Chillis are in the same family as tomatoes and potatoes. They are grown for their fruits, which are usually picked when green, although they can be left to turn red on the bush, which usually takes about another 2 to 3 weeks. They are best picked green as leaving them on the plant until red will not improve on the flavour. Chillis will grow in similar conditions to tomatoes although better results are achieved in higher temperatures and humidity. A better crop will be achieved by growing under glass, although they can be cultivated outdoors in sheltered sites with plenty of sun.
Sowing Chilli Seeds
Seeds need to be sown in 1 inch pots with 2 to 3 seeds in each and thinly covered in compost. Germination can then take up to 4 to 6 weeks in a temperature of 70F, although the majority of seeds germinate in about the first 2 weeks. As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual 3 inch pots discarding any weak plants and give them a potash liquid feed to maintain growth. The plants will still need a temperature of about 60F, so will need to be kept indoors or a heated greenhouse.
After about 12 weeks they should now be large enough to transplant into 10 inch pots which can now be placed in an unheated greenhouse or outdoors, if weather is suitable, about 12 inches apart. Now weather and variety depending, they will grow to about 24 inches high or slightly higher in a greenhouse although they should be encouraged to bush out by pinching out the growing tip when 4 to 6 inches tall. Always keep well watered if grown in pots or growing bags as they tend to dry out fairly quickly, more so than if planted straight into the ground, erratic watering will lead to problems such as blossom end rot or cracking of fruits. Mist plants regularly to keep down pests and encourage fruit set. Once fruit has set a nitrogen liquid feed will be necessary with each watering, also some kind of support may be necessary to attach stems to depending on size.
Chillies should be ready for picking after about 5 to 8 months depending on location and temperatures although outdoor growing may need up to another 8 weeks. Cut chilis when they are green, swollen and glossy, any ripe unpicked chilis left on the plant will turn red within 2 to 3 weeks.
Picked chilis will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator if kept in a sealed container. When using some of the hotter chilis they are best prepared wearing gloves when removing the seeds and inner pith, as any contact with the skin afterwards will cause burning when you touch your face or other any other delicate parts……which is inevitable, take my word for it, washing with water afterwards will not remedy the situation. With a good harvest bag the chilis up and freeze them, or if weather is good enough dry them out in the sun, although I have had good results spreading them out on a baking tray and placing on top of a boiler.
Diseases are not common on chili peppers, but look out for:
Aphids: (greenfly and blackfly) chilis should be checked regularly for their presence and any infestation should be dealt with by spraying with dimethoate, derris or malathion. If the chilis are ready for picking use derris.
Red spider mite: Common pest in the greenhouse in hot dry conditions, causing leaf discoloration and affecting growing adversely. Spraying weekly with dimethoate and malathion can control the problem as well as creating a damp atmosphere.
Whitefly: Various species of whitefly may attack the chilis causing a black deposit of sooty mould on the leaves. Try controlling with 3 to 4 sprays of pyrethum, permetmrin or pirimiphos-methyl every week.
Grey mould: Irregular watering may cause brown sunken areas on the chilis which will in turn go soft and mouldy. Always keep chili plants well spaced, well ventilated and well watered, always removing dead or dying plants leaves or stems.
Leaves yellowing: nutrient deficiency, give the plants a liquid feed such as seaweed.
Keep a couple of ripe chilis for next years crop. Hang the chilis in a dry atmosphere and then when dried out, collect all the seeds and seal in an envelope, label up and keep in a dry cool place for following year. Germination may not be as high as bought treated seeds but enough seeds from a couple of plants should yield a satisfactory number of plants