Potting on chitted chilli seeds

Having soaked our chilli seeds in tea; chitted them on warm, damp kitchen paper until they germinated; and sung sweetly to them… it is now time to plant them in some actual soil and let them do their thing.

The beginning of the new year is a cold, dark and lonely time for a seedling in the UK. We look after our chilli babies the best we can to stop them being affected by the January Blues.

So what exactly do we do?

Paper pots

Careful preparation is the name of the game. We make newspaper pots using a wooden pot maker. Each germinated seed gets popped into a warmed paper pot for the next stage of its journey

These pots are perfect for us because…

  • they are free,
  • made from recycled materials,
  • can be potted directly into a bigger pot, with minimal root disturbance
  • can be composted at the end of the season
  • No labelling mix-ups, just write on the outside of the pot.

Ok, so they take time to make and are a little flimsy. They can dry out quickly, especially on a heated surface or in direct sunlight but we love them and they work for us.

Paper pot production goes into overdrive as we attempt to keep up with the number of seeds that are germinating. 50 is our goal today, must get rolling!

Seed compost

The seedlings need very little to start of with as they are still being fed from the endosperm (food stash from within the seed). Use a dedicated seed compost as it is low nutrients, good drainage, small particles. All good for little roots trying to develop.

A couple of teaspoons of seed compost fill each pot. Don’t forget to write the variety on the outside BEFORE you water

Warmth

Gently warm the paper pots filled with seed compost BEFORE the seedlings are put in the soil. This means there is no shock to the system and they should continue to grow as if nothing has changed.

We place our pots on plastic windowsill trays. Lined with capillary matting. These tray conveniently rest on top of our radiators. Soil stays warm. Chillies LOVE it!

In addition to keeping the pots warm we use warm water when giving the seedlings a drink. Water from the base every few days. Careful not to overwater as waterlogged soil can check growth. Keep an eye on the outside pots as they will dry out quicker than the inner ones.

Warming nicely

Light

Make sure the seedlings get as much natural light as possible. We started in January last year, grew under only natural light and had a pretty amazing harvest. We just had to rotate a lot. The light keeps the plants from getting too leggy in the early days. Consider a set of grow lights. We are about to embark on this journey with our first set of lights: The Phlizon 1200W. More will be said about this at a later date.

Feed

After a week or so, once the seed leaves are unfurled and looking a good strong green, we start to feed a weak solution of Chilli Focus. Not too much, or the roots can burn, just enough to keep the wolves at bay. 5mls to litre of warm water should do it.

Start to feed after each seedling has

And there you have it, a simple but tested way of looking after your precious babies at this early stage of the game.

The last seeds, promise

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.

Thomas Etty Tobago Seasoning chilli seeds

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.

Learning some lessons

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.

 

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?

 

Anyone for a cuppa?

The 16 varieties of seeds have finally arrived. Some from Devon, some from Athens, some from Italy and some from Holland. All very pleasing.

img_9213

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.

How hot is too hot?

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.

Chilli
Latin group
No of days to germinate
Suggested germination temp
Days to maturity
Height of plant
Pot size required
Cherry BombAnnuum10-21 days21oC80 days60-75cm3L
EspeletteAnnuum14-21 days24-35oC80-90 days50cm-1.5m3L/7.5L

Cow Horn

Annuum10-21 days24-29oC75 after potting on1m (tall)5L

Guajilo

Annuum10-21 days24-32oC85 days1.5m (yep, big)7.5L
Habanero Primero RedChinense11 days-5 weeks32-35oC45-60cm3L

Aleppo

Annuum21-30 days21-29oC80 days to red from potting on1.2m7.5L
7 Pot Bubblegum
Chinense21 days22 oC90 days1.1m7.5L
JalapenoAnnuum10-14 days18-27oC75 days from seed1.5m7.5L
PoblanoAnnuum6-12 days21oC75 days from potting on1m7.5L
Pimientos de PadronAnnuum14 days24-32oC55-68 days2m7.5L, then the ground?
Golden Greek Pepperoncini
Annuum7-21 days29oC bottom heat85-95 days1m5L
Sweet BananaAnnuum12 days18 oC75 days40-60cm3L
Trinidad PerfumeAnnuum5-7 days 14-28 days elsewhere21-24oC80-85 days 71-80cm5L
Madame JeanetteChinense12-21 days22-28 oC90-100 days85cm5L
Orange HabaneroChinense11 days-5 weeks24-32oC120 days from potting on70cm x 70cm3L
Mustard HabaneroChinense11 days-5 weeks24-32oC100 days75cm3L

Hot New Contenders

In the running for ‘Best Chilli of 2019’ we have…

The Reds

Cherry Bomb. Heat of Product : Medium. Very easy to grow. The plant produces an abundance of eye-catching bright red fleshy fruits (5cm round) which mature in around 60 days from potting on. They can be stuffed with cheese and baked, or used for cooking and fresh salsa. Heat: 6,000 Scoville Heat Units. Expectation that each plant will need a 3L pot and will grow to approx. 75cm tall.

Espelette-type (Capsicum anuum Gorria). Heat of Product : Medium. The Espelette chilli pepper is a protected variety and the name can only be used if the chillies and seeds are from the Basque region of France. Traditionally the Espelette-type chilies are used to make a bright-red chilli powder to add to soups, stews and many other dishes, popular in the Basque region. The plant produces a heavy crop of fruits about 13cm long and 3cm wide on a plant growing to about 50cm. The fruits ripen green to red. Heat level: 4000-6000 scoville units.

Cow Horn. A lovely, bright, cheerful, cayenne-type red chilli with a mild heat. Most fruits reach approximately 6-8″ (15-20 cm) long and start off green, maturing to red, with thick flesh. Skin can be a little wrinkled in appearance. Plants reach approximately 1 metre tall. These are beautiful when dried and hung up, but equally, they are good for frying and making sauces. Origin: New Mexico. Heat: Mild – approximately 2500-5000 SHUs

Guajilo. The Guajillo (“gwah-hee-oh”) is a very popular chili pepper in Mexico. The pods are between 10 and 15 cm long with a diameter of about 2.5 – 3 cm. They are reddish brown and when dried they turn black. This chili pepper dries well because of its thin fruit wall. The chili peppers have an erect habit. In Mexico, the Guajillo pepper is often used in salsas and sauces. It’s also used to make chili pastes. In Tunisia this paste is called Harissa. The Guajillo has a sweet taste and is medium hot. Who knows how big they get?!

Habanero Primero Red. Scientific Name : Capsicum chinense. Plant Habit : Mounded. Spacing : 18 – 24″ (46 – 61cm). Height : 18 – 24″ (46 – 61cm). Width : 18 – 24″ (46 – 61cm). One of the earliest ripening habaneros on the market, with fruit ready to harvest as early as bell peppers. Produces huge yields of fruit larger than other standard habaneros, with just about one-third the heat. Early flowering – can be sold in large pots with flowers and immature fruit. Days to maturity from transplant:75 to 80 to full ripe, 60 to 65 to green.

Aleppo. The Aleppo is a rare chile from the region of Northern Syria and Southern Turkey. Also called the Halaby pepper. There are a few peppers named Aleppo one is a Cayenne type. This is the more rare Pimento type. The Aleppo pepper is named after the famous city of Aleppo that is on the famous silk road that was used to trade spices and goods as early as 200 B.C. it ran from North Africa though Arabia, Persia, Turkey and China. Aleppo peppers have a sweet taste with a nice kick of heat. Culinary experts and Chefs agree it is hard to find real pure Aleppo powder. Aleppo plants can grow over four feet tall and peppers ripen from green to dark red. It makes a great chilli powder. (Capsicum annuum)

7 Pot Bubblegum. The red color that seems to creep up the stem. The red you see in the picture is unaltered and happens in the last few days of ripening. The flavor of this pepper is very nice compared to some of the other super hots. It has a sweet and fruity taste with some floral undertones and INSANE HEAT. Scoville Heat Units~1,800,000 SHU . Days to Fruit 90 Days. Silly, I said no silly heat, and now look what I’ve gone and bought!

The Greens

Jalapeno. Heat of Product : Medium. The Jalapeño (Capsicum Annuum) is probably the mostly widely know chilli variety in the world. The chilli gets its name from the town of Jalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The fruits are conical, thick-walled and typically sold and used green. They usually ripen to red and develop a distinctive ‘corking’ pattern (light coloured marks) as they reach full size. The plants are upright, 3 to 4 feet tall with woody stems. The fruits take about 75 days from sowing to harvest with each plant producing 20 to 30 fruits which are typically 6 to 8cm long and 2 to 3cm wide and conical. The plants usually need some support as they start to fruit to avoid branches being broken by the weight of fruit. This variety of Jalapeno produce large fruits which have a heat level of around 6000-8000 Scoville Heat Units. Big 7.5L pots as the plants gets to over a metre tall.

PoblanoHeat of Product : Mild. This large mild chilli is revered in Mexico and the USA and used extensively in Mexican-style cooking. The fruits are up to 15cm long and are traditionally stuffed with meat, rice or vegetables and then baked. The plants will grow up to 1m high and the fruits are normally harvested green – from about 75 days after potting on. If left to turn red, the fruits are traditionally dried to make ‘Anchos’, another very common ingredient in Mexican dishes. Heat: 1000 Scoville Heat Units.

Pimientos de Padron. Heat of Product : Mild. These peppers are traditionally picked immature (usually when about 5cm long) before they have developed any heat. You may have seen the fruits in Spain or in a Spanish Tapas bars; they are usually quickly fried in olive oil and sea salt and served hot. There is a Pimientos de Padrón recipe on this link. The plants can grow to 2m high and produce a perpetual crop throughout the summer provided you keep picking them. If left to mature, the fruits turn a light red and grow to about 10cm long and 4cm wide at the shoulder. Heat: very mild if picked early, 3,000 Scoville heat units if left to mature. Eeeek, going to need a plan for 2m tall plants!

The Yellows

Golden Greek PepperonciniThe pepperoncini plant is a bushy, annual variety that grows to a height of about 100cm (3ft) tall. The peppers it produces are tapered, wrinkled along their length, blunt and lobed at the ends. They are usually harvested at 5 to 8cm (2 to 3in) long, while they are still sweet and yellow-green. When allowed to mature, the peppers turn bright red and grow stronger in flavour.

Sweet Banana. Heat of Product : No or very little heat. Long cylindrical fruits, tapering to a point. Fruits ripen from yellow to red. Final size: 18cm long, 4cm wide. Great for grilling and usually used when yellow. Plant 40cm high. Fruits mature in 70-80 days. Heat: No heat.

Trinidad Perfume. A high yielding HEATLESS Habanero – all the wonderful flavour of a Habanero with very little heat. Great for salads or cooked into food for a great flavour. Harvest: Pick when the fruits turn yellow – about 140 days from potting-on. Size: 70cm High, fruits 3cm green to yellow.

Madame Jeanette. The fruits are shaped like small bell peppers. Madame Jeanette chilis are very hot, rated 125,000–325,000 on the Scoville scale. The peppers ripen to reddish-yellow but they are larger and not symmetrical. Its flavour is described as “fruity”, with hints of mango and pineapple. It is often confused with the yellow Adjuma, which is less elongated and said to be more spicy but less flavourful. Madame Jeanette is used in almost all facets of Surinamese cuisine. The plant is very prolific. It has a relatively compact growth and dislikes cool sites. It will also grow indoors.

The Oranges

Orange Habanero. Heat of Product : Very Hot. Easy to grow. The fruits are up to 2.5cm x 4cm and are produced on a shrubby bush up to 70cm tall x 70cm wide. The fruits are ready to pick at around 100 days after the seedlings have been potted on, and the plant will continue cropping as long as suitable conditions are maintained. This is probably the most prolific habanero variety. The fruits are very hot – up to 350,000 Scoville units. Harvest: Pick when the fruits turn Orange – about 120 days from potting-on. Heat: 250,000 – 350,000 Scoville Heat Units. Size: 50cm High, fruits 3cm green to orange.

Mustard Habanero. 95-100 days. Outrageously colourful habanero-type fruit starts out a very light green blushed with purple, and ripens to a unique mustard colour and finally to fiery orange, with plants bearing fruit of all colours simultaneously. Super hot, like most habaneros.

Pots Galore

It’s been a while. Busy times, you know. A quick status update shows that the February planted seeds are now in 9cm pots, they have 4-5 pairs of true leaves and are being fed ‘Chilli Focus’ plant food once a week (10mls to 1L). The March chitters are in their coir pots. Most have at least one pair of true leaves.

IMG_8269

So what happened in the chitting experiment? Jalapeno, Bulgarian Carrot, Aji Limon, Prairie Fire and Pretty Purple were all stars. Pretty much 100% success rate with the chitting within two weeks. Somewhat confusing results from the other candidates. Scotch Bonnet gave a 50% show. Fresno sent us three germinated offerings. Serrano & Long Slim Cayenne a couple each. Still NONE from Tobago Seasoning and Go Chu. None whatsoever. Disappointing to say the least.

The conditions were a little varied but surely one or two of each seed type should have germinated? We did take a holiday to Cornwall. The seeds were kept warm in the boxes at the back of an Aga the size & colour of a fire engine. They were also kept in the light. One Serrano showed his head in that week but then a few more of the harder types followed suit. Maybe light exposure is also a factor for some chilli types?

DSC_0229

There was also a brief foray into chemical assistance to germination. Some seed cases are tough and can be helped to soften using a couple of techniques: presoaking before chitting and using tea to soak them in. The tannins in the tea helps soften the seed case to allow more moisture in and then the root to break out. Not sure if I am committed enough to try diluted bird poo as a chemical aid. Might try scarification though.

IMG_8229

One tiny glimmer of hope remains in the fact that lots of books, seed packets and website claim that chilli seeds can take up to 5 weeks to germinate. All remaining seeds are basking in warm sunlight during the day and in the airing cupboard at night. If any of the Tobago Seasoning or Go Chu germinate they will be the most precious plants EVER. Definitely ones to overwinter. Come on now, play nice and give me couple of the plants I really want