Chilli Growing Guide
Chillies are often thought of as plants that only grow in warmer in climates, however it is possible to successfully grow your favourite varieties even here in Scotland - with a few handy tips from us! This is a rough A,B,C guide to growing chillies, however do play around with what works best for you and your plants.
The key to a successful chilli yield is early germination, the ideal time of year to begin is December/January. The amount of seeds you germinate depends on the space you have to house your plants year round, or at least until the weather is mild enough that they can go into a greenhouse. Many people put their chilli plants outside during the height of the summer, feel free to try this but you will get a higher yield by keeping the plant either as a house plant or a greenhouse plant.
To germinate the seeds you can, like us, use a propagator and these come in all sizes including small home packs. Alternatively you can place the seeds on a sheet of damp kitchen roll and put into a plastic container somewhere warm, such as in an airing cupboard. This method will help keep the heat and the moisture around the seeds, speeding up the germination process. An important thing to do at this stage is to label the seeds so you know what is what when it is time to plant them!
After 2-5 days days you will probably notice some of the seeds will have swelled up and may be even be starting to sprout. Now is the time to plant the seeds into a good quality multipurpose compost. The optimum temperature for germination varies from species to species but roughly speaking can be said to be in the region of 23-30 degrees Celsius (about 73-86 Fahrenheit).
Remember that different chilli varieties take different times to germinate. If you are growing habanero peppers, for example, you can expect them to take up to 3 or 4 weeks to germinate, whereas varieties such as cayenne will sprout much quicker.
Once your seedlings have poked their heads out of the soil/propagator plugs they will require light as well as warmth. This can be where growing in a northern climate such as the Scotland can present more of a challenge. Depending on where you are and which way your windows face, the windowsill or conservatory may well be adequate and provide your seedlings with enough light to flourish. One problem with growing plants this way is that as they reach up to towards their light source (the sun) they can grow tall and spindly.
One way often employed by growers to avoid leggy plants is by introducing artificial lighting, otherwise known as grow lights. The cheapest option is a simple fluorescent tube light bought from any DIY store. The one downside with any artificial lighting is that they tend to give off lots of heat which can scold or even kill the seedlings. This problem can be eradicated by using bulbs that are called cool white.
Next, all you need to do is to rig the lights up above your chilli seedlings, bear in mind is that ideally whatever you mount your lights to should be adjustable as you will need to move them higher as your little seedlings grow into big strong chilli plants. Ideally the lights should be positioned between 5-25cm from the top of your plants.
If not using artificial lights try putting your seedlings on/near a windowsill that receives the most amount of light throughout the day. Remember they still need heat so a windowsill above a radiator would work well, or you can use a heated blanket under the trays on a low steady heat.
Your seedlings require water, keep them moist but not drenched.
Once the seedlings have developed their second set of leaves it is time to re-pot them. Be very careful not to damage the seedlings during the potting on process. What type of pot you use is pretty unimportant, a 10cm pot or near enough is perfect.
Depending on the variety, you will most likely need to re-pot the chillies again in a few weeks time. A general rule of thumb about potting on is to only do this when roots are appearing through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pots then you know it's time for a bigger pot.
Once the risk of frost passes, April/May time, you can choose to keep the plants as indoor plants or pop them into a greenhouse. Initially you might want to harden them off by placing out in the greenhouse for just a few hours a day.
TOP TIP: As your plants get bigger and develop more chillies, use a bamboo cane to support the weight.
One of the most asked questions we get is how often to feed a chilli plant and what with? In the early stages and while the weather is quite mild just give them tap water once/twice a day or whenever the soil is looking dry on top. Once the flowers appear we use Chilli Focus - created specifically to give your plants everything they require to provide you with lots of fruit. Chilli Focus can be purchased through our online shop or at the farm shop.
As your chilli plants begin to mature you will start to notice flowers appearing. This is the sign you have been waiting for as it means that your first chillies are not that far off. All that stands between you and fresh chilli pods is pollination.
Pollination will be taken care of naturally by bees and other insects if your plants are kept in a ventilated greenhouse. If grown inside, your plants may suffer from flower drop (which means the flowers fall off and no chilli fruit develops) in which case you may want to consider hand pollination. Don’t worry, this is very easy: all you need to do is wait until you have a few flowers on your plants then lightly rub your little finger inside each flower heads on your plants effectively spreading pollen from one flower to another. Alternatively use a small artists paint brush or a cotton bud.
Eventually you will see that some of the flowers will go brown and drop off. This is usually no need for alarm as the cause will be a chilli pushing its way through the flower. All you need to do now is to keep up the water/food and wait for your chillies to ripen!
TOP TIP: Snip off first couple of green chillies to encourage fruiting all season. You can allow the rest of the chillies to ripen on the plant.
Chilli plants are short-lived perennials - they can live up to 6 years! A chilli plant will yield much higher fruit quanities the second and following years of its life. To overwinter your plant it must be inside your house, in the warmest room you can use. Warmth is more important than sunlight during the winter. Don't worry if it loses all it's leaves and look a bit dead, it has entered a forced hibernation due to our Scottish climate. Feed every two/three weeks and try not to overwater. The plant is not using much energy at this time so does not require much extra apart from warmth. You may wish to cut the plant down if it begins to hibernate: leave about 6 inches from the base if you choose to do this.