Growing chillies can be exiting. Their fiery taste adds sparkle to many recipes, and provides the gardener with a warm satisfied feeling inside too – at having overcome the challenge of growing a tropical plant in UK conditions.
The key point to bear in mind is that the warmer and sunnier the growing position, the hotter the taste of the eventual chillies.
- February – April
- Planting depth: Surface sow / fine covering
- Planting spacing: Individual pots, or 40 cm between plants, 50 cm between rows
- August – October
- Eat fresh. Excellent pickled.
Chillies grow best in warm environments. If you have a greenhouse, plastic growhouse, conservatory, or polytunnel, these are ideal environments. However, some varieties are suitable for outdoor growing – ideally in full sun, sheltered from any cooling wind, and against a heat retaining, reflecting wall.
Chillies are relatively slow growing, so germination needs to take place in a warm environment in late winter – ideally February or March. This is to ensure that the plants are mature enough to ripen their fruit in the short UK summer months of August and September. If you miss the time to grow from seed, consider purchasing young plants instead.
Sow the seed on the surface of damp soil and cover with a light sprinkling of soil or vermiculite. I prefer to loosely wrap the pots with plastic food wrap to help retain heat and moisture. Place in a warm light spot indoors, a sunny windowsill is ideal.
The seeds can take a week or two to germinate. If using plastic wrap, this should be removed as soon as you see the shoots emerge.
Chillies are grown in a similar way to tomatoes. It is important to keep the soil moist and feed once the plants are in flower. You can use the same feed for tomato plants on chillies.
Unlike tomatoes their is no complicated pruning regime. You may want to pick the first few chillies whilst still green to encourage more flowers to set (they will turn into ripe chillies).
If you intend to grow your plants outside, do not transplant them until all risk of frost has passed and the weather has turned warm. For security, I like to transplate two plants per pot, and then remove the weakest plant once they have become established.
The searing heat of chillies is largely contained in their pith and seeds. It is advisable to wear gloves when harvesting chillies and to always wash your hands thoroughly after preparing them to eat – if you rub your eyes whilst chopping chillies it can be very painful.
Nearly all chillies transition from green to red or purple and can be eaten at any stage.
Different varieties of chillies are sometimes bred to be eaten at certain stages or colours – this can be checked at time of purchase. In general, as chillies turn red they become sweeter and hotter.