixture of loam soil, sand or rice hull, and cow manure.
The other make or break factor when it comes to germination is during sowing. You do not just dump or throw them on the ground. Place about two to three inches of your medium in a germination box or tray. You can use alternative recyclable containers such as Tupperware, egg trays, and even cans; be sure to poke some holes underneath.
Carolina Reaper seeds must be planted at a depth of about 1/8 of an inch. It may seem too shallow, but trust me, it's just the right depth to allow the seed's cotyledon to pop out of the ground without much restriction. To avoid drowning your seeds, it is advisable to moisten your medium before sowing and only sprinkle or spray enough water whenever the medium has dried out a bit.
The germination period can extend longer than usual if the soil temperature is lower than the optimum. This typically happens during the rainy season, when the weather is much more relaxed in the country. Make sure to check the temperature periodically and use any method such as heat pads to keep it at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Acclimatizing and Transplanting Seedlings
Once all of your seeds have germinated and are showing the first set of true leaves, then it’s time to transplant them to larger individual pots. You can place them on their final pots, or you can first allow the seedlings to grow larger in smaller containers before finally transferring them to larger ones or on the ground. However, never transplant the newly germinated young seedlings directly on the ground. Doing so will give them a shock and can lead to plant stress. Hence, the need for acclimatization.
Do you get headaches or even nausea when you step out under the blazing sun after spending hours inside the cold malls? Well, plants get the same stressful feeling if you put them out in the sun right off the bat. Acclimatization is the process of allowing your seedlings to adjust to a different environmental condition gradually.
Carolina Reaper seedlings must be slowly acclimatized from partial shade to full sunlight six to seven weeks after germination. You can do this by gradually increasing their sunlight exposure time until you finally hit the 10-12 hour mark. Please do this for a week or two before ultimately transferring them out in the open field. Space the seedlings at about 10 inches apart to give them some room to grow.
Fertilization and Maintenance
When it comes to fertilization, determining the right one and giving the proper amount is critical. You don't need to add in any fertilizer during germination; the cow manure will already suffice. After transplanting on the ground, add a good dose (amount is indicated on the label) of complete 10-10-10 fertilizer. The next time you give your Carolina Reapers a fertilizer dose was when they started blossoming. However, this time it is with a diluted fish emulsion (1 ounce to 1 gallon of water). You can also use Flora Bloom to help stimulate blooming and fruit formation.
In the case of watering, Carolina Reapers can be quite fussy about the amount of water they should be given daily. Overwatering can lead to waterlogging and fungal growth, while the opposite extreme can lead to wilting, drying, yellowing leaves, and death. According to Smokin’ Ed, always keep your soil moist but not soaking wet. Only water your pepper plants when the soil is drying out but not completely dried out.
Make it a habit to uproot the weeds and aerate your pepper plants' surrounding soil at least once a week. You can also use plastic mulch or crop covers to keep the soil moist and keep the pesky weeds at bay. If all goes well, then you should enjoy the fruits of your labor five to six months later.
Buy your Carolina Reaper seeds now and start growing your own super hot pepper.