Ghost peppers were rated as the hottest pepper in the world by Guinness World Records in 2007. While they have since been surpassed, they are still considered to be one of the spiciest foods on the planet. Sometimes called Bhut Jokolia or ghost chili, ghost peppers can be a fun vegetable to attempt to grow at home, if even just for the novelty. They are not a particularly easy plant to grow and conditions need to greatly mimic their natural environment of northern India to have any chance of success. If you’re up for the challenge, here are some instructions on how to grow ghost peppers at home.
WHEN TO GROW
In most regions of the U.S., ghost peppers will need to be started indoors 10-14 weeks prior to the last frost for your area. They need 5 months (140+ days) of hot weather in order to succeed and will not tolerate any temperatures below 70° F. Soil temperatures must be 80° F – 90° F for successful germination. An environment with 70% humidity is also ideal for growing ghost peppers.
WHERE TO GROW
To have a shot at growing a successful ghost pepper plant, you need to recreate the hot, humid environment of northern India. This means that outdoor growing in the U.S. may only be suitable to regions 8-11. Raised beds or large containers are ideal for ghost peppers because the soil will be much warmer. Choose an area of the garden that receives as much sunlight as possible.
Ghost peppers can be grown indoors if ideal conditions can be met. This will likely mean grow lights in a room separated from the rest of the house so temperatures and humidity can be kept high.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING GHOST PEPPERS
Ghost peppers need light, well-draining soil. A peat-based soil tends to work well. Avoid heavy clay and potting mix. Soil pH should be 6.0 – 6.8. Its always a good idea to amend your soil with mature compost prior to planting. This will ensure the plants have the nutrients they need straight away.
Germinating seeds is the first tough obstacle when trying to grow ghost peppers. For best results, you need to sow your seeds indoors. Soak the seeds in water overnight before planting. Sow one seed in each seedling tray compartment. Provide constant bottom heat, such as from a heating pad. The soil temperature must remain between 80° F – 90° F for successful germination. Keep the soil consistently moist, but never too wet while the seeds propagate. Keep out of direct sunlight until the first sprouts appear. You can even cover with plastic to help maintain moisture in the soil. Germination should occur within 7-21 days but sprouting can take up to 40 days, so be patient.
Transplant seedlings into 4-inch pots as soon as the second set of true leaves appear. Do not transplant outdoors until temperatures reach a constant 70° F or higher, even at night. Slightly cool nighttime temperatures can stunt or even kill your ghost pepper plant very easily.
Once you are ready to transplant outdoors, do so very carefully by hardening off your seedlings. This means introducing them to the outdoor environment gradually. Place the seedling pots outdoors during the day, for a couple hours the first day adding an hour or two each subsequent day. Do this for 10 days. On the 10th day, leave them outside in their pots overnight. Carefully transplant into moist soil the next morning before it gets too hot. Do not let the roots dry out during transplant, which can happen very quickly if you’re not careful. Transplant seedlings 24-36 inches apart.
WATERING & CARE
Water regularly. Give them a good long soak twice per week during dry spells. Try to keep the soil slightly moist but never muddy. Overhead watering can foster mold and other plant diseases, so best to water at the base of the plant and in the early morning.
Hand weed carefully. Add a few inches of organic mulch, like wood chips, straw or leaf debris. This will keep weeds down while also keeping the soil warm and moist. This is essential for growing ghost peppers.
Ghost peppers will benefit from a regular feeding of a well-balanced, organic fertilizer or compost tea. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. They create lush foliage, but poor peppers.
Proper pollination is key to growing successful ghost peppers. Try to introduce bees and other beneficial insects by growing lots of flowers in your garden. Make sure the peppers are grown in a spot with good air circulation and spaced properly. If you are not noticing lots of beneficial insects in and around your pepper plants and if they are producing flowers but not fruit, you may need to hand pollinate. Use a small, clean paintbrush and gently brush the center bud of each flower. The idea is to spread pollen from flower to flower.
Ghost peppers will transform from green to orange and then to a vibrant red once they are ready for harvest. Always wear gloves when handling ghost peppers and avoid contact with the face or eyes. Pick or clip them off of the vine. You can eat or prepare them fresh or dry them out. They tend to be even more potent if dried before consuming.
Do you have tips on how to grow ghost peppers? Let us know in the comments section below.