Vol.1, No.9

Growing hot chilis to eat

An overview of how to grow hot chili peppers to eat.

Hot chilis grown at home
After waiting all winter, at the first sign of spring, the mind naturally turns to the garden. If you are true salsa lover like most people, growing your own tomatoes, tomatillos and a vast array of chili peppers is a must.

The first decision you need to make is whether to grow your chili peppers from seed or to purchase already started plants. If you choose to start from seed, you need to start approximately six weeks before the last expected frost date in your area. Purchasing plants can be done at any time in the spring after the last frost.

To start from seed, the easiest way is to purchase the small, peat wafers that expand when you add water or to use already prepared peat pots. The wafers are easy to use; lay them out in a shallow pan and cover with several cups of hot water. They will expand quickly to a height of about 1 1/2 inches.

To start your seeds, place two or three seeds in the center of each peat pot, pressing the seeds down gently into the dirt to cover. You will need to maintain a surrounding temperature of approximately 75 degrees in order for the seeds to properly germinate. Depending on the variety of hot chili pepper, germination should occur within three to four weeks.

You need to water your seedlings regularly, never allowing the peat pot to completely dry out. When your pepper seedlings are about 2 inches high, thin the plants to one seedling per pot.

After all chances of frost are past, you can now plant your seedlings in your garden. Choose a sunny, well drained corner or row. A word of caution is advised, many horticulturists recommend strongly that you do not plant hot chili peppers in a space that previously grew eggplant or tomatoes, as peppers are subject to the same diseases.

Space your pepper plants 18 inches apart in rows that are a minimum of 24 inches apart. If planting in a square formation, leave 18 inches around each individual plant. When all individual plants are in the ground, water each plant thoroughly. Mulching around the plants is recommended to help keep weeds down and the soil moist. Mulch can be old hay, straw or grass clipping. Water your plants heavily during dry spells or droughts.

The peppers themselves are a natural pesticide, but the pepper can be bothered by the pepper weevil and cutworms. Remove these pests by hand and if the infestation is severe, sprinkle the plants with pyrethrums.

It will take about two months before the peppers begin to form. Once the green peppers reach a decent size, picking the young chili peppers, before full maturity, will promote more peppers to grow. Allowing all the peppers to reach maturity can signal the plant to stop producing. Fully ripe peppers come in a variety of colors, often on the same plant. The strongest flavor and the hottest peppers are those allowed to fully ripen and mature.

When you are ready to harvest your peppers, wear gloves and using a sharp knife or scissors, cut the pepper from the stem of the plant. The best method of preservation for hot chili peppers is drying, which can be accomplished easily in a low temperature oven overnight.