First Sowing of 2016: The Chillis Are In

I really enjoying growing chillis – the plants always look lovely with their cargoes of red-spike fruits – but to-date I’ve had mixed success. The very first year I grew any veg at all, I chucked a managed to germinate some free seed and ended with a couple of plants in a south-facing wall-basket. They did pretty well, resulting in around half a kilo of fruit. I tried them again a couple of years ago, bringing them inside to grow on the greenhouse staging. They were pretty poor, mostly failing to ripen.

This year I’m determined to up my game and produce something worthwhile. I’ve invested in a Chilligrow planter from Greenhouse Sensation which, combined with the Vitopod heated propagator that I got from them last year, I’m hoping ought to do the trick.

I’ve also done a bit of reading up on the subject of when to sow, when to pot on, etc. and the general consensus seems to be that chillis should be sown quite early in our climate, because they need a good, long growing season to help them fully mature. And so that’s what I’ve done today.

Jan 2016 - Chilli sowing
Chilli sowing kit at the ready

Preparation

I warmed both the seed compost and the water in the propagator for a couple of days, to make sure everything was within the optimal, 18°C – 21°C temperature range before I began. I then sowed the seeds into the small, green trays shown above. I’ve been caught out in the past by sowing multiple varieties into a single, large seed tray only to find that they germinate, grow and develop at different rates. This can mean that you’re attempting to prick out and pot on one variety before the others have had chance to properly establish, which makes accidental damage to the not-yet-ready seedlings a bit more of a risk.

Method

I filled each 6cm deep tray to within 1cm of the top with seed compost and pre-soaked it with the tepid water (to avoid disturbing the seed by watering from above). I then sowed the seed at regular intervals and covered them with a thin layer of vermiculite. All fairly standard stuff.

Jan 2016 - Chillis sown in the propagator
Chillis sown, time for the propagator to go to work

Varieties Sown

I’ve gone for four (or possibly five) different types of chilli this year, none of them particularly fancy or mouth-blisteringly hot on the Scoville scale. Until I’ve sorted out a basic technique and timings there’s not much point in going for something particularly outré – plenty of time to experiment in future years, once I know what I’m doing.

Here’s this year’s line-up.

  • Capsicum annuum ‘pot black’ – A bushy, ornamental variety with dark purple/black fruits that ripen to red. No info. on the T&M website as to Scoville rating, but Black Hungarian looks very similar and is 5,000 – 10,000 Scoville.
  • Capsicum annuum cayenne (‘Hot Portugal’?) – The bog-standard magazine freebie with supermarket-style red fruits. 5,000 – 30,000 Scoville.
  • Capsicum annuum ‘prairie fire’ – Another bush variety that’s meant to be a prolific fruiter. c. 70,000 Scoville.
  • Capsicum chinense ‘Hotscotch’ – Technically a seed-mix of C. chinense ‘Habanero’ and C. chinense ‘Scotch bonnet’ so I’m not entirely sure what will come up (if anything – it’s an open seed packet b.b. 2016 so might not do so well). 100,000 – 350,000 Scoville.

I’ve already got my eye on some more interesting and/or challenging varieties that I’ve spotted from the likes of www.pepperseeds.eu and www.sowchillies.co.uk, and I’d like to try my hand at C. annuum poblano as well, but as I say: walk first, jog a bit in years to come.

Aftercare

I’ll be potting any successful seedlings on to small- and then medium-sized pots before selecting the three strongest candidates for the Chilligrow. That will be positioned at the business end of our new 8’x10′ greenhouse, at least 9′ away from the door. (Any particularly strong also-ran plants might be grown on in decent-sized pots or tubs, or maybe added to wall-baskets, or maybe just given away to friends and allotment neighbours. We’ll see what happens, rather than count any chickens at this stage.)

I’ll be reading up on watering and feeding regimes when the time comes and trying to get those as spot-on as I can. If anyone has any advice on any of the above, please do post notes and/or links via the Comments.

I hope to be able to bring you future updates, pics and all, as the crop progresses. (Memo to self: chilli jam / dipping sauce recipes will hopefully need to be researched as well…)

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2 comments

  1. Mark Willis says:

    Very clearly explained! I like to sow chilli seeds in pairs in small pots. If both germinate I keep the strongest and discard the weaker one. Saves re-potting until the plants are fairly big.

    • Darren T says:

      Thanks Mark, good point – that’s what I usually do with brassicas etc.

      With the chillis I’m hoping that by using the small, rectangular trays to begin with I can just slice them into plug-plant sized chunks when they’re ready to pot on and move them into slightly larger pots without disturbing the roots.

      Oh, and the first seedlings have popped up this morning – the Cayenne, predictably, I might move those to an unheated propagator when they’re large enough and turn the temperature up a bit to give the others a boost, if they haven’t appeared as well.

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