Episode 371. Growing chillies

Join me in todays podcast where after receiving a lot of questions about chillies I thought i would go into these in a lot of detail. I also share the latest from the plots.

What varieties of chillies do I like to grow?

There are hundreds and hundreds of different chilli varieties that are available on the market with many different heat and flavours but some of my favourite are

  • Sweet banana. A pretty mild variety
  • Numex twilight. Produce small but colourful chillies
  • Apache. Can be sown now
  • Medusa Also can be sown now
  • Birds eye a small but very hot chilli
  • Jalapenos just because I love stuffing these with cheese
  • Caroline reaper a very hot chilli
  • Scotch bonnets a fairly hot but full of flavour
  • Chocolate habanero a Smokey flavour ripening to a chocolate brown colour

Growing chilli's transcript

Today I thought I will talk about growing chillies as I have been getting quiet a few questions that I thought it would be great to go over chillies today but firstly I want to apologise to you all.

When this second lockdown started I said I was going to record 3 podcast a week. Unfortunately I have been so busy with work which has surprised me that I haven't been able to record these extra podcast’s. So I really want to apologise for that and rest assured if work wasn’t in the way I would be talking a lot more about grow your own.

Lets move on now growing chillies. If I am ever asked to pick one favourite vegetable to grow which is never an easy to question for me to answer but if I’m pushed I would have to say its chillies. Not only that chillies are probably one of the easiest to grow and don’t really suffer from any pests or diseases here in the UK.

So where do we start with chillis if you are a first time grower I would wait till about March next year when garden centres will start selling plug plants these are basically baby plants. The reason I recommend this is that starting from seed is a whole skill set and for a new grower I believe its much better to start with a plug plant and spend that first year learning how to grow the plant.

If you are a bit more experienced or just want to grow from seed then this actually opens up the choice of what variety you can grow because there are hundreds of varieties out there which different heat levels and different flavours.

This is probably a good point to mention a few of my favourite varieties. So yesterday I sowed a variety called Apache which along with another variety called Medusa can be sown now.

I love jalapinos so I always try to grow these mainly because I love to stuff these with Cheese in bake in the oven. Absolutely delicious.

Another variety I am fond of is Numex twilight which I shared a photo on my instagram Yesterday of these plants we get plenty of small chillis of these I don’t find them particularly spicy.

If you don’t like heat then I recommend a variety called Sweet banana. These are very mild in fact I don’t find they have any heat at all. These are also great for pickling or stuffing.

Then if you want really hot chillis something like the Caroline reaper or birds eye chilli are worth a try.

Rather then me listing all the other chillis I like I will add a list to the blog post for this episode over on thevegggrowerpodcast.co.uk

So you’ve got your seed when will we be sowing well as I mentioned earlier we can actually sow some now. I tried this for the first time last year and it worked rather surprisingly but the best varieties for these are Apache and Medusa. I would sow these in my heated propagator in order to provide some heat to start them off. If you don’t have heated propagator then start them off on a radiator. These seedlings would need potting up and growing on a well lit windowsill unless you have a heated greenhouse. Now the advantage with starting these now is that we can get an early crop.

But if your not wanting to start yet then we can wait till next year of course. I tend to start my chillies off at the end of January to end of March. What I have found with chillies is that they like a long growing season so earlier the better. Now I have an advantage in that I have a greenhouse which by about mid march is usually warm enough to move my chilli plants out to there. Now if you don’t have a greenhouse you might want to wait till March before starting sowing seeds off so that they can then go outside mid may which is when I usually find its warm enough outside to survive outside.

Hopefully that’s giving you an idea of when to sow your seeds. Sowing them is pretty easy I like to use my seed trays which I fill with seed sowing compost which has been prewarmed and moistened. Scatter the seeds over the compost then sprinkle over some more compost. With a couple of weeks all the seed should have germinated. I will then wait till we get some true leaves before pricking these seedlings out and putting them in to there own pots of multipurpose compost. Because chillis are fairly slow growing they can actually stay in 10cm pots for quiet a while but keep an eye on the roots and if the roots start coming out the bottom of the pot its time to pot them up.

Keep the soil moist during this time of course and they don’t really need any feed at this time.

Now if your planting them in a greenhouse then move them out there mid march and if your planting them outside then you'll be looking to do this about mid may but in both cases make sure you acclimatise the plants to the location first by moving them out during the day and moving them back in at night. For a couple of weeks. After this then its a case of deciding where to plant them. Chillies do like plenty of sun and warmth so choose somewhere that maximises both. A greenhouse is ideal and Because the plants don’t get massive they will grow pretty happily in pots of multipurpose compost which can be moved around. If your growing them outside then a warm courtyard or against a south facing wall would be ideal too.

They can of course go into the soil if you prefer. They prefer free draining soil so if your on clay like me which holds on to water then its worth adding plenty of compost to your soil which will help. Free draining soil that’s a term used often basically it means that your plants roots aren't sitting in waterlogged soil.

Water these plants in to get them established and then once established chillies don’t need watering daily. Experts say that chillies perform better if they are allowed to dry out before watering so only watering once a week might be all they need. However this year I have experimented with a wicking pot which I grew chillies in. These did only need watering once a week but because they created a water reservoir underneath the compost never dried out and stayed moist resulting in some of the most prolific chillies ive ever grown which are still producing now.

In terms of feed they only need a bit of tomato feed every couple of weeks they are not heavy feeders but feeding encourages flowers which in turn should lead to chilli fruits being produced. Now someone did ask me why there chillies produced lots of flowers but no fruits and the reason for this is that the flowers do need pollination from insects like bees. Sometimes if grown in a greenhouse the insects can have trouble reaching the flowers and if this happens take a small soft paintbrush and act like a bee by going between each flower.

Once we get the fruits on the plants we can harvest them young which is usually green fruits depending on the variety. Harvested at this stage they are usually hotter but picking now will encourage more flowers and therefore more fruit. However we can of course leave the fruits to ripen. I personally find that I get enough chillies without harvesting them at an early stage. Usually the chillies are as spicy but we also get some great variation in colours depending on what the variety is. Red purple yellow are all possible colours.

Chillies are harvested by simply pulling the stalk of the plants I use them straight of the plant in the kitchen in things like curries or chilli con carnies but we can also preserve our fruits often I just freeze them in pots whole and they can last for ages like this. We can pickle them the banana chilli is great for this and there's plenty of recipes online for this. Then we can dry them now we can stick the chillies in a low oven to dry or use a dehydrator but something I was asked about was how to string them up. Now this is actually a great way to make chillies into a decorative piece. Harvest your chillies and select the chillies in the best condition. It might be worth wearing gloves to protect yourself. Then take a needle and thread or Strong piece of string. Fishing line is actually pretty useful for this as it does need to be strong. Tie a know in one end of the thread and then using the sowing needle to go through the base of the stem pull the string right through to the knot and then continue with all the other chillies.

Once you have used all your chillies up hang up your string in dry sunny spot in your kitchen in front of a window is usually best.

After 3 or 4 weeks your chillies will be dry and should feel crispy to touch. If they don’t feel crispy then leave them for a bit longer. Once fully dry Store them in an airtight container somewhere cool dry and dark.

There will come a point when it gets to cold for your chilli plant and it will start to die back by this point your best off just getting rid of the plant but if like me you have some in the greenhouse that are still strong then its possible to over winter entire chilli plants. Once leaves start to drop prune back the brunches to leave about 10 cm of the main stem. Dig up the plant or put into a slightly smaller pot in order to save the plants energy then keep your plants somewhere frost free ideally in a temperature between 5c and 12c an unheated room will probably be ideal. Then come next year they will bounce back into life early and get an early start. Then we just look after them in exactly the same way we look after all our chilli plants at that time of year.

Well that has been a pretty exhaustive coverage of chilli plants. Hopefully you have found it useful but if you have any tips then please get in touch.

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