Bhut (Naga) Jolokia Pepper

Bhut (Naga) Jolokia Pepper

I’ve gotten a lot of responses from my YouTube videos asking me how I got the bhut jolokia peppers I ate in them. As far as I know, there’s really only one way to get fresh bhut jolokias at this stage, and that’s to grow your own!! But, HOW??

Which route you chose to take; seeds, or plants, will determine the first step in the process. My recommendation for first-time growers would be to order live plants from a reputable source. I’d highly recommend Cross Country Nurseries! Janie and her crew there have been providing strong healthy plants to people for years. You can’t go wrong going that route. Order early though, as they sell out every year! You’re going to pay a little more, but you get healthy, garden-ready plants delivered right to your door.

The other, slightly more difficult option, is to start your pepper plants from seed. This option is cheaper, but requires a little more time, effort, space… and frankly, a little luck. Personally, I’ve only used one source for purchasing my bhut jolokia seeds, the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. You only have to buy them once though, and then you save seeds for the next season.

Let’s approach this chronologically:

The first step, in either method, will be to place your order. With seeds, you can order just about any time, as even if you’re not going to start them right away, when properly stored, they’ll remain viable for well over a year. When ordering live plants place the order early. When you do, you’ll have to choose a shipping date appropriate to your location. I live in NW Ohio (Zone 5) and have mine delivered the third or 4th week of April. I’d say a safe rule of thumb would be to have them delivered at least a week before you plan on putting them in the ground. This will allow adequate time to harden the plants off and get them acclimated to their non-greenhouse existence. (More on this later.)

Bhut jolokia seeds are stubborn and tough to start. I start mine about 2 1/2 months before I want to plant my garden. Traditionally, I chose Valentine’s day as seed-starting day! The first step in getting these stubborn seeds to sprout, is to plump them up a little. Place the seeds on a damp paper towel and then fold them all up and put them into a zip-top bag. Check them in a day, and see how they look (you may want to reserve one seed for comparison). When you see the center starting to puff up a little, or maybe even the emergence of a little root (called the radical) it’s time to get them into some growing medium!

You can pick up seed-starter sets at your local home center, greenhouse, or maybe even large discount stores. Or, get everything you need right here from I like to go two seeds to a cell when I start my plants. 4 weeks later, I’ll “weed out” the runt if both survive. So, once you’ve planted two seeds in each cell just below the surface of the soil, you’re going to want to give them some bottom heat and you’re going to want to make sure they don’t dry out. Don’t keep them soggy, but don’t let them dry out either. If your seed-starting kit includes a bottom heater, that’s great, otherwise, I’ve found that an electric heating pad on low works just as well.

Once the first leaves (called cotyledons) emerge, you should remove your plants from the heat so that they don’t dry out as fast. At this stage, you want your little seedlings to have as much light as possible. A south-facing window is usually good enough, however, if your pepper-lets don’t get enough light, they’ll get long and spindly and will struggle when moved out into the real world initially. You can also consider grow lights, or even just use regular fluorescent lights. If you go this route, hang the bulbs as close to the plants as you can and move them up as the plants grow.

Keep your seedlings moist and well lit and you’ll soon be seeing the first set of true leaves and then more in the weeks that follow. Once the first true leaves emerge, you can apply a weak mixture of a soluble fertilizer (such as Miracle-Gro) once every couple weeks.

Next post… Hardening off your seedlings and planting them out in the pepper patch!