The jasmine on my verandah has just started flowering which means that as far as the plants are concerned, spring is here. One of the joys of the warmer months is being able to grow the sun-loving frost-tender fruiting veg like tomato, eggplant and capsicum. Taste of summer!
Capsicum and chilli are the same family and the same growing advice applies to both. They grow well here. I turned to the chilli guru of Bellingen Seed Savers, Jeff, for advice as well as gathering snippets from a few participants of our first Bello food growing podcast.
In cooler climates these are an annual (one year) plant, but in this area they are a ‘short lived perennial’. That just means that they live for more than one year but not decades like trees. Expect 3-7 years, with their best production for 2-3 years. They will need pruning to last and keep producing well. Otherwise the branches get longer and thinner and the leaves and fruit get smaller and smaller.
Varieties known to do well here (and please add to this list in the comments if you have grown something great)
Bundagen Red, Mario Red, Aji Amarillo, Cayenne (or Long Red varieties), Jalapeno, Thai Birdseye, Fiesta, and Red Habanero.
Bullhorn, Marconi Red
Type – Choose varieties to suit your taste and heat tolerance. Don’t be tempted to grow only the hottest types. Yes, capsicums can be hot too (banana capsicum, I’m looking at you, ouch). Varieties with low to moderate heat (capsaicin content) typically taste better. Note that the amount of sun the plant receives will affect the amount of heat, as well as the variety. So a super hot variety grown in full sun will produce hotter fruit than the same variety grown in part shade.
Position – Warm and sheltered; avoid windy positions. Sunny to semi-shade; chilli plants love heat but not absolute full sun. Grow them under shade cloth or in part shade, maybe sheltered by a taller plant. They don’t tolerate much frost, so if you’re planning to keep them for a few years, don’t plant them where frost lands.
Growing media – Chillies tolerate a wide range of soil types but are more productive in slightly acidic (that’s standard around here), well-drained fertile soil. They can be successfully grown in large pots or soil in the garden. Like all fruiting plants they will produce better with treats of compost, and potash or fertiliser with high potassium (K) content, such as tomato fertiliser.
Watering – Don’t let their soil dry out. Keep an eye on them to keep this moist in hot weather.
Support – Larger plants will benefit from staking or tying to a support structure.
Pollination – This family is self-pollinating so you only need one plant to grow fruit. They can be cross-pollinated by insects. This is only an issue if you have a few varieties, want to save seed and want the next generation to be predictable. Refer to the Seed Savers Handbook for guidance. If you are interested in saving seed, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s Australian too!
Harvesting – Pick at any stage of fruit development that you please, from green to fully coloured & ripe. But pick regularly rather than all at once to encourage the plant to keep fruiting for longer over that growing season.
Overwintering – A potted plant can be moved to a warmer location. Chillies become dormant in winter. This is the time to prune back to main branches, retaining only the larger buds that may be emerging. Apply minimal water over winter.
Diseases – Can be prone to fruit fly which introduce fungal diseases with their nibbling that will rot the individual fruit and spread to your entire crop. Remove damaged fruit and heat treat (burn or cook).
Collar rot can be a problem for the main stem. It’s good practice for all plants to keep mulch from touching the stem. Dig a little hole in the mulch for the plant to poke out of.