Home grown chilli peppers have excellent colour, texture and flavour, including many shapes and colours not readily available in shops. Plants are extremely varied; some have a mild flavour, while others are so fiery that they’ll blow your head off. Chillies can be grown in the ground, but are perfect for raising in pots.
Chilli peppers can be started off from seed sown indoors from late winter until the middle of spring. Fill a 10cm (4in) pot with good quality seed compost, flatten it down to leave a level surface, then sow a few seeds on top. Most seeds will germinate, so only sow a few more than you need in case of losses. Cover with a fine layer of vermiculite, pop in a plant label and water.
Seeds will germinate quickly in a heated propagator, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. Simply place a clear plastic freezer bag over the top of the pot and hold securely in place with an elastic band.
After the seeds have germinated, remove the pot from the propagator and place on a light windowsill or on the bench in a heated greenhouse. When they are 2.5cm (1in) tall prick out seedlings, moving each into their own 10cm (4in) pot. Make sure the roots are well covered and the leaves are just above the surface of the compost. Water and place in a light spot indoors.
If you forget to sow seeds, or lack the necessary warm, bright place to raise good plants, then buy young plants from garden centres in late spring.
While plants are still growing indoors, move into 13cm (5in) pots filled with general purpose compost when roots begin to show through the drainage holes in the base.
When plants are about 20cm (8in) tall, or before if they start to lean, stake with a pea stick.
Pinch out the tops of peppers when they are about 30cm (12in) tall to encourage lots of branches.
Plants are ready to go outside in late May or when all danger of frost has passed. Either plant directly into the ground, spacing them 45cm (18in) apart or transfer them to 22cm (9in) pots to give them plenty of space to grow – remove the small pea stick and cover with fleece or cloches. Alternatively, you can plant three chilli peppers in a standard growing bag. Three short sticks with strings will eventually be required to support taller cultivars.
For a bumper crop make sure you water regularly, especially in hot weather and feed every two weeks with a general purpose liquid fertiliser. Feeding should start when the flowers first appear, usually while plants are still indoors, and should continue until the fruit have been harvested.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
Whitefly: Small white flies suck sap and excrete sticky ‘honeydew’ over the plant, encouraging the growth of sooty mould.
Remedy: Use biological control or sticky traps in the greenhouse.
Grey mould: Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse. This is a problem normally in wet conditions, and is usually worse on weak or damaged plants. The mould usually enters through a wound but, under the right conditions, even healthy plants will be infected. You will see fuzzy grey mould on affected buds, leaves, flowers or fruit. Infected plant parts eventually shrivel and die.
Remedy: Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. Hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of grey mould. If you see it, remove the infected material and destroy. Grey mould is encouraged by overcrowding, so make sure you plant your seedlings, plants and squashes at the appropriate distance apart.
Chilli peppers are generally ready for harvesting from July and can be removed from plants with a sharp knife or secateurs – picking fruit regularly will ensure the plant puts its energy into producing more fruit.
Ones left to ripen to a pleasing and flavoursome red colour will suppress more fruit production, but cannot be avoided for best colour and flavour, and for the best fruits for drying.
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