Even though it’s cold outside, January and February are the perfect months to turn up the heat and start sowing some fiery chilli peppers! When growing chillies in the UK, early sowing is the secret to give your chilli peppers plenty of time to ripen before the end of summer - although they can still be sown right up until the end of April for a successful crop. Read our article on growing chillies for some chilli growing tips that will make you really feel the heat this summer.
Chilli heat is traditionally measured by the Scoville Scale. The hottest recorded chilli, Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, notched up an impressive at 1,463,700 Scoville heat units to break the world record for the hottest chilli in March 2011!
Chillies contain a chemical called capsaicin that stimulates the nerve endings in the mucous membranes, making them taste hot. Of course, some are hotter than others! The choice has never been greater with breeding taking on a distinctly competitive edge to see who can breed the hottest chilli. Although heat can also be affected by the maturity of the pepper, as well as environmental factors such as the climate in which they are grown. Whether you like them sizzling or just a little warm, we have a chilli pepper to suit every taste. If you want to grow your own chillies then take a look at our chilli selector table to find one that suits you.
|Heat rating||Chilli seed varieties|
|Atomic!||Chilli Pepper 'Naga Jolokia'|
|Scorching||Chilli Pepper 'Prairie Fire'|
|Scorching||Chilli Pepper 'Tropical Heat' (contains Scotch Bonnet)|
|Very Hot||Chilli Pepper 'Demon Red'|
|Very Hot||Chilli Pepper 'Pinochio's Nose'|
|Very Hot||Chilli Pepper 'Tabasco'|
|Hot||Chilli Pepper 'Heatwave'|
|Hot||Chilli Pepper 'Inferno'|
|Hot||Chilli Pepper 'Summer Heat' (Jalapeno)|
|Warm||Chilli Pepper 'Meek and Mild' (Poblana)|
For the best and hottest chillies, start sowing indoors as early as January - the hottest varieties often need the longest growing period. Chillies need plenty of warmth to germinate so invest in a heated propagator for the windowsill or use a warm airing cupboard and cover with a plastic bag. Sow Chilli pepper seeds on the surface of a moist, free-draining, seed compost and cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place seed trays in a propagator at a temperature of 18-25C (64-77F) until germination, which usually takes 7-10 days. Once germinated, chillies can be moved to a warm, sunny windowsill or a heated greenhouse. Keep the compost evenly moist but take care not to let it get soaking wet.
When chilli seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual 7.5cm (3") pots of compost and grow them on until all risk of frost has passed and they are large enough to be transplanted in their final positions. From an early sowing this will normally be from May onwards in most parts of the UK. You can grow chillies in pots undercover in a warm greenhouse, conservatory, or polytunnel. Alternatively grow chillies in a sheltered, sunny position outdoors.
Transplant them into grow bags (3 per growbag) or individually into 2 litre containers. When growing your own chilli plants outdoors, gradually acclimatise them to outdoor conditions over a period of 7 to 10 days. Once acclimatised, transplant them into well prepared beds of fertile, moist, well drained soil. Space chilli pepper plants at a distance of 50cm (20") apart. If you are short of space, try growing chillies indoors on a sunny windowsill.
Water chilli pepper plants regularly throughout the growing season and feed weekly with a high potash tomato fertiliser once the first fruits have set. Pinch out the growing tip of the first flowering shoots promote more branching and therefore increase your harvest. When growing chilli plants it’s best to keep them a little on the dry side as stressing them very slightly helps to produce hotter peppers. Taller varieties of chilli peppers may require staking. You can provide a thick mulch of organic matter around the base of the plants to help conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. When growing chillies indoors, don’t forget to open windows and doors to provide insects with access to the flowers to ensure good pollination. Alternatively you can hand pollinate chillies - simply move from flower to flower tickling the centre of each one with a fine paint brush.
Chillies require warmth and long sunny days to ripen properly. From an early sowing, this should not be a problem, but later sowings in the UK may leave your peppers feeling the chill as summer days begin to shorten. If your crop has yet to ripen, bring your plants indoors and let them ripen on a warm sunny windowsill. Harvest chillies singly by cutting them from the plant with secateurs. Chilli peppers grown outdoors must be harvested before the first frosts.
If your chilli crop is particularly successful you may want to store some for later. Chillies can easily be dried or frozen. Drying Chilli peppers - Simply use a needle to thread the stem of each chilli pepper together to that they form a string of peppers then hang them in a warm, well ventilated spot and let the air dry them out. This process can take 4 or 5 weeks. Freezing Chilli peppers - Chillies can be frozen in freezer bags straight from the plant without any further preparation. Although the flavour of hot chilli peppers will be retained, the flesh will be slightly soft when defrosted so frozen chillies are best used in cooked dishes.