Why start seeds early?
When to sow Chilli seeds
Most seeds packets for Chillies recommend sowing them between January and March. Some even recommend sowing as late as April. I tend to agree with the January start, but unless you plant fast-growing varieties like Bell peppers, Jalapenos, Fushimi, Shishito or Hatch Chillies, starting in April, might be too late.
While most of the Chillies mentioned above will produce a crop in 60 to 75 days, if seeds for superhots are started, one could expect them to take far longer. Some superhots, dependent on the weather, take more than one hundred and twenty days from potting-on to set fruit. Then, it takes even longer for the fruit to ripen.
Take this season, for example. I started a month later than usual, and suffered the consequences. I struggled to get my fruit ripe this year. While many have finally ripened, I still have plants that haven’t even fruited. They have flowered, but are yet to produce Chillies. That’s no good, as the Chilli growing season has already ended for this year.
To ensure this doesn’t happen again, I have already started some of my seeds for next year. The seeds were planted about three weeks ago. Some seedlings are already about two inches tall, but for the most part, are only about an inch in height. They are mostly superhot varieties and will take a long time to grow. I expect they will only be between eight and twelve inches tall come spring next year. I certainly won’t hurry to repot them too soon after their first potting-on. This should constrain their growth. I am also working on the premise that plants grow more slowly in winter.
Is starting seeds now too early?
The one thought that does strike me though, is this not maybe a bit too early, and are there any disadvantages to starting seeds as early as I have? To arrive at an answer, I thought I would look back at what happened this season and also do some research,
So, the situation for this growing season is that I began some seeds at the beginning of March. I sowed some more about two to three weeks later. I had reasonably good germination rates, and three weeks later had lots of seedlings on my hands. My first potting-on was done in the middle of April, followed by more repottings between May and June. The plants were potted on for the last time at the end of June. I also began hardening the plants off at this time. By July, most of my Chilli plants were out in the garden. At this point, they were only between five and eight inches tall. Some of the others, which I started later, were smaller
Bearing in mind that I had already been growing these Chillies for three to four months. I was not pleased with their progress at all. The lack of sunshine this summer in the UK had an impact on the plants’ growth. At that stage, I felt something needed to be done to speed up things. So I looked into improving their fertilization. This worked, and there was a definite improvement . I was, however, still concerned that I might run out of time to ripen the Chillies before the end of the season.
The first of my Chillies started getting buds in late July. These were followed by flowers in the middle of August. Some plants, including my Chi Chien, Baraks, Satan’s kisses, Thai Demons, Longhorn F1 plants, started fruiting shortly afterwards. The Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, Aji Crystal, and Scotch bonnets I overwintered from last season also had produced Chillies. All I had to do now was wait for the fruit to reach full size and ripen. Indeed. And wait, I did!
By the middle of September, much of the fruit had grown to full size. But, as yet, there was little sign of ripening. I decided I needed to do something. I brought most of my small plants with fruit (and a few larger ones indoors). I placed them under grow lights to see if this would speed things up. It worked. Most of the plants I brought indoors ripened to some degree or other.
I can’t say the same for the plants I have left outdoors. These plants include a Scotch bonnet overwintered from last year, Two Longhorn F1s, a Satan’s Kiss and an African Devil. Even though they are in heated enclosures, the fruit is still green. I hope that this will change in the forthcoming weeks.
Getting to where I am right now in the season took eight months. If I hadn’t taken some Chillies indoors and placed them under grow lights, the odds were that I would have now had a lot of green Chillies on my hands. That would not have been acceptable at all. Certain green Chillies are good to eat; others are simply horrible. There is not a lot that you can do with them.
What about the weather?
The heated enclosures will allow me to extend the season for another month or two. So, it is possible that all the Chillies will have ripened by then ( fingers crossed). But things have been cut fine. I definitely should have started the season earlier.
The weather may have been the cause of the slow growth of my Chillies this season, but somehow starting earlier somehow just seems to make sense. If we are to have limited sunshine in our summers, why not work out ways of prolonging the season? Starting Chillies early is doing exactly that. What’s more, the sooner I can get the Chillies to maturity and fruiting, the sooner I can begin to harvest. The more harvesting that is done from a Chilli plant, the more it will produce.
I have not yet found any information online that indicates any disadvantage to starting seeds early. So, when I consider it will take almost ten months for all my Chillies to ripen this season (hopefully), somehow starting as early as I have seems to make a lot of sense. Between now and next June, when I will start placing these plants outdoors, is only eight months away. Compare that with the ten months it took to grow my Chilies this year. It certainly doesn’t appear I have started too early
I would not recommend doing this unless you have grown – lights and heaters. Seedings need to be kept at between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius. These temperatures can only be achieved if the seedlings are started indoors, in growing tunnels or in an insulated greenhouse. To add insulation to a greenhouse, use large bubble greenhouse bubble wrap. Using bubble wrap in this way traps warmth from the sun in the greenhouse. It can also help reduce heating bills if you use heaters.