Are you growing chillies this season? Get ready to spice things up with these top tips for growing feisty, fiery peppers. Chillies are surprisingly easy to grow and really add wow factor to your kitchen window sill, greenhouse or conservatory. Even if you're not keen on eating chilies, they can be dried and made into flavoured oils and given as gifts, or garlands for an eclectic display. If you've ever been in a Bill's restaurant, you've probably seen huge garlands of dried chilies hanging from the rafters.
Tip 1: What's your flava(?!) - yes that was a Craig David reference. No, I'm not sorry.
Picking a variety to suit your taste and your growing conditions is key. A little research can go along way to ensuring you get an abundant crop! Things to consider when choosing your chilies:
- Heat level - what to they need, what can you provide?
- How hot can you handle? Maybe spicy is a no go... try bell peppers, pimentos or cubanelle for a sweeter, milder variety.
- How big will it get? Some pepper plants are surprisingly large and leafy, others are delicate and small, ideally suited to a sunny windowsill. Ensure your pepper is not going to struggle to spread out and grow to their natural size and shape.
- Colour! Maybe you want to choose your chilli purely for decorative purposes rather than flavour?
- Earliness. And by this I mean, when will your chilli plants crop.
- How many chillies do you need? Finding a plant that will supply a steady supply is ideal for a small house hold. 1-2 plants is probably more than enough! If you are growing bell peppers or another large variety, you may want to grow 4-5 plants as you get less fruits on a larger variety than on the smaller spicier relatives.
Tip 2: SOW KEEN
If you're giving chillies a go from seed, my advice is to sow early in the warmest room of your house. In the UK you can sow indoors between January to mid-march. I have had the greatest success using an electric propagator, but I've propagated seeds in my airing cupboard before. As long as you mist regularly they'll pop up in no time! Just be sure not to shock them when you bring them out... transition over a few days.
Tip 3: Don't PRICK TOO EARLY
Don't be tempted to prick out your seedlings too early. You must leave them to grow until at least two true leaves have formed and are healthy looking and strong. Do not pull them up by the stem! Instead it's better to gently tease the seedling out by the leaves - point being that if the stem is damaged the plant cannot re-grow it. If the leaves are damaged - no problem! They will simply sprout a new one.
Tip 4: FEELING HOT, HOT, HOT!
Chillies LOVE a lot of sun but do not want to dry out. Keep the ambient temperature high while keeping the soil damp. High temperatures should be maintained throughout the plant's life from germination to fruiting - chillies really hate big fluctuations in temperature and will not grow well if subjected to a sudden change in conditions. Take time to choose the ideal growing position for your plant, and leave them there.
Tip 5: FEED ME
Chillies LOVE tomato feed. and I really mean that they LOVE IT! Dose your plants once a week with a good quality,tomato feed or even compost tea for maximum health and plenty of chillies to pick all season long.
Tip 6: SUNSHINE
Just like they love heat, chillies absolutely LOVE sunshine. I mean, their colour kind of gives that away! Generally the more light chillies have the earlier and more abundantly they grow and will crop. If they are starved of sunlight, they will have weak, spindly plants that struggle to produce anything.
Tip 7: APHID ATTACK!
Beware the aphid attack! Aphids can't resist chillies and can present a real problem if left to their own sap-sucking devices. There are various methods of getting through an aphid infestation and my favourite one involves collecting ladybirds! Ladybirds and their larvae are AMAZING aphid munching machines. Collect a few from around the garden and pop them onto your chilli plant. They'll soon be happily feasting on the little green army in no time.
Tip 8: GOOD SUPPORT ESSENTIAL
Just like a decent bottle of gin and or your 'fancy' bra - good support is essential. A fully laden chilli plant is surprisingly heavy. Use plant supports to help keep the main stem sturdy and able to support the weight of the peppers.
Tip 9:TOTALLY PARCHED
Water diligently. Although they love high temperatures, chillies will not thank you for leaving their roots in desert like conditions. Keep the soil damp but take care not to over saturate. A little every day is perfect.
Tip 10: PICK & COME AGAIN
Pick regularly! This is the best bit - Chillies will produce more chilli peppers the more you pick, so be sure to take the ripe fruits regularly to encourage more young flowers and peppers to form.
The Carolina Reaper is officially the Worlds Hottest Pepper as ranked by Guinness Records. If you think a habanero is hot? Think again! This fiery little beauty is a hybrid of the Pakistani Naga Chili and the Red Habanero. It was bred for searingly hot, tounge-twisting heat and that it does that and then some! The hottest Carolina Reaper Chilli ever recorded was 2.2 MILLION SCOVILLES. So, if you see Carolina Reaper on the tag in the garden centre - step away!
Hope these tips bring out the best in your chili plants!