Growing Chillies – how to start from seeds

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Growing chillies from seeds might seem like hard work but so worth it! You can choose which variety you would like to grow which is a real privilege. This is because there is whole range of chillies with variations in colour, shape and most of all .. its heat level. As they say some like it hot and some not so! The heat of chillies is determined by measuring their capsaicin levels, in units called Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The higher the levels of capsaicin, the hotter the chillies. If you’d love to read more about this, then pop over to Chilli Pepper Madness

So growing from seeds allows you the freedom to choose your heat level, the display factor and the joy of harvesting fresh chillies not available even in the shops.

I’ll talk to you about the varieties I love growing, followed by a step by step guide to growing chillies from seeds to transplanting seedlings and then round up with my top tips for chilli success!

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Growing Chillies – Varieties

Over the years I have grown a whole range of chillies, including seeds from dry chillies given to me by friends and family. I am going to share my favourites that you have loved seeing me posting on Instagram:

Lemon Drop Chillies

15,000 – 30,000 SHU

These are also known as Aji Limon chillies and one of the easiest to grow at home. These are not only very productive but delicious. You can harvest them when they are still green for a milder heat level. Wait for them to ripen as they turn a beautiful bright yellow colour, and they simply turn the heat level up several notches! Deceptively hot as they ripen and dry, and simply delicious.

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Lemon drop chillies ripening to yellow!

Here in London, I have found that they are productive right up to early winter. This year I harvested my last ones at Christmas from the cold greenhouse!

Ring of Fire

70,000 – 85,000 SHU

These are a mainstay in my garden as they are at a heat level I can use fresh for most of my family meals. A very productive variety and you can use them as green or ripe red chillies from these plants. They ripen to the most vivid red colour and the chillies are beautifully long.

Jalepenos

2,500 – 8,000 SHU

These are tasty eaten pickled, cooked or perhaps chopped into a tomato salsa or salad! Easy to grow and can be eaten green or ripened to a beautiful red. This is another variety I grow every year and always on my list as its delicious and versatile in its use. It has thick fleshy walls so perhaps best eaten fresh!

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Fresh Jalepeno chillies!

Great for Chilli Flakes and Chilli Powder

Cayenne

30,000 – 50,000 SHU

A hot variety which tastes even better once its ripened and dried. Beautiful deep red large chillies which I love drying. You can then use these whole in dishes to flavour them with its heat or crush them for hot chilli flakes to sprinkle on your food.

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Cayenne chillies freshly harvested!

Compact but Fiery Chillies

Basket of Fire

80,000 SHU

These give a magnificent display, a real wow factor once in full fruiting season! A compact plant but do not be deceived by its size as it is very productive. Lots of little and colourful chillies that really pack a punch .. I mean very hot and perfect for those who love lots of heat in their meals!

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Basket of Fire chillies ripening

Of course there are lots more varieties that may interest you depending on individual taste and interest!

Growing Chillies – Sowing Seeds

Here in the UK, the summer growing season tends to be short. Therefore to give ample time to the chillies to grow, form fruit and ripen it is a good idea to start them indoors early in the year. I do not use an electric propagator or grow lights so I start my seeds in late February. This is to allow the daylight levels to improve so that I can use natural light on my window sills for the seedlings to grow!

How to sow chilli seeds indoors

  • Fill small pots (3 inch pots that have holes at the bottom for good water drainage) with seed sowing compost. I use this compost as it is an ideal texture to hold moisture for the seeds to germinate. However, multipurpose compost is also good but make sure it doesn’t get too dry.
  • Use a chopstick or the blunt end of a pencil to make holes that are 0.5 cm deep.
  • Place a seed in each hole – I tend to place from 5 to 8 seeds in each pot (remember to sow a few more than you need, as not all seeds will germinate)
  • Cover each seed up by closing the hole with the compost on the sides.
  • Use slightly tepid water to moisten the compost. Please don’t be generous with the water as it may cause the seeds to rot instead.
  • Use a plastic bag to cover the pot or place in a tray that has a plastic cover – this will help to hold the temperature and humidity.
  • Leave the pots or tray in a warm place indoors. I like to leave mine near the boiler in my kitchen.
  • After 7-21 days, you will see little green shoots peeking through the compost. Once this happens, you can take the plastic cover off and place them on a bright warm windowsill.
  • Water only when the compost becomes dry to the touch. Chillies do not need much water.
  • Once the seedlings have the second set of leaves (true leaves), they will be ready for transplanting into their own 3 inch pots with fresh new multipurpose compost in them.
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Second set or true leaves appearing – ready to transplant

Transplanting Chilli Seedlings

  • Fill 3 inch pots with multipurpose compost and give them a gentle tap to settle the compost. With the blunt end of a pencil or dibber, make a deep hole in the centre.
  • Now lift one of the seedlings carefully .. I use an old fork as I find it does this job gently without disturbing the roots too much.
  • Hold the seedling by one of its baby leaves (the first ones to grow)
  • Place the seedling gently into the hole and carefully firm the compost down.
  • I water by placing the pots in a tray – fill the tray with room temperature water and place the pots with the transplanted plants in there for about 20 mins. this allows the water to seep in from below where the roots are.
  • Now place these pots on a bright window sill or by a glass patio door indoors.
  • Chillies don’t like damp conditions, so water once the compost feels dry. Water deeply when you do – place in a tray again and leave them there for 20mins. This allows the plants to drink deeply!

Growing Chillies Plants On – Indoors and Outdoors

Once the danger of frost is over, here in London it is around May, you can move them to a cold greenhouse or sheltered bright porch. You can also leave them growing on a bright windowsill in the house as they can grow happily indoors!

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Spending daytime outdoors also called hardening

If you are planning to grow them outdoors on a patio or balcony, place the plants outdoors in the daytime and bring them indoors at night. This is called hardening and gets the plants used to outdoor conditions. After a week, they should be ready to be planted outside. A sunny warm location that is sheltered is perfect and in the UK, best to wait till the end of June!

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Flowers on the chilli plants

Once you see flowers blooming, start giving them a regular feed. I use a dilute solution of seaweed extract every one or two weeks. Then it’s a case of harvesting and enjoying the chillies!

Organic Seaweed Extract

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From flowers to chillies
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Basket of Fire chillies ripening

Top tips for growing your own chillies from seeds

  1. Remember not to over water chillies. They will love a deep drink when they need it.
  2. Use water that is tepid for sowing and growing chillies indoors – what can I say, they love to be cosy!
  3. Choose a sunny sheltered location for your chillies if you don’t have a greenhouse … minus the sunglasses. I have successfully grown chillies on my patio against my sunny kitchen wall.
  4. If you grow them indoors or in the greenhouse, make sure there is good ventilation as pests can breed easily and damage the plants.
  5. Pick your chillies often as the more you pick, the more they’ll produce.
  6. Chillies don’t need to be pollinated but if you’re growing them indoors, give them a gentle shake to allow the stamen (male) and pistil (female) to touch.

I hope this will inspire you to grow your chillies this year. Happy sowing and growing!

Organic Seaweed Extract

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Planting Turmeric – tips for growing at home

Growing Cucumbers – how to grow from seeds

Growing Tomatoes – learn to grow your own!

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