Clear Mountain Garden Treasures
 

Clear Mountain Garden TreasuresCulture and Germination - Chillies and Peppers

Chilles & Peppers

Chilly harvest
Family Solanaceae
Name Capsicum Spp.
Common Names Aji, Chilli, Chili, Chilly, Chille, Chile, Capsicum, Pepper, Pimento
Applies To:
  • Ornamental chillies (Capsicum annuum)
  • Bell Pepper (Capsicum) (Capsicum annuum)
  • Bull's Horn (Capsicum annuum)
  • Banana chilly (Capsicum annuum)
  • Jalapeno (Capsicum annuum)
  • Aji Norteno (Red) (Capsicum baccatum)
  • Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
  • Brazillian Cambuci (Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum)
  • Thai Hot (Capsicum annuum)
  • Thai Orange (Capsicum annuum)
  • Habanero (Capsicum chinense)
  • Rocoto (Capsicum pubescens)

 More pictures
  Buy seeds:  Seeds - Chillies and Peppers
More:
What to do with chillies
Picked green chillies
Dried chillies
Chargrilled pepper
In the freezer

Chillies have been cultivated since ancient times in South America, and was brought to Europe by Columbus. Before long, it had spread to the Middle East, Africa, India and Asia. The popularity of chillies has meant that they are now extensively cultivated outside of their natural range, even to the extent that peoples in those regions think that chilly is indigenous.

Today, there are thousands of varieties of different shapes, sizes, colour and heat. The heat level of Chillies (termed as piquant) is graded using the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU), originally designed as taste test using different dilutions of chilly extracts. The SHU is the number of times a solution has to be diluted before it no longer taste piquant. Bell peppers are sweet and are rated at 0 SHU, and on the other end of the scale, Habanero rates over 350000 SHU!

Germination

Depth: ¼ cm
When: Spring, 9 weeks before last frost.
Where: In containers for transplanting later.
Seed germinates best at 28°C and seedlings are slow growing. Set out a week after last frost.

Culture

Chillies and peppers require a long growing season. Seed germinates best at 28°C and seedlings are slow growing. The seeds will also germinate at a lower temperature (20°C), but germination will be slower. Typically you start the seeds indoors 9 weeks before the last frost, and in most places in New Zealand, this means around August. The hot water cupboard is an ideal place to germinate chilly seeds. Sow seeds into a small container and cover with a plastic bag. Leave a small gap for air, water and place into the cupboard. Check every couple of days and remove immediately when you see signs of germination.

With glasshouse culture, you can be more flexible with your timing. The seeds need warmth and darkness to germinate. Prick the seedlings out when they have 2-3 true leaves. The seedlings can be kept cooler, but need to be frost free, and are pretty slow growing. Water moderately and feed only with 3 month slow release fertilizer (eg. osmocote) incorporated into the potting mix. This contains just enough fertilizer to keep the seedlings growing, but not too profusely. Pot on as required.

Come labour day, gradually acclimatise the seedlings to the outdoor conditions and plant them outdoors in a sunny spot. Feed once with a teaspoon of superphosphate per plant. This encourages good root growth. Increase watering as the weather warms and feed with tomato fertilizer. The tomato fertilizer is high in nitrogen (encourages growth) and potassium (encourages flower bud initiation). At the end of Summer, feed once with superphosphate and stop the tomato food. This will encourage the plant to stop initiating buds and harden up - to help ripen the chillies.

I usually grow mine in large pots so that I can move them around. I will also usually bring a few pots indoors in late Autumn to help ripen the chillies. Green chillies taste just as hot as (if not hotter than) the red chillies, especially the Thai chilly. If you are unable to ripen all of your chillies, pick them green before the frost sets in.

As chillies are perennials, if you keep them away from the frost and cold, the plants will last a few years. Plants kept from previous years also come into flowering earlier, meaning they will have a longer season to ripen fruit. Plants that are grown through the Winter, need to be on the drier side - no fertilizer.

 What to do with chillies

Come Autumn and there is always too much chillies and peppers to use. There are many ways to preserve them:

 Picked green chillies

Cut long chillies into thin slices, 2-3 mm thick. Use small chillies whole. Soak the chillies in hydrated lime for one hour. Drain. Pack tightly into preserving jars. Make a syrup of white vinegar, sugar and preserving salt. Bring to the boil and pour over the chillies hot. Seal the jars and keep in the fridge. This should last nearly a year and the chillies will still be crunchy. Red chillies can also be pickled but will not be as crunchy. Pickled hillies become milder.

 Dried chillies

Make two cuts length-wise for larger chillies and dry in the sun. Small chillies can be dried whole. Dried chillies can last for several years. Grind the dried chillies to make chilly powder (remove the seeds first), or crush them with seeds and all to make Thai style chilly powder. Paprika can be similarly dried, but it is best to cut into small strips to aid drying. Dried chillies tend to be hotter, but lighter on flavour. Only red chillies/paprika should be dried.

 Chargrilled pepper

Cut a bell pepper in half and remove seeds. Sprinkle with salt and dry in the Sun for a day or so. Place the peppers on a lightly oiled oven tray and grill over moderate heat until brown. While still hot, store in oil or freeze. Paprika can be similarly treated. Very nice on pizzas.

 In the freezer

Both red and green chillies can be frozen whole and will retain their heat and flavour, though they will be soft once defrosted. Alternatively, put them through the food processor and freeze the mashed pulp.


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