Timing is everything. It is important that you start your seeds off in good time, to allow the plants and fruits to mature in time and prior to frosts. January to March is normal in the UK. Ensure you will have enough room for your small plants, before being able to put them outside.
Sow your seeds, just a few millimetres down from the surface. Too deep and they will struggle to emerge. You should start to see signs of life within 7-10 days. Some varieties can take 2 weeks or more. Alternatively, you could try sowing seeds on a damp paper towel, within a Tupperware/plastic container. Check them regularly and move any that show signs of life to your chosen medium.
Maximise Natural light or use additional lighting to bring your plants on early. Especially if you are growing pubescens or the super hot chinense varieties. Light is not needed until seeds break the surface of the soil. Lights should be about 10cm away to start with. They can be moved closer over time. Most baccatum or annuum varieties can be started later, around February or March in the UK.
Select your grow medium. We use Root Riot cubes, they are easy and less mess. Options include soils, Coco, Peat, Rockwool or other hydroponic mediums. Ensure that the medium is not compacted, so air can reach the roots. If you are using soil, consider adding Perlite or similar and don't tamp the surface too hard.
Ensure the soil or other medium is damp and not soaking wet. Too wet and the seeds will rot, before germinating, attracting pests. Keep the soil moist throughout germination. Never let it completely dry out. Consider using plant matting under the trays and keep that damp.
Label all your sowings. It's all too easy to get things confused. It's a long time to wait to identify your plants properly and can be a guessing game.
Keep the germinating seed somewhere warm. If you can, keep them at around 26-30 degrees C. Seeds will germinate at lower temperatures, but will take longer. Cheap propagators are widely available.
Keep the humidity high, while seeds germinate. Keep a lid, cloche or dome over the seeds to keep the humidity in. Once the seeds break the surface, or ‘loop’, as it’s known, reduce the humidity, by opening any vents in the lid, or removing it.
Don’t be tempted to feed your tiny seedlings at this stage. Compost will often contain nutrients and should last several weeks. If grown hydroponically, consider a weak feed, in line with instructions. Less is more at this stage.
Once your seedlings have about three sets of leaves, consider ‘potting on’, into larger pots. Keep seedlings in a well lit area, or under supplemental lighting. 14-18 hours a day is about right.
Start feeding them once a week, with a half strength feed, like Chilli Focus or similar. Don’t be tempted to over do it. Excess feeding causing the nitrogen to ‘burn’ the leaves. Keep the growing medium damp, but not wet. If you want to treat your plants, occasional sprays with a diluted liquid seaweed, can help keep them green and lush.
Keep plants away from cold draughts, inquisitive pets and young children. Monitor the tops and undersides of the leaves, for small pests, especially on newer growth. Treat if necessary and rinse pests off. Often, this will need to be repeated.
Move your plants outside, after the last forecast frosts. Do this gradually by introducing them to the intense Spring sun, a few hours at a time and building up tolerance over 10 days or two weeks. Stake or support taller plants, to protect them from high winds.
Final pots could be anything from 6 litres upwards. We find 11-25 litres great.
To encourage flowering, use potassium rich fertilisers or nutrients. Flowers will be produced, then later petals will fall, leaving a tiny fruit.