Growing Chillies

If you ask me, chillies are one of the most rewarding plants to grow. One plant can brighten up dozens of meals. The sheer diversity of this group of plants is absolutely extraordinary.

They can be grown indoors on sunny windowsill and it's easy to save the seeds. Here's a few key facts to bear in mind:

> They should be started off early (Feb / March) with extra heat. The seeds need around 20C to germinate.

> Chillies require lots of light - always give them your sunniest spot.

> Chillies are not the easiest plant to grow from seed - there is no shame in buying plug plants to make life easy! Try Sea Spring Plants.

> You can pinch out chillies to help them grow bushy.

General growing advice from experts Sea Spring Seeds:

http://www.seaspringseeds.co.uk/growing-information/chillies-and-peppers/growing-chillies-and-peppers

Here is some excellent background advice from the same team : 

http://www.seaspringseeds.co.uk/growing-information/british-ethic/ethnic-chillies

Here's an extract from my book The Urban Kitchen Gardener:

Recommended varieties

The choice of varieties can be bewildering, so focus on choosing a suitable plant to match your climate and plot. Look online for specialist chilli nurseries and ask them for recommendations. If growing outside, make sure the chillies are listed as ‘outdoor’ varieties suitable for your area. ‘Super Chilli’ is well worth trying. For indoor windowsills [and similar spots, choose compact or dwarf varieties such as ‘Apache F1’. ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ is medium hot, easy to grow and an early cropper. ‘Habanero’ chillies are hotter, with excellent flavour. Look out for Peruvian ‘Aji’ chillies, such as ‘Aji Crystal’, which have a stunning lemony edge to their flavour. For wonderful colour, consider purple-fruited varieties such as ‘Purple Venezuelan’.

Growing

Chillies require a warm, sunny spot and a long growing season to bear fruit. So decide if you will grow from seed, starting very early in the season, in late winter – at least a month ahead of most other crops. Alternatively, take the short cut of buying established plants later in spring, which will spare you the steps below.


Sow seed into small pots or plug trays, one seed per cell, in very early spring. They need warmth to germinate. Optimum temperature varies (check the seed packet or supplier), but lies in the range of 21–27°C. Choose a snug spot, such as above a radiator, in an airing cupboard or in a heated propagator. Germination can take up to three weeks.

Temperature becomes slightly less vital once the seed has germinated. Nevertheless, continue to raise seedlings in a warm, bright spot indoors, potting up the plants at least twice, whenever the roots outgrow their current container. You can check if it’s time to do this by sliding the plant out of its pot to see if the roots have taken up all available space. Then transfer the plant into a pot with a slightly larger diameter, adding fresh compost.

Containers

Minimum compost depth: 20cm

As they grow, chillies should be potted up. The final container should be at least 25–30cm in diameter. Chillies are happy in a standard multipurpose compost. Use a general-purpose liquid feed, switching to a high-potassium feed when the chillies start to produce fruit.


Indoors: Chillies make splendid houseplants: reserve your sunniest windowsill. When they start to flower, assist pollination by gently shaking the plants or gently rubbing a cotton bud inside each flower .This mimics the action of wind and insects.


In the ground: Harden off the plants before moving them permanently outside in late spring when they start to flower.

Spacing

About 50cm between plants.


Notes

Chillies are often grown as annuals but can be perennials in native countries. They are in the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes and peppers .


You want a bushy, compact plant with balanced branches, so if the plant is looking at all spindly, pinch out the growing tip and sideshoots when the bush is about 20–30cm hig.


Chillies do not enjoy wet ‘feet’, so be careful not to overwater.


You can try to overwinter favourite plants to get a head start the next growing season. In late autumn, move the plant to a warm, bright spot indoors. Cut the main stem down to 10–15cm, and reduce watering to a minimum. The plant may go dormant, and look more dead than alive. In spring, repot in fresh compost and snip off dead growth.