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Chillies

 Chillies (also called chilli pepper) are mild to extremely hot fleshy fruit that can be green, red, yellow, orange or brown. Their shape too varies from long and skinny like the jalapeno to round and fat like the Scotch bonnet. Chilli is part of the Solanaceae family, which also includes its close relative the capsicum along with tomato, eggplant and potato. 

When cooking, the smallest chilli are generally the hottest and the seeds and stems are usually removed to reduce the heat. The heat of a chilli comes from a chemical known as ‘capsaicin’, which is particularly concentrated in seeds. The sweet chilli, better known in Australia as capsicum, is just a large chilli that lacks capsaicin, so it is sweet, not hot. The heat of chillies is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which reflects levels of capsaicin. 

SHU should be taken as a guide only as growing conditions and fruit maturity also affects how much capsaicin is in the chilli and how hot it tastes. As a guide, a capsicum has no heat units, a Jalapeno chilli is rated from 2500-8000 SHU while the Habanero, a hot chilli, is 100,00-350,00 SHU. Scotch Bonnet is rated 100,000-400,000 SHU making it one of the hottest of the chillies, but it is not as hot as the Trinidad Scorpion ‘Butch T’ variety, which has been recorded at an 1,463,700 SHU.

Follow our seven easy steps to successful chilli harvest including tips along the way.

How to grow Vegetables – Chillies

When to plant 

Chillies can be grown in most parts of Australia. Check with garden centres and hardware stores for varieties available in your local area. 

  1. In most areas, chillies grow from spring to autumn. 
  2. In cold climates, grow chilli as a summer to early autumn crop with plenty of shelter from cold winds. 
  3. In the tropics, chillies grow year-round but are best sown from autumn to spring.

Location 

  • They like a warm, sheltered position away from strong winds which can break stems. If grown in cooler regions, wait until the last of the frost is gone before planting. 
  • As they have a strong branch structure, they do not need staking although a stake gives extra support in an exposed, windy situation, or if the branches are brittle and heavily laden with fruit. 
  • Chillies do great in pots but do not overcrowd them. The advantage of a pot is that it can be moved around the garden to catch the sun or placed in an area where the chilli can be easily picked.
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Handy Hints - How to grow tasty winter vegies

Soil

Get the soil right to harvest a bumper crop of fiery chillies.

Follow our steps for easy soil preparation.

  • Chillies prefer a rich, well-drained soil and reliable moisture.
  • Dig in extra well-rotted organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure and/or Seasol Super Compost before planting.
  • In areas with heavy or poorly drained soils, grow chillies in raised garden beds.
  • Add a little lime to very acidic soils before planting to reduce problems with calcium deficiency such as blossom end rot, which can occur as fruit matures.
  • A soil rich in nutrients helps build strong plants so add Seasol Plant + Soil Booster and a fertiliser such as PowerFeed Controlled Release for Tomatoes & Vegetables.
  • Water in well and let the soil rest for a week or two.

Step 1 – Sowing seeds

  • In cool and temperate zones sow seed from mid to late winter and onwards. Plant 6mm deep into seed raising mix such as Seasol Seed Raising & Cutting Potting Mix in a seed tray or punnet. Keep in a warm, sheltered spot such as a foam box or greenhouse or inside on a warm, sunny windowsill.
  • Chillies grow well in a container but don’t overcrowd them. Grow one seedling or plant in a deep pot that’s at least 25-30cm in diameter. The plants are ornamental in flower and in fruit and will crop well.
  • Water in well with Seasol GOLD or Seasol as this will help to increase seed germination rates. Soil should be moist but not wet, so check the soil moisture daily to ensure chilli seeds have the right conditions to germinate for strong healthy growth.

Hint: Soaking seeds overnight in a solution of Seasol and water may speed up germination.

Note: These are not chilli seeds, it’s an illustration to show seeds being sown.

Step 2 – Germination

  • Chillies need warm conditions to germinate (16°C and above). Expect germination in 10-14 days (slower rates in colder conditions). 
  • If growing in punnets, prick out small seedlings when they are large enough to handle. Transfer to a small pot (10cm) to grow on until it’s warm enough to transplant them (around 15cm high) into the vegie garden or move them onto larger containers.
  • When chillies sprout, they only have two leaves. These seedlings leaves look like two narrow leaves on either side of the stem.
  • Water gently and apply Seasol GOLD or Seasol weekly as this will help to stimulate strong root development and healthy growth.

Step 3 – Baby chilli seedlings

  • About two weeks after the seed leaves have opened, the true leaves will appear; these are the first chilli leaves. 
  • If overcrowding occurs, select the strongest seedling and thin out or transplant the rest.
  • Use scissors or tweezers to thin out unwanted seedlings to avoid disturbing young roots.
  • Chilli seedlings need a lot of nutrients to grow to produce a tasty bumper crop so liquid feed with PowerFeed PRO SERIES for Tomatoes & Vegetables every 2 weeks. Increase the application rates from 20mL to 50mL of concentrate per 9 litres of water as the plants mature.
  • Check the moisture level of the soil daily – it should be moist, not wet.

Step 4 – Planting out chilli seedlings.

  • Plant out into the garden when they are large enough to handle (usually 2 to 3 sets of leaves). 
  • Space seedlings about 25-30cm apart and plant to the depth of the plant in its punnet or a little deeper for support. If growing several rows, space each row 30cm apart.
  • When seedlings have been purchased, plant according to the directions on the plant tag.
  • If planting into pots, plant one seedling per pot, as they need space to grow and mature.
  • In windy areas, it may be necessary to support plants with stakes.
  • Give them a good start by watering them in with Seasol or Seasol GOLD to reduce transplant shock and aid plant establishment.

Step 5 – Chilli plant growth

  • Check for weeds and remove them as they compete for, water and nutrients. 
  • Use stakes to support growth if necessary. Train plant against stake.
  • Keep growing plants well-watered. Water in the early morning and directly onto the roots rather than over the leaves as wet foliage may encourage fungal diseases.
  • Every 6-8 weeks apply another application of PowerFeed Controlled Release for Tomatoes & Vegetables to produce a bumper crop of hot chillies. Water in thoroughly after application.
Step 6 – Chilli flowering and fruiting
  • Liquid feed weekly with PowerFeed PRO SERIES for Tomatoes & Vegetables once the plants begin to flower. 
  • As they grow, they form a small bush with white or yellow flowers, which produce fruit that ripens from late spring to autumn. Extremely hot, overly wet or dry conditions, or cool cloudy days slow ripening.
  • Fruit forms quickly and grows rapidly. Keep plants well watered as fruit forms and shelter from cold or hot winds. Erratic watering can lead to blossom end rot.
  • Check for weeds and ensure the soil is mulched to keep in soil moist. Reapply mulch when necessary.

Step 7 – Chilli harvest

  • Fruit can be picked at any stage or left on the bush to ripen and develop full colour and flavour. Frequent picking encourages more flowers and more fruit. 
  • Use secateurs or scissors to harvest ripe fruit to avoid breaking the branches and always wash your hands well after harvesting chillies to avoid burning sensitive skin.
  • The colour of a ripe chilli will vary depending on its variety but maybe red, orange, purple or mottled. Harvest chillies as they are needed.
  • Preserve bountiful crops by drying, freezing or plaiting the fruit into an attractive kitchen decoration.
  • In cold areas, where plants are still growing well, they can be transferred from the garden into containers and kept in a warm, sheltered, sunny spot. Plants grown and protected in this way will keep growing through winter and start flowering and cropping again in spring.

Things to watch out for……. 

Warning: chillies aren’t only hot to eat. Just handling the fruit can lead to burning. Always wash your hands carefully after harvesting or preparing chillies. Avoid touching your eyes or mouth until after you’ve washed your hands.

Chillies are usually trouble-free, particularly when grown with regular water along with protection from the cold. 

Cold damage If the weather turns cold after planting out seedlings or small plants, cover them overnight with a homemade cloche to protect them from frost. Use cut down milk, juice or soft drink bottles as a temporary cloche. Remove cloches during the day. 

Fruit fly In fruit fly zones, ripening chillies are susceptible to fruit fly attack. Fruit that has been stung by fruit fly may rot and the flesh may contain maggots. To protect fruit use organic fruit fly baits as the fruit ripens. Exclusion bags can also be fitted over the fruit to keep out fruit fly and other pests. 

Snails and slugs Protect new plantings from snails and slugs using a pet and wildlife-friendly snail bait based on iron. 

Blossom end rot Black leathery or dry brown patches at the base of the fruit (where the flower was attached) is a condition called blossom end rot. It relates to a lack of calcium and is brought about by erratic watering, especially allowing plants to dry out while they are flowering and fruiting. Improve watering to avoid the condition occurring. Fruit may still ripen. Add lime to raise soil pH in acidic soils.

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