How to grow chillies
Chillies are easy to grow yourself and with the most exciting and delicious varieties only available to home growers, it is well worth giving home grown crops a go.
As tender plants, chillies thrive in warmth and light and need a long sunny season. Although they can be grown outside once the summer gets going, growing chillies indoors, in the heat of a greenhouse, will always give you a guaranteed harvest and a much tastier crop. If growing chillies outside give plants your warmest, sunniest spot such as the base of a south facing, sheltered wall.
How to grow Chillies
The first tip on how to grow chillies is to start early. Chillies are some of the very first crops of the year to get going and if you are wondering when to sow chillies, it is worth knowing that the earlier they germinate the more chance you have of getting a good crop. Hailing from the tropics they need plenty of warmth and sunshine, something our erratic summers often lack, and to make up for this growers need to ensure they get as much time as possible to flower, fruit and then ripen. A good guide as to when to sow chillies therefore is from late winter until mid spring, but the earlier the better. If you miss the boat, don't worry; you can also give yourself a head start by growing on young plants, especially grafted ones, available from the garden centre in spring.
When considering how to grow chillies it is important to know that their seeds need a temperature of at least 20°C and good light levels to germinate, so start them off in a heated propagator, on a warm windowsill or in a greenhouse. If you haven't got a propagator, clear plastic bags or cling film over seed trays works well too and will also help to keep up humidity.
Sow seeds on the surface of moist multipurpose compost in seed trays with modular cells to reduce plant stress when potting plants on, and cover them with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite. Keep the compost moist, as chillies don't like to dry out, but do not over water.
When seedlings have four true leaves and roots start to appear through the bottom of the seed tray, pot them on into individual 9cm pots. Keep their compost moist and grow plants on until roots once again appear through the base of their pots and then pot plants on into their final containers or grow bags. Unless you're growing a very dwarf variety it is also a good idea to stake plants now to prevent them toppling over later when they are laden with fruit. When considering how to grow chillies outside, wait until at least mid May and then harden them off over a period of 7-10 days before planting them out. As soon as plants begin to flower start giving them a weekly high potash liquid feed, such as tomato fertilizer, to maximize flavour.
When to Harvest Chillies
A guide to when to harvest chillies is that if they were planted early they should be ready to harvest from late July onwards. Although they come in a range of colours most go from green through to red and a good tip as to when to harvest chillies is that picking the first fruit, when they are still green, will help to stimulate more - you can leave them all on the plant to ripen to red but you'll get a much smaller crop. Green chillies are also the hottest and although red chillies are riper they are also sweeter and not quite as fierce. Bring any outdoor grown chillies indoors in September and they will continue to fruit right up until Christmas.