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Chilli (Chile) Cultivation Tips

Be careful handling chilli seeds as they can cause a painful burning sensation: do not rub your eyes after handling chilli seeds!

Storage of Seeds from Ready to Grow
If you aren't going to sow your new chilli seeds for a while they can be stored for several months, sealed in their packaging in a cool, dry, dark place, or in the top of a fridge. Never store them in a freezer as the sudden temperature drop is likely to kill them.

Sowing Seeds
Sow the seeds on top of a good sterile seed compost. Cover the seeds with a light layer of fine compost or vermiculite/perlite. Keep the compost just moist - don't let the top of the compost dry out too much, as this is a common cause of germination failure. Cut down on watering by covering the pot or tray with plastic film. If you have a heated propagator check the optimum germination temperature (the pop-up windows when you click on a thumbnail indicate optimum temperatures) and set your propagator appropriately. You will need a minimum temperature of 18-20C for successful germination of most chilli seeds. If you like you could also spray the surface with a dilute copper-based fungicide (which is acceptable to most organic gardeners). Don't leave the seeds in direct sunlight as the heat generated may kill them.

Watering
Once they have sprouted, water the chilli seedlings regularly, but don't let them become waterlogged as this encourages rot. Don't let seedlings dry out as they rarely recover at this stage.

Larger plants should be watered regularly allow the top inch or so to dry out in between watering. If they do dry out and droop the chilli plants will usually recover reasonably well, just make sure that the pots are soaked (by way of apology!) and the compost properly re-hydrated. Once the plants are in their final pots and have started to become root-bound you may need to water the plants daily - do this in the morning. If you are going away, you can stand mature plants in water for a few days without them suffering too much.

Potting On Your Chilli Seedlings
When the chillies have produced their first pair of proper leaves they can be potted on into individual 3 or 4-inch pots. Use good quality potting compost and mix in some organic slow release fertiliser, according to the manufacturer's instructions. I use 2 parts peat-free organic peat free compost, 1 part coir (a peat substitute), plus a little additional organic fertiliser.

Pot the chilli on again before it becomes root-bound (you'll see roots appearing through the holes in the bottom of the small pots) The final size of pot required will depend on the variety grown and how big it gets!

Seedlings should be grown in good light, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight from late spring to early autumn. Weaker sunlight from autumn to spring is unlikely to do them harm. Once seedlings have put on some growth they need lots of light. Growing them under a grow-light produces excellent stocky plants, as will a warm sunny windowsill.

Adult chilli plants need lots of light. However, more than 4 hours or so in hot direct sunlight will dry them out quickly. Place pots on warm sunny windowsills, in a conservatory or in a greenhouse. Most chilli plants will grow happily outside over the summer in their pots, or planted into the garden, but bring them in before the first frosts to prolong fruiting.

Planting Out Chillies
Plant them into rich moist soil. Make sure that plants have been allowed to acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 2-3 weeks before they are moved permanently outside. During this time gradually increase the amount of wind, sunshine and cooler temperatures that the plant experiences. Flower do not form and fruit will not set if the temperature is much below 17C for most of the day, so wait until June/July for best results with outdoor planting.

Feeding chilli Plants
After the first flowers appear, feed every one or two weeks with a half-strength organic liquid tomato feed. You could also add some Seaweed extract (without added fertiliser) to the water once a week. This toughens them up a little and improves their resilience in the face of erratic watering...

Pollinating Flowers (optional)
Chilli plants are self fertile and will generally pollinate themselves. However, if you want to give them a helping hand to ensure that lots of fruit are set indoors, use a cotton wool bud to gently sweep the inside of the flowers one after another, spreading the pollen as you go!

Common Pests
Capsicums are members of the same family as tomatoes and potatoes and suffer from the same pests. Aphids are the prime suspect as they are rather fond of chilli leaves and can be a problem in greenhouses in particular. To get rid of them gently rub them off by hand. There are biological controls available for use outdoors and in the greenhouse (see the links page for suppliers). Some people use aphid sprays but I have found most to be ineffective, as over-use has led to widespread resistance. I have had some success with a new organic product called Eradicoat, which suffocates them (see links for suppliers).
Occasionally Red Spider Mites can be a problem if there is low humidity. Spray the leaves of your chilli plant with water to increase local humidity, spray the under-sides with Eradicoat or try biological controls.

Sterilising Compost
Small quantities of compost can be sterilised a few litres at a time in a domestic microwave. Place the compost in a large microwave-able bowl, cover with microwave safe Clingfilm and 'cook' on full power for 8 minutes. Remember to let the compost cool before you handle it or sow the seeds into it!

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