18 Mar Growing Chillies
This is by no means a complete how to , more of a lets get started for those that aren’t yet chilli growers, this has been written in the Darling Downs region of Queensland where we have sub zero Winter Temperatures and Summers in the low to mid 40’s.
Anyone with better advice leave it in the comments .
Chillies make a beautiful and satisfying crop. The colours are stunning: reds, purples, yellows and oranges, and there is a Chilli to suit every taste, from the delicate and fruity to the heart-stoppingly fiery. You can grow them all yourself as long as you can find a sunny corner for them. They are great plants for growing in pots on a warm patio, and will be even happier on a verandah or Sunroom or cool greenhouse.
Chillies, Chilli peppers, or “chilli peppers” as we know them in Australia, originated in South and Central America, traveling to warm parts of Europe and Asia from around the 16th century onwards. They have become a huge part of many Asian cuisines and varieties have developed independently wherever they are grown. Chillies contain natural chemicals called capsaicinoids, which when eaten, cause a burning sensation. Increased heart rate, perspiration, and a rush of endorphins follows. The heat of a Chilli pepper is measured on the Scoville Scale, a method of measurement created by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The test is not entirely accurate, depending as it does on whether the heat in dilutions of the particular chilli can be detected by a panel of tasters (the higher the figure, the higher the dilution at which it was sensed), but it gives a rough idea of the pepper’s relative fieriness.
Chillies are not the easiest plants to grow, but if you can master their cultivation you will have grown a crop that is packed full of flavour and that will improve a wide array of meals. The problem for many growers is that chillies originate from such warm places, where the season is long and hot and the plants have more time to grow, flower, fruit, and ripen.
Those of us who can’t expect these kinds of conditions have to use a few tricks to fool them into flourishing. These tricks are designed to lengthen the season, even where the season is naturally short and cool. Start sowing late in the year. It feels like an odd time to be sowing the seed of such heat lovers, but they really do need to be sow in August or September if you hope to see many fruits. The need for heat starts early; your seeds will struggle to germinate if they are in a cool or temperature-fluctuating environment. A heated propagator creates the perfect environment. These small closed cases are cheap to buy and to run. They are plugged into an electrical outlet and emit a gentle but constant heat that seeds find irresistible. If you don’t have a heated propagator, then a sunny window sill may be your next best bet, though the fluctuation between night and day temperatures is not ideal, particularly on cold nights. You may get better results if you move your pots of seeds to a warmer spot at night.
Once you have germinated seedlings, pot them up into individual pots and keep them somewhere warm and sunny. A greenhouse is ideal but if you don’t have one , then a sunny window sill or enclosed verandah will do until the weather warms. It is important to pot your chillies into larger pots regularly: other plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers make it obvious when they need to be potted on, growing leggy and over-balancing their little pots, but chillies do the opposite – they sit and wait for a bigger pot before they grow. So keep on potting on and prompt them into growth. Their final pot should be generous. You can also plant them directly into the ground in polytunnels and greenhouses.
When all chance of frost has passed and the weather is reliably warm, you can plant the Chillies out in the open ground. Ideally they should be protected from cold nights by a glass cloche. All plants that have been started indoors will need a period of hardening off to slowly get them used to being outdoors. Start with a few hours outdoors during the day for a few days, then leave them out a full day, followed by a day and night as long as they are well protected. Chillies should not be outdoors unprotected at night until September/October, and even then, they will be happier with night-time protection.
The Five Chilli Species
Domestic chillies are cultivars originating from 5 species
- Capsicum annuum (e.g. Jalapeno, Chipotle, Cayenne)
- Capsicum frutescens (e.g. Tabasco, Thai)
- Capsicum chinense (e.g. Habanero, Ghost Peppers, Carolina Reaper)
- Capsicum pubescens (e.g. Rocoto)
- Capsicum baccatum (e.g. Aji)
With luck and a sunny summer your plants will grow happily. Don’t be tempted to prune them – some growers nip out the first shoots to encourage their chilies to bush out. There is really no need and you will just delay the development of the first fruit. They have a naturally bushy habit, so let them develop it themselves.
However, they may not prove to be entirely self-supporting as they grow, and can benefit from having a Bamboo cane pushed into the ground near the base. Tie the main stem to the cane to prevent toppling.
Keep plants reasonably well watered over the hot summer period but for god sake don’t waterlogged them. The time is right to start feeding them with a high-potash fertilizer once the flowers appear. A high-potash fertilizer is one that encourages flower and fruit production. Tomato fertilizers are good examples and will work perfectly for chilies. It is worth feeding your plants with them regularly, at least once every week.
Once the fruits start to ripen up, you have the choice of whether to leave them on the plant to grow to their full sweetness or remove them and encourage more fruits. Those removed will carry on ripening, but they do it best on the plant. You have a race to ripen them, just as seedlings need protecting at the beginning of the season, so will plants be affected by the colder weather towards the end. In a greenhouse or glasded in Verandah or sunroom, plants will go on into autumn but outdoors they will start to suffer. Any fruits that are hit by frost will turn to mush. Protect outdoor-grown plants with horticultural fleece or cloches, and carry pot-grown plants indoors to a sunny room.
Once the fruits start to ripen, the real fun begins: you will have chilli con carne and curries to your Pryo-Gourmanics heart’s content, and the knowledge that you grew the most important ingredient yourself.