How to grow chillies
Growing super spicy chillies at home is easier than you think, whether you're new to getting your fingers green or a dab hand at planting produce.
They say variety is the spice of life, but chillies must come a close second. There are several tasty types of chilli, from juicy jalapenos to scorching scotch bonnets. And the best part is that you can grow them at home pretty easily. Here's a quick checklist for growing your own chillies:
- Sow in February and March.
- Repot a few times at various growth stages.
- Keep them hot – about 26° to 31°C – in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill.
- Water if the soil is dry, but don't let them soak.
- Feed them fertiliser once a week once flowers appear.
- Harvest in mid to late summer through to autumn.
When to plant chillies
Chilli seeds should be sown early in February or March and kept indoors. Once the seedlings are stretching a couple of leaves out, they can be moved into some small three inch pots.
Different chilli varieties grow at different rates. They usually take between two and four months to grow ripe chillies.
When the weather allows, put the plants outside or in a greenhouse, letting them sunbathe in the warmest spot you can find. A kitchen windowsill also works.
How to plant chillies
When sowing chilli seeds, place each one about half a centimetre into a tray of compost and keep them in a sunny, warm place. After about two weeks, your young chillies should have grown their first leaves.
If sowing isn’t something you have time for, you can also buy some baby chilli plants that have already been started. Just pop them in a bigger pot.
When to repot chillies
Chillies need repotting a few times during their growth. Once the seedlings reach about an inch high, they'll need their own snuggly pots. Gently lift them out by the leaves and plant them in a three to five inch container.
Wait for the plants to hit their teenage streak (when they've reached about 12 inches high) and repot them again into their forever homes. About nine to 12 inches is a good size pot. Your chillies should reach this stage around April or May.
How to care for chillies
Chillies grow quite happily with relatively little care once they're in their final pots. If you find your chilli plants drooping drunkenly, tie them to a thin cane or stake to give them a helping hand.
Your chillies won't enjoy getting chilly. They need a good amount of heat to grow properly, with the ideal temperatures laying somewhere between 26° and 31°C. The best environment is a greenhouse or sunny spot outside, but a warm kitchen windowsill also works.
Chillies are nearly always thirsty, so water them once or twice every day as long as the soil is dry. Keep them in well-draining pots, as leaving them to sit in too much water could make them rot, ruining your hard work.
For a colossal chilli crop, give them a weekly dose of fertiliser once you start to see flowers appearing.
Dealing with pests and problems
Chillies can suffer from a few pesky pests and problems. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Grey mould: Furry-looking grey growths on the tips of the plant. This is usually a sign of too much humidity, so cut the mouldy parts away and keep the chilli plant high and dry for a while.
- Red spider mites: These creepy crawlies are identified by little webs on the plant. Mist the leaves regularly to discourage the mites.
- Whitefly: These pale pests gorge themselves on the sap of your chilli plants. Look for them underneath the leaves and use fly traps or insecticide to get rid of them.
How to harvest chillies
Depending on the variety, you can start to harvest your ripe chillies from July through until October. Keeping them in a greenhouse gives you more fruit for longer.
Keep an eye on the colour and texture of your chillies to pick them at the right time. Once the chillies have turned a rich red colour, they're ready – but this can differ among varieties. If your chillies have a glossy sheen and feel quite firm, that's also a good sign that they're ripe.
How to use chillies
A little sprinkling of chilli can really spice up a summer salad. Simply cut the chilli into small rings and add it to the mix. Remember to scrape the seeds out unless you really want some scorching heat.
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