A lot has happened since things kicked off this year. Our seeds were hot housed in the steamy propagator in the hope that germination would be quicker, more consistent and we would be a bit more successful with the chinense types. And things have indeed gone well. Hundreds of seeds germinated, hundreds of paper pots were made and now it is time to pot on the strongest of the plants to a more substantial home.
How do we know it is time to pot on?
The seedlings are starting to show roots through the bottom of their paper pots. Many have two or more sets of leaves. The sun is shining in the UK and is forecast to be so for at least a couple more days. Perfect for a bit of window sunbathing to help the chillies settle in to their new pots. All good signs.
Using the specially formulated potting compost mix, the plants are tucked into 9cm square black pots. A layer of grit is put in the bottom and the paper pots are not removed, just buried within the new pot. Minimal root disturbance and the plants hopefully don’t feel swamped by the new pot.
Hey presto, 151 seedlings are potted on, fed and watered and basking in the sun.
Capsicum pubescens is a late entry to the heated propagator. Whilst using the last of our homegrown Rocoto chillies it was impossible to just throw the seeds away. So, they were introduced to the chitting pod. Having sworn we would get going earlier with the seeds this year, to allow the longest growing period possible, a quick diary check reveals that these seeds are starting off at pretty much the same time as last year. So much for planning.
Four days later the roots have emerged. Much quicker than the chinense types and almost as quick as the speedy annuums.
And why did we bother with these seeds? Well, it turns out we’ve got a bit of a crush on these squishy fellas. There are far less varieties of Capsicum pubescens available on the market and you would certainly never see them in a UK food store to buy. The chilli fruit are all pretty similar with thick walls, juicy flesh and matt black seeds. With a round shape: some are a little more apple shaped, others lemony and some occasionally cheeked like bell peppers. Heat levels are medium to hot and they have a punchy fresh fruit flavour. They come in a range of -green-yellow-red but not purple or white. So far.
Capsicum pubescens are the smaller group of the five domesticated species of chilli. They are further away from others genetically. They trace back to pre-Incan times in Peru. In fact it is thought that the chilli remains found in the Guitarrero caves 10,000 years ago was a pubescens type. Historically significant as the chilli in question was found alongside evidence of campfires, grinding stones and human bones. It seems chillies were considered pretty valuable food stuffs. Not much has changed in 10,000 years then.
At The Birdhouse, we only grew one plant of this type last year: the high shine red Alberto Rocoto Locato. Gifted to us by my mother. It was easy to spot in the greenhouse as the plant grew differently to the others. For one, it had tiny white hairs on its leaves. Secondly, once it had got going, it split into two branches about 30cm up. It then sprawled out sideways and needed support from other plants. It snapped easily if knocked. It had bright violet flowers, with dusty white stamen. The chillies were late to set and took a long time to ripen to glossy red, maybe a 100 days or more. It matured about sometime similar to the Scotch Bonnets and they supposedly take 120 days. The plant was prolific despite being in a smallish 2.5 L pot. Whilst it was fed well it could probably have done with more root space.
A quick bit of research tells us that these chillies are a fan of cooler nights, although still happy basking during the day. They are far more tolerant to lower temperatures generally. Although not frost tolerant. This bodes well for a UK climate and the need for a longish growing season. They are also long lived perennials, living up to 15 years. They can be climbers or tree formations. I think we might have a few Winter inmates this year. Let the pubescens journey begin.
And still the chilli seeds arrive. A brief trip to Potato Day (100s of varieties of seed potato at 20p a spud) resulted in us buying not just potatoes but additional chilli seeds too. A repeat from last year, ‘Tobago Seasoning’. We had zero success in germinating this variety but we’re having another go. So far the Chinense types are responding well so fingers crossed. Tobago Seasoning are now hanging out in the propagator after their tea bath.
Then, a surprise, 26 days after they were ordered, more chilli seeds turn up in the post: 7 Pot Bubblegum and Poblano. Woo Hoo! They got dunked into a cuppa and they will be introduced to the germinating station the next day. The Bubblegum seeds have a neon pink tinge to them and the Poblano seeds are the biggest chilli seeds EVER!
A free pack of Numex Christmas was also in the package. Perhaps more ornamental than culinary? They have small multicoloured chillies, thin skinned and are on the hot end of the scale. Ones to sell as pretty plants.
We are going to need a second greenhouse. Seriously.
An update, with added advice to self for next year:
The sprouted seedlings have been transferred to their paper pots, 135 of them so far. Thank goodness for grandparents and all their newspapers. The seed soil was cold and waterlogged (it is January after all) The pots were filled and warmed gently on the radiator.
Paper pots are quick to make and take less paper than you would think. Hopefully the pots will be soft enough for the first roots to break through meaning there will be no need to disturb the seedlings when potting on the next time.
Chilli seeds in their forever pots
Do not let the moisture in the chitting pods evaporate completely or the roots shrivel and dry. This has happened to Habanero Primavero Red. Hopefully some of the remaining seeds will germinate as we have no more in the packet. Not buying any more.
Also, don’t leave the sprouted seedlings too long in the chitting pods as their roots become intertwined with the capillary matting. Some of the roots have snapped in the transferring process. Not sure whether they will survive or not but they will sulk for at least a week, no doubt. Maybe a vermiculite mix to germinate in would be best next year?
The chillies have been chitting in their heated propagator. After their tea bath they were carefully strained then snuggled into the chitting pods (takeaway container + capillary matting). Finally they were placed into the heated propagator on the 17th January.
In the propagator the temperature stays above 25 degrees (even on the coldest of – 5 nights so far) and reaches the sweaty heights of 35 degrees +. The pods are stacked with the Chinense types at the bottom, nearer the heated base, and the Annuum varieties on top, not quite so warm.
Without a thermostat it is impossible to keep the temp constant but it seems that most of the varieties have responded well. Here are the results so far…
Chilli (A=Annuum, Ch=Chinense)
Date started chitting (after a soak overnight in some tea)
Date of first germination
Cow Horn (A)
Cherry Bomb (A)
Golden Greek Peperoncini (A)
Sweet Banana (A)
Scotch Bonnet (Ch)
Madame Jeanette (Ch)
Trinidad Perfume (A)
Habanero Primero Red (Ch)
Mustard Habanero (Ch)
Yet to germinate
Orange Habanero (Ch)
Yet to germinate
Not bad results for 8 days after starting.
You may notice that a couple of previously mentioned chilli types (Poblano and 7 Pot Bubblegum) are missing from the first list. They have not yet turned up in the post. A refund will be requested. And, the very observant amongst you will have seen the addition of Serrano. These came free from one company. Lovely.
The seeds that germinated in the first few days are now in need of planting in their very first pot. These are newspaper pots filled with nutrient poor seed compost. We don’t want these tiny seedlings growing too quickly as daylight hours are still short and too much food will produce leggy seedlings. Hmmm, note to selves: do we need to think about a lamp?
Off to buy some seed compost and make 100 million more paper pots.
The 16 varieties of seeds have finally arrived. Some from Devon, some from Athens, some from Italy and some from Holland. All very pleasing.
The kettle is now boiling. High tech stuff. The seeds will be soaked overnight in tea. The hope is that the tea will soften the seed case with a chemical action similar to that of the seed passing through a digestive system. Thus making things easier for the root to break through and give a higher rate of germination.
The Chinense varieties are harder to germinate (according to last year’s results) so we are keen to support them in any way possible. A good cuppa will hopefully work its magic.
Germination was erratic with some chillies last year. What were the factors? It’s hard to tell as the chillies can’t tell us. Temperature is cited as a key factor. This year we will be attempting germination as follows:
Chitting, not in soil or vermiculite. This way it is really obvious what is going on with the seeds.
Keeping a consistent temperature, night and day.
A high enough temperature for the Chinense type chillies. These all seem to prefer a hot kickstart. It looks like a balmy 27 degrees might suit most chillies.
Not excluding light. Airing cupboards are a no no according to some folk.
Be patient. With some chillies listed as taking up to 6 weeks to germinate it it a waiting game.
Maybe a soak the seeds in some warm strong tea, to act as a chemical scarifyer.
Other charted information for future reference and in preparation for the pot stocktake and greenhouse reorganisation in February.