Focus on... Growing chillies
Amateur Gardening|January 22, 2022
If you crave crops with a real kick, now’s the time to start sowing your chilli peppers. Lucy Chamberlain shows you how to sow and grow fabulous, flavoursome chillies
Lucy Chamberlain

EVOCATIVE, exciting eye-candy – that’s how I’d describe chilli peppers. Plus, eye-watering if you eat the wrong one raw! The heat we taste – measured in Scoville heat units (SHUs) – is due to capsaicinoids, which are the plant chemicals held in the seed coat.

While milder chillies have a thicker seedcoat (known as the placenta) that protects the seeds from damage, hotter varieties like ‘Naga Viper’ and ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ have a thinner yet capsaicin-packed placenta. This protects the seed from rots as well as mammalian predators via its antimicrobial activity – and the fact that it tastes foul! Some folk get a buzz from the ‘feel-good’ endorphins produced in response to the painful heat (the oils in full-fat milk or yoghurt dissolve capsaicin; use these to quell the fire in your mouth). But seed companies are developing mild varieties like ‘Biquinho Yellow’ and ‘Bellaforma’ for those who prefer less heat.

Cultivation essentials

If you are an official hot-head, sow now and, for maximum heat, grow seedlings on in a heated greenhouse. Forget ample watering and feeding – growing your plants ‘hard’ will give hotter fruits (capsaicin is produced in plants as a response to stress).

Super-hot varieties can also become sizeable, slow-to-crop plants, so grow in pots to restrict size and induce earlier fruiting. Follow my tips and variety picks on the following page…

Lucy’s tips

Start off your chillies in three steps

Sowing: Space chilli seeds out on the surface of a shallow pot of well-watered seed compost, at least 1⁄2in (1.3cm) apart each way. Gently press them into the surface using a dibber or pencil.

Covering: Cover over the seeds with a thin layer of compost. Water in lightly and place in a well-lit propagator. It’s a good idea to pop a minimum/maximum thermometer in the case in order to ensure that the temperature is right.

Germinating: Your chilli seeds should germinate in one to three weeks (milder and F1 hybrid varieties are often quickest). Once large enough to handle, prick out into single pots. Grow on at 18°C/64°F.

Lucy’s choice

Heat things up with these chilli varieties

1 ‘Trinidad Perfume’: For something with a mild flavour, try glossy-yellow ‘Trinidad Perfume’ – a smoky citrus-like chilli without the mind-popping burn (50-500 SHU). This aromatic fruity number is perfect for use in salads. Harvest: July-October.

2 ‘Super Chilli’: This compact grower is a reliable mid-level choice if you want to feel the heat. These decorative plants are ideal for pots, and they will produce dozens of yellow and then red torpedo-shaped fruits (40,000 SHU). Harvest: July-October.

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