Friday, 3 December 2010

How to Grow Chilli Peppers


Growing chillis at home - chilli growing guide

When growing chilli plants from seed you do not need to spend lots of money on expensive gear such as hydroponic systems, all you need is good old compost, pots, and of course chilli seeds. You don't even need to be in a hot climate because as long as you can provide warmth and light your good to go, growing chillis in the UK is a big YES.

Ok, first of all it is always a good idea to plan ahead, by this I mean looking at what type of space you have to grow. If you have a flat or a house with a small garden you might want to stick to the smaller type of chilli peppers such as Apache, Cayenne, Bulgarian Carrot, etc. However if you choose a bigger chilli plant you can grow it in a smaller pot which will give you a slightly smaller version of the plant.

Sourcing chilli Pepper Seeds

You can buy chilli seeds from pretty much anywhere such as DIY stores like Homebase or B&Q, even the Co-Op sell them! I find buying my chilli seeds online is much more convenient and you can buy them on eBay, however you might want to stick to more reliable sources such as Nicky's Nursery, Chile Seeds .co.uk, Simpsons Seeds, Mr.Fothergills, etc. However I can recommend an eBay shop named Premier Seeds Direct, I have brought many seeds through these and have never had any problems and my germination rate has been excellent, not only that but they are quite cheap and the company is DEFRA registered.

Growing Medium

Once you have your chilli seeds you are going to need to plant them. A high quality compost is ideal, I have never had problems with own brand multi-purpose compost from places like B&Q, Asda, Aldi, Wilkinsons and Homebase. Compost is pretty cheap and you can get 100L bags of multi-purpose compost for a few pounds, usually you will find deals on where you can buy three bags for £10.

Next you need something to put the compost in, you can use pretty much anything such as old ice cream tubs, yoghurt pots, loo roll holders etc. If you want to buy a propagator you can do so from places like eBay, B&Q, Wilkinsons etc. These propagators are plastic trays where you are able to either fill with compost or place small pots inside, they are also idea for seed cells.

What I find much more convenient than placing pots or seed cells inside the propagator is using Jiffy Pellets (peat pellets) which look like large brown tablets but when you add warm water to them they expand in to small peat filled sacks where you can pop your chilli seed(s) in to then place them in your propagator, they aren't messy and you don't waste any time filling pots up with compost.

How to germinate chilli seeds

Instead of waiting until May/June you can get a head start with your chilli plants by starting to germinate your chilli seeds around March, it will take roughly 60-120 days before you see fruit, this depends on the type of chilli pepper you are growing. A Jalapeno would take around 60 days whereas a Habanero would take longer, around 100+ days.

When germinating chilli seeds you need the right temperature, somewhere between 20c - 28c is good, although I have germinated around 18c before now. Your chilli seeds should start to pop their heads above the compost around 10-14 days, sometimes it can take up to a month so it's always good to get a head start when germinating your seeds.

As soon as your chillis have poked their heads up it's time to get them some light. If you don't get your chilli seedlings light you will get "leggy" chilli peppers, in other words they grow long and thin and become a little weak. Remember they still need a stable temperature of about 20c.

When your chilli peppers have their first set of 4 leaves you can transfer them to bigger pots (I put them in 1ltr pots), if you are growing in Jiffy pellets you might want to transfer to 9cm pots soon after you see the first pair of seed leaves, then on to 1lts pots when you have 4 leaves.

As your chilli pepper plants get bigger you will have to transplant again to bigger pots, I tend to transfer to 2-3ltr pots if I am growing a small chilli plant such as an Apache, or if it's a taller plant then a pot size of 5ltr is a good size, flower buckets are great for chilli peppers, you can get them from supermarkets for about £1 if they are willing to sell you some. If your unsure when to transplant your chilli take a look at it, if it looks like it's getting too big for it's current pot repot to a bigger one, if it looks ok then just leave it until it needs transferring.

When it comes to watering at the seedling age just spray the surface compost so it's moist, you can add a liquid nitrogen feed after about a month with the water once a week to help promote growth but using just water on it's own is fine. Going by my own watering methods I tend to always keep the chilli moist and never wet, even when it's full size I pour on the water but stop before the surface compost is swimming.

Before putting your chilli plants outside you should wait until the last frost in your area, just keep watching the news or check Garden Action for their frost dates in your area. Once you are sure that you will not get any more frosts you can start to harden off your chilli peppers. Hardening off chilli peppers is done by gradually getting your chilli plants used to the outside weather, I make the process 2 weeks long and start by putting the chilli plants outside for a couple of hours a day in a sheltered but sunny position for the first week then the second week I may taken them out late morning and bring them in late afternoon (4-5pm). After that I will leave the plants out over night just as long as the temperature doesn't drop more than 10c, chilli peppers don't like the cold so if it's going to be a little chilli (excuse the pun!) that night then bring the chilli peppers inside.

When to pick chilli peppers

Depending on the type of chilli you have you might want to wait until your chilli peppers have changed colour, most of the time your chilli peppers will change from green to red or orange, of course you can pick green chillis as long as they taste good and have the right heat level there is no reason to wait until they turn another colour. Another tip is to inspect the chilli, if it looks glossy and firm you should be good to go, also the earlier you pick your chilli peppers the more chillis your plant will produce! If you have to many chillis to pick you can store them in a cool try place or even or even place them in your freeze.

If you want to dry your chillis you might want to leave them out in a cool dry place until the pepper shrivles up and is dry to touch. You can then grind them down in to a chilli powder or even break them off (you might need to cut them) and use them as chilli flakes.

Storing Chilli Seeds

If you want to use the chillis seeds from peppers you have chopped up all you need to do is pick out all the the seeds and put them in a kitchen towel and leave to dry for a couple of days or so, once you are sure the chilli seeds are dry you can bag them up in to those little resealable bags but don't forget to label the bags!

Overwintering Chilli Plants

When you overwinter chilli plants it is best to select the chilli plants that have given you the most tastey/hot fruit as you will know roughly how many chilli pods you will get next season. Also remember that you will need to keep your chilli plant in a warm sunny place and don't forget to cut back your chilli plant, you should take the whole plant back to it's main stem leaving about 2" on the sideshoots. Don't forget to water leaving it moist and not wet, do remember in the winter months it probably won't need watering every week so just put your hand on the compost to see if it feels dry.








My name is Jay also known as FireGardenUK from http://www.firegardenuk.com and I grow chilli peppers at home in the UK.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

How to Grow Your Own Chillies


Chilli peppers can turn from immature green or purple through to yellow, orange and red, and with their fiery flavour, they have many culinary uses, from spicing up stews and stir fries to jellies and sauces. As members of the capsicum family, they are thought to predate the larger, milder peppers and to have been in cultivation for more than 9,000 years. There are more than 3,500 varieties to choose from, but remember: chillies are originally from Central and South America, so you need to grow them in warm, sunny conditions.

HOW TO GROW CHILLIES

Chillies are best grown in pots. Sow the seeds from March onwards in seed-raising compost and keep in a glasshouse, conservatory or on a windowsill in strong sunlight. They need temperatures of 23-25°C to germinate.

Prick out when seedlings have several leaves, then feed with a weak seaweed fertilizer. Pot on a month later and pinch out seedlings at 15-20cm to encourage branching.

Outside, keep pots against a south-facing wall or on a sheltered terrace; bring inside in cool or rainy weather, as chilli plants cannot tolerate low temperatures.

Be aware that chillies are susceptible to slugs and snails.

Large-fruited cultivars will need staking.

WHERE TO BUY CHILLIES

- Cookoo Box Chillies - Plants and seeds, including Jekka McVicar's favorite, C. 'Chenzo'.

- Gardening Direct - Includes a selection of sweet peppers and hot chillies.

- Nicky's Seeds - Sells 170 different varieties of chilli seeds.

- Plants of Distinction - Large range of plants, including a good selection of chillies.

- Simpson's Seeds & Plants - Sells a variety of chillies and offers advice on the website.

- South Devon Chilli Farm - Specialist nursery growing over 10,000 chilli plants a year.








You can find more information on interior and garden design and interior design ideas at homesandgardens


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Growing Pepper Plants at Home


Peppers don't just taste great. They look good too. And best of all they are easy to grow. So why not have some fun and save some money at the same time by growing your own peppers at home?

Peppers like a hit climate so if you are lucky enough to live somewhere warm like California or Florida you should be find growing peppers outdoors. If you live in cooler regions then it is worth growing pepper plants on your window sill, or even better in a greenhouse, and then simply taking them outside in the warmer months to ripen.

But wherever you live peppers can be grown because the adult plants themselves are not big so they can be easily accommodated virtually anywhere.

To start off with growing peppers invest in some seeds. There are a huge variety of different pepper types so do your research thoroughly and consider asking around to find a variety which will do best where you live.

Luckily this research phase is the hardest and after this things get far easier. The seeds should be planted in rich compost and kept warm and damp. Grown in this way they will typically germinate rapidly and begin growing.

Once the plants have their first set of proper leaves it is worthwhile potting them up into a pot on their own where they can really begin their rapid growth. Remember that pepper plants like a hot, sunny position so a south-facing windowsill is ideal.

Lastly, peppers use a lot of energy in growing fruit so take the time to give them some liquid fertilizer once a week as the fruits develop and you will soon be enjoying your own home-grown peppers.








For information on small greenhouses please visit http://www.SmallGreenhouses.org


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Grow Your Own Chillies - Everything You Need To Know - Part 2 Of 3


Growing Your Seedlings

OK, you've got your best seeds selected and you're ready to start planting. What comes next?

What To Grow Them In?

I'll state up front that I don't know anything about hydroponics, nor do I know anyone growing chillies using that technique. As a result it will not be covered here.

Now that we've got that out of the way, there are two main points to be covered under this topic and they are; the medium to plant the seeds in and the container to hold the medium.

With regard to the medium I absolutely recommend using a premium potting mix or seed raising mix.

This is because these products are specifically designed with the following features; large particles to avoid compacting of the media which in turn inhibits both root penetration and drainage and, a nutrient profile that promotes vigorous root expansion and foliage growth.

You will inevitably come across people that tell you that the seedling needs to start off in the soil that it will eventually grow. That's absolute rubbish, and if it was true would mean that there is no plant nursery industry as no one would buy anything in pots to take home. The fact is that the nursery industry across Australia turns over several billion dollars a year. Your garden soil is suitable for chillies that are well on the way to growing up, but is normally of a density, or contains diseases, that can inhibit root growth, damage, or even kill your new seedlings.

Now, as to containers, there is an enormous range and what is best for you is going to depend a little bit on how many plants you intend to grow and a whole lot on personal choice. Containers range from the individual Jiffy pots or blocks through the plastic 6 cells to large clay or plastic pots. We'll examine each of these in more detail.

Jiffy pots and blocks are made from compressed sphagnum peat moss and wood pulp and uncompress and swell up once they are immersed in water. The seed can then be pressed into this swollen mass and, if kept moist, will germinate into a perfectly acceptable medium.

A big advantage of these is that when the seedlings are hardy enough to be planted outside, you simply plant the pot into the garden soil. There's no need top remove the seedling from one medium to the other thereby reducing the stress on the young plant. The downside is that at around AUD$0.20 each, if your going to be planting a lot of seeds, the cost will start to add up, and, of course, they are not re-useable.

Now, the plastic six-pack cells are another option. You simply fill them with your seed propagation or potting mix, moisten, and put your seeds in each one using a dibble stick. Alternatively, three-quarter fill them then put a seed on top of each one and then put more mix to fill the cells. Either way is fine. The advantages of these are that they are cheap and re-useable which helps keep your costs down.

On the downside however, because they are small it is likely that you will need to transplant the seedlings into a larger pot before they are ready to go outside. The reason they need to be transferred is that the seedlings will rapidly become root-bound in the small cells and if they do, this affects the later performance and heath of the plant. It also stresses the seedling twice going from cell to pot to garden. If you are able to plant from cell to garden (as you may in the tropics) or if the plant is going to stay in the pot it gets transferred to, then these negative factors are not an issue for you. Congrats.

Now I'll quickly look at pots.

I'm not going to explore cost here as it obviously depends on your personal choice and there is an enormous range available. If you are intending to plant into cheap plastic pots and then transfer to the garden at a suitable age that's a perfectly acceptable process. The only downside here is that if you live in the colder parts of the country, you will not be able to fit many pots on a heating mat as discussed below. However if you are able to keep the pots warm some other way (e.g. heated greenhouse, or keep them inside the house) then this is not an issue for you.

If you plant the seeds directly into the pot that you intend to grow them in that's fine too - the negative issues are only those discussed in the previous two sentences. On the plus side, the seedling does not experience any of the stress of transplanting.

Finally, just for your information I'll quickly go over the basics of what the commercial nurseries do. They use a more involved process where the seeds are germinated in large flat trays with no medium other than some water. After a couple of days, the delicate seedlings are transplanted into the six-pack cells that you are familiar with. This maximizes the usage and saleability of the six-packs as there are no empty cells as a result of seeds not germinating. You've all seen the six-packs at the nursery where one of the seedlings has died and they just do not sell. So for the nursery to be able to avoid non-germination is worth the hassle.

Where Do I Grow Them?

You've got your seeds, raising mix and your pots. So, we now need to discuss where you intend to grow and subsequently acclimatise your seedlings.

I will quickly cover what I do first and then go over a number of possibilities for you to be able to choose the approach that best suits you.

When I do grow from seeds, which is not that often these days, I start off using a simple mini-greenhouse (see picture), with a premium grade potting mix, to germinate the seeds in, making sure it's kept moist. This sits outside during the day where it will get sufficient sunlight and comes in at night to avoid temperatures dropping to detrimental levels.

As the seedlings begin to touch the top of the clear plastic lid (about 5cm high)

I transfer them to larger pots and place the outdoors against a galvanised iron shed, facing north. In this location they get plenty of spring sunlight and warmth, which is also reflected back onto the plants by the shed. Very occasionally Perth will experience a cold night or two during this time in which case I will either move the plants inside for the night or to a sheltered area where the temperature drop will not be as extreme.

Once I am happy that the plants are acclimatised and ready to go out on their own, I transfer then to the raised garden beds up at the back of my yard. The time frame for this varies and is as much about the future likelihood of damaging cold spells as it is about the readiness of the plant. This is usually around 3-6 weeks.

I need to say here that I avoid planting seeds too early (i.e. before October) which negates my need for a glasshouse or coldframe as discussed below. I can do this because Perth has a long, warm Autumn which means I still get a extended harvest season that lasts well into April and frequently even May.

If you live north of Latitude 35 S there is a good chance you can grow your chillies all year round, particularly on near the coast. If you live more than 200km from the coast you will need to be careful of low temperatures during the winter/dry season.

If you live between Latitude 30 S and Latitude 35 S (approximately Perth, Durban, and Santiago) you can adopt my technique above, or start a little earlier and borrow from the advice below, which is for the colder regions.

Should you live south of Latitude 30 S then you will need to read the information below and should look at getting your seeds to germinate in July/August to ensure you get a long enough harvest season to make the effort worthwhile.

OK. First thing to consider is that you will most likely need some form of heating to provide the temperatures your seeds need to germinate. There are several options here that I will discuss.

First option is an electric heat mat which come in both pre-set and adjustable temperature models. You'll pay AUD$50-60 for the former and about three times that for the adjustable models. In Australia you can get these at good nurseries and garden centres. The Bunnings store (in North America the equivalent would be Walmart) near me does not stock them however, you are also able to buy them online at retailers such as http://www.gardenexpress.com.au (please note that we have no association with gardenexpress.com.au and if you look around there are other websites with the same equipment).

Friends that have these mats thoroughly recommend them. They have asked me to remind you though that once the seeds have germinated the heating mat needs to be placed somewhere that the seedlings will receive sunlight.

Another option is one that is quite popular with keen gardeners and that is the coldframe. The are an endless number of variations on the above example and they all work on the principle of solar heating of the medium in which you are germinating your seeds. Depending on how cold the climate is you may choose to open the up during the day and close them at night to retain the heat, or simply leave them closed most of the time to provide maximum warmth.

If your climate is extremely cold there are further steps you can take to heat the contents of your cold frame. One is to dig below the base of the frame and pack this with moist manure and straw and then cover this with a layer of loam and then place your potting mix/raising mix/cells/pots on top of this. Extra heat will then be provided by the decomposition of the underlying manure and you may be surprised by just how much heat this generates. I recommend you keep a thermometer in the frame to make sure temperatures do not get too much above 35oC. Cooling can be achieved by opening the sashes, of course.

In extremely cold climates you may wish to heat your coldframe electrically with a setup involving heating cables embedded below the base of the coldframe. I do recommend you get a qualified electrician to set this up as the consequences of a faulty DIY job could be fatal (and I'd hate to lose a subscriber!). Once a coldframe is modified in this way it is commonly called a hotbox.

The third and final option I'll cover quickly is for those lucky enough to have a greenhouse. There is not a lot more to say regarding these that has not been covered in the previous three paragraphs. They are solar heated and this can be augmented electrically or by having some compost breaking down either under the floor or simply in a tub in one corner. There are a couple of points to be make sure of with regard to a greenhouse and they are; that the greenhouse is in a position to get sufficient sunlight through the winter months and, that it does not get too hot in the warmer months. Many greenhouses have panels that open to all the latter issue to be addressed.

Lets Grow Them

This is it. Everything is ready now to plant your seeds. The best time to do this is approximately two months before you believe you will able to put your chilli plants outside to fend for themselves, i.e. after they are acclimatised.

Fill up your six-pack cells or pots with your preferred seed raising medium, remembering not to pack the medium down as this will inhibit root growth. If you are using a premium potting mix this will already have sufficient nutrients to support the initial growth of the seedling. However, if you are using any other medium there is a high probability that it does not have the nutrient profile to support your young seedlings.

So you will need to apply a liquid fertilizer, of your choice, diluted for seedlings as the directions on the packet instruct. For those of you in Australia I use Powerfeed (TM) by the group that make Seasol (TM) (I have no association with them whatsoever, though if they want to cut a deal I am open to that).

I use a hand operated spray bottle to apply the fertilizer however some people prefer to soak the filled containers in the liquid for a few minutes. It's up to you really.

Either way the germinating medium may compact a little here because of the liquid and this is not a problem however, if you need to top up the medium in some containers, do so.

Now with the blunt end of a pencil, or something of that size, push a hole into the medium in each cell, approximately ½ cm deep. Drop 2 or 3 seeds into each hole and then push a little of the germinating medium over them to cover. Depending on how many varieties you are planting you may want to label the cells or pots in some way so that you don't need to try and remember which is which. If you keep a garden journal or almanac then you will no doubt be recording a number of data items regarding the planting. It is a good habit to have as the information you pick up over time can be significant for growing chillies in your particular area.

Now ensure that you keep the seeds moist and warm. Moist does not mean soggy, it means moist. Eventually you will see the seeds beginning to sprout. Let them grow for a week, keeping moist and warm and then, with a pair of scissors, cull all but the strongest seedling in each cell by cutting them off at the base. You want to do this to ensure that each generation of your chilli seeds is stronger and hardier than the last.

Ensure that wherever you have the seedlings growing gets sufficient light, heat and ventilation to ensure healthy growth. Fertilise your seedlings as per the directions on the packet/bottle - this is usually once a week.

It is incredibly important that you do not let the seedlings dry out. Seedlings that get stressed by dehydration early in their life seldom fully recover - you will end up with plants that have significantly decreased vigour and disease resistance.

Any electrical heating that you may be using can be turned off after about the third week provided the seedlings will not be exposed to the risk of frost.

After around six weeks your chilli plants should be of good size and looking healthy, and ready for planting.

Acclimatising and Transplanting Your Seedlings

If you have ever had an aquarium you will know that if you purchase new fish from the store and take them home you do not simply tip them from the bag into you tank and assume that everything will be alright. The temperature shock and the pH shock would compound the stress of travel and most likely result in dead fish with in 24 hours.

Your seedlings are the same. They are accustomed to the warm, lightly ventilated, constantly watered nirvana that you have raised them in. Basically they are complete wimps and need to be toughened up before they can be transplanted out into the big bad world.

In more technical terms they have grown rapidly, producing large cells with thin walls due to a lack of stress and environmental demand affecting the plant. They need to become accustomed to day-long exposure to UV light, strong winds, heavy rain, larger temperature variations and sporadic dry conditions.

Many gardeners call this process of toughening, or acclimatising, hardening off.

Acclimatising

This is a process that takes place over two weeks once your seedlings reach an age of about six weeks.

The first step is to slow down the growth of your plant by watering and feeding less, and if possible, keeping the seedlings at a slightly cooler temperature. This will begin the adjustment stage by preserving the plants' energy for adjusting to the new outdoor conditions.

Begin acclimatising your seedlings to the garden by gradually exposing them to outdoor

conditions. First expose them to filtered sun in the shade of a tree or in a sheltered spot protected from the wind and direct sun.Leave them for 3-4 hours and gradually increase the time spent outside by 1-2 hours per day until, bringing them back into shelter at night.

After a week or so, they should be able to withstand a full day of sun. While acclimatising the seedlings, watch them closely for signs of stress (the leaves may start turning yellow and drying out if exposed to too much sun). They should now also be able to stay out at night providing the temperature is not going to drop much below 10oC (50oF).

The science behind the process of acclimatizing your plants is a physiological one that adds carbohydrate reserves to the plant and produces additional cuticle on the leaves, reducing water loss. Practically, the process slows plant growth while acclimating the seedling to harsher conditions.

Transplanting

You're seedlings are now ready to transplant and if you bought your seedlings from a nursery then this is the place for you to begin reading this document.

Before I get into the process of putting your plants in the ground I'd like to go over a couple of points about seedlings purchased from a nursery. The first is that these are frequently root-bound and if so, it will take longer for them to extend their roots into the garden soil, so they too are subject to wilting until they are established. Tease the roots our a little, being careful not to damage them, otherwise they will continue to circle around rather than spread out. Also, give them a little extra attention once they're in the ground

The next point is that most nurseries indicate that their seedlings are acclimatised and ready for immediate transplanting. Instead of gambling and being disappointed (it was your money after all), harden them off yourself for at least a week first.

One more point to consider that, as a general rule of thumb, planting the same type of plant in the same spot year after year is asking for problems. The reason of this is that pests, because like their solanum cousins, tomatoes and eggplants, chillies are prone to root knot nematode. These are microscopic roundworms which attack the roots of the plant and cause it to wilt.

The two best practices for minimising this risk is to practice crop rotation or by adding significant amounts of organic matter to the soil at least annually.

The spacing between your plants depends on a number of factors, including the size of the varieties being grown. Smaller varieties, such as ornamentals, can be planted closer together and the there's usually less sunburn (light brown burnt areas) of the fruit because they're better shaded by the leaves. Some commercial chilli growers space their plants as closely as 10-15cm apart. Close spacing also helps minimize evaporation due to the thick canopy of leaves.

Now, to planting - generously water the plants to be transplanted the day before . This insures that the whole plant will be hydrated, leaves and all, when it's time to transplant, thereby helping it to cope with stress.

Plan to do your transplanting when it is overcast or during the cooler evening hours.

Water the plant immediately before digging or removing from its pot. Soak the root ball so that the soil will adhere to the roots, when it is dug from the garden.

Never leave the roots exposed to sun, heat or wind. This is a risk if you remove all plants from their pots and simply lay them down, planting one after the other. It's much better to remove them from the pots/cells just prior to planting.

Water the hole before you place the transplant into it. Place the transplant into the hole and fill it halfway with water. Allow the water to settle the soil around the roots and then finish filling the hole.

Lightly firm the soil around the transplant and again, water the whole plant, leaves and all. If possible, shield the new transplant from direct sunlight for 1-2 weeks, by cutting the bottom out of an old plastic pot roughly the same height as the seedling and place this over it. This will help the plant get over the shock by cutting down the direct light and also reducing evaporation. An extra plus is that it protects the plant from getting snapped off in strong winds.

Check the plant daily for the first couple of weeks. Transplants will need watering every day, if not more. If it is wilting, water the plant. Depending on the weather and the plant, you may need to water twice a day until it becomes established. The larger the plant and/or the less roots to top growth ratio, the more water will be needed.

All of this may seem extreme, but the shock of being uprooted is stressful to plants anytime of year. In the heat of summer, this extra precaution can make the difference between keeping and losing your transplants.

That's it for this section. The third and final section deals with Problems, Pests and Diseases








Nigel publishes a monthly newsletter covering all aspects of chillies that is FREE to subscribers. You can subscribe at http://www.chillies-down-under.com/ and receive the full Grow Your Own Chillies eBook as a free gift.

Nigel Laubsch is one of the world's leading chilli experts and has grown studied and cooked with chillies for over 20 years. Much of his experience was gained travelling through Indonesia, China and Fiji. In 2005 Nigel presented the world's first Chilli Sauce Appreciation course at the University of Western Australia and has received rave reviews for the innovative content.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Grow Your Own Chillies - Everything You Need To Know - Part 1 Of 3


Introduction

There are, of course, two options for you should you decide to grow your own chillies; start from seed or obtain seedlings and take it from there.

In this series of three articles we will begin at the very start - selecting the seeds to grow your chillies from. If it is your intention to purchase seedlings and plant those out then simply skip to the second article, Acclimatising & Transplanting Your Seedlings.

Obtaining Your Chilli Seeds

There are two sources for you to obtain your seeds unless you're lucky enough to live in a location where chillies grow wild. I'll discuss both of these below and give you my recommendations.

Home-Grown

The first source of seeds that comes to mind are obviously one that you have grown yourself, or from a chilli fanatic mate (that's friend for those outside Australia) or neighbour.

This is a perfectly acceptable way to obtain your seeds as long as you set your expectations at the right level, meaning that, you're not too fussy about what chillies you are going to grow, as long as you get some.

Why is this? The reason for this is that chillies are rampant cross-pollinators. This means that even if you brought commercial seeds or seedlings and keep the plants near each other, they will fruit true to variety for the first year but after that, what will be produced will be a cocktail of the nearby varieties. The home gardener who fully isolates his or her chilli varieties to prevent cross-pollination is a rare person indeed.

Having said that however, do not suddenly form the opinion that home grown seeds are not for you. If you obtain some seeds from your own plants or those of a friend, plant a few of them anyway - you may end up with a hybrid variety that you really like!

Commercially Produced

Seed produced by the large seed companies is much more likely to grow true to variety as they have a vested interest in maintaining the genetic purity of the cultivar. For the non-botanists a cultivar is cultivated plant that has been selected and given a unique name because it has desirable characteristics that distinguish it from otherwise similar plants of the same species. When propagated it retains those characteristics. The common term for a cultivar is variety.

The seed companies employ a number of systematic crop improvement and seed growing processes which involve the variety producing consistently over a number of generations until certified. Once certified there are strict internal processes used to ensure that the purity is not endangered by cross-pollination or contamination with other seed types prior to packaging.

There are no federal regulations governing seed quality and certification within Australia and there is a significant variation of these concepts between the states. These range from a strict certification process within Western Australia to recommended 'best practice' guidelines in South Australia based on international practices.

As a result of this lack of consistency you may experience some variation in seed quality and reliability when purchasing seeds from small producers as it is possible that they are unable or unwilling to introduce strict processes to guarantee cultivar purity. If you do wish to purchase from the smaller producers that is fine, just approach the purchase with the knowledge and perspective that you now have. Make a small purchase and test the quality before spending too much of your hard earned cash.

Selecting The Seeds

OK, you've got your seeds home and you're eager to plant them out. Just step back for a few moments and listen as there is a test that can significantly improve your results at this stage.

Get a bowl of water and pour all the seeds you're intending to plant, into the water. Give it a good swirl with your finger to break the surface tension of the water and ensure that it is not preventing any of the seeds sinking.

Now, any seeds that are still floating are highly unlikely to germinate, due to a variety of factors including malformation and a lack of embryo or kernel. Discard the floaters and then pour the remainders into a sieve to get rid of the water. Now inspect the seeds, with a magnifying glass if you're really keen, and discard any that look undersized, deformed or damaged.

Factors Affecting Seed Germination

Even with ideal conditions, getting chilli seeds to germinate can be a slow, irregular business. Talking to both small and large growers in Western Australia you can expect germination to take from one to six weeks, even in the tropical areas. The warning here is; don't give up too early on your seeds.

Just the same as the majority of other plants, chilli seeds need warmth, oxygen, and moisture before germination will occur.

Below, I discuss some other factors that may help you increase your success rate planting from seeds.

Ambient Temperature

The ideal temperature for germinating chilli seeds is 22oC to 28oC .

Moisture

While trying to induce seed germination, the medium that the seeds are in needs to be kept moist. Ideally this would occur with water that is not too different in temperature to the seed medium, but don't get too hung up on this point.

Fruit Ripeness

In the fascinating but heavily scientific Capsicum and Eggplant Newsletter that used to be published by the University of Turin (Italy) I found reference to a study carried out in 1986 in Texas on seed from tabasco chillies harvested 150, 195, and 240 days after transplanting. What the scientists R.L. Edwards and F.J. Sundstrom, observed, as expected, was that the seeds from the ripe fruit had a better germination percentage than the seeds from the immature fruit.

What surprised a little more was that the germination percentage decreased as the fruit got older; after achieving 81% germination from the 150 day old plants, the percentage dropped to 63% for the 240 day old plants. To summarise these results, the study suggests that seeds from newly ripened chillies will have the highest percentage of successful seed germination. If harvested too far either side of the becoming ripe, you risk decreased seed germination performance.

Several other studies have shown drying of the seeds for 2-4 months after harvesting significantly increases germination percentages, whether dried within the chilli or separately.

Dormancy

Another factor that affects chilli seed germination is a mechanism called dormancy which is common in many plant types. This is an obvious self defense mechanism that prevents the seed germinating in Autumn only to be exposed to the risks of winter and possible seedling death. All chillies are perennials however, unless you live in the tropics, they will behave as annuals and the inherent dormancy in both the seeds and the plants will vary between the varieties.

OK, thats it for this first section. In Part 2, I discuss growing mediums, pot types, acclimatising and transplanting.








Nigel publishes a monthly newsletter covering all aspects of chillies that is FREE to subscribers. You can subscribe at http://www.chillies-down-under.com/ and receive the full Grow Your Own Chillies eBook as a free gift.

Nigel Laubsch is one of the world's leading chilli experts and has grown studied and cooked with chillies for over 20 years. Much of his experience was gained travelling through Indonesia, China and Fiji. In 2005 Nigel presented the world's first Chilli Sauce Appreciation course at the University of Western Australia and has received rave reviews for the innovative content.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

5 Steps To Germinating Chilli Seeds


1. Heat

Like all seeds, chilli seeds are reasonably easy to germinate. Initially their main requirement is heat. Obviously it is best if possible to keep the seeds indoors, if not in a house or garage then at minimum in a greenhouse. Even when they are in a centrally heated house there are things you can do to maximise the heat. Try putting the seed tray in warm spots such as on top of the fridge or in an airing cupboard. Alternatively you could buy a heat pad from a garden centre and place the tray on top. This will ensure a constant warmth is supplied to the chillies.

2. Moisture

During germination, moisture helps the seeds by softening the pods from which they sprout. Pre-soaking the seeds in water prior to planting in compost can help speed up the germination process. If you have the seeds in a warm are as suggested in tip 1 above be sure to not let the compost dry out. Try and keep the soil moist to touch but not wet. A small water mister is best to use rather than pouring water straight in to the seed tray.

3. Planting

You can plant the seeds straight into individual pots however a seed tray will allow you to plant more in a confined space. Fill the tray 3/4 full of fine compost (sieved if possible). Then add the seeds in straight lines leaving about 5cm between seeds. Next sieve over another 3-5mm of compost. Be sure to label the seeds if more than one variety is being grown. Place a cover over the tray and place somewhere warm.

4. Thinning Out

The seeds should sprout after anything from a few days to a few weeks. You should try and leave the seedlings in the seed tray until they have sprouted their first true set of leaves (the second set that appears). It is a good idea at this time to throw away any weak looking plants and only pot on the strongest plants. This of course depends on how much space you have available to grow them, just remember they take up a lot more room once they are fully grown plants!

5.Gently Does It

oung chilli plants are very tender. They hate being disturbed so be very careful to handle the roots as little as possible. Also do not expose young plants to varying temperatures. If moving plants outside, do so gradually so as to give the plants time to acclimatise.








More information on growing chilli plants or chilli seeds please visit the author's chilli related website.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A Full Guide to Growing Chillies at Home Successfully


Sowing the Seeds

In order to sow your Chilli seeds you are going to need seeding trays. If you don't have any, a standard plastic plant pot will do.

You will also need some good quality potting compost, which can be obtained very cheaply from your local garden centre.

To start, fill the plant pot to around 3/4 full with compost, making sure the soil is loose and has no hard lumps in it.

Next, you will need to place a few of the seeds lightly on top of the soil. Ensure they are evenly spaced out, and sprinkle an inch or so of soil over the seeds.

Dampen the soil in your container, and place in a warm place. This is because seeds need this warmth in order for them to successfully germinate.

Using your airing cupboard is a safe bet, as this will have a very near to perfect temperature range.

Make sure you keep the soil in the container damp (not waterlogged, as this can prevent germination).

Your seeds will sprout in about a week, but they can take longer, so be patient.

When they do decide to emerge, you will see that each seed produces a green shoot, that will develop into a stalk with 2 green leaves.

TIP: When this happens, you will need to place your seedlings in a place where they will get a lot of light - a window sill is perfect for this.

The reason being is that if the new plants do not get enough light at this stage, you will end up with a thin and whispy plant which won't be as stable and strong as it could be.

Remember to keep watering your plants, but now you can reduce how often you water them to every couple of days. Just keep the top of the soil damp - use your finger to test this.

When they get a bit bigger...

As your Chilli plant grows, eventually it will need a bigger pot.

Normally plants will limit their growth to best accommodate the size of container they are in, so you will need to replant into a bigger container when they get too big for their current one.

When your plant starts to show the first signs of producing fruit, (not only will you be incredibly amused as they develop), but you will have to make sure they are well nourished.

A good general tomato fertiliser will be good, although you can also use diluted Miracle-Gro(R) for this purpose - Please follow instructions on the packet.

Plants should be fed about 1-2 times per week.

To help produce a full harvest of Chillies...

The Chilli plant is usually fertilised by insects, but unless you have a serious bug problem in your house, you're going to need to do this yourself!

The pollen the plant produces is usually ready to be picked up by the insect in the late afternoon, so at this time you can pollinate the plant yourself.

To pollinate the plant yourself, take a small clean brush, like the ones used in Watercolour painting. Dampen the brush, pick up the pollen, and gently transfer it to the centre of the flowers on your plant. Repeat this with all the flowers on the plant.

Going through this quick process will help produce a full harvest of Chillies, so that you can get the most out of your plant.

General Tip:

When watering your plant with tap water, it is best to leave the water you are going to use standing for a day or so before you use it. This allows the Chlorine in the tap water to dissipate.

Alternatively you can use rain water collected from outside.








This guide was produced by Luke Carter - A specialist in growing unusual and rare chilli plants, including the infamous peter pepper.

For more information on how to grow chillies and to see the notorious peter pepper, please visit: http://www.chilli-willy.com