The trick to success with chilli sowing is to keep it simple. I’ve tried all sorts of sowing methods, from expanding coir pellets and thermostatic controlled propagators to expensive home hydroponic systems – but what method has given me quick high-yielding results this season?
Answer: Good quality compost and a no-frills plug-in heated propagator. Actually, make that two propagators – I am growing more varieties this year than ever before!
When it comes to seed compost for chillies I prefer a multipurpose mix compost and to make it suitable for seed sowing I spend a lot of time breaking up the lumps and bumps before running it through a garden sieve to create fine textured sowing compost.
Where suitable I now carry out all my seed sowing in Haxnicks root trainers. They allow for optimal root development and no disturbance when potting on – the hinged strips simply open like a book for easy transplanting. When filling sowing containers, I loosely fill to the brim with compost, and then drop the container several times on the work surface to firm down and level. A heavy watering further settles the compost and prepares it for sowing. This is the only water I provide until germination.
I set two seeds per cell as an insurance policy, though the second is rarely needed, and cover the seeds with a little more compost – no more than 0.5cm deep. The compost below pulls the covering compost down as moisture is transferred, helping to bed the seeds in.
Set in a bright spot in a heated propagator, germination usually occurs within 7-14 days, though several varieties popped up on day 6 for me this year.
I’m now faced with two trays of healthy seedlings – 14 chilli varieties and two sweet peppers. The immediate job is to thin out the weakest of the two seedlings in each cell – these could be potted on but I’ve not got the space for them all. The trays will stay on a south facing windowsill until roots poke through the pots, then it’s time to pot them on.
One slow starter
I was surprised at how quickly the majority of my seedlings emerged, but three weeks after sowing I’m still waiting on one variety. Naga Jolokia, the hottest on my list with a 1,000 000+ Scoville heat rating, is still to germinate. I’m not too concerned – this was the last variety to sprout for me last year too. And if I’m honest I won’t be too sad if it doesn’t germinate at all this season – I added a Naga Jolokia chilli to a mild curry last year and ended up crying into my dinner as the chilli hiccups kicked in – it’s the first time a chilli has defeated me!
Surprised by seeds
It’s not so noticeable when you only a sow a few types each year, but there is a surprising amount of variation in seed shape and size depending on variety. Sowing 16 varieties has really brought this home from me. From the tiny fleck-like seeds of ‘Demon ‘Red’ to the large flat discs of the sweet peppers I’ve sown I’ve found it interesting to note the differences. Some are flat, some are crinkled, some are near white, others are cream, yellow, tan and even black. Tapping the seeds of one variety into my hand, my young daughter commented how they looked like dried pixie ears. Oddly I couldn’t think of a better description!
Are you trying chillies this year?
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s quality control manager, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.