How to ripen Chillies

Ripening Chillies

It is that time of the season. Many of my Chilli plants have fruited.  Some have produced as many as fifty Chillies on a single bush.  Now, all that is needed is for them to ripen. When they do, we are on our way to making hot sauces, chutneys, Chilli jams  and a whole lot more

The only problem right now is the lack of sunshine. Chillies grow best in warm, sunny conditions. Unfortunately, this  growing season in the U.K has not been great in that department. As a result, the plants  struggled to reach a reasonable size.  They may also have a hard time ripening. So, once again this season, they may need a bit of help.

Some background

The first frost in our area is expected towards the end of November. When that happens, it is game over. Chillies don’t survive after frost hits them. To keep them alive, they need to have been brought indoors well before it gets that cold.   If the fruit on these plants hasn’t ripened before then,  the whole process of getting them ripe gets more complicated.

When Chillies are brought indoors or into a greenhouse, they need to be situated  in a sunny spot. This is essential for the Chilies to ripen.  Placing  Chilli plants ( when they are in pots)  indoors is usually not a problem . Particularly when you only have a plant or two. In my case, however, I have over forty plants. Barring taking over the greenhouse, lounge, conservatory and the rest of our house, I might have a problem.

With this in mind, I have decided to investigate ways of  speeding  up their ripening. If I can do that, besides having ripe Chillies sooner, I will achieve something else – a larger harvest. The more Chillies that get harvested from a Chilli plant, the more  it will produce. This is why it is essential to pick Chillies as soon as they ripen. By doing this ,  the number of Chillies a plant produces in a single season can be increased.  It will be a win-win situation to get this right

How will I speed up ripening?

Creating sunshine

To speed up ripening, I am trying an experiment. I have decided to place some of my smaller plants under grow lights.  The plants will be brought indoors right now, even though we are still in summer. The grow lights  I will use are fluorescent. They generate bright light and a lot of heat. I am hoping that the lighting will be convincing enough for the plants to begin the ripening process.

Ripening of fruit begins in plants when they sense the conditions are right. They then release a hormone that causes the fruit to mature and change colour. After that enzymes are released to make the Chillies  sweeter and nicer to eat.

I am hoping that this works as another alternative to my first plan of action. As mentioned in a previous post, I have erected outdoor plastic greenhouses called tomato grow houses. These have been placed against various walls on our property. The grow houses will have heaters placed in them two to three weeks before the  first frost.  I will use these to house my larger plants and extend the season for up to a month. I did this last year, and it worked relatively well.

Something else I am attempting  for the first time is  to ripen Chillies using Ristras. Ristras are made by picking the Chillies and then tying them together with string or cotton. The Ristra is then hung in a sunny spot until the Chillies ripen.  They be used fresh while they ripen or left to dry on the ristra. This is a great solution, as besides ripening the Chillies, a Ristra also makes a wonderful decoration

One thing about Ristras though You should only use long, thin varieties to make them. Using plumper varieties can lead to the Chillies  rotting rather than ripening. Luckily this year, I have grown Chillies that will be ideal for this purpose. My Longhorn F1  Chilles are long and relatively thin. They are already about six inches long.  I expect even more growth from these Chillies before they ripen. At the moment, they are all still green but will mature to a red colour. If not, into a ristra, they will go. This  will however only be  attempted if they have already started ripening.  Putting green Chillies that are not maturing on ristra is futile.  They need to be a ” mature green ”

Ripening in paper  bags

Does it work ?

There has been a lot of debate on whether you can ripen Chillies in a paper bag with ripe fruit like apples or bananas. The theory is that  ripe fruit releases ethylene gas that is supposed to speed up the ripening process. I personally am not convinced. I have tried this on various occasions, and it has not worked.

Chillies are what are classified as non – climatic fruits . In essence this means that unless they have shown signs of changing colour before being picked they will not ripen at all.   They need to be what is referred to as ” mature green“, This means that the seeds have matured but that their  walls are still in the process of ripening

It seems that I am not the only one who has this view. In various posts on the web, it appears that while using this method will ripen other fruit, like tomatoes, it doesn’t work with Chillies. This is even though they both belong to the same family. Scientists are still uncertain why and are doing further research.

Final Thoughts

In their normal growth cycle, Chilli plants stop producing flowers and concentrate on fruiting and ripening in autumn. They do this, so they can attract birds that eat Chillies before migration. It is a way of ensuring the survival and dispersal of their seeds.  The birds eat the Chillies and disperse the seeds in their droppings, a ready source of fertilization. Clever things, Chillies, aren’t they?

Hopefully, with the onset of autumn, ripening will start improving from now on. However, it might be cutting things a bit fine. Temperatures will start dropping and the sunshine will become less. Not, ideal weather for Chillies to ripen at all!

Hopefully, things will turn out for the best. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, however, I am trying what I can to improve my chances. I will let you know how it turns out

Image credit

Maja Dumat / CC BY 2.0 / via Flickr

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