Spice up your life and grow chillies at home this year.
Why Grow Chillies at home?
Extremely hot Chilli peppers ( or any peppers for that matter) are easy to grow and will give plentiful supplies of delicious, organically grown fruit ready for using in late summer. With plenty of chilli varieties available it is easy to find a chilli plant packed with flavour and suited to your tolerance of all things hot!
You’ll also be incomplete control over the varieties and what you feed the plant (s) avoiding any nasty fertilisers etc.
This year I will be growing, amongst others, “‘he Carolina Reaper’ chillies. Regarded as the hottest chilli pepper in the world The Carolina Reaper needs respect! ( I have a plan to give a couple of plants to friends without them knowing, cruel aren’t I?)
Chillies freeze well if you happen to of grown a few varieties and find yourself with a surplus of fruit .
The plant, or plants, can be over wintered in a warm greenhouse or conservatory however the plants are often treated as annuals and disposed of in the compost bin at the end of the season ready to try something new the following season.
Why am I growing extremely hot chillies?
This is not an idea for some crazy Youtube video, with an agonizing look on my face, pouring litres of water over myself as I eat the world record breaking chilli variety raw. I have just started cooking with Carolina Reaper chillies and the flavour, if used in the right quantity has wonderful lasting heat. (more on that later)
How do you grow chillies and when to start growing chillies at home ?
Growing chillies – the guide
Ideally by starting to sow chilli pepper seeds to grow into plants late January & February. This will give the plants plenty of time in the sun once outside to ripen. This is especially true for the hotter variety of chilli pepper plants as the fruit needs to bake in the sun to obtain its hotness.
If left too late ie March onwards there is a chance that the chilli peppers will not of had long enough to mature and ripen before summer fades. Chillies need sun and heat for a bumper crop.
However, do not fear if you have left it too late. Plenty of online suppliers and the occasional garden centre sell ready grown chilli pepper plants as seedlings around this time.
What you will need to grow chilli peppers at home.
You do not need a heated greenhouse to grow chillies, just a few essentials to become a chilli grower master as follows ;
Heated Propagator or warm airing cupboard
Chilli seeds need heat to germinate successfully. Having a heated propagator guarantees keeping the right temperature for the seeds to take and become little seedlings.
If however you do not have access to a propagator, sow seeds in a seed tray with a cover of cling film will be fine and placed in a warm airing cupboard for the seeds to germinate.
Seed tray (s)
If not using a propagator to grow chillies , sow directly into seed trays.
Coir (peat free) pellets or seed compost
The best method to germinate chillies is by planting in seed compost or peat coir pellets (peat free). This year I am using coir pellets as I prefer being able to transplant the entire chilli seedlings into pots rather than the fiddly ‘pricking out’. Less root disturbance = happier seedlings = stronger plants = more fruit.
There are plenty of chilli varieties available to suit all palettes. From really mild varieties to world record breaking, knock your socks off extremely hot chillies.
Small individual pots for transplanting
These are necessary to transplant your chilli seedlings for the next part of their journey, a bit of time on a warm window sill.
2 litre pot (s) or patio planters / grow bag.
This will be the final destination for the plants once risk of frosts has passed and the chilli peppers are ready for the outside world.
A feed high in nitrogen and one high in potash
Spray bottle or mister
Useful for misting the seed compost or pellets whilst the seeds are germinating.
A window sill.
Chillies need light and warmth to continue growing and a light window sill is the perfect place . Once germinated and you have potted-on the seedlings into small pots place them here.
Be careful if the window gets blasting sun all day as this could fry the young chilli plants. If that is the case give them some shade. You can do this by sticking a couple of sheets of A4 paper on the window to provide some shade.
Stage 1 – Sowing the seeds
The Coir Pellet Method .
When delivered coir pellets are in their compressed format. Simply give them a 5 min soak in cold water to expand fully.
On one end of the pellet there is often a small indentation, this should be pointing upwards, you will sow the plant seed in there.
Chilli plant seeds are small and fiddly. I find it easier to gently coax the chilli seed from the packet onto a hard surface and separate the seed out. From here just press lightly on the seed so it is attached to your finger tip and place gently into the indentation in the coir pellet.
Once the seed is placed into the indentation (approx 5mm into the pellet) use a pencil end to gently fold the coir over to cover the seed. The seeded pellets can then be placed directly into the seed trays in the propagator.
The Seed Compost Method.
Fill the trays with the soil based compost and sow the chilli seed evenly across the surface.
Cover with a layer of the compost or vermiculite to a depth of no more than 5mm.
Water and place in propagator for germination.
Stage 2 – Germination time
This can vary depending on the variety and conditions but expect the action to start happening from 7 – 10 days. Be patient. Some seeds can take up to 3 weeks for successful germination, especially the hot varieties.
As the seedlings start to appear it is a good idea to half open the propagator vents. Too much humidity at this stage can cause ‘damping off’. A fungus type disease that can kill off your emerging chilli plants.
Keep an eye on your prospective plants and check them every day.
Stage 3 – 1st Potting On of Your Chilli Plants
Once most of the chilli seeds have germinated and they have a strong pair of leaves it is time to pot them on into 9cm pots (3″).
This is an easy if using coir pellets as the entire seedling along with the coir can be planted directly into the 9cm pot. Simply 1/4 fill the container with John Innes No1 compost and place the coir pellet in the centre. Fill around the pellet with compost . Gently firm and water well.
Pricking out will be needed if you have used the soil method of germination. Gently hold both leaves between thumb and forefinger and tease the seedling out of the compost. A pencil or kitchen fork comes in handy to ease the roots out.
Once prized out of the tray carefully place the seedling into the new compost filled pot. Try not to plant the roots too deep. Water well after transplanting.
Place your newly potted seedlings on a warm windowsill until all risks of frost has passed. From then they can be potted on into the plants final pots and containers and placed in a warm sheltered spot in the sun on the patio, balcony or greenhouse.
Stage 4 – 2nd Potting on of your chilli plants
Once the chillies have spent time indoors and the frosts have passed it is time to plant the chillies on into larger pots or containers and place the plants outside or a lean to greenhouse.
A 2 ltr pot or larger is perfect. Simply transplant the chilies from the 9cm pots into a well drained soil based compost such as John Innes No2.
Pinching Out Chilli Plants?
Some do – some don’t. Personally I want my chilli plants to be as big and bushy as possible for more fruits. I can however see the logic in pinching out if space limited, such as if growing entirely indoors or a cramped greenhouse where space is limited. .
Stage 5 – When to put outside
Chilli plants are ready to go outside if not to being placed in a greenhouse when all risk of frosts have passed. If inclined it is also a good idea to gradually harden them off to the outside weather by taking the chillies back inside at night until fully acclimatised.
Remember to place the chillies in a sheltered spot, full sun is possible, ideally south facing and don’t forget to water.
Feeding your chilli plants
The key to an abundant crop of chillies is down using the right feed at the right time.
From when you have potted on and placed your chillies in the garden start feeding with a nitrogen rich feed. This year I shall try a homemade nettle feed which is high in nitrogen. A feed high in nitrogen will ensure the chilli plants put on lots of lush green foliage.
From flowering and when the fruits are setting the nitrogen feed needs to be swapped out for a feed high in potash such as liquid seaweed or Tomato-rite.
Flowering and pollination
Chillies will generally flower May – June time. A successful flowering will ensure bountiful chilli fruits.
If growing chillies indoors then hand pollination will be necessary. This is just a matter of using a small soft paintbrush, brushing from flower to flower, transferring the pollen.
When are the fruits ready for eating?
Much will depend on the summer heat. Generally, depending on the variety, chilli peppers are ready when they take on that gorgeous red colour. Remember the hotter the variety the longer it will take for them to ripen and be full of flavour.
Whichever variety you are growing remove the chillies once ripe, you may get a second or third crop.
How to choose the right chilli varieties?
Choosing the right chilli seed types to buy when growing chillies is made simple by referring to the chilli heat scale, otherwise knows as the ‘scoville scale‘.
On the scale, chilli peppers range from the standard bell pepper used in salads & stir fries ( zero scovilles) the Scotch Bonnet (100 – 350,000 scovilles) and The Carolina Reaper chillies (a whopping 1.4 – 2.5 MILLION scovilles).
You should find all good seed suppliers listing chillies with a corresponding number on the scoville scale.
Other varieties of hot chilli seeds packed with heat and flavour to try at home are
- Hungarian hot wax chillies
- Prairie fire chillies
- Demon Red chillies
- Bhut jolokia chillies
- Dragon’s Breath chillies
- Ring of Fire chillies
Chilling Growing – FAQ
Remember, above all, chilli growing is fun. Don’t stress if things don’t go to plan. There is always next year to have a go growing chillies. To grow chilli, if successful, is one of life’s pleasures.