I just want to jot down a couple kind of interesting notes about my pepper plants. I tried a couple different things this year, and I’m excited to not forget for next year.
First: I overwintered about 5 pepper plants from last year in my classroom. Two of them died, but three truly flourished. I potted them up in October, and when I brought them to the classroom (large, northeast-facing windows), I let them sit for a while to adjust, then harvested all the reddened peppers. I have overwintered peppers many times before, but I’ve always end up with aphids, so this time, on the three that survived, I cut them all the way down (no leaves at all), kept them on the dry side, watering maybe once every two weeks. In just a couple of weeks, they started leafing out again, completely aphid-free.
Before I knew it, they were flowering, so I was taking some dried lemongrass leaves to pollinate from one flower to another. I remember showing a student how gracefully the pollen fell when a flower was disturbed. We noted how if we were outside we wouldn’t even see it because of the wind and other distractions, but in the classroom the pollen can be observed when it drops onto the black counter. Eventually, I bought a paintbrush and started collecting the pollen for emergency pollination.
Sexy plant times. Possibly NSFW.
But then, of course, I wanted to grow some peppers from seeds I had collected few years ago, so I set up a mini seed-starting operation on top of my radiator at home. Since the landlord controlled the heat at the last place, the seeds had a pretty toasty and humid environment and so they sprouted really quickly. To ensure the pods and plastic didn’t burn, I set the mini seed-starting kit on a cast-iron trivet on top of the radiator to diffuse the heat.
When we moved out of that apartment, I brought the little seedlings to school for the light of windows and the quiet space (moving isn’t a great environment for seedlings). They got plenty of light, but the heat at school is a bit wonky, and we can’t control it directly, so I had a thought to put an oldschool hot plate underneath them. I found one at the thrift store for $3. Using the same logic as the radiator, and because the hotplate doesn’t have a temperature control, I used a “stackable kitchen cabinet organizer” thing to diffuse the heat.
The “organizer” shelf thing is just the right size (an amazing coincidence) so that the legs don’t touch the hot area; instead, they sit on exactly the edges of the plate with about 2″ of space between the bottom of the sprouting tray and the hotplate surface. I don’t trust the hotplate to be on when I’m not there, so it’s only on while I’m at work, and I keep a reasonably close eye on it.
Within one day, some of the taller seedlings sprouted true leaves; within two days, they all had sprouted true leaves. It was truly amazing! When the seedlings were not heated, they didn’t grow at all. A couple of them even died, but mostly it was like they were just on hold, waiting.
Being that this experiment has taken place in the classroom, the experience has been an interesting event for some of the students to follow. In the morning, as I’m getting ready to start the day, I tend to whatever needs the plants have. Sometimes it’s water; other times it’s pollinating or moving to a different spot. I don’t spend a lot of time on them, but I do talk with the students about what I’m doing and why. Some of them are more interested than others and ask questions about them.
I don’t teach science directly, but I hope that the experience helps solidify some of the concepts they are learning in life science. Maybe someone will want to start pollinating the plants themselves. Or maybe they’ll want to do a cross-breeding experiment.
All I know is that over the next two months, our classroom windows are going to me mighty lonely when all the plants go back outside for the summer.