The 2019 Chilli Growing Season Has Begun

I think the worst part about starting the chilli growing season is deciding on which varieties to grow. I must have spent the last three nights trying to figure out just that, and then when I thought the list was finalised I'd change my mind and have to re-evaluate the whole thing yet again. I'm now convinced that collecting chilli seeds and growing chilli plants are two separate hobbies. My favourite varieties are always a dead cert; it's the new ones that pose the biggest problem. Anyway, it's blowing a gale outside and chucking it down with rain, so what better time to dust off all the equipment and start the 2019 chilli growing season?

Chilli Seeds Sown - 17th February 2019
Chilli Seeds Sown - 17th February 2019

In late 2011 I built a homemade grow light for getting a head start on the season. It was really simple to make and consisted of five batten holders mounted onto a 30-inch by 5-inch piece of wood and a reflector made from strengthened cardboard. Three of the batten holders each hold a 30W daylight energy bulb (6400K) and the remaining two each hold a 20W warm white energy bulb (2700K). The inside of the reflector is painted with white emulsion to help reflect maximum light and all five batten holders are wired together and ran from a single plug.

I used that grow light for the first time in 2012 and continued to do so each year until now. The seeds were always sown somewhere between mid-January and early February, and the seedlings were raised under the light until mid-March and then moved into the front porch. The Capsicum chinense and Capsicum pubescens varieties were always the first ones to be sown, followed by the Capsicum annuum and Capsicum baccatum varieties several weeks later. In the three years prior to 2012 all seeds, regardless of the species, were sown during the first week of March and the seedlings were raised in the front porch using sunlight.

Last year, the Capsicum chinense varieties were sown on the 3rd February, except for one late addition which was sown on the 14th March. Considering how the late addition was sown 39 days later than the rest and took 12 days to germinate, the plant soon caught up and was producing ripe chillies at the same time as Dorset Naga. Perhaps grow lights are a must for people living in cold climates with a much shorter growing season, but they're not necessary if you live in the UK, but then again I suppose it depends on the weather.

Here's a list of all the varieties that were sown this evening:
  • Red Mayan Habanero
  • Antillais Caribbean
  • JalapeƱo M
  • Ring of Fire
  • Yellow Jelly Bean Habanero
  • Cap 1445
  • Mini Rocoto Brown
  • Mako Akokosrade
  • Aji Mochero
  • Habanero Numero Diez
  • Malawi Bird's Eye
  • Aji Guaguao
  • Aji Rainforest
  • Aji Lemon

The compost was sterilised in the oven at 150C for one hour and then cooled down to room temperature. The plant pots, clear plastic cups (used to cover the plant pots), plastic plant labels and heated propagator were sterilised using a mild bleach solution and then thoroughly rinsed, as per usual.

Sterilised Plant Pots and Clear Plastic Cups - 17th February 2019
Sterilised Plant Pots and Clear Plastic Cups - 17th February 2019

Rather than write the names of each variety onto the plant labels I decided to assign a number to each one instead so that the labels can be reused each year. I'm all for reducing the amount of plastics in the environment, but more often than not I forget to buy new labels and then have to wait several days for them to arrive before I can sow the seeds.

Chilli Seeds in Soak - 17th February 2019
Chilli Seeds in Soak - 17th February 2019

The heated propagator is now in the porch where the temperature is currently sitting at 61F. I'll put the thermostatically controlled oil heater in there next week or once I see the first signs of life. My heated propagator has several hot spots and zero temperature controls but has served me well over the years (although I don't wish to tempt fate).

Heated Propagator - 17th February 2019
Heated Propagator - 17th February 2019

Spring is officially 31 days away now, and hopefully the weather will be as chilli plant friendly as it was last year. May the Chilli Gods bless us all with an abundance of wonderful spicy goodness!

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