Chillies are the fiery cousins of the capsicum family. There are dozens of varieties, each with a unique character and flavour. Colour isn’t a good indicator of heat – size is more reliable, and in general, smaller chillies are hotter.
Site and soil
Chillies like hot, sunny positions and well-drained soils with lots of organic matter. A moderately fertile soil is good, but be careful not to apply too much rich manure as it will result in lots of foliage, but not many fruit.
They grow well in pots or containers, as these can be moved to protected spots in the garden or around the house in case of an unexpected cold snap.
Plant your chillies after the last frost and once the soil temperature has reached at least 20 degrees – so don’t plant them too early. And bear in mind that they take three months to mature in good conditions, so don’t plant them too late.
If you’re growing from seed, sow them at a depth of about three times the diameter of the seed. Germination rate tends to be fairly high and seedlings will appear in about a week. They can be safely moved from when they reach around 10 cm in height.
Chillies are thirsty plants and if the soil dries out, their growth will be affected. Even watering, but not overwatering, is the key.
The first flowers will appear when the plants are quite small. At this stage, the plants benefit from a weekly or fortnightly dose of fertiliser. Once they’ve started flowering, the plants will continuously produce fruit while the weather stays warm.
Most varieties will start green, then change colour and mature in heat and flavour as they ripen. However, you can harvest the fruit as soon as they reach a good size, no matter what the colour is. Use scissors or a sharp knife.
Irregular watering can lead to blossom end rot. Chillies grown in sandy soil or soil without sufficient organic matter can attract root nematodes. Fruit set may be poor if there are high temperatures during flowering – this will correct itself once kinder weather arrives.
Fruit fly can be a problem in warmer areas and possums and birds can be a problem just about anywhere. It may be necessary to cover or bag your plants.