Add a little kick to your dishes from growing your own chillies. Home grown chilli peppers have radiant colours, amazing textures and lots of flavour!
You can buy a variety of chilli seed to grow from sweet and mild to fierce and fiery.
January and February are the perfect months to start sowing chilli peppers as it gives them plenty of time to ripen before the end of summer.
You can grow them up until April but starting off earlier means they will start becoming active in March or April.
Choosing your Chilli
Depending on what you like there are many varieties of chillies you can grow.
We put together the table below for a guide on varieties you can grow by strength of heat, however, there are lots of types of chilli you can try and numerous websites to purchase your seeds from.
Always try to find a reputable seller for a strong, stable plant of a genuine strain.
Sowing Chilli Peppers
Note: The hotter the variety the longer the growing process will take from germination through to ripening)
Start your chilli peppers off indoors from late winter until the middle of spring.
Before you sow your chilli seeds, soak them in a warm black tea. Soaking your seeds in black tea has been known to really help with germination success. It helps to soften the seed casing and should be done at least 24 hours before planting.
Whilst soaking the seeds you can begin to warm your compost up; chilli seeds love the warmth and need moisture. The ideal temperature for your soil is 25-28 degrees C.
When your soil is ready, plant your seeds about 5-10mm in the soil and cover.
Most seeds will germinate so it’s best to only sow a few more than you need in case of loss.
Cover your seeds with a layer of vermiculite, label up and water.
If you’re using a heated propagator, seeds tend to germinate quickly. If you don’t have one you can use a clear plastic freezer bag to place over the top of the pot and hold it securely by using an elastic band.
During the germination process, seeds take on a lot of water and begin to swell. It’s best to keep the soil moist at all times but don’t over water and waterlog your seeds. Too much water encourages mould growth and can even rot the chilli.
Germination typically takes between 7-10 days, once germinated move your seedlings to a warm, sunny windowsill or heated greenhouse.
When they are 2.5cm tall, prick out the seedlings and move them into their own 10cm pot. keep the roots well covered and the leaves just above the surface of the compost.
Water and place in a light, sunny spot indoors. To encourage growth, give your chillies a little boost by adding a good nutrient mix. Do your research before adding the mix as there are plenty available.
When your plants are around 20cm tall, before they start to lean, stake with a stick.
Encourage lots of branches by pinching the tops of the peppers when they are about 30cm tall.
Your plants should be ready to go outside when the dangers of late frosts have passed in late May.
You can plant your chillies straight into the ground by spacing them out 45cm apart or transfer them into large 22cm+ pots to allow them to have plenty of space to grow and develop.
Cover with a fleece or a cloche.
You can grow up to 3 chilli plants in a standard grow bag.
Using tall sticks and strings to support taller plants.
Keep your plants watered regularly, especially if the weather is hot and dry.
Feed your chilli peppers with general purpose liquid fertiliser. Feed your plants when their first flowers begin to appear.
Aphids: Colonies of greenfly will appear on the soft shoot tips of plants and leaves. They will suck the sap and excrete the honeydew which will encourage the growth of black moulds.
Remedy: Use your fingers and thumbs to squash these colonies or invest in sticky traps or biological controls.
Grey Mould: A common disease especially in humid and damp conditions. Grey, fuzzy fungal growth which begins as pale or discoloured patches. The spores from the mould enter the plants via the damaged tissue, wounds or open flowers. Ripening fruit will also be damaged from the mould.
Remedy: Before infection spreads, remove the damaged parts of the plant by cutting them out. If you’re using a greenhouse or growing under cover, reduce the humidity by ventilating and avoid overcrowding.
From July onwards, use a sharp knife or secateurs to remove the chillies from the plant.
Doing this regularly will encourage the plant to produce more energy to produce more chillies.
Chillies should be picked when they’re a good size and look healthy. Green chillies tend to be milder, yellow have a nice bite to them and bright red will be very hot.
Storing Your Chillies
You can preserve your chillies by drying them out or freezing them.
To dry chilli peppers, take a need and thread the stems of your chilli peppers together to for a chain of peppers. Hang in a well ventilated, warm are and let them dry for over 4-5 weeks.
Freezing Chilli Peppers: Use freezer bags and fill with chillies straight after they have been picked. Once you’ve defrosted your chillies, you will see the flesh is slightly softer, this isn’t a problem, they will still hold the same flavour and kick as when you first picked them.
Remember: Do not touch your eyes or face whilst picking or preparing chillies.