Super chili pepper plants

Jalapeno pepper

Hot peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Grow hot chili peppers in the warmest, frost-free time of the year.

Start hot pepper seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden.

Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F.

Hot peppers grow best where the air temperature ranges from 70° to 95°F. Hot peppers mature in 60 to 95 days.

Description. Peppers are tender perennials that are grown as annuals. Peppers grow on compact erect bushes 1½ to 2 feet tall. The fruit follows a single flower growing in the angle between the leaf and the stem. Hot peppers can range in length from 1 to 7 inches long and in color from green to red to gold and yellow.

Yield. Hot peppers vary greatly in spiciness. Choose peppers and the number to plant according to how you plan to use them.

Planting Hot Peppers

Site. Grow peppers in full sun in soil that is rich in organic matter, moisture retentive but well draining. Peppers prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Work aged garden compost into beds prior to planting. The optimal soil temperature for peppers is 65°F or warmer.

Planting time. Hot peppers grow best in air temperatures 70° to 95°F. Peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Start seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden. Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. Hot peppers tolerate hot weather better than sweet peppers.

Planting and spacing. Sow hot pepper seed ½ inch deep, 18 to 24 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Sow two seeds to each spot and thin to the most successful seedling. Peppers can be transplanted into the garden when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.

Container growing. Peppers can be grown in a large container. An 8-inch pot will accommodate a single plant. In larger containers, set plants on 12-inch centers. Peppers can be grown indoors. Peppers started indoors before the last frost in spring will get a head start on the season. Extend the season in the fall by moving plants indoors if frost threatens or if temperatures warm to greater than 90°F. Bring outdoor started peppers inside for a few hours a day at first until they get used to the lower light available indoors.

Caring for Hot Peppers

Water and feeding. Keep peppers evenly moist but not wet particularly when blossoms appear and fruit begins to form. Soil that goes too dry can result in flower drop. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason. Water more frequently after the fruit forms. Water heavily 4 to 8 hours before harvest to turn hot peppers milder; withhold watering before harvest to make hot peppers hotter.

Companion plants. Beets, garlic, onions, parsnips, radishes.

Care. Keep planting beds well weeded to avoid competition. Peppers are shallow-rooted, so cultivate around peppers with care. Mulch to keep soil temperature and moisture even.

Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which will create large leafy plants with few or no fruits. High temperatures and wind can cause flowers to drop and plants not to set fruit.

Plastic mulch can improve pepper yields. Organic compost mulches will reduce weeding and watering, but not fruit yields.

Use shade cloth to protect peppers from sunburn if the temperature exceeds 105°F.

Pests. Peppers can be attacked by aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and hornworms. Discourage cutworms by placing a collar around each transplant at the time of planting; hand pick hornworms off of plants. Flea beetles and aphids can be partially controlled by hosing them off the plants and pinching out infested foliage.

Diseases. Peppers are susceptible to rot, blossom end rot, anthracnose, tobacco mosaic virus, bacterial spot, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of weeds where pests and diseases can shelter. Remove infected plants before the disease can spread. If you smoke, wash your hands before working with the plants to avoid spreading the tobacco mosaic virus.

Harvesting Hot Peppers

Harvest. Hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60 to 95 days after sowing. Pick hot peppers when they have reached full size and their mature color. Cut the peppers off the vine. Pulling a pepper away from the plant may cause the plant to come out of the soil.

Storing and preserving. Hot peppers will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or in a cool, dry spot for up to 2 weeks. Roasted and peeled hot peppers will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months. Pickle whole, cooked, and canned hot peppers will keep for up to 2 years.

Hot Pepper Varieties to Grow

• Medium to small tapering hot peppers: Tabasco (80-120 days); Thai Hot (75 days).

• Yellow hot peppers: Casabella (75 days); Santa Fe Grande (75 days); Szentesi Semi-Hot (60 days).

Common name. Pepper, hot pepper, chili pepper

Botanical name. Capsicum frutescens (hot pepper); Capsicum annuum (sweet and hot peppers)

Origin. New World Tropics

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

Growing Chillies (Capsicum Annuum, Capsicum Var.)

How To Grow Chili Peppers

Are you growing chillies or chilis? Nevermind the different spellings, there are even more shapes, sizes and colours!

At one stage growing chillis was a special passion of mine.
Do you know how many different varieties there are? And how ornamental they are?

Just gorgeous!

For a while I had about 25 different chilli varieties growing…

But let’s forget about me. Everybody needs to grow chillis for cooking. Even if you don’t like hot food, just a little hint of chilli to warm it up stimulates the taste buds and everything else tastes just so much better. True.

And chillies will brighten up your garden!

But before we get to the instructions for growing chillis, lets sort out the spelling, lest you think I don’t know any better…

There are three ways to spell the name: chili, chilli and chile.

Yep, some people grow chile. This is the Spanish version of the name, which you also find used in English speaking countries, especially the southwest of America.

The Americans changed chile to chili. Originally chili referred to the dish chili con carne. Then it was shortened to just chili. Chili is the preferred name for the spice made from the fruit of the chile plant. But in America chili is also widely used as the name for the plant and fruit, the chili peppers. They grow chilis over there in the US.

The British are growing chillis. Chilli is also the commonly used spelling in Australia and New Zealand. Permaculture originated in Australia, hence we’ll stick to that version if you don’t mind.

As for the plural, both chillis and chillies is accepted.

Growing Chilli Peppers

What Do Chilli Plants Look Like?

Chilli plants grow into small to medium sized bushes from knee high to two metres/six feet tall. How big they get depends on the species and variety.

There are different species of chillies. Most chillies are grown as annuals even though they can live for a few years in warm climates. Some chilli varieties are true perennials.

Most of the common varieties however belong to the species capsicum annuum, the “annual” species.
(Bell peppers, called capsicums in Australia, also belong to the species capsicum annuum.)

Chillis have small to medium sized, shiny, dark green leaves. The fruit, the chilli peppers, vary wildly in size and shape.

Chilli peppers are green to start with. Most of them ripen to a rich red but they can also be orange, yellow, purple or brown.

They may hang down or stand up like little colourful candles. There are even ornamental varieties that are mottled and freckled.

The different chilli types not only vary in size and colour, they also vary in how hot they are! If you grow chillies for the kitchen, choose your variety with care…

How Hot Will Your Chillies Be?

The heat of chillies is caused by naturally occurring ingredients called capsaicins and is measured on the Scoville scale. The scale ranges from zero (capsicums/bell peppers) to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin).

It’s not possible to assign an accurate Scoville unit amount to a plant because the heat of the fruit will vary with the weather, the age of the plant, the soil and however the plant feels on any given day.

Still, some varieties are hotter than others, so here is a list of well known varieties, in ascending order on the Scoville scale, from zero to around 500,000:

Sweet Banana, Anaheim, Jalapeno, Serrano, Manzano, Cayenne, Tabasco, Thai, Birdseye, Habanero.

The Chocolate Habanero, blistering hot at 500,000 SHU.

There are still chillies much hotter than that, but I don’t need to grow a variety called the Carolina Reaper…
(For a long time this was the world record holder for chilli heat at 2,200,000 Scoville heat units.)

Where Can You Grow Chillis?

Chilli plants love heat. They are closely related to capsicums/bell peppers and also related to tomatoes (they are in the same family, the solanaceae), but chillies prefer their growing conditions a lot hotter.

Chilli seeds need 20°C/68°F to germinate, and it should be 30°C/86°F or more for the fruit to ripen. Night temperatures should not drop below 15°C/60°F, at least not on a regular basis. The odd cool spell is ok.

Chillies also don’t mind humidity as much as sweet peppers or tomatoes do.

Most people will need to grow chillis in full sun. In the hottest, sunniest regions chillies still grow well with a bit of shade. Especially afternoon shade can even be beneficial. It will prevent the fruit from getting sunburned.

If you live in the tropics or subtropics, great. Your chillies should thrive. Even the “annual” varieties should live for two to three years and produce fruit for you all year round.

If your climate is not tropical, don’t despair. You can still grow chillies if you get decent summers. And you can extend the growing season by growing chilis indoors, just like you do with tomatoes.

Chillis are related to tomatoes, so the growing methods and requirements are similar. Except that chillies need more heat.

People with small gardens or balconies will be pleased to hear that you can grow chillis in pots.

How To Grow Chillies From Seed

You can buy chilli plants in a nursery or you can grow chillis from seed. Remember that the seed needs at least 20°C/68°F to germinate.

Start them in early spring in cooler climates or any time during the dry season in the tropics.
You could start them all year round in the tropics but it’s a good idea to let the plants grow strong before the wet season hits them.

Chilli plants are usually started in seedling trays or small pots. They are very vulnerable when small and they don’t grow all that fast.

Still, I prefer to start mine directly in the ground because like capsicums, chillis don’t like being transplanted.

Actually, I only start them in the ground when I have enough seed to allow for a high percentage of fatalities.
(I am the laziest gardener I know, so I don’t look after my seedlings much.)
I usually have enough because I save my own seed.

If I buy seed of a new chilli variety and I get one of those tiny packets with barely a dozen seeds in them, then I start them in pots.

You can plant several chilli seeds per pot. Once your seedlings have a few leaves, snip off the weaker ones and only keep the strongest plants.

You only want one chilli plant per pot when you plant them out.

Otherwise you will disturb their roots too much and they HATE having their roots disturbed.

If you grow chillies in seedling trays or little punnets, plant them out once they have four to six true leaves (are about 5 cm/2 inches tall). If you don’t, their roots will start feeling restricted and it will set them back.

Chillies don’t mind growing in bigger pots, so the timing for planting them out is not critical if you use pots. If you live in a cooler climate, use pots. Let them to grow to 10 to 15 cm/4-6 inches. Make sure it’s warm enough before you put them outside!

Water the chillies before transplanting, so the soil doesn’t fall apart when you remove them from the pot. Be VERY careful when removing the seedlings from their pots.

Drop them in a hole in the garden, fill it back in, firm down the soil, water. Done.

Growing Chilli Plants

Chillies grow in a variety of soils. Like most plants they grow better in rich soils and produce more fruit, but they will grow in any reasonably fertile soil and don’t need any special treatment. If you use plenty of mulch and compost in your garden the chillies will grow just fine.

If your soil is poor, you’ll have to fertilize your chillies. (And start using more mulch and compost.)

When fertilizing chillies keep in mind that, like their relatives and indeed most fruiting plants, chillies like potassium. Too much nitrogen will make them grow lots of soft leaves and no fruit.

It is important to keep your chilli plants well watered and mulched. Mulch not only improves soil over time, it also protects it from drying out.

Chillies have such a tough and hardy image, people often don’t realize how sensitive they are when it comes to lack of water. Make sure your chillies have plenty and never dry out.

At the same time, don’t overwater. The soil should be free draining. Chillies don’t grow in swamps.

Problems When Growing Chillies

Chillies have weak branches. If they are loaded with fruit they can snap off. The whole plants are prone to branches drooping on the ground and breaking off, so you may want to give them some support.

(I don’t. I just cut off the broken branches and the bush grows new ones. Chillies don’t mind if you prune them.)

A stake will also prevent the whole plant from toppling over, which also happens because their roots are only shallow and not very strong.

Root knot nematodes can cause the plant to wilt and die for no obvious reason. However, root knot nematodes are a sign of very poor soils. If you add lots of compost and mulch to your garden you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Other than that chillies grow happily and aren’t bothered much by any pests or diseases. If they struggle it’s usually a sign that the soil is not as good as you thought.

Did I mention that compost and mulch is great stuff?

Harvesting Chilli Peppers

Chillies are quick to fruit and flower. How quick depends on the variety and on the temperature.

You can harvest the first chillis green once they reach full size. Or you wait until they turn red, or whatever colour they are supposed to turn.

If you plan to dry them for chili powder or flakes, you can even leave them on the bush until they shrivel up and dry.

To harvest fresh chillies cut or pull off the mature fruit while it’s still shiny and plump.

If you pull it off, pull it upwards, exactly opposite to the direction in which it bends down. Then it should snap off at the joint, without breaking off the whole branch. Otherwise just snip them off.

The fruit will last in a sealed bag in the fridge for up to a week.

You can dry it in the dryer or sun dry it, you could also just string it up and hang it up to dry in an airy spot.

Pound it to flakes or put it in the blender to make cayenne pepper and chili powder.

A Word Of Warning

You don’t need to eat chillies for them to burn you!

Just wait till you get Habanero chilli juice under your fingernails for the first time…

When cutting fresh chillies, make sure to scrub your hands well after. Don’t touch your skin and especially don’t touch your eyes! The hottest chillies can make you go blind. I am not kidding.

When working with dry chilli be VERY careful not to breathe in any powder. Also don’t get it in your eyes.

Growing Chillis In My Permaculture Garden

I mentioned at the top of the page that I went through a phase of chilli growing obsession where I grew a couple of dozen varieties. They are so ornamental!

However, the most ornamental varieties seem to be less hardy. They seem to need better soil, more attention, don’t live as long etc.

After the initial enthusiasm wore off, my innate laziness took over.

These days I have only three types of chillis growing in my garden: those that grow themselves.
(Plus my beloved purple chili.)

Chillies self pollinate, but occasionally they also cross breed. If you save your own seed and grow more than one variety, then the offspring may grow just like the parent or it may be an interesting new combination.

All this to say, I am not sure what kind of variety my chillies are…

The toughest and most prolific, the one that anyone should be able to grow, is a huge bush of the Birds Eye type.

Those bushes grow to two metres/six feet in size and are always loaded with chillies.

The tiny fruit is blistering hot. The wild birds love them (did you know birds don’t feel the heat in chillies?) and so do my chickens.

The seed spreads through the garden via birds and chickens, and I am forever pruning and chopping the bushes everywhere…

My favourite culinary variety is a type of Cayenne pepper, a medium sized bush with darker leaves and long skinny fruit of medium heat.

I always have a few bushes growing near the kitchen door and I step out there on a daily basis to get some chillies. Some of the fruit doesn’t get eaten and drops on the ground where the seeds eventually sprout. From there I may transplant them when I feel energetic.

The third type of chilli I grow is a truly perennial type. I have a few bushes throughout the garden and they have been there forever. They bear fruit all year round though not as much as my other two varieties.

The fruit is a bit shorter and wider than the Cayennes. It has no noticeable heat and I use it as a stand in for capsicum/bell peppers in cooking. I don’t use them in salads, they are not as sweet or juicy or crisp as real sweet peppers, but for cooking they do the job.

I dimly remember once, many years ago and living in a different place, I bought seed for a “Perennial Capsicum”, a bell pepper that lives for many years and fruits all year round. I was a bit disappointed because it tasted nothing like the capsicums I knew. So maybe that’s its offspring.

Anyway, I do grow all the chillies I need and then some, without ever having to buy seeds and without putting any work into it. Who cares what they are called!

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Growing Sweet & Hot Peppers

Peppers are not tomatoes. That seems obvious but for some reason we expect them to grow the same as tomatoes, same planting time, same spacing and same sunlight. Although they are in the garden at the same time they have some very different requirements.

Both tomatoes and peppers like warm soil and although tomatoes can be planted anytime after your last frost, it is a good idea to give peppers a little more time to get the soil good and warm.

Raised beds warm up quickly and black plastic mulch can also help warm up the soil as well as protect the roots from heavy rain which can drown young seedlings. Adding Epsom salts to the soil will add magnesium which helps Pepper plants thrive. They will also need to have rich compost added to help the roots grow.

Drip watering is the best way to prevent diseases

and keep watering to a minimum which is especially best for hot peppers. Mulching is crucial for all peppers especially sweet peppers because their roots tend to be shallow. Regular fertilizer is important or use a slow release type which will last for the entire season.

The temperature range for fruits to set is limited like tomatoes but even more so. When nighttime temperatures fall below 60 degrees or above 75 degrees, flowers are likely to drop off because fruits have not set. Daytime temperatures above 90 degrees F. will also prohibit fruit set, but fruits will begin to form again when cooler daytime temperatures appear.

Spacing can vary by variety but most pepper plants will grow to around 2 feet in diameter. It is ok to have the top leaves touching slightly which will help shade the fruit and roots when the summer temperatures rise.

Many people use commercial tomato cages to support pepper plants that can become top heavy when loaded with fruit, otherwise stakes to protect them from high winds can be helpful as pepper stems can be brittle.

Sweet Peppers

Sweet Peppers are generally able to grow best where the soil temperatures stay moist and cool in the summer months. The tops of the plants don’t mind getting hot but the soil must remain cooler than the top leaves and branches.

For sweetness the pH must be correct and moisture should stay consistently moist but not soaking wet. Good support for the stems is important because as the plants become full of fruit, they can be very heavy and break their own branches. Shading the fruit in hotter climates is also helpful to prevent sun burn damage.

Ripening from green to red or yellow colors seems to take forever with bell peppers but it will happen when the plant is ready. Generally this takes about 80-90 days from the date you transplant but this can vary. Italian Roasting, Banana, and Pimento types will color sooner than bell type peppers.

Peppers can be picked as soon as even a small amount of color is showing and they will finish ripening indoors with full sweetness and with less likelihood of insect damage.

Banana peppers and Hungarian type peppers will taste more like green bell peppers with their sharper flavor. Mature colored bell peppers, Roasters and Pimentos tend to have less of that peppery flavor and more sweetness.

Hot Peppers

Hot Peppers sometimes grow upright as in the photo, but not always. Jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero and many others do not grow upside down at all and can be just as hot. There are so many kinds of hot peppers but most grow best in areas which have longer growing seasons which means that there are more days within the optimal range for setting fruit.

The roots are best kept a bit drier than sweet peppers and will thrive even without mulching. You can pick them green, or let them color to full red, depending upon the flavor you like best. Sugar content will be higher once the color is formed.

If you do need to grow peppers in containers, make sure that you use large pots, good potting soil mixed with some compost, (about a third). Water deeply and regularly, fertilize about every 6 weeks, mulch the top of the dirt because of their shallow roots, and give them plenty of sunshine. Plants may grow slightly smaller and may not produce as well in containers but the soil will also warm up more quickly than plants in the ground.

Habanero peppers

Hot peppers are distinguished from sweet peppers simply by their pungency or hotness of flavor. There are thousands of hot pepper varieties in the world. (This is the case because peppers easily cross pollinate to produce new kinds.)

The hotness of a pepper is determined by number of blisterlike sacs of capsaicinoids on the interior wall of the pepper. Capsaicinoids are organic chemicals. The more sacs of capsaicinoids the hotter the pepper.

Hot peppers go by several names. Most commonly hot peppers are called chili peppers in the United States. ‘Chile’ is Spanish for pepper. In Mexico chile dulce is a sweet pepper, chile jalapeño is a jalapeño pepper. When the name chile first came to the United States it was used to mean different kinds of peppers in different parts of the country. In time, the spelling “chile” was eventually corrupted to “chili” and the term came to be commonly used to describe any pepper that was hot flavored.

Here’s how to get growing hot peppers:

Description. Hot peppers are tender perennials that are grown as annuals. Peppers grow on compact erect bushes usually 1½ to 2 feet (46-61 cm) tall, but they can grow taller. The fruit follows a single flower growing in the angle between the leaf and the stem. Hot peppers–also called chili peppers–vary in shape and color and include the bell-shaped pepper, the heart-shaped pimiento, the short and long podded yellow wax, the conical-shaped jalapeño, and the cayenne. Because peppers easily cross-pollinate there are thousands of different hot peppers. Hot peppers vary in hotness or pungency. The hotness of a pepper is determined by the number of blisterlike sacs of capsaicinoids (organic chemicals) on the interior wall of the pepper. The more sacs the greater the hotness of the pepper.

Yield. Plant 5 to 6 hot pepper plants per household member. Determine how you plan to use the hot peppers and plant varieties according to the hotness of the pepper desired. A single serrano pepper plant will produce 50 fruits.

Site. Grow peppers in full sun (at least 6 hours per day) in soil that is rich in organic matter, moisture retentive but well draining. Peppers prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. If the pH is below 6.0 add limestone to the soil; if the pH is above 8.0 add peat moss to lower the pH. A safe bet is to always work aged garden compost into beds prior to planting. The optimal soil temperature for peppers is 65°F (18°C) or warmer. Choose a site protected from wind. Avoid planting in beds where other members of the Solanaceae family (peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes) have recently grown. Some peppers such as Jalapeño, cayenne, and mirasol prefer arid regions; others such as habanero, Scotch bonnet and datil prefer humid regions.

Planting time. Hot peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 80°F (18-26°C) and night temperatures above 55°F /13°C (nighttime temperatures between 60° and 70° are best). Peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Start seed indoors 7 to 10 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden. Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F. In temperatures greater than 85°F (29°C), peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. The ideal temperature for hot peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F (24°C) and a nighttime temperature around 62°F. Generally, you can set out peppers at the same time you set tomatoes or basil into the garden.

Planting and spacing. Sow hot pepper seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep, 18 to 24 inches (45-61 cm) apart depending upon the variety. Space rows 24 to 36 inches (61-91 cm) apart. Sow three seeds to each spot and thin to the two most successful seedlings. Peppers can be transplanted into the garden when they are 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) tall.

Water and feeding. Keep peppers evenly moist but not wet particularly when blossoms appear and fruit begin to form. Soil that goes too dry can result in flower drop. Keep the soil evenly moist just after transplanting peppers to the garden; avoid under or over watering peppers early on. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason.

Once hot pepper plants are established you can vary the watering. Hot peppers that are deprived of water and become slightly stressed will produce more pungent fruit.

Companion plants. Beets, garlic, onions, parsnips, radishes.

Care. Keep planting beds well weeded to avoid competition. Peppers are shallow-rooted, so cultivate around peppers with care. Mulch to keep soil temperature and moisture even.

Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which will create large leafy plants with few or no fruits. High temperatures and wind can cause flowers to drop and plants not to set fruit.

Plastic mulch can improve pepper yields. Organic compost mulches will reduce weeding and watering, but not fruit yields.

Hot peppers can put out shoots that become leggy. Cut these shoots back to keep the plant compact.

Peppers will begin to flower almost as soon as the plant forms branches. Pepper plants have complete flowers which means each flower contains both a male and female part; as a result, the pepper is self-pollinating. Wind, bees and other insects, and a light shake of the plant by a human hand can aid pollination.

Container growing. Peppers can be grown in a large container. An 8-inch (20 cm) pot will accommodate a single plant. In larger containers, set plants on 12 inch (30 cm) centers. Peppers can be grown indoors. Peppers started indoors before the last frost in spring will get a head start on the season. Extend the season in the fall by moving plants indoors if frost threatens or if temperatures warm to greater than 90°F (32°C). Bring outdoor started peppers inside for a few hours a day at first until they get used to the lower light available indoors.

Pests. Peppers can be attacked by aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and hornworms. Discourage cutworms by placing a collar around each transplant at the time of planting; hand pick hornworms off of plants. Flea beetles and aphids can be partially controlled by hosing them off the plants and pinching out infested foliage.

Diseases. Peppers are susceptible to rot, blossom end rot, anthracnose, tobacco mosaic virus, bacterial spot, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of weeds where pests and diseases can shelter. Remove infected plants before disease can spread. If you smoke, wash your hands before working with the plants to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic virus.

Harvest. Hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60 to 95 days after sowing depending upon the variety. Most hot peppers mature from green to red as the seeds inside mature. Green hot peppers are not ripe, although some people prefer the flavor of green hot peppers. Red peppers are ripe and have a fruitier flavor. The hottest chili peppers are usually orange colored. Cut the peppers off the vine. Pulling a pepper away from the plant may cause the plant to come out of the soil. To prolong the harvest, cut peppers from the plant regularly; a hot pepper harvest can last from one to three months.

Harvest safety. Hot peppers contain organic chemicals called capsaicinoids which can burn the skin and eyes. Wear rubber gloves when harvesting hot peppers and be careful not to rub your eyes. The best antidote for burning skin to to rub them with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.

Varieties. See the article Hot Peppers for the Vegetable Garden.

Chili Pepper Harvesting Tips

After many months of careful care, your chili peppers are now ready to be harvested. Chili peppers can take from two to four months to ripen. There is no one magic moment to harvest. In fact, chili peppers can be harvested almost anytime. Most will start off green and then gradually turn to red, possibly turning yellow or orange first. In general, the redder the sweeter; the spiciness however is not affected by this color change. However, most of the time, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it will be.

Ripening

Because many chili peppers have a long growing season, in colder climates your peppers may have difficulty fully ripening. You can still enjoy your peppers before they are fully ripened, but ripening can be helped along by these environmentally friendly techniques:

  • Cut a stem off the plant that contains a group of peppers and hang it upside down in a cool, dark place
  • Pruning your pepper plant encourages further growth, which in turn contributes towards the ripening process.

Some Like it Hot

Each variety of pepper has a different amount of capsaicin (what makes the peppers hot). If you like your peppers as hot as possible, there are a few things you can do to bring out the heat.

  • Cut down drastically on watering and fertilizing once the plants set their fruit. Obviously, you don’t want to kill off your plant, but a slight withering is fine.
  • Warmer air and soil temperatures will encourage your plant to produce more capsaicin. Provide as much sunlight as possible for your plant and plant in a well-draining soil (which will stay warmer). This won’t turn a banana pepper into a jalapeno, but it will bring out the full potential of spiciness in your peppers.

Tips for Harvesting

  • Mature peppers should be easily plucked from the plant, so if your peppers aren’t coming off easily, wait a little longer.
  • After you pick a pepper, another flower will grow back, later being replaced by another pepper. So, the more you harvest, the greater the yield.
  • Insects pollinate chili peppers. If you are growing indoors where there are no insects, you will have to pollinate yourself by using a moistened toothbrush to transfer from one flower to another.
  • You can try to grow your next crop from the seeds of your latest peppers. For seed collection, break or cut the pod, leaving the core and stem intact. Hold onto the stem, and scrape out the seeds with a dull knife.
  • When harvesting the peppers from the plant, cut the pepper from the stem. Pulling off could dislodge the root system.

Preserving

To preserve your hot peppers, place in the refrigerator, they will keep for a week; a cool dry spot will keep them 2 weeks. Roast, peel, and store in the freezer for 6 months of use. Finally, for up to two years of use, pickle or can your hot peppers.

Thai Chili Plant

All About Thai Chilis

This heirloom pepper takes 90 days to fully mature and is a perennial in USDA zones 10 and above. In cooler climates, it can be grown as an annual or overwintered indoors. The plant pumps out hundreds of small tapered chili that turn a fire engine red when ripe.

The color is a warning for the mighty punch this chili packs. On average, Thai chili peppers are about 23 times hotter than a jalapeno. They rank between 50-100,000 Scoville units.

Planting

In tropical zones, learning how to grow chilis is as easy as putting your first seeds in the ground. Plant chilis outdoors in a prepared garden space at any time of the year. Make sure the area is weed free, well-draining, and amended with plenty of rich compost as fertilizer. Seed can be broadcasted and then starts thinned later, or you can sprinkle it in rows. Top the rows with 1/4 inch of soil, seeds should sprout in 7-10 days.

In cooler zones, start Thai chilis indoors 8-12 weeks before your last frost. They may take 90 days to reach maturity, but you want them to mature as early as possible so they can pump out more fruit.

Plant them in seed blocks or four-inch pots and keep them somewhere where the temperature does not get below 60°F (15°C). Use a fluffy peat or coir-based potting soil to start the seeds amended with Perlite for water retention.

Thai Chili Planting Guide:

  • Peat or coir based potting soil
  • Keep seeds and seedlings at no lower than 60°F (15°C)
  • Bottom water as opposed to top watering
  • Position under fluorescent lights upon sprouting
  • Acclimate before transplanting
  • Transplant when soil temperatures reach 65°F (18°C)

Seedlings

When seedlings sprout indoors, immediately put them under fluorescent lights. The lights should be inches from the tops of the plants and you should have the ability to raise them as the plants grow. This will give the plant a thick, strong stalk to support itself with.

If possible, avoid watering from the soil surface. You’ll get better results and fewer problems by bottom watering. Acclimate and transplant seedlings outside when soil temperatures reach a consistent 65°F (18°C).

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