16 Tips on Growing Hot Chilli Peppers in a Cold Climate

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Introduction: 16 Tips on Growing Hot Chilli Peppers in a Cold Climate

If anybody reading this has actually tasted my cooking, you will know how important chillies are to my daily routine. Most of the meals I have cooked without chillies are fairly disgusting, with the possible exception of cheese on toast, although this too is normally served with a generous quantity of chilli powder. It is therefore essential to me personally to have a reliable source of chillies, especially after the impending apocalypse and the only way to ensure the uninterrupted continuity of supply is to learn how to grow them myself.

It's now the beginning of April and the chilli planting season has started. Now is the time to act, so I bought myself some seeds and equipment and wrote myself a comprehensive set of instructions.

The main key to growing hot chillies in cold climates is apparently temperature and humidity. Chillies hate the cold! And I must always remember Twmffat's 1st law of chilli growing: 'The hotter the chilli, the more temperature dependant it is and the longer it will take for the seeds to germinate and the plant to grow to harvest time'.

I also want to say thanks to everybody who has contributed to this project in the comments section below. It has been a real collaborative effort!

So, after some very extensive scientific research, here are my complete results:

  • Use Twmffat's 1st law of chilli growing to decide which variety of plant you want to grow. Have a look at step 3 for possible varieties and their 'heat' value.
  • The seeds can be sown in a good quality compost in multi cell trays and germinated in a warm place. Sometimes, especially with the hotter varieties, germination can take up to 4 weeks and so investing in a temperature controlled propagator unit might be a good idea. The ideal temperature is between 27 and 32 degrees C and it is important that this temperature does not fluctuate too much. The total possible temperature range is from 21 to 38 degrees C although germination may be more erratic.
  • The plants need good drainage and hate to be stood in water, so make sure your compost is of the free draining type, if possible. Sand can be mixed in if the compost is too hydrophilic.
  • Propagators - These vary in sophistication from the basic 8 watt system to the fully controlled 50 w delux versions. I myself chose a 20 w unit with no temperature control as it was cheap. I used a programmable timer to regulate the temperature and covered it with some insulation to keep the heat in. The instructions with the unit do say not to do this, but I don't see why not? The timer was programmed to come on for 40 minutes and then go off for 20 minutes as this kept the soil at a constant 28 degrees C quite nicely. Other options include using a digital water bed heater or a heated floor in your bathroom or an airing cupboard.
  • Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature stays within the correct range. Put the probe into the soil close to one of the actual seeds to get the best reading.
  • Seeds can be planted in January through to the end of March and the fruit will take between 80 and 180 days to ripen, depending on the seed variety. Soak the seeds over night in diluted feed solution or for 2 hours in potassium nitrate solution (0.33g per litre) to reduce germination times by up to 50%, and then plant the seeds 5 mm deep. For saved seed, see below.
  • Water thoroughly with warm water whenever the top of the compost is beginning to look dry, being very careful not to over water. Cold water may 'shock' the seedlings and delay growth. Use a pressurised spray bottle to water the chilli plants as this is much more gentle than your garden hosepipe. And apply Twmffat's 2nd law of chillie growing: 'Be generous and infrequent rather than frequent and ungenerous'.
  • Check the seed trays every few days or so for dryness and signs of germination. Once the seedlings have emerged they will need to have light so move them onto a window sill or somewhere warm and light. A glasshouse may be too cold at night time to begin with, so in the house may be better.
  • As the plants grow, they will need potting on so as not to overcrowd the roots. They can also be fed with liquid food suitable for tomatoes, especially if the leaves start to look a bit pale in colour. The maximum temperature should be 36 degrees C and the plants do enjoy high humidity. The minimum temperature is 16 degrees C so think carefully where the plants should be kept, especially with regards to night time temperatures. In cold climates it's generally going to be a glasshouse, poly tunnel or conservatory and it may even need to be heated/insulated during the night time.
  • The plants can be planted through aluminium foil so that light is reflected back off the top of the soil back onto the underside of the leaves. This can also reduce pests as they can no longer hide from the sunlight underneath leaves any more.
  • For the fruit to form, the flowers will need to be pollinated either naturally by insects or by hand using an artist's paint brush and the flowers may fall off prematurely if the plants get too cold. Use the paint brush between noon and 3 pm for best results.
  • The flowers will eventually fall off naturally and the fruit will then grow and can be harvested when they are filled out and become firm crisp and glossy. Pick one fruit to begin with and test it for heat and flavour. Remember, some of the varieties are EXTREMELY HOT! If you do want to maximise the heat of your chillies, stop watering the plants so much when the fruit has formed and if you want to maximise the flavour, keep on watering as normal.
  • Chillies are ready for harvesting when the pods come away nice and easily from the stalks. Also, upon inspection inside the pods, the seeds should be well developed ie the same size as they were when the originals were planted.
  • The harvested fruit can be stored very effectively in the freezer and most of the plants themselves can be treated as perennials, with some pruning needed in the Winter season. Dig the plants up, put them in pots and move them to somewhere warm and sunny and free from frost. Next season they will grow back stronger with an earlier and more abundant harvest.
  • If you are growing one single variety of chilli, then save some of the seeds from your chillies for growing next year's plants. F1 hybrids can not be saved, but normal open pollinated varieties work well. Gently dry the seeds just enough to stop them going mouldy and put them in a paper bag or envelope and store them in a dark cool place away from mice. If you do have more than one variety in the same location you will get cross pollination, which will produce a new plant with unknown properties. When you come to use the seeds, wash them for 30 seconds in diluted detergent to remove the waxy natural germination inhibitor, then rinse and soak in water for 2 hours before planting. Some commercially bought seed may also need washing.
  • Chilli plants may not always flower in the first year, especially the hotter varieties, but can be over wintered in a frost free conservatory or glasshouse to get a head start in the next season. The plants should be pruned back hard and watered every now and again dependant on ambient temperatures
  • If you live where there is a lot of wind (see"Wyoming" in the dictionary"!!!) staking plants is a must but also helps those plants that have large fruit and/or are heavy producers.

Step 1: Equipment

Disclosure: I have a 'material link' to Ebay.com so you buying the products above will earn me cash.

Step 2: Seeds in Order of Heat

Twmffat's 1st law of chilli growing: 'The hotter the chilli, the more temperature dependant it is and the longer it will take for the seeds to germinate and the plant to grow to harvest time'.The 'heat' of the fruit is measured in SHU or 'Scoville Heat Units'.

Carolina Reaper (Very hard to grow)

1,600,000 SHU

180 days to grow

Bhut Jolokia (Hard to grow)

1,000,000 SHU

160 days to grow

Hot Chocolate Habanero

600,000 SHU

140 days to grow

Orange Habanero

350,000 SHU

100 days to grow

Paper Lantern Habanero

350,000 SHU

90 days to grow

Red Scotch Bonnet Capsicum C.

200,000 SHU

90 days to grow

Long Slim Cayenne

80,000 SHU

80 days to grow

Ring of Fire (Easy to grow)

80,000 SHU

80 days to grow

Step 3: Summary of Temperatures

  • Ideal range for germination: 27 - 32 degrees C or 80 - 90 degrees F
  • Complete range for germination: 21 - 38 degrees C or 70 - 100 degrees F
  • Minimum growing temperature: 16 degrees C or 61 degrees F
  • Maximum growing temperature: 36 degrees C or 97 degrees F
  • Step 4: Final

    Please enjoy your hot chilli plants and if you do grow the hottest varieties, be careful, as they are incredibly strong.

    If you've got any good tips that I've missed out, please leave them in the comments section and I'll transport them over to the relevant section. Thank you.

    More Chilli related Instructables can be found here:

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    62 Comments

    I want to do outdoor chilli farming in larg scale in india between January to June. Temperature in January is 13-29°C and humidity is 46 and in june temperature is 25-44°C and humidity is 58. Please tell me is it suitable conditions for farming chilli and which variety i should go with.

    I live in Wyoming, USA at 4,000 foot + elevation. I grow about 2000 chili pepper plants, 135 varieties from more than 90 countries. I wish I had a nickle for every time someone has told me "You cannot grow chili peppers in Wyoming"! You give great advice! I have had little to no cross pollination on my open-pollinated plants and we keep bees. I don't sell plants or seeds, grow solely for the Farmers Market, stores and restaurants. http://pepperitaville.wix.com/pepperitaville

    I grow some mega hots and I also specialize in chilies from India & Asia.

    I would like to add that if you live where there is a lot of wind (see"Wyoming" in the dictionary"!!!) staking plants is a must but also helps those plants that have large fruit and/or are heavy producers.

    Thanks Mary - your tip has been added to this instructable. Have you got any photos of your outside chillies? Your website link does not seem to work. Also, what varieties do you grow outside? Thanks.

    Hey there! I just tried the link and it worked for me?

    I have no current pictures but will get some this season. I grow everything outside, all 2000 plants. I am starting all my plants currently that need the longest growing season. i will move everything to the greenhouse next month. Here, our average "last day of frost" is May 30.

    Sometimes we get lucky and it is more the middle of May but one year, we got down to 28 degrees on June 9 (Mother Nature can be a real hag!) Our season runs until September with the chance of frost occurring anytime after Sept. 1.

    I grow about 30 Indian/Nepalese/Bhutanese chilies, more than 30 Asians, 15 or so Basques, 10 Spanish, about 35 "hot", some mega hots and 15 types of paprika which we sell fresh but also smoke for powder to sell. My growing partner grows all the sweet varieties as well as 1000 heirloom tomato plants.

    I have been in business for about 10 years and the market for chilies just gets bigger and bigger. Although I am at 4,000 foot elevation, I am "high desert" so we get many days over 100f in summer. I would imagine that it is a "tougher row to hoe" where you are located. We get very little rain/snow, only averaging about 10" a year. That translates to many sunny, cloudless days.

    Chilies are petulant...they don't care too much about daytime temps but they want nights above 60 and when they don't get them, they just set there and pout!

    We Gardeners are a tenacious lot and seem to find a way to bend Mother nature to our purposes although she does not always take the bending gracefully! I think it's grand that you have been successful with chilies given your location. I think sometimes folks just give up too quickly! Mary

    Thanks - you are a real inspiration ! We also have our last frost at around 30th May but our Summers are a lot colder with lots of rain.
    I might plant out some hot cayenne peppers this year and wrap them in pallet wrap as a trial.

    I live in Wyoming, USA at 4,000 foot + elevation. I grow about 2000 chili pepper plants, 135 varieties from more than 90 countries. I wish I had a nickle for every time someone has told me "You cannot grow chili peppers in Wyoming"! You give great advice! I have had little to no cross pollination on my open-pollinated plants and we keep bees. I don't sell plants or seeds, grow solely for the Farmers Market, stores and restaurants. http://pepperitaville.wix.com/pepperitaville

    I grow some mega hots and I also specialize in chilies from India & Asia.

    I would like to add that if you live where there is a lot of wind (see"Wyoming" in the dictionary"!!!) staking plants is a must but also helps those plants that have large fruit and/or are heavy producers.

    user

    Diolch

    The f1s give weird results after the 1st seeds as they are not homozygous yet like a normally chilli plant. They will settle down to after about 7 generations and display a set mix of the 2 parent plants consistently. I find crossing chillies very fun and interesting.

    Thanks! This is right in time as mine have just sprouted. Took 1,5-3 weeks.
    Although I must say that they grown in lower temperatures as well, even my sprouting was done in the range of 18C to 23C or so.
    You also didn't mention anything about different varieties growing close together and losing their specific properties due to some kind of trickery. Any tips?

    Yes - what you are referring to as far as the trickery goes is seed saving, which is an entirely different subject. To effectively save seed the plants have to be isolated from other varieties so that pollinating insects don't mix them all up. If you want to save seed, then choose one variety that you really like and stick with it until forever.