Do you always go for the spicy dish on the menu? Do you always cook with chillies? Then why not grow your own? Check out our hot tips on the easy way to grow chillies at home.
1. Getting started
For complete beginners, it’s always a good idea to save the trouble of growing chillies from seed; you can buy chilli plants from local farmers’ markets. Apart from regular markets, chilli festivals and online shops are also good places to find your first plant.
For those who are up for a little more challenge, here are some tips for gathering your own seed for growing.
Take healthy looking chilli pods- ripe chillies are a good source of seeds; and the colour is the most direct indicator. “You will know when your chilli is ripe,” says David MacDonald, a member of Clifton Chilli Club. It does not take an expert to determine whether the chilli pod is ready or not; when the time is right, it turns into a mellow colour- fiery red, spring-bud green, or orange- depending on the variety. In fact, it shouldn’t even be an issue as chillies are eatable at any stage. “Ripe chillies are usually found in red or yellow, green ones are actually immature,” says Lynn Ronan, who has 10 years of chilli-growing experience. Otherwise, for extra assurance, you could always wait for a few more days to observe the plant.
You could also buy chilli seeds from your local farm, garden centre or online
To process chilli seeds for sowing:
(1) Carefully remove the seeds from your selected chilli pods and place them on a kitchen towel, which would dry the seeds as well as redundant bits attached to them.
(2) Put the seeds- along with the paper towel- in an airing place (avoid direct exposure to sunlight) for one week or two.
(3) Test the moisture: one simple way is to bend the seeds- they will not be bent easily if they are properly dried.
(4) Chilli seeds need to be kept in a cool and dark place, ideally an airtight container.
Chilli seed suppliers can easily be found online, such as:
All Chillies: http://www.allchillies.com/the_chillies.html
The English Chilli Company: http://theenglishchillicompany.co.uk/chilli-seeds/
The Organic Gardening Catalogue: http://www.organiccatalogue.com/
If you took on the challenge of sowing chilli seeds, then germination is the first stage. This involves activating the seeds and prompting them to sprout. The time for sowing your seeds can be flexible- depending on when you would like to harvest the chillies. For instance, if you sow the seeds in February, you would have a lot of chillies by the end of October. Note that some types of chillies take longer than other types to germinate.
Here’s the simplest way to germinate seeds:
(1) Dampen a kitchen towel and fold the seeds in before putting it into an unsealed box.
(2) Place the box in a warm place- such as the cupboard.
(3) Check on the seeds on a regular basis; ensure that the towels remain damp.
(4) Once the seeds have sprouted, carefully transfer them to a pot or seed tray filled with soil and compost.
(5) Place the pot or tray in a light, warm place.
(6) Optional: you can also cover the container with a plastic bag to create a little green house for your chilli.
Just a few tips:
(1) Overwatering can be just as harmful as drought, so keep a close watch on the soil and make sure it is just damp. “You don’t even need to follow a certain frequency, just water it when needed,” says MacDonald.
(2) Avoid using old compost because it my contain bugs and there may not be enough nutrition for the plant.
For this stage, you just need a bigger pot and compost for the seedlings. When they are about 3cm tall carefully move the seedlings from the provisional container to the pot filled with more soil and compost; plant it deeply as it helps the plant grow stronger. You need to be cautious when moving the seedling- hold it gently by the leaf, not the stem. Chilli plants are quite adaptive and can grow well in pots of various sizes; you just need to make sure the temperature where you grow them is consistent. Note that they cannot survive when it gets below 14 degrees.
4. Watering and Feed
Chilli plants are quite hardy and require only the minimum time from your busy day. “Basically, all you do is to keep them from drought and bugs; it’s not the end of the world,” says Macdonald. One way to check the moisture of the soil is to stick a wooden skewer in the soil and see what it suggests- it should be just damp; it shouldn’t be dry or show excessive water. Avoid getting water on the leaves and the bottom of the stem of the plant to avoid them rotting.
Feed when your chilli plants start flowering. This is a confusing part because you could get 100 opinions from 100 people; and to make things more confusing, they could all be right. But it is always more assuring to take advice from the veterans. “Tomato feed is one of my favourite; it turned out great for me,” says MacDonald, reflecting on his 6-year experience of chilli growing. “Seaweed extract used in the recommended quantities can be good for chillies as well,” says Ronan. You only need to feed your plant once every 3 or 4 waterings, and you should water down the feed so it would not be too strong for the plant.
After 2 to 5 months for chillies to grow and ripen, your glorious moment of harvest finally comes. When your chilli is just as ready as you are, pick it up: gently pull and twist the pod off the plant; make sure you hold the main stem so as not to break it. Note that picking chillies from the plant generates new growth.
6. Bugs and Diseases
Slugs and snails are the most common ones in the garden; they can cause major damage to your chilli plants. There are several effective ways to deal with these chilli terminators, such as: slug traps and copper tapes; veg friendly pellets can be helpful as well.
Greenflies are another type of pest for chillies. You can grow marigolds as a sacrificial plant that attracts the flies and thus keep your chilli safe from them. Otherwise, “ladybirds are very helpful, they can eat up greenfly in no time,” says MacDonald.
Finally, you could always resort to the old-fashion way: hunt down the bugs yourself. “Just check on the plant for bugs whenever you have a chance to, it’s not that hard,” says MacDonald.
Growing your own chillies is one of the most satisfying things the spice-lover can do. Have a go – and happy cropping!
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