Do you enjoy the crunch of sweet bell peppers in your salad or the delicious sweet taste in your stir fry or even a little bit of heat from some chilli, then why not grow your own? Here is how:
Both the Chilli pepper and the Bell (Capsicum) Pepper are from the same family so the following instructions on how to grow them are the same. They are not the easiest seed to germinate and can take up to 21 days to pop their little heads above the soil but with a little patience you will soon be reaping the benefits of growing your own peppers.
As peppers need a really long growing season it is best if you start your seeds off around February (in Ireland) , growing them any earlier would not be of any benefit as they will be ‘leggy’ as the light condition would be too low. Alternatively you could, as I do use grow lights and bottom heat (heated mat) which will hopefully give the seeds the perfect condition for germination.
Fill your seed tray, cell tray or modules almost to the top with a good quality seed compost, firm in slightly and carefully pop your seeds on the top. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite and place in a propagator, if you don’t have one then a plastic bag or cling film will do the job too 🙂 Peppers need a temperature of around 21 degrees c for successful germination.
The seeds can be slow to germinate, so, as I said before, be patient and wait ;). and soon you will see them pop their heads up. Once they are about an inch or sow tall you can gradually take the propagator lid off. I normally take it off during the day and pop it back on at night for a few days, remembering they still need light and heat but will cope with slightly cooler conditions of maybe 18 degrees c.
The seedlings will need to be pricked out and transplanted into 3″ pots when they are large enough to handle. Then kept on a warm windowsill until mid April to early May, when they can be put into your greenhouse or poly tunnel. I sit my pots on top of the raised planters in my poly tunnel as the soil is nice and warm.
Once your peppers reach about 6″ to 8″ they are ready to go into their final pot or grow bag, or for those of you lucky enough to live in a warmer location, they can go into the ground. If planting in grow bags I would put maybe 3 per bag and if using pots (around the 10ltr size), only one per pot. The larger bell peppers will need supporting as the plants can grow quite big and the fruits can hopefully, be heavy :).
Soon you will start to see the first flowers appear and this is when you need to start feeding your peppers with a good tomato fertilizer (or similar). Bell or Capsicum Peppers do not like to be waterlogged or indeed left to dry out, so always water little and often to keep the soil evenly moist. I usually water and feed my peppers around the same frequency as I feed my tomatoes. However if you like your chillies hot then water only when the leaves start to wilt as these plants are originally from hotter climates and will produce the best chilies if they are given a similar environment, ie: left to dry out before watering again (stressing the plant). It is also a good idea to keep your sweet peppers and your chilli peppers apart as they will freely cross-polinate with each other and your hot chilli might disappoint you by being milder than you would like.
Sometimes the plants can grow a bit spindly, which I have experienced over the years. The best way to stop this and to get a bumper crop is to ‘pinch out’ the tops of the plants once they reach about 12″ tall. This will encourage side shoots and the plant will give you a much better yield of peppers. I will do a short video on this in the next couple of weeks.
Chillies and Bell Peppers all start out green and as they mature they will turn into orange, red, yellow or even purple, all depending on the variety you are growing. Remember that the more peppers you pick the more your plant will produce so it’s always good to pick a few green ones even if you really want them red. Chilli peppers will become hotter as they colour up and the bell peppers will become sweeter.
Over Wintering Chilli Plants
Last year I decided to do a little experiment and tried to overwinter my chilli pepper plants. Chilli plants are perennials and if overwintered correctly, should last for years. So at the end of the growing season (which was around October here) when the weather really started to cool down, I brought my chilli peppers indoors. I left them for another month or so as there were quite a few flowers/chillies on them and I didn’t want to waste any. After a few days I watched the flowers fall off rather than mature into peppers which was a little disappointing but the chillies ripened from green to red which was a bonus.
Once I finished picking all the chillies off of my plants I then took the drastic step of giving them a good prune, so that there was only a few inches of the plant left. Doing this will ensure that your plant does not waste energy trying to keep foliage and fruits but instead put all its energy into surviving the winter. Great job I thought as I closed the door of my spare room, watered, pruned and all tucked in for the winter. They looked great for the first couple of weeks but then I checked in on them and they had been invaded with aphids, which must have come in from the tunnels with them……uh oh I thought. OK I have managed to keep them alive for the past few weeks and I wasn’t going to let these little pests destroy all my hard work, so neem oil to the rescue. I mixed a teaspoon of neem oil with a little washing up liquid and some water and went to war on the aphids. I sprayed every plant until they were dripping and then watered the compost with the neem oil mix as well. The aphids would have harbored in there too. This was a process which I had to repeat over the winter and despite all my efforts only 6 or so plants have survived. Oh well I did try and if it wasn’t for the aphids I think my experiment would have been a lot more successful! PS Overwintering is not recommended for bell peppers. With hindsight, I should have treated the plants and soil with neem oil before bringing them indoors. This would have lessened the impact of the aphids. I am sorry to have to admit that I won’t repeat the experiment as the effort and work load wasn’t worth the gain.
Health Benefits of Chillies and Peppers
Peppers are incredibly good for you, especially the brightly coloured ones. They are both low in calories and packed full of essential vitamins like A, B6, C and E. Red Bell Peppers contain phytochemicals and carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, antioxidants and ant-inflammatory properties which is just soooo good for your health. Red Peppers also contain around 300 percent of your daily vitamin C intake and compared with the unripened green pepper they have twice as much vitamin C and loads more vitamin A.
Capsaicin,( the ingredient that makes chillies hot) in peppers, especially chilli peppers have so many health benefits. These include reducing ‘bad’ cholesterol, diabetes,can aid in pain relief ,can inhibit cancer cell growth, increase blood flow and even help with your libido 🙂
So now you know give them a grow!!!
Thanks for tuning in and Happy Gardening
Stay tuned and I will show you how harvest your chilli/peppers, how save your seeds from your homegrown peppers and also how to preserve them 🙂