How to grow chillies from seed
Chillies have a reputation of being difficult to grow from seed.
They need heat to germinate, and the hotter the chilli, the longer they take. Pre-germinating the seeds is a simple method that improves the germination rate.
- First, check that you have fresh seed. Chilli seeds don’t have a long shelf life.
- Dampen two paper towels and scatter the seeds on the one towel and place the second one on top, pressing it lightly down. Place the towels in a large zip-lock plastic bag or container, and seal.
- Store the seed in its plastic container in a warm place for 2 – 5 days. The seeds need consistent warmth (35 – 30°C), which could be on a heating pad, or a hot tray turned very low so that it doesn’t melt the plastic container. A sunny windowsill may also work, as could outdoors in a warm and sunny spot.
- Check the seeds after two days to see if they are swelling or sprouting.
- Get ready for planting out the sprouted seeds by filling a seed tray, or small pots, with germinating mix, or make your own by combining 1/3 coarse river sand, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 sifted compost. Water well so that the mix is damp.
- Seeds that have started sprouting on the damp paper towel produce a tiny shoot. They can be very carefully removed and planted. The tiny shoot is fragile and can snap off easily. Those that haven’t pre-germinated can stay in the zip lock bag a bit longer.
- When planting, it is important to get the depth right. A good tip from the Chillihead website (www. chillihead.co.za) is to plant the pre-germinated seedlings 1 – 1.5cm deep. The way they do this is to use a sharpened pencil and wrap a piece of masking tape around the pencil, 1 – 1.5cm from the tip of the pencil. To make the hole, push the pencil into the soil up to the masking tape.
- Carefully drop the sprouted seed into the hole made by the pencil, with the shoot pointing down into the hole. Gently fill the hole and lightly firm down the soil.
- If you are planting a variety of chillies, make sure to label them.
- Water the pot or seedling tray by swishing the water from the watering can or hose over the tray. Start watering away from the tray and also finish away from the tray, so that the large drops of water at the beginning or end of watering don’t displace the potting mix.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and also don’t let it dry out.
- Keep the pots or seedling trays in a sunny area, either outdoors or on windowsills indoors. Then watch your chillies grow!