Chilli pepper seeds are usually sown from February to the end of April. However, these vegetables command a long growing season, requiring sufficient time for the plants to mature and their fruit to develop and ripen. Accordingly, I find that chilli peppers are best started from seed sown in January.
Nurseries stock a limited range of chilli pepper plants in springtime, but gardeners who grow chillies from seed are blessed with the choice of a vast range of varieties. Seeds present opportunities to grow vibrant or colour-changing chilli peppers that deliver a diverse array of flavours and heat levels.
Chilli peppers can be dangerously hot. Seeds are usually the most violent part of the plant, so please wear gloves when handling these seeds and wash your hands afterwards.
However, not all chillies are hot; ‘Trinidad Perfume’ is a Habanero chilli pepper with a sweet, fruity flavour and an upbeat floral aroma, without any fire or heat whatsoever.
Instead of starting chilli pepper seeds in compost, I prefer to pre-germinate these seeds, tucking them between sheets of damp kitchen paper, that I’ve pre-soaked in chamomile tea for its anti-fungal properties. If you don’t drink chamomile tea, tap water will do nicely.
However, avoid using water collected or stored in water butts, which is often contaminated with fungal diseases that have a devastating effect on seeds and seedlings. Damping off can literally obliterate seedlings overnight; the pathogens that cause this disease are frequently found in water butts. Consequently, use only mains tap water to water your seeds, seedlings, and young plants, and to be on the safe side, wash up your seed trays, containers, and watering cans using mains water, too.
I germinate my damp-saturated, kitchen roll wrapped seeds inside plastic tubs to retain moisture. Place different varieties in separate containers or use plastic bags, if you prefer. Pop your containers inside a warm linen cupboard or on a shelf, above a radiator. Check your seeds every day for signs of germination.
Once a seed starts to germinate, it’s ready to be potted up into an individual container of peat-free compost. Young seedlings are particularly susceptible to diseases, so ensure your containers are scrupulously clean. Start your plants off in tiny pots; re-pot each plant into a container that’s one or two sizes larger, every four to six weeks.
Chilli peppers are tender plants that are killed by frost. Until summer arrives, chilli peppers need to grow inside the protection of a conservatory, glasshouse, or on a particularly bright windowsill. Chilli peppers thrive in a warm and sunny environment.
When all risk of frost has passed (depending on where you live, this varies from the end of May to the middle of June), your plants can be safely moved outside; choose a bright and sunny spot, where your chillies can bask in morning sunshine. Chilli peppers make charming conservatory or houseplants, they enjoy being cosseted inside a warm and brightly lit room.
This article was first published in the January 2021 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
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