Whether starting from seeds or seedlings bought from a nursery, Growing chilies at home is so simple that even if you don’t ‘do it properly’ you will still probably end up with a great crop of delicious fiery peppers. Not just the bog standard varieties either. You can enjoy exotic chilies that you cannot get from the supermarket, whenever you fancy if you grow your own.
There are so many varieties to try and most of them never appear in the supermarket. I am a big fan of the chocolate habanero (looks great, grows fast) but each year I try out a few new varieties.
Chilis are perfectly suited to growing on windowsills. Water them daily in summer, feed them once a week and wait for the little red devils to appear.
Growing Chilis from Seed
Start early because the longer the growing season the better the crop. Make sure there isn’t a cold draught coming in from outside. If you want to start things of as quickly as possible, a windowsill propagator or a simple plastic bag over the top of the pot will help.
Each seed should be planted in a 4 inch pot and then you won’t need to re-pot till the end of summer.
The seeds usually take 2 weeks to germinate which is a bit longer than most other indoor plants. Just be patient and wait for them to come through.
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Now I have no idea whether this is a sensible thing or not but I remember reading that you should only water your chilies in the morning. I haven’t bothered to work out whether it is in any way accurate piece of information but since it was in my head I have been following it anyway to good affect. Every morning I give my chilis a little water and on Saturdays they get a treat of a quarter capful of liquid feed.
Flowering is one time when a little extra help is required. If you want chilies to grow you need to get a soft paintbrush and go from flower to flower, pretending to be a bee. Gently brush the soft bristles in and around the middle of each flower.Pollen with stick to the bristles and then be transferred to other flowers for pollination to occur. Do it lightly and regularly whenever flowers are visible. Apparently there is no need to make buzzing noises as you go, but if you feel the urge, don’t let me stop you.
By mid to late summer you might find the chili plant roots are pouring out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. If this is what you see then it is time to re-pot your chili. The biggest mistake is to go from a tiny pot to a huge one. It is much better to find the next size up. If you were in a 6 inch pot then pot on to a 7 inch or at most an 8 inch pot.
A weekly feed in summer with a seaweed based household liquid feed will be excellent for the plants and you will be rewarded with many more chilis as a crop. Overfeeding can ‘scorch’ the plant and even kill it, so don’t exceed the instructions.
If you are a keen gardener you can make your own liquid feed (comfrey is excellent for this) but it generally stinks to high heaven so this is best avoided if your plants are indoors on the window sill.
The young chilis will grow and then change colour…
soon getting redder
and when they are fully red, you can start harvesting.
Overwintering your chili plants
Chili plants will last 3 or even 4 years. Since they get a head start you should get a much bigger crop in year two than you did in your first year, (but not all chilies will survive the winter so plan to plant some more as well.
Over winter, simply cut the watering right back to once a week and the feeding down to once a month or less. If you have a tall plant with large leaves you could cut the whole thing off about 8 inches from the top of the pot. This will help the roots during the dormant period. You will end up with what looks like a dead twig in your pot for a few months, but in early spring is should spring back into life.
For me the second year is always the most exciting. Will the plant survive? (hint: they usually do) Then when they grow twice as big in year two and give you twice the chilliest, it is a real treat.
What is eating my chillies?
If you find that some morning your plants have been nibbled, it is time to take action and stop whichever critter is munching your chilli plants from doing major damage. A magnifying glass is your best friend. Take a close look at the leaves to see if the culprits are visible. Aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, thrips and slugs all love eating the young leaves or sucking their sap.
Each pest needs to be dealt with in a different way. Here is a link to a more detailed action plan.
Preserving your Chilies
It is so easy to preserve chilies. Either freeze them or hang them up to dry. If you are hanging them, remove the green stem first. Nothing more too it than that.