The chili pepper (also chile pepper or chilli pepper, from Nahuatl chilli) is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.
The term in British English and in Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia and other Asian countries is just chilli without "pepper".
Preparing Chilli Seeds
Germination of chilli seeds is known to be difficult but if you follow these instructions carefully, you should have a good success rate. Soaking your chilli seeds overnight in warm water overnight will increase your germination rate.
Tie each packet of seeds in a piece of muslin using different colour wool or cotton to tie around the top, making a careful note of which colour relates to which seed. Fill a pre-warmed thermos flask with warm water at the temperature of 45-48 degrees centigrade and pop in the chilli bags overnight.
Planting Chilli Seeds
Plant into small pots or preferably into Jiffy compost pellets. If you are using Jiffy compost pellets, soak them until they have swollen to size and put two seeds into each one, just below the surface. If you are planting into pots, fill one pot per seed type to about 2cm below the rim, firm down the compost and soak thoroughly.
Place the seeds with a good space between them so that you do not harm the roots when you come to potting on and cover them with a fine layer of sieved compost. Use separate pots or trays for each variety and don’t forget to label them or you will spend several frustrated months not knowing which plant is which.
Propagating Chilli Seeds
For best results, place in a heated propagator or a seed tray with clear lid in a warm place. Warmth is especially important for Chinese chilli varieties such as Habaneros, Nagas and Scotch Bonnets.
Ideally you should keep soil temperature at 26 to 32 degrees centigrade. Keep the compost moist but not too wet or the seed will rot.
Germination takes between two and four weeks and can be very erratic, so do not be too concerned if your seeds do not germinate immediately or if only some of them seem to germinate.
When the seedlings start to appear, introduce some ventilation to your propagator or seed tray. Be careful not to let the temperature drop too much at night, as plants are very vulnerable to the cold at this stage. Once your plants have a few leaves, you should start to feed them on a weekly basis using a quarter strength fertilizer such as Chilli Focus or seaweed extract.
Four to six weeks after germination, plants can be potted on very carefully, avoiding disturbing the roots too much as well as any germinating seeds that may be awakening in the pot.
Chilli plants do well is warm, sunny places so a greenhouse or conservatory is the ideal place for them. They can also be placed outside on a sheltered spot or warm patio but acclimatize them slowly, bringing them in at night for the first week or whenever the temperature threatens to drop. Use a cane to support the plants as they grow.
Carry on feeding chillies with a dedicated chilli feed or seaweed extract at the suggested rate. Never exceed the suggested rate as this can actually have a detrimental effect on your plants.
Your chilli plants will produce flowers and then chillies on each of its sidestems so the more sidestems you have, the more fruit your plant will produce. If you want to increase the number of chillies your plant produces, you need to increase the number of sidestems.
You can do this by tipping your plant onto its side once it is a substantial size. The chilli plant will try to grow upright by throwing out a number of sidestems.
Once it has done this, turn the pot around so that the new sidestems are facing down and it will throw out another series of sidestems, reaching for the light.
Give the pot a quarter turn and once another set of sidestems have been started, turn another half turn. You can then return your plant to an upright position and wait for a bumper harvest of chillies.
Chillies can be pollinated by bees but failing that, they are also self-pollinating so a gentle shake of flowers will help ensure that they set. Once your chillies start to flower, start to feed with a tomato feed at the rate suggested by manufacturers to encourage fruit to set.
Chilli plants are perennials and are generally more productive in their second year than their first although most people grow them as half-hardy annuals.
It is worth overwintering them if you have the space on a sunny windowsill or heated greenhouse. Don’t let the temperature fall below 10 degrees Centigrade.
Don’t be too concerned if your plants start losing leaves as low light levels can cause chilli plants to go into dormancy, looking for all intents and purpose dead but come spring, they will burst back into life again. Unless you really have killed them that is!
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