Chilli growing addict..... but not a chilli head!

I harp on about chillies (I am a self confessed chilli growing addict but not a chilli head (those are the guys who find the hottest chillies on earth and then attempt to see how many or how hot they can handle) – a Tabasco, Cayenne or Birds Eye is my limit when it comes to heat!) as that is one of my passions and I have already started 30 plus varieties this year that require a longer growing season. I’ll give you a little insight to what I am doing. 

Before I forget if you are looking at growing chilies commercially or semi commercially we do stock bulk packs of chili seeds which can be seen at this link.

I have focused mostly on the capsicum chinense species to start with which require heat, humidity, a long time to germinate (sometimes up to 40 days under ideal conditions)  and moisture but not waterlogged growing mediums.

If I had to describe germinating the super hot Capsicum chinense seeds I would describe them as difficult / tricky. The seeds I have chosen from our super hot collection are these : Carolina Reaper Red, Dutch Reaper, Carolina Reaper Yellow, Chocolate Carolina Reaper, MOA Scotch Bonnet, Ghost Peppers in various colours, variants and hybrids, Various Trinidad peppers, Devils Tongue White, various habaneros and a couple of seeds that we have that are hybrids and whilst they are relatively stable phenotypes it is possible for variations to occur. Two in particular I have planted that are hybrids are the Testanera Chocolate DD and the Maldivian Heart X Purple Bhut Jolokia. It will be very interesting to see if the chillis harvested are the same as the last generation.

I’ve also planted a minimal amount of Capsicum annuum and Capsicum Baccatum and Capsicum frutescens species which when grown in a tent are ready to harvest at 60 – 90 days dependent on the variety. I would describe these chillies as easy / moderate difficulty in growing. The Capsicum annuum, baccatum and frutescens varieties I have gone with are Long Slim Cayenne, Jalapeño, Bolivian Rainbow, Blue Christmas , Peter Peppers (Yellow and Red), Birds Eye Chillis, Piquante Sweet Red Chilli Peppers and Bishops Crown. Germination has started well and I have been using a combination of growing mediums and methods. My setup is quite simple (but also quite expensive but in my opinion worth every cent if you want to grow fresh chillies year round. My setup is a propagator, heat mat, flat plastic trays (without holes) and I’m using a Lighthouse Lite cloning tent on its side with an Envirogro by LUMii TLED 4 lamp light.  At this stage I’m using two growing mediums  - Jiffy 7 pellets (These are more expensive but having used them for 15 years I like going with what has worked for me)  and Freedom farms seed starter ( This is a blend of many things that are natural and good – check out the product listing here and so far results with this medium have been very good and it works out at about 50% of the price of Jiffy pellets) . Make sure that whichever medium you use that the medium is damp but not soggy. For example I mix my freedom farms soil by putting it in a 5 litre ziplock bag – adding water and then squeezing as much water out as possible. That method seems to work best.

Both Freedom Farms starter mix and Jiffy 7 pellets are then then placed in the Jiffy pots (I use a combination of 6cm round pots (These work out at R2.10 per pot)  and the jiffy strips which you can break up into little square pots (These work out at around R0.87 per pot).

Now we get to planting the seeds in our pots which have their growing medium. I use a chopstick to make a small hole about 3-4mm and drop the seed in with tweezers and then cover it up. After all pots are planted they go into the propagator with the heat mat on. Only once the seedlings start to emerge do I use the lighting capability of my setup. I also use a small fan which is not only useful in keeping most bugs away but is helpful for strengthening the plant stems. I also use Guard n Aid insect catchers which are great for catching insects and keeping them off your plants. 

Once the second set of leaves have emerged I plant the seedlings in their jiffy pots in 1.5L pots. For some reason I have always had better results with stronger healthier plants by gradually upgrading the pot size to the final ideal pot size that I want to grow out in. So my simple formula is the jiffy pot which then gets planted into the 1.5L pot and once you can see that the roots need more space I will go with either a 15L or 20L pot depending on the varieties needs. Important to note that the plants must be removed from the plastic pot and the plastic pot can then be reused many times for future harvests. I prefer the fabric pots which promote self pruning on the roots but the choice of pot is really up to you. Both round and Bato pots will also be suitable for planting your chillies in and if you need seed trays you can get them here. If you are planting in soil outdoors ignore the selection of pot size and plant directly from the 1.5L pot into the soil. Please remember though to work some good compost into the soil – we would recommend Talborne Vita Fruit or Talborne Vita Veg – this is a contentious issue as some people swear chillies do better in one over the other so we are giving you two options. I would use 100 grams of either per m2 and till the fertilizer into the soil before planting. If you are in a coastal area and have sandy / poor soils I would do a treatment of Dirty hands inc elemental blend where you mix the full bag of elemental blend with 100 litres of soil which will give you around 10m2 of coverage.

Then  the time we have all been waiting for comes and the first flowers appear. Whilst the chillies are self pollinating if you are growing them in an enclosed environment like a greenhouse / grow tent we recommend helping the pollination process by using a soft artist brush or cotton swab and you can play the pollinating bee and pollinate flowers yourself. It is best to proceed systematically from top to bottom. Be gentle and careful. Dab each flower with circular movements. Roll the brush lightly between your fingers. If the flowers are not pollinated correct you will get flower fall off and will not be harvesting chillies from those plants which is greatly disappointing.  It is important that if you want to keep the strain pure we recommend blossom bags and hand pollination. If left to grow in the garden it is not unheard of that chillies will cross pollinate plants that are up to 500m or more away.

I hope my tips and tricks have been helpful to you and that you have excellent germination with great harvests of your favourite chillies!

These are broad guidelines of how I plant my chillies. There are hundreds of ways to plant chillies and just about every person has there way that they swear on to get the best success. To help you get a great start to growing your own collection of an array of chilli seeds we have set up these Chilli Growing kits which include propagators, heating mats, etc and some great free seeds.

We also have this incredible package deal which includes 17 varieties of chillies so you can start your own mini chilli farm!

In a later article we will look at what best to feed your chillies and how best to deal with pests.

If you are looking for a custom setup or just want more advice feel free to email us at seeds@seedsforafrica.co.za and we will do our best to hook you up with exactly what you want!

About the Author

Grant Muller is an avid gardener with over 30 years experience having grown a wide variety of plants from seed with a special emphasis on growing your own fresh food. Grants' ethos is that growing your own should be a natural part of life and should encompass the whole family. Grant also has a special interest in growing chillies, succulents, ornamentals and trees.