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Growing Chillies at Home from Seed in the UK.

A Little History on the Chilli Plant.

The origin of chilli plants is obscured by time, but it is thought that they came from Central and South America. Today, they are grown and consumed in many parts of the world, including the U.K.

They are part of the capsicum family and five species are commonly used for culinary purposes. Capsicum annuum includes cayenne and jalapenos, while Capsicum chinense includes the hotter naga and habanero varieties.

The Scoville scale detects the heat by measuring the amount of capsaicin that is present in different chillies. Capsaicin stimulates the bodies’ sensory receptors, some of which are on the tongue.

Chillies can be dried, pickled or used fresh. Adding them, wisely, enhances the taste of many dishes. Growing chillies at home from seed, is relatively straight forward and, if you like them, it is well worth giving them a go.

Growing Chillies at Home from Seed

Photo taken by Leonora Enking via Flickr

The Chilli Growers Shopping List

Growing chillies at home requires a few purchases. January is a good time to go to the garden centre for the following:

  • Chilli seed
  • Small pots (or seed trays)
  • Seed and cutting compost
  • 10 cm pots
  • Potting compost
  • Potassium rich fertiliser e.g. liquid tomato food
  • Cool white fluorescent lights (optional)
  • 30 cm pots
  • Stakes and twine

Sowing and Germinating

Late January, or early February, is ideal, but seeds can be planted up to the end of April, or early May.

  • Put some seed and cutting compost into each small pot.
  • Water gently using a fine spray, then drain for about 15 minutes.
  • Place chilli seeds into the compost, at a depth of about 0.5 cm, leaving 2.5 cm between them.
  • Label the different varieties.
  • Keep them moist, by covering the pots lightly with cling film or plastic packets.
  • Keep them warm (around 20 degrees Celsius). If temperatures fall, an old electric blanket can be used, or the pots can be put in the airing cupboard. However other places in the home, like the windowsill above a radiator or on top of the fridge, are usually adequate.
  • Depending on the variety, germination takes place between about one and six weeks.

Growing and Planting Out

The next stage requires light, as well as warm, moist conditions.

  • When the seedlings appear, remove the plastic and ensure they receive adequate light, warmth and moisture.
  • Place them in good positions in the home, like on the kitchen windowsill, in the conservatory or in a mini greenhouse. In most homes this would be adequate but, if deemed necessary, place them under fluorescent striplights (cool white ones). Lights should be about 15 cm above the plants.
  • Water from underneath, but ensure the surface stays moist too.
  • When the seedlings are about 2 cm tall, put some potting compost into 10 cm pots.
  • Move each seedling in its own portion of compost to avoid damaging the roots. Press down gently, but firmly.
  • Feed them with a half-strength liquid houseplant fertiliser each week.
  • When the plants are about 12 cm tall and the roots appear through the holes in the bottom of the pots, fill a 30 cm pot with potting compost.
  • Transfer about three plants to each 30 cm pot. When planting, make sure their roots are fairly near the surface. Water gently with a fine spray.

Outside or Inside

  • In June, when frost is no longer occurring, the growing plants can be placed outside, at least during the day. Choose a warm, sheltered spot.
  • If aphids appear, spray a weak solution of soap on the plants, but do not spray too often, as this may stunt growth.
  • When the plants are about 20 cm tall, tie each of them, with twine or string, to a sturdy upright stake.
  • When the growing plants are about 30cm tall, snip the tips to enable branching.
  • Ensure the compost is always moist. Water every couple of days initially and, as the weather gets warmer, daily.

Flowering and Pollination

When the plants come into flower give them some potassium rich fertiliser e.g. like that used for tomatoes. A few drops put into their water every second day is sufficient. The cayenne variety flowers earlier than other varieties like habanero or naga.

If the plants are outside, bees and other insects can visit. If flowers start to fall off without fruit forming, or if the plants have been inside because of poor weather, then hand pollinate. Take a cotton bud and place it carefully inside the heads of the flowers, moving from one to the next.

Fruiting and Harvesting

Flowers gradually fall off and chillies emerge around July onwards. To promote a good harvest, cut off the first chillies while still green. Use scissors to harvest them and enjoy enhancing the meals you prepare at home. In September, when the cooler autumn days begin, move the plants inside again. Fruit will continue for one or two months after this.

Wintertime

As the season ends cut the plants back, so just the stem and some strong branches are left. Place them in a warm situation, in good compost and give a liquid feed once in a while.

Future Seasons

In the next couple of seasons, the growing chilli plants yield is greater, but by around the fourth or fifth year, less fruit will appear. It is then time to start the process again.

Let’s talk about…How To Grow Chillies

This article describes How to Grow Chillies, the best methods, tools & techniques as well as when and how to harvest Chillies.

Chillies provide a delicious kick to many recipes and have become part of many of our diets. Growing chillies is often associated with parts of Africa and Asia, but chillies can be grown well in all climes, provided they kept warm.

Growing them can start as early as January or February as long as they are nurtured indoors until frosts and cold weather has passed (usually by March although we never know what to expect!).

How to Grow Chillies

Photo taken by Leonora Enking

How to Grow Chillies: What do you need to know about growing conditions?

Chillies start their lives indoors provided you have room to store them as they need to be kept warm in their early days. After all, they originate from a tropical environment! Thankfully, we have fairly warm summers so once they have become established indoors, you can take them out later in the year where they will hopefully produce an excellent crop. As long as they are left in a minimum temperature of 10°c and they get good sunlight they should grow well. By may, the weather should have warmed enough for the plants to be moved outside.

How to Grow Chillies: Useful Tools and Equipment

When growing chillies, there are a few things you might need to help you along the way.

  1. Canes and String: As with many home grown fruits and vegetables, they often need something to grow ‘up’ to stop them from flopping in their early stages and again later when they become heavy with crop. Guide them up a cane, tying the plants to it loosely if need be to prevent it falling over.
  2. Cling Film: Chillies need to be warm to germinate, and so it is important that the pots are covered with cling film or a sheet of glass in the early days to keep them warm enough.
  3. Troughs: Due to their tropical origins it is advisable to rear them in a greenhouse once they have matured enough to be moved outside. Grow them in troughs to make the most of your space.
  4. Capillary Matting: Watering from underneath will encourage roots to grow stronger.

How to Grow Chillies: What about useful tips and techniques?

  • When starting off your chillies indoors, fill seeding trays with compost, water and allow the water to drain through, and sow your seeds around one inch apart, covering the trays loosely with cling film or glass to retain moisture and heat.
  • Germination usually takes 7-10 days but it can be as long as four to six weeks for the Habanero variety weeks. Placing the tray on an electric blanket or using a heated propagator can speed this up.
  • Place your trays somewhere warm and bright such as a windowsill or in the conservatory if you have one. When the seedlings are big enough for you to handle (at least two inches in height and when they have their second set of leaves) move them to their own individual three-inch (eight centimetre) pots between winter and the beginning of spring.
  • When plants are around six inches (15cm) in height, move them again to 12cm pots. Alternatively, you can have three plants in one 30cm pot. These pots should be filled with compost up to approximately 1cm from the top.
  • When the flowers begin to appear, it is useful if you hand pollinate by dabbing a cotton bud or a fine paintbrush into each flower, especially if you are growing them indoors.
  • If you choose to move them into your vegetable patch, gradually introduce them to the conditions over one week, planting them into fertile, well-drained soil. In most of England, this is not recommended.

How to Grow Chillies: Harvesting your Chillies

  • When the first chillies appear, snip them off using secateurs while they are still green. This will encourage fruiting all season right through from July to October.
  • Allow future chillies to develop to red if you prefer for a better flavour.
  • If your chillies are struggling to ripen due to bad weather or by not getting enough sunlight, bring them inside and put them on a windowsill to keep warm and in sufficient light.

How to Grow Chillies: Did You Know

  • Feeding weekly with tomato feed encourages better growth and most experts recommend it.
  • Pinching out the tip of flowering shoots promotes branching which will increase the number of chillies your plants may produce.
  • Chillies can fall victim to aphids, so check leaves daily. If need be, treat your plants.
  • Do not allow soil to become waterlogged, erring a little on the dry side where you can. By stressing your plants ever so slightly, it is thought this can produce hotter peppers.
  • A well-cared-for chilli plant can last four to five years before it should be retired.
  • Chillies can be dried or frozen and stored so you can use them all year round.

Credits: Featured image taken by Alpha