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double cup seeds

How to start pepper seeds: The Double Cup Method

It is that time of year again here in Texas – it is time to start pepper seeds for the spring season. There are different methods to start pepper seeds. Each of the different methods have pros and cons that make them a reliable way to start pepper seeds. We will be exploring the different methods over the next few weeks. The first we will look at is the double cup method!

4 Different Methods

  1. The Double Cup Method
  2. The Bulk Method
  3. Regular Seed Starting
  4. The Plastic Bag Method

The Double Cup Method

The first of the these methods that we will be taking a closer look at is the double cup method. This method is a great choice for people who want to start pepper seeds because of a few different reasons. Here is a look at those reasons:

  1. Mini greenhouse
  2. Water/Nutrient Reservoir
  3. Re-Usable Supplies

The Double Cup Method: Creates a mini-greenhouse

The double cup method creates a mini-greenhouse because of the plastic bag that is used to cover the tops of the cups. When you put the zip-loc bags over the top – it helps to hold in moisture which creates a micro climate for the seeds to have the optimal environment for germination.

This greenhouse effect is incredibly helpful for germination.

Here is a helpful video on how to start pepper seeds using the double cup method:

The Double Cup Method: Creates a water/nutrient reservoir

The double cup method also creates a water/nutrient reservoir which allows the soil and the plant in the top cup to “wick” water or nutrient solution from the bottom cup. This works on multiple levels because it helps the soil surface from being overly saturated which will help to prevent fungus gnats.

The “wicking” also allows the plant to only soak up what it needs and as it needs it. Allowing the plant to decide when it needs water also prevents over watering.

The Double Cup Method: The supplies are re-useable

The cups are re-useable from one season to another. I have used the same cups for five years now. It is important to clean them with a light bleach solution before you put them up for the season.

The Double Cup Method: Starting the seeds

Starting pepper seeds using the double cup method is not much different than any other method of starting seeds. You start by getting all of your supplies; your seed starting mix, cups, the pepper seeds and the zip loc bags. You will also need some potting mix when it is time to pot up your seedlings.

Here are some of the supplies that I like to use.

Step 1: Moisten your seed starting mix

Start with your seed starting mix. You can buy the seed starting mix or if you prefer to make it yourself – you can find a helpful seed starting mix recipe here! First, pour your seed starting mix into a bowl or some other container that will hold some moisture without leaking. Add warm water and mix until the mixture can be formed into a clump. You want it to clump – but you don’t want water to squeeze out when forming.

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Step 2: Prepare the cups

Next, you will want to put a hole into the cups you will be planting in. For example, if you are planning on starting 5 different varieties – you will need ten cups total. 5 of the cups should have a hole and 5 of them need to be left alone. You then put one cup with a hole into a cup that doesn’t have a hole. This forms the double cup method – allowing for their to be a reservoir for the water.

Tip: You can use a drill with a bit to make the holes. You want to make a couple of holes in the proper to provide proper drainage. You will have to experiment with the combo of the holes and the seed starting mix.

Step 3: Filling the cups

Fill up your cups with the seed starting mix. You want to press down lightly to ensure that the soil makes good contact with the bottom of the cup. If the soil doesn’t make good contact with the bottom of the cup – it will not wick the water up from the reservoir.

Step 4: Planting the seeds

After you have filled the cups with the seed starting mix – it is time to put your seeds in the cup. You should put 4-5 seeds in each cup evenly spaced out. Plant them about a 1/4 inch deep and cover lightly with soil. Give them a light watering.

Step 5: Labeling the cups

Make sure to label your cups as to avoid any mix ups with the pepper varieties. I have accidently forgot to label cups and I had no idea what seeds I had planted in them.

Step 6: Cover with the zip loc bags

The last step in this process is to place one zip loc bag over each set of cups. The bag creates a mini-greenhouse effect and helps to hold in the moisture.

What’s next?

Once your seeds sprout – remove the plastic bags and place under your grow lights. If you do not put them under lights – your seedlings will become too leggy. They will essentially become to tall and spindly reaching for the light. It is better to start all over if this happens as it is incredibly hard to correct.


Once your seedlings have sprouted, you will want to transplant them into their own cups as soon as you can. I have successfully transplant seedlings with multiple sets of true leaves but this can be tedious because the roots can become tangled. It is best to transplant them before this.


You will want to start fertilizing your seedlings when the develop one to two sets of true leaves. You can use whatever type of liquid fertilizer you want as long as it is half strength. I simply use a half strength liquid fertilizer once every 7-10 days.

I will be adding new pepper videos weekly to the 2018 Pepper Playlist on our YouTube channel so – be sure to subscribe and click the bell for an email when we post a new video! I hope these articles can help you have a successful pepper season.

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Double Cup method

You will use 2 Solo cups per plant, one inside the other. The outer cup acts as a water reservoir. The roots will grow out of the inner cup and dangle into the water. This prevents the roots from becoming root bound which can be a problem with pots. Also, because the soil is not getting wet, you reduce your chances of harboring insects like gnats and developing fungus or disease. Video below!

What you’ll need:
  • 2 Solo cups per plant.* 18oz cups are preferred but you can get away with 16oz. They don’t have to be Solo brand. No clear cups.
  • Dirt. Suggestions below.
  • Stakes. I like these at Home Depot or these on Amazon. Wooden popsicle sticks tend to absorb water and get moldy. You do have seeds right?
  • (optional) Pizza savers (video below)

Separating the Cups

The cups will nest inside each other with the dirt in the inside cup and the water in the outer cup. You’ll need to find a way to prop up the inner cup so that there is a 1-2″ gap between. Some people put rocks in between. Some people use a Solo cup with a square bottom for the dirt and a cup with a round bottom for the outer cup. Or! Better yet – use pizza savers! Video below!

Option #1 – Pick up some organic compost or potting soil at your big box stores. Make sure it does not have any fertilizer in it. No Miracle Grow stuff. Just dirt. Pick up a bag of perlite too. I like to get a 5lb bucket and fill it 3/4 with compost and add about a solo cup of perlite. Perlite helps with water drainage. If you use straight compost it will compact and water will not flow through. And if you use too much perlite the water will flow through the dirt too quickly I stay away from top soil since it is far too dense and tends to harden.

Option #2 – Buy the good stuff. ProMix is available at Agway (cheaper) or Amazon. Or FoxFarm Ocean Forest (preferred) or Happy Frog can be bought on Amazon. This is much easier than making your own, but also more costly. I used the ProMix on the left this year. Next year I’ll probably try the FoxFarm Ocean Forest.

NOTE: Fox Farm Happy Frog & Ocean Forest both contain nutrients that will feed your plants for 1-2 months (respectively), so keep this in mind when starting your nutrient regiment.


While you’re germinating, you can write on your stakes with permanent marker. If you want to get fancy you can print the plant breed on these waterproof labels. Make sure you use a laser printer. If you use an inkjet printer the ink will run when they get wet.

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Let’s Get Planting!

Where to Put the Seeds

Put them somewhere warm. Hot pepper seeds germinate best when the soil temp is between 65-95 degrees, 80 being the optimal. Boiler room? Sure. You can also use these heat mats to raise temps by 10-15 degrees if you need the extra warmth (depending on the climate of your house).

What About Water & Light?

Check on the seedlings once a day. Make sure the soil has not dried out. Make sure it is moist, not wet. Moist! I use a spray bottle (or even a turkey baster) and use filtered water (room temperature).

In optimal conditions you can expect germination in about a week or so. Superhots, like the Carolina Reaper typically take around 2 weeks (and some up to 4 weeks!) so be patient. It’s very exciting to see the little sprouts emerge from the soil (right?). They don’t need light until they start to sprout.

Growing Peppers: Double Solo Cup Pseudo-Hydroponics Method

In a continuing effort to get a jump on the growing season, this year we’re using the double solo cup pseudohydroponics method to sprout some fiery little snots. Our location in Ohio, according to the USDA hardiness zone map, is 6a. What this means for originally tropical plants like hot peppers is they don’t get in the dirt until May, June if you forget or don’t like rushing around to cover plants when a frost is predicted. This coupled with longer maturation times and a looming fall doesn’t leave a particularly long growing season.

This year, seeds were sown February 24th, we expect sprouts to pop through 7-10 days afterward. Plastic wrap over the cups and a heat mat both create a warm humid environment, perfect for germination. Once they rear their cute little cotyledons, the plastic wrap and heat mat are removed to avoid steaming the baby plants.

Rounding out the setup is a 150 W 4000k metal halide and 2 gallon jugs of water. This amount of light is not necessary for sprouting seeds, but will promote compact leafy growth once we have newborn capsaicin factories to ogle. 4000K is conducive to vegetative growth, which is all we’re worried about at this point. The jugs provide some thermal mass for the area, keeping temperatures from swinging too wildly. We’ll get further into the “how-to” of this method in a later post, but wanted to show off our crop as it currently stands.

Assuming everyone cooperates, we should be seeing some green in the next couple days. Find us on Instagram, Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with our latest growing updates.

This year we’re growing a wide grouping of peppers including: jalapeño, habañero, ghost, carolina reaper (some from last year, some from PuckerButt), tobasco, thai chili, serrano, cayenne and habanadas. All in all should be a pretty bountiful pepper season and we’re excited to get it rolling. Keep an eye out for more growing tips over the next few months as we start getting ready to transplant and head outside (he said as snow continues to fall).