To kick-off, let’s just clarify that just about all chillies are pretty easy to grow – as long as the seeds are fresh and the nutrition is good. However, if you’re a chilli aficionado, you might like to try growing a variety of chillies. Gone are the days when all you could get were the, admittedly worthy, red cayennes. Nowadays, those in the know can find chillies in a variety of colours, shapes and levels of hotness.
While we’re at it, we’ll answer a few questions that Australian gardeners often ask about chillies, so sit back, relax and see if you can glean a few new snippets of information on these interesting edibles.
So, What do you Need to Know in Order to Grow Chillies?
It’s pretty basic. The main thing to remember is that they’re a summer crop unless you happen to live in a tropical climate, in which case, you can start them at any time of the year. Apart from not liking the cold, they’re also a little sensitive to overly wet conditions, particularly when they are very young. That’s why many people start them in pots, even though the seeds are a manageable size and germinate easily.
They’re also rather slow to take off, so don’t be surprised if your seedlings aren’t growing quite as fast as you would expect. Good nutrition during the seedling stage is rather important. Most potting and seedling growth media don’t hold nutrients for very long, and Australian soils generally tend to be rather nutrient-poor, so liquid feeding will help your chillies during the slightly sensitive seedling stage.
Hot or Not?
Just as there are many shades of any colour, so there are many nuances to chilli flavours. Sweet peppers belong to the same genus, but we generally call them “Capsicums” even though hot chillies are also technically Capsicums. When it comes to the plants we generally refer to as “chillies,” flavours range from the mildly spicy to the not-for-the-nervous super-hot.
If you just like a light, spicy tang, try Shishito chillies, also known as “Lion’s Head” chillies. This Japanese variety is generally eaten green but can be left to ripen to a bright red. It’s mild enough for most palates while having sufficient bite not to be classed as a sweet pepper. However, as with so many things in nature, there are no guarantees and the occasional chilli will be rather hotter than its buddies!
If you’d like even less tang, a rather sweet flavour, and greater predictability, Manganji Chillies are for you. They’re quite fleshy with an earthy flavour much prized in Japanese cuisine: well worth a try! But what if you like it hot? There are plenty of options, and there’s even a hotness scale to measure them with. Without getting too technical, you can beat the average spiciness of a hot cayenne by a considerable margin. The hottest of all chillies, Carolina Reaper, is all but inedible, but you can take a step back from the brink with Birdseye Thai peppers which, though hot, aren’t terrifyingly so.
If you’d like something relatively hot but with interesting flavour nuances, give Aji Limon a try. As the name suggests, this lemon-yellow chilli also has lemony flavour overtones. The bottom line? There’s a lot more to chilli flavours than “hot” and “sweet.” We’d suggest that there are 50 shades of hot, but the truth is that there are many more!
Harvesting: Green or Ripe?
All chillies can be eaten green or ripened. Which is better? That depends on what you want from the flavour. As chillies ripen, the flavour intensifies. Hot chillies become hotter, and although green chillies are good to eat, there’s no denying that the colours of ripened chillies are pretty.
There’s no simple answer on whether chillies are better eaten green or ripened. The solution will be up to you, so we’d suggest trying some of your chillies of each variety green and others ripe to see what you like best. If, however, you’re chasing hotness, do let your chillies ripen to their full extent.
By the way, there’s a third consideration here – you can also dry chillies, and if you do it correctly, the flavours will concentrate and intensify.
Do Chilli Colours Indicate Flavour?
One generally finds green or red chillies in shops, but if you start growing your own chillies, you’ll find that they come in a wide variety of shapes and colours. Yellow, peachy pink and chocolate brown are all possibilities.
While it would be convenient if chillies were colour-coded according to flavour and hotness, nature doesn’t work that way. In general, the orange to gold varieties have a fruitier flavour, but that’s no indication of hotness.
Incidentally, since chillies don’t all ripen at once, you’re likely to face the possibility of harvesting a rainbow of colours from a single plant at any given time. Feel free: it looks good and will offer a spectrum of flavours from green to ripe.
How Long do Chilli Plants Live?
If you live in an area with cold winters, your chilli plants should be treated as annuals. They’ll die off after the first hard frost of the winter. If, however, you live in a warmer climate, your chilli plants can last for years.
There are reports of plants still producing a good harvest after three years of growth. At the same time, productivity tends to reduce over time, with the best harvests occurring in the first year or two. Of course, it’s hard to generalize about plants. As soon as one tries to say what they will or won’t do, they seem eager to prove that the exception can become the rule under certain circumstances! What’s your record-breaker in terms of longevity and productivity? Do let us know!
Chillies are Fun! Grow and Enjoy!
So there you have it Easy Chillies to Grow (although as we mentioned at the start all chillies are easy to grow in the right conditions). Gardening is fun and chillies are fun plants to grow. Do remember to warn small children who love “grazing” the veggie patch about chillies if you’re growing hot ones! Other than that, there are no real disclaimers. Choose different sizes, shapes, and colours and get creative in the kitchen. Versatility is the name of the game. Enjoy them raw, roast them, stuff them, slice them and fry them, bottle them, or turn them into sauces – few edibles are as versatile as the chilli.