Think of these fundamental principles as the intro to our ultimate pepper and tomato growing guide. These fundamental principles will be used every step of the way when growing peppers or tomatoes, from planting seeds, all the way through the harvest. THIS TOPIC IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF GROWING PEPPERS AND TOMATOES!
A quick disclaimer; I did not make this stuff up, and I do not know who did. I learned it from a guy named Perry, who worked at a local garden shop. He grew pepper plants that were the size of trees, that had hundreds of peppers on them. Since then, I have seen very similar information in online articles, and even a few books that I have read.
There are five fundamental principles that need to be applied in order to properly grow pepper and tomato plants to their full potential. Its important to note that they are all linked to one another. If one of these principles is not applied properly, the other principles suffer also.
The first important principle to understand is that plants need light. I am willing to bet that most people already know that, but do you know how much light is needed? How many hours, and how high of intensity? How about the color spectrum? Believe it or not, all of this matters tremendously. Plants need light to make energy to grow. Our opinion is that pepper plants and tomatoes do great when averaging about 12-14 hours of light, at a really high intensity. Pepper plants in our opinion, do best with a high amount of blue light, and a low amount of red light.
Tomatoes seem to do the best with a dominant blue spectrum until its time to fruit, then a dominant red helps produce huge yields. Blue light is mostly created when the sun is dead overhead, and typically makes most plants grow. Red light is mostly created when the sun is lower in the sky(dawn, dusk, or angled during winter months), and typically makes plants bloom. When planting outside in full sun, you tend to get what you get. The sun has great intensity however the time of year dictates the color spectrum, and the hours of light your plants will get. When growing peppers indoors, we tend to use a high intensity metal halite light (mostly blue light), for 12 hours per day.
Obviously plants need food, or more specifically… nutrients. The type and amount of nutrients can mean the difference between hundreds of peppers or tomatoes, and not enough to make a salad. Just as a bodybuilder is going to require a different diet than a supermodel, peppers are going to require a different diet than lettuce. In our experience pepper plants, especially the super hots like habaneros and ghost peppers do best on a low nitrogen diet or “bloom” formula in comparison to the other nutrients. They will consume tons of nitrogen if given the opportunity, however it will stop them from producing huge yields. The plants however will get very big. Tomatoes seem to do best starting out on an even nutrient formula like a 10-10-10, then switched to a bloom formula when its time to produce tomatoes. This will be explained in much more detail in the following chapters. We will explain what 10-10-10 refers to, and the difference between the nutrients. Remember these are just simple principles that will give you success if properly implemented.
1+2. Light and Nutrients
We can now start to see the impact that one principal has on the others. For example lets say that your plant has perfect lighting, but there is not enough nutrients in the soil. Even though the plant is capable of producing enough energy to grow, the growth will probably be stunted, until proper nutrients are available. Or lets say that you have a perfect nutrient blend for your plant, but there is not enough light. If the plant grows, it will probably be spindly, thin, and weak.
If your a home gardener then I’m sure you know to water your plants. If they dry up, they can shrivel up, and even die. As important as water is for the purpose of keeping your plants hydrated, it also has another purpose that is very important. That is PH, and oxygen. Regulating the PH level can be one of the most overlooked factors by home gardeners, yet it is one if the most important things that can be done to increase fruit production. Having a correct PH is important because it allows the plant to consume nutrients properly. If the water is too acidic then certain nutrients like magnesium and calcium cannot be properly consumed. If the water is too alkaline, then certain nutrients like iron and manganese cannot be properly absorbed. We have found that pepper and tomato plants seem to do best at a PH between 5.5 – 6.5. with 5.8-6.0 being the target. The roots also need oxygen. If they are kept in stagnant water, plant growth can be stunted, and disease can set in. This is why so many home gardeners prefer raised beds. The water flows through, instead of becoming stagnant. In hydroponics setups, oxygen can be increased by adding air stones, and controlling the temperature of the water. The hotter it gets, the less oxygen it contains.
1+2+3 Light, Nutrients and Water
If your plant has perfect lighting and nutrients, but your PH is way off, it will not be able to absorb many of the nutrients that it has available. It will not be able to produce to its full potential.
Plants need circulating air around their leaves. This is because they use the carbon dioxide in the air to create energy. This of course also requires plenty of light. The moving air also helps plants get stronger the more it moves them around. It is good for plants to get pushed around by the wind a little. Different plants require different temperatures, and humidity levels to thrive. Pepper plants seem to like it a little hotter than tomatoes. Pepper plants in our opinion do best in the 80°-90° range, with humidity averaging about 60%. Tomatoes seem to thrive in the 70°-80° range with about 60% humidity.
1+2+3+4 Light, Nutrients, Water, and Air
Lets say you have a great indoor setup. You have a powerful grow light, great nutrients, you properly balance the Ph, but there is not enough circulating air. In winter the humidity is around 30% and the leaves are probably going to have some visible problems.
The medium that holds the roots in place is very important. If it is too hard, then the roots have a hard time growing and spreading out. This will stunt the plant. If the medium is too light, then it probably will dry out too quickly. Most home gardeners use soil. The key to a good growing medium is you need plenty of oxygen in the root zone, yet decent moisture. For this reason when growing outdoors, I prefer raised beds with a soil that is kind of fluffy, like aged horse manure, that’s mixed with something that helps hold water like vermiculite. This prevents the water from becoming stagnant, and allows the roots to grow to their full potential. The larger the roots grow, the more fruit you get. In hydroponic setups this rarely becomes an issue. Keep in mind that most soils already contain nutrients. As the soil decomposes, the soil will release more nutrients. This must be taken into account when feeding your plant to make sure that the plant gets exactly what it needs.
1+2+3+4+5 Everything Together
I’m sure that by now you get it. If you do everything correctly except use clay as a medium, your roots will not grow. If your roots do not grow, your plant cannot take in enough nutrients and you will have a miniature plant instead. Each of these five principles makes up 20% of what a plant needs. If one is off, it can affect the other four. We will cover this in much greater detail in the chapters ahead. Make sure to fully understand this before you move on. This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART to getting huge yields.