- starting chilli seeds
Like all seeds,
chilli seeds are reasonably easy to germinate. Initially their main requirement is heat. Obviously it is best if possible
to keep the seeds indoors, if not in a house or garage then at minimum in a greenhouse. Even when they are in a centrally
heated house there are things you can do to maximise the heat. Try putting the seed tray in warm spots such as on top of the
fridge or in an airing cupboard. Alternatively you could buy a heat pad from a garden centre and place the tray on top. This
will ensure a constant warmth is supplied to the chilli.
During germination, moisture helps the seeds by
softening the pods from which they sprout. Pre-soaking the seeds in warm water (not hot) prior to planting
in compost can help speed up the germination process. If you have the seeds in a warm area as suggested in tip 1 above be
sure to not let the planting medium dry out. Try and keep the medium moist to touch but not wet. A small water
mister is best to use rather than pouring water straight in to the seed tray.
You can plant the seeds straight
into individual pots however a seed tray will allow you to plant more in a confined space. Fill the tray 3/4 full of fine
compost (sieved if possible). Then add the seeds in straight lines leaving about 5cm between seeds. Next sieve over another
3-5mm of compost. Be sure to label the seeds if more than one variety is being grown. Place a cover over the tray and place
The seeds should sprout after anything from a few days to a few weeks. You should try and
leave the seedlings in the seed tray until they have sprouted their first true set of leaves (the second set that appears).
It is a good idea at this time to throw away any weak looking plants and only pot on the strongest plants. This of course
depends on how much space you have available to grow them, just remember they take up a lot more room once they are fully
4. Thinning Out
Photo by Lizzleb
Everybody needs to grow chillis for cooking. Even if you don't like hot food, just a little hint of chilli to
warm it up stimulates the taste buds and everything else tastes just so much better. True. And chillies will brighten up your garden! But before
we get to the instructions for growing chillis, lets sort out the spelling, lest you think I don't know any better...There are three ways to spell the name: chili, chilli and chile.
Yep, some people grow chile. This is the Spanish version
of the name, which you also find used in English speaking countries, especially the southwest of America. The Americans changed chile to chili. Originally chili referred to the dish chili con carne.
Then it was shortened to just chili. Chili is the preferred name for the spice made from the fruit of the chile plant. But
in America chili is also widely used as the name for the plant and fruit, the chili peppers. They grow chilis over there in
the US. The British are growing chillis. Chilli is also the
commonly used spelling in Australia and New Zealand. Permaculture originated in Australia, hence we'll stick to that version
if you don't mind. (As for the plural, both chillis and
chillies is accepted.)
What do chilli plants look like?
A bush of Cayenne Peppers Chilli plants grow into small to medium sized bushes from half a metre to two metres tall.
How big they get depends on the species and variety. There
are different species of chillies. Most chillies are grown as annuals even though they can live for a few years in warm climates.Some chilli varieties are true perennials. Most of the common varieties
belong to the species capsicum annuum, the "annual" species.(Bell peppers, called capsicums in Australia, also belong to the species capsicum annuum.)Chillis have small to medium sized, shiny, dark green leaves. The fruit, the chilli peppers,
vary wildly in size and shape.Chilli peppers are green to start
with. Most of them ripen to a rich red, but they can also be orange, yellow, purple or brown.They may hang down or stand up like little colourful candles. There are even ornamental
varieties that are mottled and freckled.The different chilli
types not only vary in size and colour, they also vary in how hot they are! If you grow chillies for the kitchen, choose your
variety with care...
Chili pepper varieties. Photos by Tambako, Simon Goldenberg and Cygnus921
Where can you grow chillis?
Chilli plants love heat. They are closely related to capsicums/bell peppers
and also related to tomatoes (they are in the same family, the solanaceae), but chillies prefer their growing conditions a
lot hotter.Chilli seeds need 20°C to germinate, and it
should be 30°C or more for the fruit to ripen. Night temperatures should not drop below 15°C. (At least not on a regular
basis. The odd cool spell is ok.)Chillies also don't mind
humidity as much as sweet peppers or tomatoes do.Most people
will need to grow chillis in full sun. In the hottest, sunniest regions chillies still grow well with a bit of shade. Especially
afternoon shade can even be beneficial. (The fruit can get sunburned.)If you live in the tropics or subtropics, great. Your chillies should thrive. Even the "annual" varieties
should live for two to three years and they produce fruit all year round.If your climate is not tropical, don't despair. You can still grow chillies if you get decent summers. And you
can extend the growing season by growing chilis indoors, just like you do with tomatoes.In fact, chillis are also related to tomatoes, so the growing methods and requirements are similar. Except that chillies
need more heat.People with small gardens or balconies will
be pleased to hear that you can grow chillis in pots.
How to grow chillies from seed
can buy chilli plants in a nursery or you can grow chillis from seed. The seed needs at least 20°C to germinate.
Start them in early spring in cooler climates or any time
during the dry season. (You could start them all year round in the tropics, but it's a good idea to let the plants grow
strong before the wet season hits them.) Chilli plants are
usually started in seedling trays or small pots. They are very vulnerable when small and they don't grow all that fast.Still, I prefer to start mine directly in the ground, because like capsicums
chillis don't like being transplanted.Actually, I only
start them in the ground when I have enough seed to allow for a high percentage of fatalities. (I am the laziest gardener
I know, so I don't look after my seedlings much.) I usually have enough because I save my own seed.If I buy seed of a new chilli variety and I get one of those tiny packets with barely a
dozen seeds in them, then I start them in pots.
Photo by Lombardo, UK
You can plant several chilli seeds per pot. Once your seedlings have a few leaves, snip off the weaker ones and only
keep the strongest.
You only want one
chilli plant per pot when you plant them out.Otherwise you
will disturb their roots too much and they HATE having their roots disturbed.If you grow chillies in seedling trays or little punnets, plant them out once they have four to six true leaves (about
5 cm tall). If you don't, their roots will start feeling restricted and it will set them back.Chillies don't mind growing in bigger pots, so the timing for planting them out is not
critical if you use pots. If you live in a cooler climate, use pots. Let them to grow to 10 to 15 cm. Make sure it's warm
enough before you put them outside!Water the chillies before
transplanting, so the soil doesn't fall apart when they're removed from the pot. Be VERY careful when removing the
seedlings from their pots.Drop them in a hole
in the garden, fill it back in, firm down the soil, water, done.
Growing chilli plants
Chillies grow in a variety of soils. Like most plants they grow better in rich soils and produce more fruit, but
they will grow in any reasonably fertile soil and don't need any special treatment. If you use plenty of mulch and compost
in your garden the chillies will grow just fine.If your soil
is poor, you'll have to fertilize your chillies. (And start using more mulch and compost...)When fertilizing chillies keep in mind that, like their relatives and indeed most fruiting
plants, chillies like potassium. Too much nitrogen will make them grow lots of soft leaves and no fruit.It is important to keep your chilli plants well watered and mulched. Mulch not only improves
soil over time, it also protects it from drying out.Chillies
have such a tough and hardy image, people often don't realize how sensitive they are when it comes to lack of water. Make
sure your chillies have plenty and never dry out.At the same
time, don't overwater. The soil should be free draining. Chillies don't grow in swamps.
Problems when growing chillies
Chillies have weak branches. If they are loaded with fruit they can snap
off. The whole plants are prone to branches drooping on the ground and breaking off, so you may want to give them some support.(I don't. I just cut off the broken branches and the bush grows new
ones. Chillies don't mind if you prune them.)A stake will
also prevent the whole plant from toppling over, which also happens because their roots are only shallow and not very strong.Root know nematodes can cause the plant to weilt and die for no obvious
reason. However, root knot nematodes are a sign of very poor soils. If you add lots of compost and mulch to your garden you
shouldn't have any trouble.Other than that chillies grow
happily and aren't bothered much by any pests or diseases. If they struggle it's usually a sign that the soil is not
as fertile as you thought.Did I mention that compost and mulch
is great stuff?
Harvesting chilli peppers
Photo by Tambako
Photo by Notratched
Chillies are quick to fruit and flower. How quick depends on the variety and on the temperature.You can harvest the first chillis green once they reach full size. Or you wait until they
turn red, or whatever colour they are supposed to turn.If you
plan to dry them for chili powder or flakes, you can even leave them on the bush until they shrivel up and dry.To harvest fresh chillies cut or pull off the mature fruit while it's
still shiny and plump.If you pull it off, pull it upwards,
exactly opposite to the direction in which it bends down. Then it should snap off at the joint, without breaking off the whole
branch. Otherwise just snip them off.The fruit will last in
a sealed bag in the fridge for up to a week.You can dry it
in the dryer or sun dry it, you could also just string it up and hang it up to dry in an airy spot.Pound it to flakes or put it in the blender to make cayenne pepper and chili powder.
A word of warning
You don't need to eat chillies for them to burn you!Just wait till you get Habanero chilli juice under your fingernails for the first time...
When cutting fresh chillies, make sure to scrub your hands
well after. Don't touch your skin and especially don't touch your eyes! The hottest chillies can make you go blind.
I am not kidding.When working with dry chilli be VERY careful
not to breathe in any powder. Also don't get it in your eyes.
Growing chillis in my permaculture garden
mentioned at the top of the page that I went through a phase of chilli growing obsession where I grew a couple of dozen varieties.
They are so ornamental!
Photo by Athene
However, the most ornamental varieties seem to be less hardy. They seem to need better soil, more attention, don't
live as long etc.After the initial enthusiasm wore of, my innate
laziness took over.These days I have only three types of chillis
growing in my garden: those that grow themselves. (Plus my beloved purple chili.)Chillies self pollinate, but occasionally they also cross breed. If you save your own seed and grow more than one
variety, then the offspring may grow just like the parent or it may be an interesting new combination.All this to say, I am not sure what kind of variety my chillies are...
Photo by Sling
toughest and most prolific, the one that anyone should be able to grow, is a huge bush of the Birds Eye type.Those bushes grow to two metres in size and are always loaded with chillies.The tiny fruit is blistering hot. The wild birds love them (did you know
birds don't feel the heat in chillies?) and so do my chickens.The
seed spreads through the garden via birds and chickens, and I am forever pruning and chopping the bushes everywhere...My favourite culinary variety is a type of Cayenne pepper, a medium sized
bush with darker leaves and long skinny fruit of medium heat.I
always have a few bushes growing near the kitchen door, and I step out there on a daily basis to get some chillies. Some of
the fruit doesn't get eaten and drops on the ground where the seeds eventually sprout. From there I transplant them when
I feel energetic.The third type of chilli I grow is a truly
perennial type. I have a few bushes throughout the garden and they have been there forever. They bear fruit all year round,
though not as much as my other two varieties.The fruit is a
bit shorter and wider than the Cayennes. It has no noticeable heat and I use it as a stand in for capsicum/bell peppers in
cooking. (Not in salads, they are not as sweet or juicy or crisp as real sweet peppers, but for cooking they do the job.)I dimly remember once, many years ago and living in a different place, I
bought seed for a "Perennial Capsicum", a bell pepper that lives for many years and fruits all year round. I was
a bit disappointed because it tasted nothing like the capsicums I knew. So maybe that's its offspring.Anyway, I do grow
all the chillies I need and then some, without ever having to buy seeds and without putting any work into it. Who cares what
they are called!
Thank you to Gardening Australia for helping with
a gardening facts page!- the chilliman