We can’t get enough of that giddy endorphin buzz you get from chomping down on piping hot peppers, and chillies happen to be one of our favourite plants to grow. We mash chillies into sauces, oils and marinades, use them to fire up a whole host of savoury dishes, and have even been known to plunge them into booze for fiery brews. Chillies also look great sitting on a windowsill or greenhouse, and most varieties are relatively easy to grow. Here’s some top advice on how to grow chillies from seeds.
Handle with care – these tips are hot hot HOT!
Chilli growing tips
- Depending on what variety you go for, chilli seeds are best sown early to give the fruits plenty of time to reach maturity. Chillies like good drainage, so use a good quality seed compost, preferably mixed with sand or vermiculite.
- Your germination hit-rate will improve if you start off your chilli seeds in a heated propagator. Keep the soil moist by spraying the surface with water, and avoid over-watering from the base as this can lower the temperature of the compost and your chilli seeds won’t like it.
- For those without the luxury of a heated propagator, try wrapping a clear plastic bag around your chilli pot to create an ad-hoc seed incubator. Place it on the sunniest window ledge you can find.
- Sow your seeds at a depth of 5mm, then gently cover with soil. If you are growing multiple varieties, segregate them in their own pots and remember to label them accordingly to avoid confusion later on down the line.
- Chilli seed germination can take a while, so be patient and don’t cast your seed trays into the bin in a hot, teary tantrum should nothing show for a few days. Some varieties take five weeks or more to germinate, but most varieties should start to sprout after ten days or so.
- As soon as your seedling chillies reach about an inch tall, repot them. Three-inch pots will do nicely and will afford them plenty of growing space. When repotting, hold the seedling by the leaf, not the stem. This feels wrong, but their young stems are super fragile and won’t take kindly to your clumsy clutches. If your seedlings start to go leggy (a problem that can occur when young plants are starved of decent sunlight), re-pot them to a new soil level, burying part of the stem to stabilize the plant.
- Once potted on, you should ideally move your seedlings to a greenhouse or warm conservatory. Continue to keep the soil moist, and when your seedlings reach a height of around six inches or have formed five or six pairs of leaves, pot them on again into 12-inch pots.
Our five favourite chilli varieties
Take a peek in Nick’s greenhouse, mid-summer, and you’ll spot pots of his beloved Aji Lemons growing unruly and prolific – their plump fruits squished against the glass like London tube commuters during steamy evening rush-hour. They can be picked green but to enjoy their dry, zesty flavour to the full, wait until they turn a bright yellow colour. Chop them sparingly into dishes or blend them into sauces. Aji Lemons have thin skins, making them ideal for drying and storing.
Basket of Fire
This squat, bushy variety will chuck out scores of small fruits, ranging in colour from pale yellow to deep purple hues. Basket of fire is relatively cold-tolerant which makes it a good one to overwinter. When its leaves start to turn brown, cut it back leaving 2-3 nodes (the point on the stem where the branches, buds and leaves grow from) per stem. Keep the chilli plant in a warm room with good sunlight, such as a heated greenhouse, and water lightly every week until spring.
Last chilli growing season, we had good results with Scotch Bonnets. They grew bushy and bounteous on the allotment thanks to the warm, plastic-y protection provided by our mini polytunnel. Sadly, the winter storms whisked our poorly anchored polytunnel away (we literally have no idea where it went) so this year’s plants will jostle for space with the Aji Lemons in Nick’s greenhouse.
The fruits of this stumpy looking plant grow quickly and boast thick, fleshy walls. When mature, slice off the top of the ruddy fruits and stuff them with goats cheese and lob them under the grill for 4 or 5 minutes. Hot stuff!
One of the earliest varieties to be ready. Blister these mild chillies on a hot pan or BBQ and sprinkle with salt, tapas-style. Be warned though: occasionally a hot one will randomly reveal itself, Russian-roulette style. Sneaky hot padrons are not that fierce but will provide a prickly sensory surprise for your tongue all the same. Keep picking your padrons throughout the summer to encourage more growth.
How to make ginger & Chilli Beer
Wondering what to do with a chilli glut? If you like your drinks nice and spicy, give this easy-to-make ginger beer a go. We make this fearsome, fiery fizz from Scotch Bonnet(see above) but you can toss in whatever chillies you have to hand.
4-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped.
Juice of 2 lemons
200g white sugar
1 Sachet ale yeast
- Put the chopped ginger into a sterilized bucket, then add the lemon juice and sugar.
- Pour over 2 litres of boiling water and give it a stir.
- Add the chilli. For maximum heat, cast the lot in, seeds and all.
- Wait until the liquid has cooled, then add the sachet of ale yeast. Cover the bucket with a tea towel and leave to ferment for 2 days.
- Pour the beer through a muslin cloth into a four-pint plastic drinks bottle and secure the lid.
- Leave the bottle 1 to 2 days, remembering to occasionally loosen the cap to release the build-up of gas.
- Allow the bottle to chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving.
Glug this drink on a hot summer’s day with a mint leaf garnish, or if you are feeling extra boozy, use it as a base to make a blistering rum and ginger cocktail. Just add two shots of dark rum to a glass of your chilli ginger beer and give it stir. And don’t forget the ice – you’ll be glad of it…
Have you grown chillies before? Let us know your tips in the comments!