July 09, 2003

Hot Pepper Cultivation

For about two years now, I have been growing my own hot peppers to satisfy my fairly fiery taste buds. Being a fan of spicy food, as some of my recipes show, I need a good variety of peppers to try out. Unfortunately, the variety in Holland is quite limited, limited to normally two varieties in supermarkets. I need more! So, I decided to grown and harvest my own from seed, and in the process have learnt a thing or two too!

Peppers are quite easy to grow, and can be done even in fairly restricted space. They will happily produce fruit in fairly small pots, but can also grow to monsters, almost a metre high. So space is the flexible part. However one thing they do need is warmth. Give them cold weather and their growth can come to a standstill. Here in Holland, this was the biggest challenge I had to deal with. But I've overcome that by growing indoors, and managed to produce some quite tasty peppers.

The Seeds

The first step to growing is of course the germination of the seed. To do this, I use shallow tupperware containers. I place a wet paper towel in the bottom, lay seeds on this about 2cm apart, then on this lay another paper towel, sandwiching the seeds between. The towels are wet, but not quite so everything is under water. Just enough to be soggy. The lids get popped on, and I leave them somewhere fairly warm. The best place for this is above a heater - around 30 to 35 degrees is best, and after a few days to two weeks, the seeds will start germinating.


Seedling tray Once germinated, the seedlings are carefully planted into seedling trays, kind of like plastic egg containers, about 1/2 to 1 centimetre below the surface. The root should be downwards. The seedling trays are placed somewhere warm and bright, and the soil kept moist (but not wet). After a few more days the seedlings will slowly appear from the soil and start to develop leaves. You can keep letting these grow, but if you're not careful you will get tall leggy plants which will give you quite limited fruit output. That's where pinching comes in.

Pinching off

Pinching is done to make the plants grow bushy. When a stem is starting to get a few sets of leaves on it, you should pinch off the tips of these. Dont just remove the leaves at the ends, you also need to cut the stem too.
The theory behind pinching is one of survival. If a plant has lost the end of a stem, presumably something ate it off, or something else got in the way. If it just keeps growing in that direction, then whatever cut off the stem is likely to do it again. So the plant starts growing stems from the leaf joints along the stem, growing sideways to hopefully avoid the danger that chopped its original stem off.
Eventually if you do this every couple of weeks, the whole plant will grow quite bushy and end up with lots of places for fruit to grow from. Initially you're worried that you're slowing down the plant growth, but you will end up with a more productive plant.

Adult plants

Once the seedlings are about 10-15cm high, they shoud be transferred into larger pots. For peppers, the bigger the pots, the better. My best plants are living in 25cm pots, whereas my smaller plants are in 15cm pots. The bigger the pot, the bigger your peppers will grow. Allowing their roots to become 'pot-bound' will just stunt their growth, so regularly check them and upgrade if necessary. Another telltale sign which I've discovered is that you will see litle white "pimples" on the stem, around the soil level. These are roots attempting to grow, and are a sure sign that the plant needs a bigger pot. Do this, otherwise they will be too restricted to be most productive.


Pepper plants should be kept at a minimum of twenty degrees C during the day. They are native to warmer climates and so will not grow in the cold. The cooler climate of Holland has meant that I can only keep plants outside for a couple of months a year, then they have to come in. If the daytime temperature drops much below twenty, then the plant can halt its growth for a week - really testing patience!
A bit of plant food should be given to them every couple of weeks, and the soil should not be watered until almost dry. Above all they need lots of sun. My living room window faces south, and so I get plenty of sun for most of the day. This has given me some flourishing plants which I hope will give me lots of fruit.

Flower buds

I found it a good idea to pull off the first few flower buds that appear. Doing so encourages a little more leaf growth. After a little while the plants will start to develop lots of flower buds. Eventually these will open, and pollination can be encouraged by giving the plants a little shake. Peppers are self pollinating so dont need the pollen of another plant - the shaking will help get some of the flowers own pollen into the bits that count.
A few days after the flowers open, they will start to either drop off, if pollination was not successful, or they will develop into fruit. If too many keep dropping off, then the plant is in poor conditions. A little less watering may be needed, or they dont thave enough light.

Fruits and harvesting

As the fruits are growing, keep the plants warm and bright. If they miss either, the fruit could ripen prematurely and you will have very small peppers. Otherwise, eventually they will start to ripen, sometimes taking a month or more, at which time they should be harvested by cutting through the stem with a blade. Pulling them off may damage the plant. By not leaving ripe fruit on for too long, you will encourage the plant to start producing again.

These past couple of years, I've found pepper grown quite rewarding, and have learnt quite a bit. I started out by removing the seeds from supermarket peppers, then moved on to buying from the local garden store. But this year I ordered some seeds online, and am looking forward to my first harvest from my Hot Lemon, Red Cherry, and Jalapeno peppers.

Posted by Ben at July 9, 2003 10:40 PM

Quite a feat you've done in the short growing season of the Netherlands where gray clouds come too soon and the cold damp days make indoor cultivation a challenge! Best wishes w/ the new batch of chilli peppers!

Posted by: HN at August 12, 2003 08:52 AM

Dear Sir, after reading your programme on the cultivation of pepper and my self I will like to undertake a similar project but on a large scale.
Your advise shall be highly appreciated,
Thanks for cooperation
Bye and cheers, Tanda

Posted by: Tanda Godwin Ade at August 13, 2003 07:04 PM

I have a question for you. Is a pepper which has matured by turning red less hot, as hot, or more hot than a green pepper. Thanks.

Posted by: Joe Brandon at October 30, 2003 05:01 AM

It seems to vary with different people. My batch of Jalapenos this year seemed to be hottest when I let them turn red. The ones I picked whilst green didnt seem to have as much heat. But overall I think the deciding factor is in the condition of the plant during growing and fruiting. Occasionally stressing the plant (eg letting it wilt a little before watering) seems to make more heat than otherwise.


Posted by: Ben at October 30, 2003 09:00 AM

Very informative.
Wish to know more about pepper - particularly about Bushy growing of pepper , preferably with images of bushy pepper growth.

Posted by: VMD Nambudiri at December 3, 2004 10:27 AM

how old dose a chilli plant have to be before it starts to produce peppers.
do you have to keep hot and sweet peppers apart when growing them

Posted by: andy stephenson at September 16, 2005 03:22 PM
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