We set our seeds off on Boxing day for the following year either in a heated propogater indoors, or on moist kitchen roll in sealed plactic containers popped above a radiator. The latter method works well for any of the hotter varieties which can be tricky to germinate otherwise. Chilli seeds can be hard to germinate depending on variety and some can take up the 30 days to show any form of life. They need warmth and need to be kept between 20 and 30 degrees celsius in order to pop. They also need to be kept moist and not allowed to dry out.
For those in sealed containers, put them into compost as soon as a there is a decent root (1-2cm is fine). We then place these in window sill propogators to give them maximum exposure to natural light.
Pot on once the first true leaves have formed.
We tend to pot out little babies on once they have approx 5 true leaves. We start them off in 7cm square pots at this point and only pot on to the next size once roots are starting to show at the bottom. We have found that potting on too early can stunt chilli plant growth. Obviously restricting the pot size will re-strict growth, but we have also found that actually re-striciting this growth will make the plant produce pods quicker.
Each chilli is different however and some require larger final pot sizes than others. As a rule of thimb we aim for 10L buckets.......if you're wanting to get these cheap in the UK then the best place is actually Morrosions supermarket as they sell on their used flower buckets which are ideal (8 for 99p (as of May 2018)).
Chillies need a warm, sunny sheltered position however each variety is different. As a rule of thumb ,the hotter the variety then the more warmth and shelter it needs. Some milder varieties are quite happy outside whilst others need to be kept indoors or in a greenhouse for the duration.
Location is also important to keep chilli strains pure. Chilli plants will cross pollinate so the end result depending on what other chilli plants it is near may not be true to form. If you want to keep a pure strain then as soon as flowers appear pop a tea bag or similar over the flower. Once the pod has started to form then this can be removed.
We overwinter alot of the chilli plants weve grown each season in order to try and get ahead with the following years grow. We start selecting the best plants in October/November once they have finished fruiting and before the first frosts start in the UK.
In order to overwinter, trim back all stems and growth to approx 10-15cm above the soil layer. Then take the plant out of the pot it's been in all summer and give the roots a good trim also leaving enough to comfortably re-pot in fresh compost in a 15-20cm pot. Once trimmed back these need to be kept warm away from the cold winter air and watered occasionally to kee them alive. They will die back naturally and may even look dead. Dont be tempted to throw them away as come spring new shoots will start to appear. Overwintering is a little bit hit and miss. We do lose some plants but have a greater hit rate than loss rate. We have even maaged to overwinter some varieties in an unheated greenhouse outside during winter! It is however pot luck and some varieties such as Rocotos are more easily overwintered than others.
Your Friends and Pest Enemies:
We try to be as organic as we can.
Our preferred compost is Jacks Magic though others are available.
Chilli Pepper plants need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, along with some trace minerals such as magnesium, to put on healthy growth and fruit
To feed and supply nutrients we use organic chicken manure mixed in with the compost aswell as a few handfuls of perlite and vermiculite to aerate the soil and encourage root growth. Chicken manure supplements the plants with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
We also use spent coffee grinds - again a couple of handfuls mixed into the compost is sufficient. Coffee grounds provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade.
When it comes to watering we make our own Nettle Tea. Mixing cut nettles into a full water butt and using the liquid to water once these nave broken down a little. Nettle tea supplements plants with nitrogen, chlorophyll, magnesium, sulfur, iron, potassium, copper, zinc and calcium.
Aphids are a problem and there is no better friend for chilli plants than ladybirds - pick them out the garden and pop on chilli plants even if no aphids are present to prevent them taking over. If infestation get too severe then consider purchasing Neem Oil. Mix a couple of teaspoons of this in a spray bottle with a small sqeeze of washing up liquid then add warm water. Mix together and liberally spray plants.
We've also started to use Epsom Salts when leaves are a little yellow which can indicate a lack of magnesium. Mix 2 tsps in 1 litre of water and liberally spray on plants. They should green up within a couple of days. As an added bonus we've also found a variety of Epsom Salts containing lavendar oil which may also help deter those pesky aphids!
...............and we're investing in copper tape as out preferred means of slug deterant!