I was up in Austin, TX, visiting my friend, Don Z’boray and he showed me chili seedlings that were up and going already here in January. He took me around his garden and he’s got trays and trays of seedlings germinating on the ground.
What he does is set up the standard greenhouse for the seedlings and leaves them on the ground to germinate. Evidently, there’s enough heat in the soil that the small greenhouses are in contact with to not only prevent freezing but get warm enough for germination.
His tip for me was to sprinkle some cinnamon on top of the soil to prevent dampening off.
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