Chillies are an all-year-round star crop. They can be harvested until early autumn, or even later if they are over-wintered on a sunny windowsill, in a conservatory or heated greenhouse.
My â€˜Cheyenneâ€™, â€˜Numex Twilightâ€™ and â€˜Albertoâ€™s Locotoâ€™ tree chillies are still ripening fruit on the windowsill in the depths of winter and weâ€™re enjoying munching our way through the pickled and dried chillies from last year. Then there are seeds to be saved and catalogues and websites to scour for exciting new varieties.
Chilli seeds can be sown as early as January as many varieties need a long growing season. Generally, the hotter the chilli, the earlier it should be sown to allow time for the fruit to ripen. Unlike other seeds such as tomatoes, cucumbers and beans where early sowing and planting out can cause problems if there are late frosts, chillies stay more compact and need a longer growing season, so they can be sown earlier in the New Year. I usually aim to have all my chilli seeds sown by the end of March.
Sow chilli seeds on the surface of moist, free-draining seed compost (chillies appreciate really good drainage) in small pots, modules or seed trays. Cover with a fine layer (about 5mm) of sieved compost or vermiculite. I generally place the seeds trays in my small electric propagator as chilli seeds need warm conditions (ideally 27-32Â°C) to germinate. Alternatively, pots can be covered with a clear plastic bag and left in a warm spot where they will germinate, but it is likely to take longer than in a heated propagator. The compost needs to be kept moist both before and after germination â€“ I use a spray bottle to avoid conditions becoming too wet. Once two true leaves have appeared, the seedlings are ready to prick out and move to 7.5cm pots. Seedlings usually germinate 7-14 days after sowing, depending on temperature and variety.
There are many reasons to celebrate in January â€“ days are lengthening, mornings are getting lighter and the chilli season starts the growing year with a bang. Even if the weather is cold and damp, inside my propagator, a little chilli magic is beginning and that makes for a happy start to the New Year.
By Nic Wilson
Nic Wilson is a garden designer, garden writer and enthusiastic home grower (especially of more unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs). Â She enjoys volunteering in her local community garden and experimenting in the kitchen with crops from her garden, allotment and the hedgerows.