Growing Your Chillies: Better Than Nature has brought to you a complete guide to growing the best chillies possible with and without the chilligrow.
The Better Than Nature crew have learned that growing chilli seeds is best done between March and late May, but with a heated propagator seeds can be sowed as early as February. To sow the chilli seeds you’re going to start by filling your seed tray with compost and flatten it down. Place the seeds on the surface of the compost; spacing them evenly and sow a few more than needed. Cover the seeds with approximately 0.5 - 1cm of compost. Water the compost till damp, but not saturated. If you have a heating mat on hand (or purchase one from Better Than Nature), put the seed tray in and put the lid on the heating mat. Place the seed tray or heating mat in a warm place away from direct sunlight. The room needs to be a minimum of 18°C.
By day 7-10 seedlings should be appearing; but some varieties can take up to 28 days to germinate, since there are nearly 400 varieties of chilli in the world (see the seed packet for details). Once the seedlings have appeared, move your BTN heating mat /seed trays to a bright, warm part of the house, the company has experienced windowsills as being ideal. Keep the compost moist, but again, not saturated. If you are using a heating mat lid, remove the lid when all seedlings have appeared.
At Day 17-20 seedlings of most varieties will be large enough to be transferred into individual 3 inch pots, which can be found at Better Than Nature. Fill the 3 inch pot with compost and use a dibber or pencil to create a hole large enough for the seedling. Hold the seedling by its leaves and gently lift it up and out of the seed tray with a dibber or pencil, and lower the seedling into its new pot. Gently firm the compost around the plant ensuring the roots are covered by adding more compost to fill the pot. Water the compost till damp, not saturated. Place the pots in a warm and sunny spot; a heated greenhouse, conservatory or windowsill in a warm room are known to produce the best results.
Once your plants are 6-8 inches tall, plant them into your chilligrow or other chosen pot between 6-12 inches (see seed instructions for ideal pot size). Chilli plants will need to be kept at 17°C during the day.
Fill the pots with a multi purpose compost. Make a hole in the compost large enough for your plant. Tap or slide your plant out of the plant pot. You should see white roots on the outside of the compost, which hold the compost to its shape. If not, your plant is not ready for transfer. Surround the plant with compost and firm around the plant, add more compost to fill the pot. Water so the compost is damp, but not saturated.
While caring for your chilli plants, keep at a daytime temperature of 17°C. They can be placed outdoors once all risk of frost is gone, but better results will come from a greenhouse or keeping indoors overnight until summer. If you are using the chilligrow keep the BTN reservoir topped up as per the chilligrow instructions. If you are growing your chillies in a standard pot remember not to let the plant dry out too much or to over water.
Your plants will produce ripe fruit 2-4 months after sowing. Harvest your chillies as and when they ripen to encourage the plant to produce more chillies. To harvest cut the chillies off the plant with scissors or a sharp knife.
Pests and Diseases: After 22 years in the hydroponic industry, Better Than Nature is very aware of the pests and diseases that could occur with your plant. Here are a few we have compiled and how to fight them.
Slugs and Snails are the biggest threat for chilli growers. Usual signs of a slug or snail infestation are the usual slime trails, young branches near the base being stripped overnight or often the centre of leaves being chewed away. They prefer dark, damp places to stay, basic housekeeping, such as keeping your plants free of fallen leaves and removing any slugs or snails you come across will help indefinitely. Alternative methods to deterring slugs and snails include copper tape or rings, or sprinkling egg shells or used coffee grounds around the base of the plant. Better Than Nature also has also found that spraying Doktor Doom: House and Garden or Dimataceous Earth (both of which can be found in the store) work fantastically.
Aphids can also infest your chillies at any time of the season. They appear as tiny white flecks, usually gathered around the shoot tips, flower buds or small leaves. An easy solution to dealing with these pests is spraying your chillies with a very weak soap solution. You can also attract natural predators of the aphids such as ladybugs and hover flies to your garden by planting marigolds and other bright flowers around your chillies. Another quality product that you can use is either Doktor Doom Botanicare or Nasty Neem brought to you by Better Than Nature.
Mould and rot can occur if you are growing in pots. Do not over crowd the chillies, keep them well ventilated and water regularly, but not too much. Mould usually produces on the leaves, soft fruit, and around the stem. To stop mould and other powdery mildew Better Than Nature sells products such as Nova or our organic product, Neem Oil.
The most common cause of these is over watering or under watering. If you are growing with any of our Grow Kits you won’t suffer with any of these problems
Overwintering Your Chillies For bigger and better harvests of your favourite chilli, overwintering is always an option. Overwintering is the practice of providing a protective environment for your plant throughout the winter. Lack of light and cold temperatures result in your plant not growing much at all in the months of October to January, but an overwintered plant can get a head start to growing when light returns in February or March.
Overwintered plants will produce a better crop in their second year, as the plants can get started more quickly in the spring and enjoy a longer growing system.
Capsicum Pubescens (such as Rocoto Red Chilli) tend to overwinter more effectively than Capsicum Annuum (such as Joe’s Long or Portugal). For a bigger and better early harvest, Better Than Nature has compiled some tips for overwintering like a pro:
Only attempt to overwinter your strongest looking plants, weaker ones will have a much lower survival rate. Choose only the healthiest and pest free plants. Harvest all the chillies from your plants, even the immature ones. If your plants have unripe chillies then you can always ripen them off the plant. If you place them in a bag with a banana the ethylene given off from the ripe banana will encourage your unripe chillies to ripen. Once your leaves start to drop, prune the plants leaving about 10-15cm of the main stem If you have planted your chilli in the ground you can carefully dig it up and plant into a new pot. Any loose old compost you have should be gently removed, pot the chilli in fresh multipurpose compost. Trimming back the roots slightly and potting into a smaller pot can help concentrate the energy.
Overwintering Care Since the temperatures are lower the plants will use much less water. Water less frequently to avoid a damp condition and deter mould build up. Check on them once a week and water only when compost is getting dry. This could be as little as every 2-3 weeks.
To keep your plants frost free, temperatures should be between 5°C-12°C. Anything over 12°C will result in further growth of your plant, which you don't want until spring.
Better Than Natures heated propagator can help immensely. In late February/early March, once the days get longer and the weather warms up, your plants will begin to grow. You can now turn up the heating mat temperature to about 22°C. By mid to late May your plant won’t be needing any further protection, and you are free to replant.
About Varieties Chilli plants come in all shapes and sizes so it’s important you get the one thats right for you. Thankfully Better Than Nature is exceptionally educated in the different varieties and is always willing to give a helping hand. Here is a quick beginners guide the company has made to get you started.
Chilli plants grow in small or medium sized plants, from half a metre to two metres tall. How big they grow depends solely on the variety, so choose a size that is able to comfortably grow in the space provided.
Colours and size of the chilli also varies. Although they start off as green, they can ripen to red, yellow, orange, purple and even brown, depending on the variety. Chilli varieties are bred from different capsicum species. Most commonly being annuum, chinese, baccatum, frutescens and pubescens.
Annuum are the most common species, including cayenne, jalapeno, and bell peppers. Chinese chilli plants are the most delicate, and are best suited for growing inside. Habanero and the Trinidad Scorpion are part of this family. Baccatum chillies originate form South America and can grow up to 5 feet tall. The aji variety is included in this category. Frutescens are from Brazil and the Mexican city, Tabasco. They are a bushy species growing up to 4 feet. Pubescens are also known as Rocoto and originate from Bolivia. They are hardy plants with a long growing season.