It has always struck me as deliciously odd that a plant capable of producing such fiery-tasting fruits should be known by the name of “chilli”. We humans have been eating these spicy peppers (Capsicum) in some form or other for 10,000 years now.

Traditionally, they’ve been used to add peppery heat to curries and casseroles. But as more and more varieties have become available (a result of the chilli plant’s promiscuous habits and willingness to cross-pollinate), cooks are beginning to appreciate their subtly different flavours and textures and to use them in other, often unusual ways.

While you can buy young plants in spring, it’s always much better (and a lot more fun) to grow your chillies from seed, if only for the far greater range of varieties available. February is the very best time to do this, as chilli seed is famously slow to germinate, requiring anywhere from two to six weeks depending on the variety.

Start by sowing the seed into a multi-cell seed tray filled with a good-quality seed compost. Plant one seed to each cell, making sure to cover the seed with just a thin layer of compost before gently watering. Chilli seed also requires a fair amount of heat for successful germination (25-30 degrees).

Once the seedlings have pushed their tender green leaves up through the compost, quickly move them somewhere bright and slightly cooler (17-21 degrees), but out of direct sunlight. Make sure to keep the compost damp but not wet, and avoid wetting the seedlings themselves when watering.

Spindly, ‘stretched’ growth is a sign that your chilli seedlings aren’t getting enough light, which can be a problem at this time of year. If this happens, try placing a white sheet of rigid card behind the pots, a photographer’s trick which helps bounce available daylight back from nearby windows.

Once the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, pot them on into larger 7cm pots filled with a good quality compost.

About a month later, pot them on again, this time into 12-15cm pots. Once they’ve reached about 25-30cm tall, make yourself pinch out the growing tips to encourage a bushy, productive plant.

Remember that chilli plants loathe both low temperatures and low light levels, so unless your garden is a sheltered, sunny one, don’t attempt to grow them on outside.

But they’ll happily grow indoors in a container for you, perhaps in a sunny conservatory or near a sunny window, where you’ll also get to appreciate their highly decorative, colourful fruits, which should be ready to harvest from July onwards.

Just remember to aid pollination by dabbing the flowers with a cotton bud or fine paintbrush. Alternatively, come late May, the plants can be moved into a glasshouse or polytunnel. To get the very best out of your plants, continue to give them a fortnightly liquid feed, keep them regularly watered and watch out for aphids and diseases such as grey mould.

Come autumn, plants can be brought indoors and successfully overwintered by cutting the stems back to about 10cm above soil level and watering them only enough to prevent the compost from becoming bone-dry.

The following spring, these should burst back into life again, resulting in a larger, more productive and earlier-fruiting plant, although it’s best to discard those more than five to six years old.

Hoping you would grow your own chillies in your own garden and please do not forget to let us know your suggestions, queries and comments at 9535025938 or by sending in a mail at [email protected]

Happy Gardening Folks!!

Credits: The Irish Times

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