Cayenne peppers belong to the genus capsicum, which also includes bell, habanero and jalapeno peppers. The cayenne pepper is known for being a spicy pepper, about 10 times hotter than the jalapeno. In Scoville Units, the cayenne pepper is rated between 30,000 and 50,000. Cayenne pepper is great in salsa, chili and many Asian and Mexican dishes. Although cayenne peppers are native to tropical areas, you don't have to live in the tropics to grow this fiery food. Follow these instructions to produce home-grown cayenne peppers.
Step 1 - Preparing the Seeds
If you want to plant cayenne peppers from seed, you will need to get started in early March (or about 10 weeks before you want to plant outdoors). Some pepper seeds have difficulty germinating, so place seeds in between 2 damp paper towels inside Ziploc bag for a couple days to help encourage the process. If you want to save yourself some time, you can purchase pepper seedlings in containers.
Step 2 - Germinating the Seeds
Prepare or purchase a compost soil with sand for good drainage and without peat moss or manure. Moisten the soil and plant seeds a couple inches apart and covered with ¼-inch of soil. The air and soil should be within 70 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have difficulty maintaining this high a temperature, place a low-intensity light like a fluorescent lamp about 8 inches above the tray.
Keep soil moist by covering with perforated plastic wrap. Check soil daily and mist with water regularly to keep moist. If watering with tap water, boil first and set out for 24 hours to remove chlorine. Germination should take between 2 to 3 weeks.
Step 3 - Caring for Seedlings
Remove plastic wrap and set the tray near a window as soon as pepper sprouts emerge. Once the second set of leaves have developed, transplant each cayenne plant to a 3 inch container (black plastic helps hold in heat), planting in a well-draining compost soil which you push up to right under the bottom set of leaves. Start feeding seedlings weekly with a 15-15-15 liquid plant food, epsom salt spray or seaweed extract. Depending on how quickly the seedlings grow, you may need to transplant again into a 8 inch pot before planting outside.
Step 4- Hardening Off Pepper Seedlings
Around May or when the temperature outdoors is consistently over 70 degrees, start hardening off your seedlings. Place them outside during the day, but bring them in each night. Continue this for at least a week before planting in their permanent positions.
Step 5 - Planting and Maintaining Seedlings
Plant seedlings about 18 inches apart in a low-nitrogen soil that has has been treated with plenty of compost materials. Water weekly or whenever plants are drying out. To produce a hotter cayenne pepper, cut back on feeding and watering several weeks before harvesting.
Peppers should be ready to harvest about 100 days after planting! Enjoy!