Growing peppers indoors can be easy when you build your own hydroponic starters kit.
Container – 5 gallon bucket or 10-20gal rubbermaid container with lid. Must be light tight. I use a short rectangular 10 gallon container like this. No need for the taller 20 gallon size as they just take up more space.
Air pump and air stone and black tubing – this works well for my 10 gal system and is adjustable. I replaced the clear tubing with black to avoid algae growth.
Net pots – holds the roots. Should be the same diameter as your hole saw. I use 3 inch.
Growing medium – something to hold the roots. I use hydroponic clay pebbles. PH neutral, don’t leach into water and are inexpensive.
Neoprene collars – helps support the stem and keeps light out. Same size as your netipot. Here are neoprene collars that come with the net pot too.
Grow light – if it will be indoor. I got these 3 color led (red green, UV) I use two of these LED lights for my 10 gallon setup.
Rockwool – if starting from seeds, rockwool gives the seed something to sit in and allows the roots to grow through.
I started with a simple pre-mix that’s good for most plants: maxigrow
Maxigrow is good for producing foliage, and also works fine for fruit, but maxiblom is better for fruiting. I started with maxi grow, then change to maxi bloom when the plants have grown big enough. You can get a small bag of each maxi grow and maxiblom here. For a small setup like I have, these have lasted me years.
PH meeter, or PH strips
Here’s a cheap pair of PH and PPM meeter I am using. It has been accurate, but the PH meeter needs to be recalibrated too often, so sometimes I just use PH strips that I already have for the swimming pool.
To build the kit, you will also need a drill and a hole-saw that is the same diameter as your netipots
Setting it up:
Basically, get a 3 in (assuming your net pots are 3 in) hole saw, and cut holes in the lid of the container.
Cut a small hole in the side near the top for the air line.
Connect the air pump and stone inside at the bottom.
Put the net pot in the top, fill with media and put plants or rockwool in the middle.
Fill with water until it’s partway up the netipot (to start, but once the roots are longer, the water level can be below the bottom of the netipot)
Don’t put your plants in just yet.
First measure the PH and PPM of your water (if using tap water)
Add nutrient (don’t use the directions on the bag, they usually tell you to use too much, which can make it taste like fertilizer and burn the leaves, although it may grow fast)
Look up hydroponic <plant> PPM to find recommended ppm for your plant. Recommended ppm for peppers is 800-1200, and my tap water measures around 250ppm, so I add nutrient until it reads ~1100, which gives me just over 800ppm of nutrient.
Add untrient, stir, make sure it’s all dissolved, then let it sit for 15 min and take your measurement.
Keep adding more if needed. I add 1.5 table spoons mazigrow to ~10 gallons.
AFTER you have added the right amount of nutrient, check the PH (the nutrient changes the PH) Peppers like PH to be around 6-6.5 Add PH up or PH down as needed. Again, add, mix and let sit 15 min before measuring again. If you add too much of one, don’t try to over correct it with the other. Although you will get the PH right, you will probably be adding too much extra stuff. Just throw out the whole batch and start over. Trust me, it’s better to throw it out now than in a week when your plants are suffering.
Now you have your nutrient solution the correct strength, and PH balanced. You can put your plants in and start growing.
Indoor lights can’t be too far from the plant as the strength of the light drops off exponentially.
If it’s too close, the leaves will burn.
The lower leaves on the plant won’t get as much light as the top, so you don’t want to grow really tall plants, a low flat bush absorbs light the most effectively.
You can prune your plants to keep them how you want.
Adjust the hight of the light as the plants grow 4-8 inches above is usually good. You might need multiple lights to cover the area. As the light gets higher, the area it covers grows, but the light becomes weaker.
Depending on the plant you are growing, you can keep the light on 10-16 hours a day for more growth. I use a timer to turn the light on and off.
You can start your seeds in rockwook plugs.
Sterilize the pigs by poring boiling water over them just in case there’s any pests in them. You never know where they have been.
You can start them on a plate with a little water in the bottom, just keep them moist. They will soak up water like a sponge. They don’t need any nutrients to sprout, and after they sprout, only give them weak nutrients, maybe half ppm you would give the adult plant. Once they are a couple inches tall, you can put them in the netipots.
You’ll need to keep water in the container. When the plants are young the roots may barely reach the water, so you’ll need to keep the container full. As the roots stretch out the water level can be more variable, so I usually add a couple gallons at a time. As you add fresh water, the PPM count will change, so you may need to add a little bit more nutrient. This is where you’ll need your PPM monitor
You can’t just keep adding nutrient and water forever though. Eventually the water gets too saturated with specific nutrients and the plants can’t use it anymore, so you have to throw it out and start from scratch again. I
am pretty lazy like low maintenance, so I stretch this out longer than I really should, but add probably 20 gallons to my 10 gallon system before changing out the water. Because I have my peppers under the stairs, it’s a bit of a pain to dump out the water and bring in new water so I try to minimize how often I do it.
Even growing indoors you still have to look out for pests, and indoors there are no natural predators to keep them in check. Pests can come from dust from an open window, your dirty hands from working in the garden, or from other houseplants in the house. Check leaves regularly before the pest get out of control. I’ve used a mix of inceticidal soap, water and neem oil to spray on the underside of the leaves. It only works on contact, so won’t prevent things that aren’t there when you spray. If you have an infestation that gets out of hand, neem oil won’t be enough, so check leaves regularly and start treatment at the first sign of pests.
Some pests (like my aphids) reproduce faster at higher temperatures, so keeping in a cool place can help. 70-75 degrees is great for many plants, but slows many pests reproduction down. In the summertime I have the thermostat higher, and have to keep a closer eye out for pests.
Algie/root rot. Your roots should be pretty white, if they are brown or have some mucus on them there’s a problem. Make sure you have enough air getting to the roots. I had a small cheap air pump that was fine during the winter when the house was 72, but in the spring when it warmed to 78, I started getting root rot. To prevent root rot and algae, lower the temperature, and add more air. There are also things you can add to the water to help. If you get root rot, you may notice the leaves start to wilt because they aren’t getting enough water even though there is plenty of water (this could also be because you haven’t changed the water recently). If the roots are brown, and the leaves are wilting, you need to attack the algae quickly. I added Botanical Hydroguard to attack the algae and get things back in balance.