Chillies and peppers have gone from a novelty vegetable to one of the most popular seeds and vegetable plants that we sell. This rise in popularity reflects our changing tastes in food. It also recognises that, what was once thought to be an exotic plant to grow, is actually a very easy vegetable to grow at home!
Chillies and peppers are related to tomatoes but to my mind much easier to grow! Less heat is required to keep them happy and far less tending is needed. This hardiness means that they are particularly suited to growing in a partially or unheated greenhouse and a polythene tunnel.
But, provided you don’t put them outside too early in spring, many are great plants to grow outside in pots! In most areas of the West Country that means you can put your plants out from around mid-May onwards. However those of you living closer to the coast, where late frosts are less likely, will be able to get going considerably earlier than this!
Now this assumes that you have sown seed early enough! In the beginning chillies and pepper plants grow quite slowly and so it pays off to get that seed going as early as possible.
All you need is a bright and warm windowsill, some clean pots or seed trays and some fresh seed compost. You’ll get best germination if you can put these into a narrow heated windowsill propagator and there are several on the market. Most chillies germinate best at around 20C and I would waste no time in getting your seeds sown now!
Once the seed has germinated, chillies and peppers will tolerate much lower temperatures. This is especially true in the autumn when they will be quite happy at temperatures just above freezing.
If you’ve grown tomatoes before, then you will be a good chilli grower!
Besides the difference in heat demands, they can be grown in much the same way that you would grow tomatoes. Use the same compost, feed and containers. However, you will need to keep an eye out for the same pests too! Whitefly, greenfly and sometimes red spider mite can be problematic. I get around this by always having companion plants growing nearby. These are plants with simple flowers that encourage natural insect predators. Single flowered marigolds and pot marigolds work well. In our production nursery, where we grow over 400 varieties of hardy plants, the companion plants that we use are alyssum, borage, marigolds and the poached egg plant. If you are planning to grow your plants outside then you are less likely to be troubled by these pests. Growing them inside will give you the opportunity to control pests by introducing bought in natural predatory insects. These are now quite widely available and work very well just so long as you introduce them early enough. We can supply natural predators through the specialist company called Agralan. Remember, at the first sign of a pest, get the natural predators in!
But back to the chillies, peppers and spicy food! I’m reminded of that classic film title ‘Some Like It Hot’ and a few thoughts about heat!
Some chillies can actually be dangerously hot! The Scoville Heat Scale has been developed to provide some indication of just how hot these are! You’ll often see this on the seed packet and this will help you choose the right heat for you. Shortened to ‘shu’, the Scoville heat unit is a measure of how much water is needed to remove the heat from chilli extract. So at the very mild end we have Bell peppers at 0 shu and at the top Habanero chillies at 300,000 shu. The popular Jalapeno chilli comes in at 3-6,000 shu.
Most peppers and chilli plants are treated as annual plants and discarded at the end of the year but it’s worth mentioning that some, if given frost protection in winter will last for more than a year and decked in red fruits can make an attractive seasonal Christmas display!
You may care to read a previous blog about sowing chillies, peppers, tomatoes and other salad vegetables here.
You may also be interested to read about a visit I made to South Devon Chilli Farm