Hot stuff!Posted By: rocket veg Category: Plant Care, Seasonal Tips
Chilis and peppers are members of the capsicum family – chilis being more piquant while peppers are generally milder. There are numerous colourful varieties of each – vibrant reds, yellows, oranges and greens.
Chilis and peppers are both fun to grow as long as you have a warm, sunny and sheltered spot for them, ideally some form of greenhouse – nothing posh – or a sun-drenched windowsill. In order to produce a good crop, capsicums need as long a season as possible and although seeds sown a bit too late will still grow into handsome plants, you are unlikely to be rewarded with beautiful, large, brightly coloured fruits. These dark, dank January days are the ideal time to make a start, so grab a few packets of seed, reach for a pot filled with suitable compost and you’re ready to go.
Sowing and germinating chili and pepper seed
Fill a 9cm pot with fine compost, gently water the surface and place a few seeds on top. A trick I learned many years ago is to transfer seeds to the compost using the moistened end of a matchstick. Sprinkle a fine layer of compost over the seeds and don’t forget to label each pot with the variety and date of sowing. Capsicums need warmth to germinate successfully. I use an electric propagator but covering the pot with a clear plastic bag and placing them in an airing cupboard or other warm spot will work just as well. Germination will take about ten days and once the tiny green shoots appear, remove the pot from the warm place before the plants become leggy and weak.
Growing on and potting up
Once the plants have developed two true leaves, the time has come to transfer each to its own pot so that it has room to develop a strong root system and grow. Prepare the number of pots you need, then gently tease the seedlings from their nursey pot, holding by a leaf – never the fragile stem which is easily crushed. Make a hole in the compost of the new pot, ready to receive the wispy roots of the seedling, lower it in and shuffle some compost around the root, then water and place the pot/s on a saucer in a cool, well-lit spot to encourage steady growth.
Assuming all goes well with your plants, they should be ready to be transferred to their final location when warmer weather has arrived. Don’t be in a hurry as they are frost-tender so make sure that the risk of a cold snap has well and truly passed. The peppers and chilis I grow each year are lucky as I have a greenhouse which guarantees shelter, light and the warmth. I like to grow them in large pots (30cm) filled with peat-free compost but growing bags are an excellent alternative and a sunny spot in the corner of a patio will be fine.
When the plants are about 20cm (8in) tall, pinch out the tip so as to encourage sturdy plants which should then form lots of flowers from which the fruits develop. If you want a crop of smaller fruits, pinch out the side shoots which grow between the main stem and leaves. Peppers and chilis are hungry plants and will benefit from a regular intake of high potash organic plant feed.
As the fruits grow and fill out, you may need to put a cane alongside each plant to provide support or you run the risk of it toppling over.
My favourite varieties
The seed of numerous varieties of capsicum is readily available. I love the slender, fruits of ‘Long Red Marconi’ and usually grow a ‘bell’ variety as well: ‘Spanish Mixed’ or ‘Gourmet’. When it comes to chilis, look on the seed packet for an indication of heat (mild to fiery). ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ is on the milder end of the scale, whereas the name ‘Heatwave’ gives a clue as to what’s in store!