How to successfully grow your Chillis!
All of the Chilli seeds sold by Gower Chillis have been grown successfully on Gower, just outside Swansea, in a greenhouse and poly-tunnel. As a rule the hotter the species, the more difficult chilli seeds are to germinate and grow successfully into mature and productive plants. Not all the seeds in each packet will germinate; sometimes a whole crop will fail if the conditions are not quite right. This is why we give you between 10-20 seeds of each species.
Plant your Chilli seeds in January or February in some seed compost. They need to be in a warm place (and a heated electric seed propagator is best) such as a warm kitchen or airing cupboard. Once the seeds emerge they need as much light as you can give them (professionals might use artificial lamps to mimic sunlight and longer summer days) so choose a south facing conservatory or windowsill for best results.
If you are buying chilli plants as seedlings or small plants then follow the same instructions from here. Once the seedlings have three or four pairs of leaves replant them on their own, or in pairs, in 7-10cm pots. When they are 15-20 cm tall (or looking a little pot-bound with lots of roots coming out of the bottom) replant them into 1L pots. As they grow keep re-potting until by June / July they are in at leats 4 or 5L pots. Remember some species grow much slower than others so it pays to be patient.
Most Chillis will self pollinate or get pollinated by normal garden insects but some species (hot ones in particular) will benefit from pollination with a soft brush (pick up pollen from one flower and spread it onto others on the same plant). If your chillis are in a greenhouse leave the door open as much as possible to let the insects in that will pollinate the flowers.
Water every day, or every other day, depending on the weather (more frequently in hot weather) and feed your Chillis with tomato feed once or twice a week from when the first Chilli fruits set. Pick the Chillis when they ripen and this will encourage new flower growth. Once they finish fruiting late in the year, prune them back a little and overwinter indoors (or in a heated greenhouse or conservatory). They will sprout in the spring with much greater vigour and produce more Chillis, much earlier, than in year 1. My own experience is that it is worth keeping chillis for around 3 years if they survive, as beyond that they tend to lose vigour and productivity.
Growing and Preserving Question and Answer
- When do I plant my chilli seeds? Plant them in January or February if you want a good crop from mature plants but remember once you start you have to look after them.
- My Chilis aren't germinating very well - what can I do? The key factors that help germination are heat and moisture. In order to successfully germinate all chillis they need to be in a warm place and kept moist. Near a radiator, on a heated floor, in an airing cupboard all of these should work for most chilli species. The best and most reliable ways to gemrinate seeds is to use an electric propatator which not only heats the soil to around 30 degrees celcius but also has a lid that keeps humidity high. Some companies will sell solutions that they say will help germination. I have not tried these but have achieved 100% germination with the above techniques so they are not imperative.
- The flowers are dropping off my chillis before fruit set - why is this happening? Flower drop is a common problem. I have seen suggestions that this is to do with over watering and this may be a contributory cause. The two most important factors I have found however seem to be heat and pollination. In other words it is hard to get flowers to pollinate successfully in cold damp conditions. The weather in itself may not be the direct cause and it may be that this type of weather is simply suppressing pollinating insects. For non self-pollinating flowers (and there are quite a few of these) the key requirement is lots of insects that pollinate flowers i.e. bees, flies, hover flies etc. Do all that you can to encourage these insects like planting flowers that attract them, leaving doors open in your greenhouse or poply-tunnel so that they can get in etc.
- I have problems with aphids - what should I do? Many books suggest sprays of soap solution but this is no good when you have chillis around as well as flowers. The two best ways of dealing with aphids are firstly to knock them off by hand and secondly to get as many ladybirds into your chilli environment as possible. By checking each plant every couple of days and rubbing off any aphids you find (crushing them in the process) will definitely keep them in check. If this is coupled with collecting and distributing ladybirds this technique is quite effctive. Ladybirds not only eat aphids but also lay something like 40 eggs a day that hatch into aphid eating larvae.
- When can I pick my chillis? Chillis can be picked once they are fully grown whether they are green or have ripened. Many recipes all for green chillis and I find the golden cayennes to be one of the best chillis for this as they develop early and are nice and hot when green.
- Are green chillis hotter than ripe coloured chillis? No ripe chillis are hotter than green chillis (of the same variety) but dried chillis are up to 10 times hotter by volume than fresh chillis (so 10g of dry chillis is 10 times hotter than 10g of fresh chillis). This latter point is because when chillis are dried the water is lost but the capsaicin stays.
- How do I store and preserve my chillis? Fresh chillis can be kept in the fridge for several weeks and can be kept frozen for even longer. My preferred way is to blend chillis with white wine or cider vinegar and a little salt. This chilli concentrate can be kept in the fridge or pantry for several months and is very easy to use being of a consistent heat by volume. Chillis can also be preserved in a weak pickling solution. It is possible to dry chillis by simply hanging them in teh greenhouse or poly tunnel on long strings or chilli ristras as they are called. I have found that a large sewing needle and fishing nylon is best for this. They will take a few weeks to fully dry but look great. I have tried drying chillis in the kitchen and they have a tendency to go mouldy due to the high humidity. If you are able, you can invest in a de-humidifier which drys almost anything, and chillis in only couple of days.