A beginner's guide to growing chillies
You can, of course, buy established plants from your local garden centre but growing chillies from seed offers a greater choice of variety and can be particularly rewarding. Try to set aside the sowing task as one of your earlier jobs of the year—the longer they get to grow, the better your chance of a bountiful harvest.
Start by placing seeds on the surface of pre-watered seed compost in small pots and cover with a sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. For some varieties, germination can be erratic so put a couple of seeds in each pot and, if they both show up, discard the weaker of the two.
The key requirement for chilli seeds is warmth. If you don’t have a propagator then cover with clingfilm and place in an airing cupboard, on top of a freezer (the surface emits a steady warmth ideal for seed germination) or another suitably cosy spot.
When your seeds have germinated they need the most sunshine you can find, combined with more warmth. Heated greenhouses are ideal but your sunniest windowsill will make a good alternative.
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Healthy plants growing on a chilli farm
Heat and light are vital and, although you’ll need to regularly water them, they don’t appreciate being soaked like a native British plant. Keep the soil moist—they’ll even cope with short spells of underwatered neglect—and, if possible, create a steamy Mexican environment by spraying their leaves with fine mist.
When large enough to handle, with a stem that doesn’t easily flop and a few sets of their proper leaves, you can transplant your chillies into larger pots. They may even outgrow these before they’re ready to move to their final positions so upsize their homes again if they start to look inhibited and their growth stalls.
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Most varieties will grow successfully outside in a sheltered, sunny position, planted in a good amount of compost. If you’re planning the outdoor life for your plants, make sure all risk of frost has passed and gradually acclimatise them to the colder conditions for a week before their permanent rehoming.
Any extra warmth you can give them will increase their size and yield—from covering with polyethene to planting in a polytunnel, or awarding them the closest environment to tropical chilli nirvana, a greenhouse. You can, of course, continue to keep the plant inside on your sunny windowsill.
Once your chillies are established in their new home they’re fairly straightforward to look after.
Continue to water as before and you could also introduce a tomato feed when the fruits start to set. Cutting out the top of the main stem and a few surrounding branches will help the plant to take on a bushier appearance, which is useful if you’ve got a variety that keeps growing vertically.
It’s also advisable to pinch out the first few flower buds—they’ll likely come quite early when it’s more productive to concentrate growth towards the plant, rather than the fruit. And when those chillies do start to arrive, regular harvesting will help keep your plant productive throughout the summer.
Five chillies to try
An extremely mild chilli favoured by Spanish tapas munchers. They’re quick to fruit, so keep picking while green, and are best cooked on a griddle and served with salt.
But beware, every once in awhile you might bite into a hot one.
One of the most flavoursome chillies around, with a burst of heat, these are commonly served on pizzas and can be stuffed or pickled.
Easy to grow, they’re ready when their green skins start to look cracked; or wait until they’ve turned a bright pillar box red.
A tall plant with long fruit famed for its ground pepper-making properties. They’re extremely versatile in the kitchen and have a fair kick of heat to them.
Image via Mother Earth News
These grow big outside and reach enormous sizes in a greenhouse. Very productive with long, knobbly peppers turning from green to vivid yellow when ripe.
They have thin flesh making them ideal for drying and are fairly hot.
Firey little chillies used extensively in Thai cooking. The plants are packed with peppers pointing upwards like crimson jewels when ripe, making them an attractive choice for the kitchen windowsill.
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