Want to add visual and literal sizzle to your garden this year? Include peppers. These popular plants have become staples in many vegetable gardens because, even with heat levels that, in some, seem to approach thermo-nuclear, it can’t be denied that hot peppers will certainly spice up dull meals at dinnertime.
But with such a diversity of shapes, sizes and especially colours, it seems a shame to confine hot peppers to just the veggie patch. Not only are many of these peppers very ornamental, but their colourful fruits are abundant as well as persistent. This means they are ideal plants to add extra eye-appeal to just about any garden setting. In addition, the usual compact size of these annuals makes them excellent companion plants for flower borders and prime candidates for container gardens.
Unashamedly bright and vibrant, Chili Pepper Pequin 'Firecracker' is an edible and very ornamental little pepper. The compact plants grow to around 50 to 60cm (20 to 24in) high by 45cm (16in) wide, making this cultivar suitable for growing in containers, in the glasshouse, conservatory or on a sunny windowsill. It produces beautiful clusters of small brightly coloured conical shaped fruits that grow to around 15mm (¾in) wide and 30mm (1¼in) long. The fruits start off creamy white, they ripen through purple, to orange and mature to a stunning deep red with all the colours competing for attention on the same plant. Harvesting will stimulate new growth. 90 days to maturity.
Firecracker peppers delight the palate as well as the eye. It is a reasonably hot pepper, with a Scoville rating of 30,000 to 40,000. They are most often used whole, simmered in soups or stews, briefly sautéed in stir-fries, or soaked in a marinade and then removed. They pack some chilli kick but the amazing fruity flavour is never overpowered by the heat.
The peppers can be used fresh or, when they ripen to red, they can be picked, dried and stored in glass jars for future use. They are lovely when made into miniature herb wreaths and kitchen swags, or threaded and hung in miniature garlands.
Remember that if hot peppers are to be interplanted with standard ornamentals, and you are also going to use them in the kitchen, be sure not to spray the fruits with any pesticides that haven’t been approved for use with vegetables.
Storage of Seeds:
Store seeds away from children, sealed in their packaging in a cool, dry, dark place, or in a fridge. Never store them in a freezer as the sudden temperature drop is likely to kill them. Don't leave the seeds in direct sunlight as the heat generated may kill them.
Sowing: Sow from mid February to mid July
Fill small cells or trays with a good sterile seed compost and sow the seeds on the surface. Just cover with a fine sprinkling (3mm) of soil or vermiculite. Keep the compost moist, don't let the top of the compost dry out (a common cause of germination failure) If you wish, spray the surface with a dilute copper-based fungicide.
Cover the pot or tray with plastic film or place in a heated propagator, south facing window or a warm greenhouse. The ideal temperature is around 18 to 20°C (65 to 72°F)
When the seedlings have produced their first pair of true leaves they can be potted on into individual 7-10cm (3-4in) pots. Use good quality potting compost and mix in some organic slow release fertiliser. Pot the chilli on again before it becomes root-bound.
Water the seedlings regularly, but don't let them become waterlogged as this encourages rot. Don't let them dry out as they rarely recover at this stage. Water the soil, not the foliage. Once the plants have established, it is better to water heavy and infrequently, allow the top inch or so to dry out in between watering.
Seedlings should be grown in good light, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight from late spring to early autumn. Weaker sunlight from autumn to spring is unlikely to do them harm. Once seedlings have put on some growth they need lots of light. Growing them under a grow-light produces excellent stocky plants, as will a warm sunny windowsill. Adult chilli plants need lots of light. However, more than 4 hours or so in hot direct sunlight will dry them out quickly.
Acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 2 to 3 weeks before they are moved permanently outside. Plant them into rich moist soil. Flower do not form and fruit will not set if the temperature is much below 17°C (62°F) for most of the day, so wait until June/July for best results with outdoor planting.
After the first flowers appear, feed every one or two weeks with a half-strength liquid tomato feed. You could also add some Seaweed extract to the water once a week.
Pollinating Flowers: (optional)
Chilli plants are self fertile and will generally pollinate themselves. However, if you want to give them a helping hand to ensure that lots of fruit are set indoors, use a cotton wool bud to gently sweep the inside of the flowers, spreading the pollen as you go. The flower's petals will drop off as the green middle part of the flower starts to swell slightly. This is the chilli pepper beginning to grow.
Chillies will take a few weeks to develop and a further couple weeks to turn from green to red. You may pick them off the plant any time after they are fully developed but the longer you leave them on the hotter they will become. Do not leave them on for too long, as delaying after the chili is ready for harvest will result in a decline of further yields.
After picking, if you aren't going to eat them fresh, dry the peppers by putting them into a mesh bag, hang the bag up in a dry, airy, but not sunny spot. When they are completely dry, you can make paprika by grinding the peppers. Don't grind the stalks. You can regulate the spiciness of the result by including more or less of the seeds and veins.
Be careful handling chilli seeds as they can cause a painful burning sensation: wash your hands thoroughly .
DO NOT rub your eyes after handling chilli seeds!!!
Chilli terminology is confusing; pepper, chili, chile, chilli, Aji, paprika and Capsicum are used interchangeably for chilli pepper plants in the genus Capsicum.
The word Capsicum comes from the Greek kapto, meaning 'to bite' (a reference to pungency or heat). In Mexico a Capsicum is called a Chile pepper, while Chile enthusiasts around the World often use the spelling Chile or Chili.
Many people are unaware of the fact that pepper plants are perennials. We typically plant the seeds, reap the benefits of our labour and then let the plants die off when the cold weather hits. However, with a little effort, you can over-winter your pepper plants and have a more fruitful harvest the following year. Over-wintering your plants will bring you a number of benefits. While everyone else is planting seeds in the spring, your plants will have a head start with well-established root systems and stems. The harvest will come much sooner and last much longer, producing much more that a first year plant would.
At the end of the growing season, when the temperature begins to drop, pepper plants will become dormant. They are finished producing flowers and pods for the year and require much less sunlight and water. This is the time to begin the over-wintering process.
The first step for over-wintering your pepper plants is to cut them back drastically, leaving only a short stem. This may seem a bit harsh, but it will make your plant concentrate its energy on re-growth, rather than trying to sustain older, un-productive vegetation. Re-potting your plants in a smaller container will also help your plant reserve its energy for hibernation.
The most important step is to place your plants in a warm area that will give them the best chance of surviving the winter. Most of us don’t have a greenhouse, so a sunny windowsill will work well. If the temperature inside is comfortable to you, chances are your plants will enjoy it as well. Continue to water your plant, but do so much less often. The soil should be moist, but not damp as this will promote the growth of mould.
If you are successful in over-wintering your pepper plants, you can be sure to have an incredibly fruitful harvest the following year. While everyone else is still watering seedlings, you will be enjoying fresh, delicious peppers.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Common Name Hot: 30,000 to 40,000 SHU. Other Common Names Peppers, Capsicum, Chilli, Chile or Chilli, Ornamental Pepper Family Solanaceae Genus Capsicum Species annuum Cultivar Pequin Firecracker Synonym Christmas Pepper Hardiness Tender Perennial often used as an Annual Fruit Upright, conical peppers, purple, red and amber Height 50 to 60cm (20 to 24in) Spread 45cm (16in) Soil Rich moist soil. Time to Sow Sow from mid February to mid June Harvest Pick them off the plant any time after they are fully developed Time to Harvest 75 days to harvest