Chilli peppers are known for their fiery flavours and vibrant colours. They pep up old favourites like chilli con carne and add an unexpected twist to a simple broth. But as well as being a hot addition to a dish, there are cooler, sweeter variations that enhance flavour and make for an enjoyable dining experience.
However, you might not find many different types of chillies on the supermarket shelves, so it’s worth taking the reins and growing chillies from seed at home. This opens up a host of possibilities, allowing you to choose from an array of colours, shapes and heat levels, and plan out the meals you’ll make.
Whether you’re just starting your first vegetable patch and want to begin with growing chillies or you’ve been growing for a while and want to know how to grow chillies alongside your other allotment crops, we have everything you need here in our guide to help you. Plus, you can find out more about the drying process. For home-grown chillies packed with flavour, read on.
How to grow chillies
Chillies are relatively easy to grow, making them a great choice for novice gardeners who are just starting out. Here’s an overview of the chilli plant growing stages to look out for and the process involved if you’re growing chillies from seed.
Sow your chillies
Once you’ve chosen the chillies you want to grow, you can sow the seeds indoors from late January to mid-April. The sooner you can sow, the earlier and longer you’ll be able to harvest the produce.
Fill a pot with seedling compost and add some seeds to the top. A layer of vermiculite on top of the seeds will help to aerate the soil. From there, add some water and place in a heated propagator or on a windowsill that gets a lot of sunlight. As seedlings appear, move them into individual 8cm pots filled with good draining compost.
If you’re limited on indoor space or you don’t have a sunny area inside, you can buy young chilli plants and pick up the growing process from there. However, growing chillies from seed gives you the full journey, so it’s worth starting from the very beginning if you can.
So, how do chillies grow from this point? While they’re still indoors, move the chilli plants into a 13cm pot. Try to keep the temperatures above 20⁰C – the chilli growing experts advise that the ideal temperature for seed compost is 27-32⁰C. Once the plants reach 30cm in height, pinch out the shoot tips. This is where you remove the growing tips on the plant to encourage more chillies to grow.
Chilli plants can grow quite tall, so secure them with canes before the fruits appear. Once the chillies arrive, they can weigh down the plants.
Watch for the weather to change and the morning frosts to have disappeared before you plant them out into their final growing spots in the sun. This usually happens in May, but if the night temperatures still fall below 12⁰C, wait until June. At this point, you can place your plants in a polytunnel border with added compost and plenty of potash.
If you’re wondering how to grow chillies successfully, you’ll find that polytunnels are an ideal choice as they get lots of light to the plants, have excellent humidity control, and the growing season can be extended. This gives you more chillies throughout the year.
For tips and advice from the experts at Clifton Chilli Club on how to grow your own chillies in the UK, have a read of our blog and watch their video here.
When to harvest chillies
Next, the plants will flower. Mist them when they start to appear, as this encourages the fruit to grow, and feed them with a high potash fertiliser.
As the chillies develop, watch for them to reach the right stage, size and colour. When they’re ready, you can start harvesting them. You might prefer to pick them slightly early and leave them to ripen in the kitchen, or you might decide to hold off until they’re ripe and ready to go.
Why do we dry chillies?
Chilli drying is a preservation technique. While fresh chillies are delicious and work well in any number of dishes, you might consider drying them so you can enjoy them for anything up to a year. This is a useful process, especially as chillies are tender plants, which means they don’t survive the colder winter months and the sowing process needs to begin again every year. By drying chillies, you have some to last you through the months after they’ve been harvested.
How to dry fresh chillies
Once you’ve harvested and washed them, you can take your pick from several chilli drying methods. Through trial and error, you’ll be able to work out how to dry chillies in a way that works for you.
How to air-dry chillies at home
To air-dry your chillies, keep them whole and place them on a wire rack. Find a well-ventilated, dry room (low humidity) and leave them for a few weeks. Within a month or so, you'll find that your chilli peppers have dried out and are ready to be ground up or placed as decoration on a dish.
How to dry chillies on a string
This is a very similar method to air-drying chillies. However, instead of placing the fresh chillies on a wire rack, tie them to some strong string, leaving a gap of around four inches between each pepper. Once they’ve been threaded onto the string, hang them up in a dry, warm space where there’s direct sunlight. This process will take several weeks, but keep checking to see how the chillies transform – it’s worth the wait!
How to dry fresh chillies in the oven
This method is the most immediate chilli drying technique of the three. Warm your oven to a low heat of around 100⁰C. Slice the chillies in half lengthwise and place them on a baking tray. Place them in the oven and turn them every few minutes. There’s no set time with this method, so you’ll need to keep them in the oven until the skin on the chillies is shrivelled and it’s clear that the moisture’s been completely removed.
Storing your chillies
If you’re drying your chillies, you’ll most likely be grinding them up into powder using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Once the powder is ready, pop the ground chilli into an airtight container and add a label detailing the chilli type and date of preparation.
They should keep for up to a year, but you’ll be able to enjoy the best flavours when it’s used within six months. Be aware that your chilli powder will be most potent in these first six months, so go easy when using it in dishes and slowly add more as time goes on and the flavours settle down.
Start growing and drying your chillies today with Premier Polytunnels
If you’re inspired to try drying chillies at home and ready to give growing chillies from seed a go, look at the polytunnels for sale at Premier Polytunnels. We have a range of different sizes that are ideal for growing chillies.
Browse the collection today and contact us on 01282 811250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. We’ll be happy to help.