This page will be dedicated to Frequently Asked Questions you may have :)
1) When do I grow my chillies?
Growing your chillies is broken up into two processes. First process is the Germination process. This process involves getting the seeds to sprout - "Germinate". This should be done early spring. Preferrably a good couple of weeks before the first warm days of spring. In Gauteng, this would probably be around middle to late July. The growing process takes place indoors until first week of October (weather permitting) when young plants are aclimatised to the sun outdoors.
2) How do I germinate my chilli seeds?
There are several ways to do this. The starting point to any undertaking these days should be the internet. The internet has a wealth of information that will assist you with this process. There is no hard or fast rule as to how to do this. I will explain the way we germinate our chilli seeds, but you are welcome to use your own. The method we use is the paper towel method. Take kitchen paper towelling. This comes on a roll and it is important to use this, as it absorbs water well and does not turn to mush when wet. Fold this up twice. Sprinkle your seeds onto the flat paper towel. Fold paper towel up again so seeds are now in a little package. Run this paper towel under a tap to wet completely. Your seeds should now be enclosed in wet paper towel. For germination to take place, you need water and warmth (sunlight is not required at this stage). Take the wet paper towel package and insert into a ziplock bag or a plastic bag that can be sealed - so the water in the paper towelling does not evaporate. Take your plastic ziplock or bag with the paper towel bundle in it and place it in a suitable plastic container with lid (tupperware). Place this in a warm place. Remember that some of the chillies come from parts of the world where temperatures are fairly high and constant. For optimal germination, seeds prefer a constant temperature between 25 - 320C. Should you not be able to provide this, germination may take longer. But temperatures should not be much lower than this as seeds may not be triggered into germination if temperatures are too cold. Remember seeds are a living thing and the process of germination is a biological process dictated by mother nature. If conditions are not right and the seeds feels conditions are not right, your seed will not germinate.
For an illustrated step-by-step guide please check HERE.
3) How do I know when germination has taken place?
Germination in optimal temperature ranges can take 10 - 14 days. Some seeds are notoriously long to germinate. "Tepin" seeds for instance can take over a month sometimes. This having been said, you should check on your seeds after about 10 days and then on a regular basis to see if the seeds have in fact germinated. Once the seeds have sprouted and have a little tail, you know that germination has been successful.
4) Once my seeds have germinated, what then?
Once your seeds have germinated they are now ready for the soil. You probably want to use a smallish pot. I recommend using "Seedling Mix" - available from most large Garden Nurseries. The reason I say use "Seedling Mix" is that normal potting soil has lots of large debris, which the seedling has to get through to come through the soil. Seedling Mix is very fine potting soil that allows the seedling to come to the surface faster. To plant your germinated seedling, take a pencil and poke a hole into the soil in the middle of the pot. This hole should be about 1.5 - 2cm deep. Make the hole too deep and it will take longer for the seedling to come through the soil. Make the hole too shallow and the seedling will have problems loosing its husk (seed casing). Drop the germinated seed into the hole you have made and cover with seedling mix. Do not compress the soil. Just make sure the seed and hole are filled nicely.
5) What should I do with my planted seeds?
Again, warmth is key to success in growing chillies. Remember chillies are accustomed to growing in warmer climates. Generally, chillies exposed to temperatures below 150C for lengthy periods of time will go into hibernation - shut down for winter. So it is important that your planted seedlings be kept in a warm and sunny spot in your house. If you can not provide natural light at this stage, artificial lighting can assist. But for seedlings to grow through the soil and onward, they now require watering, warmth and light. In a few days time, you should see a "Hook" come out of the soil. This is the young seedling breaking through the surface of the soil. Watering is quite important at this stage. Over watering will result in the seedling rotting in the soil. So ensure when you water, that you do not overwater. It takes a little bit of sensitivity to get this right. The soil should be moist, but not water logged.
6) All going well, when do I take my plants outdoors?
Even in early spring, our African sun can be incredibly harsh and intense. Day time temperatures may be in the low 20's, but the sun is very harsh and exposing young seedlings to this, will result in the seedlings being cooked/fried in the sun. Early October, your seedlings should be a good couple of centimetres in height. 10-15cm is great. Your plant should have about 8-10 leaves now. You will need to check the weather forecast. Some times we still get cold snaps early October. Once night time temperatures have gone above 100C is a good indication that plants can go out and be left outdoors. When you first take your plants outdoors, do it gradually. Possibly in a spot where sunlight is dappled at first. Slowly over a week or so you can increase this exposure to the sun. This process is known as "Acclimatisation".
7) What about pots and sizes?
A plant is a growing thing and just like humans require larger clothes, will require larger pots. A clear indication that the roots of your plant have outgrown its pot is that the roots are coming out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Failing this, carefully tipping the pot upside down to let the plant and soil slip into your other hand will show if the plant has become root bound. In which case you will want to plant on your plant in a bigger pot. This will require finesse and a little bit of a gentle hand. But replanting of young seedlings is normal and should be done if you continue to grow your plants in pots.
8) I want to grow my plants in the garden soil?
Your plant should be a good size before taking them outside. And before the plant is exposed to direct sunlight, should have been acclimatised to our African sun. Once your plant is about 10-15cm and has about 8-10 leaves, it can be planted in the soil in your garden. A spot that gets good sunlight throughout the day is best. Chillies love the sun - the more the better! When planting your chillies in the soil, create a mound that raises the plant higher than the soil level. This is a good practise as it will let heavy rains run off the roots and allow residual water to collect in the mound. Flat soil may expose the roots of the chilli to pooling/puddles which chillies do not like!
9) What about fertilisers?
I do not believe in fertilising young seedlings in pots at all. Once plants are well established in large end phase pots or in your garden and there are signs that the plant has slowed in growth or is showing signs of certain deficiencies, fertilising may be required. Personally, for well being of plants and to create and instigate growth, sprinkling seaweed pellets around the base of the plant is in my mind the best thing. Seaweed extracts are great for chillies and pretty harmless, but will ignite your plants's growth incredibly. For other chemical deficiencies, it would be best to consult your nursery for advice. This may require you to describe your plants symptoms. But, we will not delve into this aspect of growing as this is very involved. Please follow instructions on fertiliser packets when administering these to your plants.
10) When will I be able to harvest my chillies?
If plants were planted early spring, harvesting can vary, but generally is from February till May (warm whether permitting longer). Podding is subject to growing conditions that you have provided. Some chillies will continue to produce pods well into winter. But this is not guaranteed. Generally when temperatures drop below 100C at night, plants will be triggered into hibernation.
11) Will my plant grow year on year?
Chilli plants as a general rule do not die in hotter climates. In cooler climates (such as ours - South Africa) where there are colder temperatures certain times of the year (autumn & winter) and temperatures drop below 100C at night - the chilli will go into hibernation and ultimately die. Exposure to frost will kill most chilli plants.
12) What can I do to let my plants survive through winter?
Generally speaking, with winter comes frost (in most regions around South Africa). Frost will kill most chilli plants. If your plant is in a pot, bring it indoors when night time temperatures drop below 100C at night. Find a good warm sunny spot in your house for your plant. If your plant is in the soil: Some chilli plants do have a chance of making it through winter (in South Africa). If they are situated in a spot where they are sheltered from frost and will get lots of sun early morning and throughout the day - there is a chance. But as I say, most plants will not survive winter temperatures. If you would like to improve these chances, a frost blanket available at most large nurseries may help better the odds. But by far the best option is to overwinter the plant(s) indoors. This will require extracting the plant from the garden soil and potting it to bring indoors as mentioned above.
13) Will seeds harvested from my plants be viable? Have they been engineered not to grow?
Our seeds are open pollinated down to earth natural seeds. None of our seeds have seen a laboratory and have not been genetically modified. So yes, when you harvest seeds from plants grown from our seeds, you can grow from these again :)
14) Do chillies with the word Chocolate in the title mean they have a chocolate flavour?
No. We get our chilli names from the growers that we get our seeds from. Chocolate is usually a reference to the colour. In fact very often brown chillies are referred to as Brown or Chocolate. But these have nothing to do with the falvour. Although colours can trick the brain into implying certain flavours.
15) What about black chillies, are they really black and do they remain black?
Again, we get our names from our seed vendors. Black can in certain instances refer to a very dark brown or even a dark purplish colour. Some chillies are so dark they may appear black. But this is not always the rule and should not be taken literally. Also, most chillies will turn red when they fully ripen. So dark or "black" chillies usually turn red in their final ripening stages.