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Growing Hot Peppers

How to grow peppers is easy if you just know a few things. They are called either peppers, capsicums or chillies depending on where you live or if they are sweet of hot but they are all they same thing.
They grow to 20140327_133823a small shrub with deep green leaves – they really are a pretty attractive plant and are perfect for growing in a containers as an ornamental bush. They will grow well in with the other plants in your garden. The plants get lovely little flowers before they turn into gorgeous, shiny perfectly formed fruit.

Did You Know?

20150109_183631All peppers start off green then change color as they become ripe. As they redden the sugars develop.  So the red ones are sweeter than the green. The more mature the fruit the more developed the flavour. 

Where Should I Plant them?

Peppers or capsicums love heat so plant them in the warmest sunniest part of the garden. In warm temperate zones you can grow them all year round. They like to have warm feet – you should leave a about 18 inches around them so that the sun can get onto the soil and warm up the roots. Space around them also allows the air to flow which will help with fungus diseases if it humid. They don’t like frost or cold so try to pick somewhere that is quite sheltered. In cooler but frost free areas they will die off and come again in spring but you will probably get the best results if you treat them as an annual. If you want to have them in a pot choose one that is about 15 inches (40 cm)  in diameter – chillies especially can make a pretty attractive plant. Make sure you keep them well watered as pots can dry out quickly.

They have a greater demand for heat than tomatoes so if you can’t grow tomatoes at your place because it’s too cold you won’t be able to grow peppers either.

The seeds need the soil to be warm – about 80° (26° C) to germinate so if you want to speed up the process or get an early start use a propagator

What about the soil

Peppers need well drained soil – not heavy soil they don’t like wet feet. But be careful not to let the seedlings dry out. I usually just buy a few plants from the garden supply shop that way I can have a few different types rather than a lot of the same.

How Many Plants Should I Grow?

4-6 plants are probably enough for a family of four they take about 3 months for the fruit to be ready to start picking. They have fairly deep root system but are adaptable to most soil types. Don’t give them nitrogen based fertilizer until after the flowers have appeared or you will get heaps of green growth and no flowers. If your garden is windy you may need to stake them but generally they don’t need support. 

All my flowers fell off  – what happened?

Did you have a really hot spell –  over about 100° (38° C) can sometimes cause the flowers to drop. It’s never happened to me – I have found them much hardier than most books seem to tell me they are seriously I just chuck in a few plants add water the same as everything else and after what seems like an eternity I get fruit. 

When Should I pick them?

Like lots of vegetables and flowers picking encourages more fruit to grow – perfect.

You can pick them at any stage of ripeness depending on your taste. The longer you leave them on the bush the sweeter they will become. Always cut them off rather than pull them I’ve found the plants to be quite brittle –  you can easily break off a whole branch if you pull them. 


Bell Peppers

These are the boring squarish green things you see at the supermarket. They are just unripe if they left them on the bush they would turn red. You can get bell peppers that will turn a light cream whitish color, red, purple, orange yellow and even black.


Is an Italian variety that is long and slender are apparently pretty good for frying.

Alma paprika

This is the variety that they grind down to make paprika – no surprise there.


Did you know that they have their own heat scale? The Scoville scale is a measure of the ‘hotness’ of a chilli pepper or anything derived from chilli peppers. There are whole websites dedicated to them you can see one here

Jalapeno – long 3 inch fruit pick when red when dried they are called chipotle heat rating 5.5 out of ten

Habanero – named Havana and Cuba it’s 30 times hotter than a Jalapeno

Cayenne 4 inch long fruit often used dried and powdered – cayenne pepper  it’s about and 8 out of ten for heat.

Sante Fe Grande- pale yellow 2 inches long about 6 out of 10 for heat.

My Single Biggest Dilemma

This year I had a bumper chilli crop. They are the most gorgeous looking things so red shiny and perfect. But what to do with them. I literally have hundreds and hundreds of chillies  all ripe at the same time. How many chillies can one family of two people use? Answer – not many! They aren’t like fruit where you can put them in pies, eat them raw or make masses of delicious desserts. Or like tomatoes that seem to have a thousand uses. As much as we like chilies there is a limit to how many you can use.

Chilli Chili or Chile – How do you spell it?

I’m Confused

The Oxford English Dictionary refers to the word chilli as the primary spelling. This was the original translation of the Aztec word for the plant. The variant Chile is used mainly in Mexico and chilli is used extensively in the United States, especially in California and Texas. My spell checker likes Chilli so I’ll use that so I don’t get the spell checker telling me I’m wrong all the time.  So please excuse me if I spell it differently to what you are used to we are all right!

My Chilli Experience – Just a bit of History

Last year I had lots of chillies but they had no heat at all. They looked good but that was pretty well all they did. Turns out the heat in a chilli is affected not only by the type of chilli you grow but also by how hot it is and how much water they get while they are growing. As we generally have pretty wet humid summers.  I was pretty well resigned to never growing really hot chillies unless I grew them in a pot. I bought a couple to use in a recipe from the supermarket that turned out to be pretty hot so I just chucked the seeds in the veggie garden and didn’t do much else to them and up they came. About six plants grew I just left them to their own devices I didn’t water them much at all and we had a summer so dry we had water restrictions. Yep you guessed it a bumper crop of red hot chillies. I can’t stand to waste food that I grow so I needed to find something to do with them. I tried a few different things which I thought other chilli growers might be interested in.

Just Cut them in half and dry them on a tray – Sure!20140402_105845

Option 1- Dry Them In the Oven

I read all the advice and tried to dry them in the oven. My plan was to dry them then chop them up and put them in jars to use throughout the year just like chilli flakes. Or, if they turned out really well I might be able to give jars of them away as gifts. So I cut them in half lay and them out on some trays and placed them in a really low oven until they were dry. This takes ages at least eight hours.
So what was the result of this little fiasco – a house full of toxic chilli fumes. I imagine a bit like the capsicum spray that the police use. After trying to finish them off outside in the sun and having them pecked by the birds until they where strewn about the yard I threw them away.

Option 2 – Hang Them Out To Dry

Hang Them Out to dry
Hang Them Out to dry
The next plan was to tie them up and let them hang to dry. I thought this way at least the birds wouldn’t get them I was half expecting them to go mouldy due to the humidity but thought it was worth a try. So I got some fishing line and a big wool needle and tied them together and hung them on the fence. “That won’t work my” husband said they’ll get wet if it rains and then they are sure to get some exotic fungus on them, so I hung them in the garage. Everything went OK for the first couple of weeks they started to shrivel and dry out just as they are supposed to. Then I noticed that some bug or other had started to eat them – brave bug – those little suckers are hot! We never found the bugs maybe they went somewhere else to burst into flames! End result I threw them away.

Option 3 – Cook Them

I already had a couple of bottles of sweet chili sauce so I decided I’d try some chili jam.
Chilli Jam Ingredients

This seemed like a reasonable option cook them and bottle it up again, if it turned out OK I could use it throughout the year and give some away. I decided to make a test batch first – lucky it was almost another fail. Well not really a fail it’s OK but how much of this stuff do you need. My test batch made a few good jars full. It’s good with cheese but I haven’t really found much else to do with it and unless you make masses of it you don’t use that many chilies. The photo on the right shows the ingredients it only used about ten chilies.

I made some chili oil as well I just chopped them up and gently heated them in some good quality olive oil. I gave a few bottles of this to my friends and have kept a few for myself but haven’t used any because I have fresh chilies to use. You can also make some decorative bottles that make a nice addition to a kitchen bench – might try that next year.

Option 4 – Use Them In our Cooking – I’ve Really Tried

This is an obvious option make things that use them up. But still we only use one or two in each meal. I made chilli con carne – batch after batch and froze it for use throughout winter, I added them to pumpkin soup, casseroles I added them to nearly everything I made but after a while enough is enough. The very best thing I’ve made by far was garlic chilli prawns – these are fantastic.

Option 5 – Freeze Them

Lots of people said to me just stick them in the freezer but I had tried that in the past and you get slippery yucky chillies when they thaw and the are awful to chop like that. Others said to chop them and put them in ice cube trays then you can just put the ice cube 20140617_112402straight in the food like that. I didn’t have any ice cube trays though. So I had a brain wave. I just took the green tops off them and put them in a mini food processor. I did about 100 this way in about ten minutes. Then a just sliced up some aluminium foil into four inch pieces and put a teaspoon full in the centre of each piece and folded up to seal it and put them all in the freezer. Now when I need a chilli they are all chopped ready to go. WARNING THOUGH If you do this be careful when you open the food processor the fumes were a bit overwhelming when the lid came off.

Option 6 – The Real Winner

Give them away! Seriously I had so many chillies any small effort I make to eat them and use them hardly makes a dent. I tried giving them to friends an neighbours but they only want a few at a time. I gave about fifty to the guy who was working on our neighbour’s roof. Then I decided to get serious – I gave about 300 to the green grocer who was more than happy to take them. Chillies are about $20.00 a kilo here.

It’s not over yet!

If you read the rest of the info about growing them above you’ll know that the more I pick the more they grow although they have slowed down due to it getting cooler now and I pulled out a couple of plants that started to look a bit sad but these guys are perennial they will live through winter then I assume we’ll be doing the same things again next year. Can’t wait!

What To Do With Your Chillis? Any Suggestions are Appreciated


  1. NetchNetch

    Wish your site had a good chili hot sauce recipe, I have an endless amount of chillis which seen to grow all winter.

    • I’ll add a hot chilli sauce recipe for you. I’ve made it few times but I have so many chillies I decided freezing was the best way. Then I didn’t grow them for a year to use up my supplies.

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