Grow better Chillies. Top tips

It starts at the beginning

To  ensure optimal growth and a bountiful harvest , it is crucial to establish a solid foundation and follow proper cultivation practices right from the beginning. By providing your chilli plants with the ideal conditions and implementing effective strategies, you can maximize their growth rate and enhance their productivity. This comprehensive guide in a series of posts will walk you through the essential steps necessary to achieve accelerated growth and optimize the potential of your Chilli plants.

Embarking on your chilli growing journey requires a strong start, and it all begins with selecting the highest quality seeds available. Investing in seeds from reputable companies guarantees that you are working with healthy and viable genetic material. While these seeds may come at a slightly higher cost, it is a worthwhile investment when considering the time, effort, and resources you will dedicate to cultivating your Chilli plants.

The germination stage is a critical milestone where the dormant seeds awaken and sprout into vibrant seedlings. Maintaining the appropriate germination temperature is vital for successful sprouting. Chilli seeds tend to germinate best within a temperature range of 26-32°C (79-90°F), with an optimal temperature of around 28°C (82°F). Creating a warm environment, such as using a seedling heat mat or placing the seeds in a consistently warm location, promotes faster and more uniform germination, setting a strong foundation for accelerated growth.

Once your Chilli seeds have successfully germinated, providing immediate access to light is essential. Adequate light exposure prevents the seedlings from becoming weak and leggy. Whether you opt for dedicated grow lights designed for optimal plant growth or position the seedlings near a sunny window, ensuring they receive sufficient light energy is crucial for their healthy development

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Planting Chilli seeds – Is it too late?

The latest date to sow Chillies

It is not too late to sow Chilli seeds in April and May if you choose the right variety to grow. While the best time to plant chilli seeds in the UK is usually in late winter or early spring, around January to April, depending on your location and weather conditions. This will give the chilli plants plenty of time to grow and mature before the end of the growing season, which is usually around late September to early October.

However, if you missed this window, you could still plant chilli seeds in the UK as late as May or early June, as long as you provide them with optimal growing conditions such as a warm and sheltered location, good quality soil, and plenty of sunlight. You can also consider using a greenhouse or a polytunnel to extend the growing season and protect your plants from cooler temperatures and harsh weather conditions.

It’s important to choose Chilli varieties that have a shorter maturity period, usually between 60 to 90 days, to ensure that they have enough time to produce fruit before the end of the season. Some recommended varieties for late planting in the UK include ‘Apache’, ‘Thai Dragon’, Hungarian Hot Wax’, and ‘Jalapeno’.

These Chillies all fall under the Capscium Annuum species, These are the most commonly cultivated Chill because of  their  relatively short seed to maturity growing period. Other species such as  Capsicum Chinense can take as long as one hundred and eighty days before they reach maturity.  Varieties that fall under the C Chinense species include Scotch Bonnets, Habaneros and the officially the worlds hottest Chilli the Carolina Reaper. Read more

What size should my Chillies be?

The size of Chilli plants

A question you might be asking yourself after faithfully tending your seedlings since you planted them in January is what size they should be at this time of the year

The height of chili plants can vary depending on several factors, including the variety of Chili, the growing conditions, and the age of the plant. However, in the UK, at this time of the year (April), Chilli plants are typically around 10-30 centimetres (4-12 inches) tall if they were started from seed in January or FebruaryTime to go outside Chilli plantss

Varieties that grow very large include Rocotos and Dorset Nagas. In the case of Rocotos , they are know n to grow up to thirteen feet in height, similarly a Dorset Naga ( Nigel )  grown by Joy and Michael Michaud at their nursery in Dorset in the UK  grew to the same height. Some Rocotos varieties grow even taller in the wild.

As a general ruler most taller Chillies grow to about 1.3 metres tall (just over four foot) . Chillies that fall into this category in include Aji Amarillos, Aji Limons and Serranos.  Medium size Chillies like Jalapenos and Cayenne and Scotch bonnets grow to about 90 centimetres (about three feet) . Smaller home-grown Chillies usually fall within the 30-to-sixty-centimetre range (one to two feet) Read more

Planting Chilli seeds early

Starting now

On Saturday I started some Chilli seeds.  They are currently in heated propagators in a grow tent where the temperature is controlled to be between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius. I expect the seeds to germinate in the next week or so

These seed have been started at least a month before I would normally start my season. This is something I have tried previously, but  have never been able to achieve the results I wanted. My seedlings germinated easily enough, but after that they didn’t grow well at all.

This year I have decided that I will harness every bit of knowledge I have about growing Chillies  to find a better way of doing things. I want  to control every part of the propagation and growing stages to the Nth degree and find out whether this has the desired effect.

When it comes to plant growth there are two things above the ground that need to be considered. The first is the temperature and secondly is the amount of light. Light is the energy that powers a plants growth through photosynthesis. Without it, plants would be able to grow

Now, my theory is that seeds don’t know what season it is when they germinate. If the conditions are right (i.e. moisture, heat etc) a seed will germinate. From there, the amount of light a plant receives will determine how well it will grow. Temperatures also need to be conducive to growth

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Pickling Chilli recipe

Pickling this years Chilli crop

Today I made some pickled Chillies with a variety of Chillies that I harvested as part of this year’s Chilli crop. It is a good way of preserving Chillies and was  extremely easy to do. Having done this, besides pickling Chillies it now means that out of this years harvest I have been able to make Chilli powder, fermented Chillies and will shortly making hot sauce. I have also frozen quite a few.

All that I needed  for the pickling was the Chillies, some vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices and the mason jars that I used to do the pickling.  I also needed a pot , a  cutting board and a sharp knife.

Once I had all of these together , the first step in the pickling process  was to sterilise the jars. I did this by washing them in warm soapy water and then rinsing them in fresh warm water, I then let them air dry.

Once this had been done, I placed them in an oven that I had preheated to 100 hundred degrees Celsius for ten minutes. This will have killed off any harmful bacteria. In addition to this, the use of vinegar in the  pickling process  helps to keep the Chillies free  from  air borne bacteria like Botulism. The acidity in vinegar deters the growth of Botulism spores which otherwise might have been a problem; as Chillies are not acidic in themselves

The next step was to remove the stalks from the three hundred grams of  mixed Chillies I was using  I then sliced them in half and packed them tightly into two mason jars. One jar is 500 millilitres and the other 350. In both instances the jars were filled to eighty percent of their total volume. I did this because it is essential that the Chillies are completely submerged in vinegar to prevent spoilage The only thing that was then needed was to make the pickling solution

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Fermented Chilli sauce recipe

Fermented Chilli sauce

Fermented Chilli sauce

Last weekend I started making fermented Chilli sauce with part of my harvest of Aji Habaneros and Bishops Crowns. The Chillies are now starting to ferment, and I am now starting to see carbon – dioxide bubbles floating up from the fermentation brine. It has taken about three days to reach this point. In another four to five days the sauces will be ready, and I will then blitz them into a Chilli sauce.Fermented-vegetables

Fermentation is a great way to preserve Chillies, whether making a hot sauce or Chilli pickles. It is a method that has been used for thousands of years and was certainly being done before canning and bottling was invented.Recently, there has been renewed interest in this ancient form of preservation. This is because people have realised that the end- product tastes great and is also really healthy. What’s more, it’s easy to do

The basic principle behind fermentation is that you allow the Chillies to ferment in a brine solution of about five percent salt in water. The fermentation process results in acetic acid being produced which serves to preserve the Chillies but also give them a pleasant sour taste. Once they have been preserved in this way, they can be kept either whole in the brine or alternatively the brine gets drained and the Chillies then get blended into a sauce.

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How to overwinter Chillies

The first frost

The first frost has arrived in the West Midlands. With the anticipation that it would arrive around about now, three weeks ago I brought most of my Chillies in doors. Most are in my garage under grow lights as many still must ripen fully. I also prepared a couple of my larger plants for overwintering and even turned one of my larger plants (a Fatalii) into a Bonchi. Bonchi’s are Chilli plants that have been cut in such a way that they will eventfully resemble Bonsai trees. They make great indoor ornamental plants

Overwintering Chillies is done by removing most of their foliage and pruning their stems so that the plant is placed in a position that it requires very  little nutrition to grow. It means that when the plant goes into dormancy for the winter it can stay sufficiently alive to survive the winter. When spring arrives, the plant will then break out of dormancy and have a head start in in producing Chillies in the next season.

In their natural environment (hotter climates) Chillies are perennials. Perennials are plants that do not completely die off during winter in the same way annuals do. They lose foliage and stop growing during winter but will spring back into life at the onset of summer. In the UK, however, because of the cold winters, this is not possible. Chillies cannot survive freezing and die if exposed to  the zero-degree temperatures that are often experienced in the United Kingdom during this time of the year.

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Ripening with grow lights

Grow lights work well

Last year September because I was experiencing a problem  with getting my Chillies ripe in time for the end of the season I placed them under grow lights to see whether this would speed up ripening . After two weeks, I was delighted to advise it had worked. The two plants I had under the lights started to ripen. Two other plants of the same variety that I had kept outside showed  no signs of doing the same. This  convinced me that ripening under grow lights works. Here is what happened.

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How to save seeds

Saving seeds for next year

With the Chilli season coming to a close and Chilli harvesting in full swing in the United Kingdom, now is the time to start saving seeds for next season. With the hefty price that some seed suppliers charge for their seeds, this makes good financial sense. Besides, if you have plants that have done exceptionally well in the season, why not save some seeds for next year?

To successfully save seeds, choose fruit that is slightly overripe.  The chances of the seeds being fertile are far more likely if they are at this stage of ripeness. Also, make sure you only chose pods that are healthy and not showing any signs of disease.

Once you have picked them, slice them in half and scrape them out of their pods. Try to scoop out as little of the white membrane when doing this, as not doing so can cause seeds to become mouldy during drying. This can cause them to become infertile

Once the seeds have been scrapped out of their pods, place them in a tea strainer under cold running water, and gently wash away as much of the placenta as possible. If this doesn’t,  work try placing the seeds in a jar with some water, and shake them until any remaining placental tissue shakes loose from the seed.

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How to pick Chillies

Harvest time

We are now at the point in the season where many Chilli growers harvest their crops. Many of our Chillies have now ripened. However, if you are like me, there is still a while to go until the end of the season. With this in mind, I want to harvest what I can without damaging my plants. Particularly those I want to overwinter. This is where the method  used to pick the Chillies becomes important. I cover this topic in this post

The best way to harvest Chillies is by snapping the Chillies off at the base of their calyxes with your fingers. Simply hold the base of the calyx between your thumb and index fingers, and pull the Chilli away from it using the same fingers on the other hand.

Snipping Chillies off at the stem using scissors instead of snapping them off can pose a risk to the plant. By snipping the Chilli plant on its stem with scissors, you create an “open wound” on it. There is then a possibility the stem will rot, and this may introduce disease into the plant. This is the last thing you want to happen. To keep plants over winter, they will need to be as robust as possible when beginning the overwintering process. It is the only way the plants will survive and thrive in the next season

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