Native to South America, chilli peppers are now widespread throughout the culinary world. Used as a vegetable or fruit, smoked or dried and ground as a spice these versatile plants are botanically a berry. Good for you too, a Jalapeno pepper has more vitamin C than an orange.
Some sound quite innocuous. Biquinho Red or Yellow (also known as “Pearls”) means ‘little beak’ in Portuguese and is mild and fruity to eat raw in salads or salsa. At the other end of the scale the Habanero are hot, hot, hot; though not the hottest – the Ghost peppers, Scorpions and Nagas are superhot (beware). Mexico is the largest producer of Habaneros (Habanero means “from Habana” linked to the city in Cuba). These need support as they fruit later. Hungarian Hot Wax sounds fiery but is a medium heat; very dependable in our climate outdoors, fruiting early but wil need support. Padron is another good one for outdoors, fruiting early and will also need support. Cultivated in Galicia, Spain this variety is popular in tapas (with the occasional rogue to give you a surprise).
Chili peppers are quite easy to grow, although they can take time to get going. Most need a long growing season for the fruits to ripen. Sow now (no later than March) to give them a good start. Sow onto a good seed compost and lightly cover with vermiculite. Keep in a warm place, in the light on a windowsill or propagator between 18-25 oC. Once the seedlings have germinated, keep well lit and warm. Prick out into slightly larger pots and then pot on to required size as they grow.
Living 700’ up a Welsh mountain side, I plant mine out in the polytunnel. Whether you are putting them outside on your sunny patio or sheltered in a greenhouse, you will need to harden them off ie acclimatise them to being outdoors. Most will require staking to support the stems as the fruit develops. When flowers appear feed weekly with high potash (tomato or comfrey fertiliser). Water if the compost or ground feels dry.