Planning the season
One of the most important considerations when growing Chillies is how much time you have to grow them. By that, I don’t mean how much time you have to care for your Chillies, but rather, the amount of time that is left in the Chilli growing season once seeds have been started. After germination, the plants will need to mature, set fruit, and for the pods to ripen before harvest. With a short growing season (particularly in countries like the United Kingdom), this can be challenging
After all, you can spend as much time as you like looking after your Chillies, but if they have been planted too late, that is another issue. It can create complications.
Nothing is more disheartening in growing Chillies than spending months caring for plants and then not being able to make a harvest. Last year, that happened to me. I left it too late to start my seeds, and before I knew it, I was facing a ripening problem. My plants had produced plenty of chillies, only I hadn’t allowed enough time for the fruit to ripen. The season was drawing to a close and I had a lot of unripe fruit on my hands. If I had been more careful with the varieties I planted, I wouldn’t have needed to face this problem. Planting faster growing varieties would have meant they would have matured more quickly, set fruit earlier, and I would have had ample time for them to ripen and make a harvest.
Not making the same mistake
Never again. It was a nightmare. So, this year, instead of starting my seeds at the beginning of March (as I did last year), I started them in the middle of January. This has paid off. I now have seedlings that in many cases are well over two inches tall. Come May, when I will start hardening these plants off, I expect them all to be well over five inches tall and in one litre pots. From there, I will transfer the plants into their final containers for the season. Deo Valente, I expect to start making my first harvest of some varieties in June or July.
You will have noticed that I have emphasised “some” in bold. I did this because some of the other varieties I’m growing will take longer to mature. My superhots, for example, have far longer growing periods than most of my other Chillies. These varieties can take over six months from first potting- on to produce Chillies. Never mind that they will still need more time for the fruit to ripen!
Even though I might have started these superhots in January, I only expect them to start setting fruit in September. If I allow three weeks to a month for them to ripen, I should have enough time (weather permitting) to harvest ripe pods before the first frost. Once the first frost arrives, it is game over (particularly without a heated poly tunnel or green house). In my neck of woods, the first frost is in the first to second week of November.
The slower growing Chillies (superhots) are all Capsicum chinense. They include Carolina reapers, Dorset Nagas, Trinidad Moruga Scorpions, Dorset Zingers, Trinidad Scorpion Butch Ts and Fataliis. The faster growing varieties are mainly Capsicum Annuum Chillis. I expect to harvest them in June or July, but I may be lucky to get some early fruit from my Aji Crystal, which is an overwintered Capsicum baccatum.
I also expect to harvest Chillies from the Capiscum pubescence and Capicum frutescens varieties I am growing in August. The Capsicum frutescens varieties I am growing include African devils and Demon Birdseyes. The Capscicum pubescens Chillies are all Rojo (red) Rocottos
Chillies to consider
Jalapenos and the like
So, when it comes to wanting to harvest Chillies early, it is best to go with Chillies that fall under the Capsicum annuum species. It is also a good idea to go with this species if you only want to start seeds later (i.e. at the beginning of March) and stand any chance of reaping a harvest in July or August. This is super important, particularly if you do not have heated poly tunnels or a greenhouse
To prove this point, I will start some Capsicum Annuum Chillies today. It is the first of March, and I have left starting these seeds until now, specifically with the intention, to show that it is possible to get a harvest in a single season by choosing the correct varieties to grow.
As far as the early Jalapenos are concerned, I expect a first harvest in late July or August. Similarly, I would expect similar harvesting time for the rest of these Chillies. On average, I would expect a germination time of seven to ten days, and fruit set another seventy to eighty days later. Allowing for a ripening period of two to three weeks would take me roughly to the end of July.
I have already stratified the seeds. They are currently in my refrigerator. I have decided to use two methods of scarification for this exercise. I will do two batches of each variety. The first will be with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide at full strength. I will soak the seeds in full dilution 3% H202 for an hour, and then rinse them in clear running lukewarm water before planting them. The second method of scarification will be done with my tried a tested quarter strength camomile tea. The seeds will be soaked in the Camomile tea for twelve hours. They will then be sown in my seed starting mix and placed into a heated propagator. From there, it is a matter of waiting for the seeds to germinate
Besides the seeds I started in January and the seeds I am starting now, I also have some overwintered plants. These include a couple of Scotch bonnets, an Apache, Barak Chillies, some Satan’s kisses and the mentioned Aji Crystal. All being equal (they survive the overwintering), I expect to harvest from these plants in July and August. Overwintered plants sometimes take a while to get their foliage back and start producing fruit again. Let’s wait and see what happens!