Chilli peppers are amazingly easy to grow. If you live in a cool climate, you can pop them on a south-facing window ledge, and they’ll thrive. Or, if you have a higher average outdoor temperature, they are also happy in full sun out in the garden.
There are an abundance of different varieties, but here is a link to some of my favorites. You can also easily cross-pollinate your own varieties, and end up with something truly unique.
Best of all, chilli peppers thrive with little care. You can allow the soil to dry around them before you water, and you can also leave them at the mercy of the elements to some extent. Sheltered, and sunny is best, but mine have also faired well on my wind tunnel of a balcony, albeit with canes for support.
Here is a guide on what you are going to need if you want to grow them in containers, on balconies, roof terraces or patios.
When to sow –
Seeds can be sown between February and April. Some varieties will require a certain temperature to germinate, but a heated propagator or a warm radiator does the trick. Most will germinate within 7 days, but some varieties take their time and may only appear after a couple of weeks.
What the soil needs –
Chillies like rich, well-draining soil. A ring of bark chippings or mulch around the top of the plants will help with surface evaporation, especially if you are growing them in pots.
What type of sun –
Chillies were first discovered in the tropics, and so they thrive on hot and full sun locations. They are at home on a windsill or in a greenhouse, and if you have the weather for it they’ll also enjoy being outside (but be wary that nighttime temperatures don’t fall too low).
What size pots –
Start the seeds off in a seed tray, transplanting into 10cm pots after the seedlings get their second set of leaves. Then, once the plants are about 30cm, transfer them into a 25cm pot. I also like to grow mine in the recycled self-watering planters that I make.
Once the plants are no more than 45cm high, pinch out the tip of the central stalk. This will encourage it to grow into a bush, and a divert attention away from growing in height into producing fruit.
Slugs love chillies. And the best way to manage the problem is to put a ring of crushed eggshells around the pot. That way it will stop the slugs being about to get near enough to wreak their havoc.
In addition, aphids are the worse offenders when it comes to chilli plant distruction. The small insects twist and contort the leaves, and cause untold damage quickly. The best way to deal with these is to either plant complimentary plants which attract ladybirds, or from time to time spray the chilli plants down with weak-soapy water. If you really have an infestation, do both.
Once the chilli plants begin to flower, I feed them with liquid tomato feed once a week. I would use Chilli Focus, but it is impossible to source in Switzerland. In my opinion, the latter is the best food for them.
Depending on variety, you’ll get varying degrees of success. Habaneros produce fewer fruits then, say, Jalapeños, but it all comes down to what you want in the fruit. Grow many varieties and experiment with what you like when it comes to heat and flavour.
Remove the fruits with a sharp knife, leaving a little of the stalk on the fruit as this helps for drying and handling. Twisting, tearing or pulling them off will damage the plant.
Anything else –
Chilli peppers overwinter nicely. Some varieties, granted, do that better than others. But as the season winds down, take your strongest plants, prune vigorously and put on a warm windowsill until spring. In the spring, signs of growth will appear, and you’ll have chillies a lot quicker than if you grew from seed.
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Finally, I have a lot of chilli seeds, from a range of different varieties. Drop me a line below or message me on Twitter if you want to swap some.