How To Grow - Chillies, Peppers and Aubergines

Chillies, sweet peppers and aubergines are extra tasty when grown at home, and they are all easy to grow from seed or from plug plants. Aubergines are ideal for a summer barbeque, and chillies growing on your patio will spice up dinner time. Just follow our specially prepared growing guide.

When and where

Aubergine seed is sown in March, as the growing period for the plants is long. Chilli seeds can be planted earlier, in January or February, enabling you to plant out as soon as the frosts recede, providing a crop of chillies all summer long. Plant sweet pepper seeds 8 to 10 weeks before you plant out – usually in March or April when frost has receded and soil temperatures have risen. For all of these plants, full sun and a soil rich in organic material will provide the best conditions. Patios, roof spaces or balconies are ideal locations to catch the sun.

How to plant

For all three plants, growing from seed and planting out are the same. To grow from seed, fill a pot (ideally 7 to 8 cm deep) with seed compost, and gently firm this down level at the top. Scatter a thin layer of seeds on the top – only sow two or three extra in case of germination failure, as most of the seeds will germinate. Sprinkle a fine layer of vermiculite, and water. At the propagation stage you have several choices according to the space and resources you have available. To provide a constant supply of heat, you can use a special heat pad, propagator, or an old electric blanket – or for a more makeshift arrangement, a sill above a radiator or the top of a fridge will provide a temperature which is above room temperature. You can also cover your pots with a bag. The germination period will vary between 1 and 3 weeks depending on variety. Once the seedlings appear, remove from the heat or remove the bag, and put your pots on a windowsill. To avoid the legginess of plants which will stretch up and out towards the light source, you can use artificial lighting – for example a cool white fluorescent light. With care, however, a windowsill or conservatory will be fine. Continue to ensure that the plants do not dry out. It is time to transplant seedlings to their own pots when they reach 2 cm in height – usually with a second set of leaves. Do this carefully, loosening the compost and lifting them out with a dibber. You can use the same size pots – 7 to 8 cm deep – with one seedling per pot. Use a multipurpose compost, levelled and tapped down – use the dibber to make a hole to plant the seedling, with its leaves just above the surface. Place the plants in a sunny location such as a greenhouse, conservatory or windowsill. When roots show out of the drainage holes at the base of the pot, it is time to move the plants into a larger 13 – 13 cm pot.

Once the risk of frost has passed, you can begin to plant outside. Hardening them off for a few days – placing them outside during the day – will help to acclimatise them. Peppers and chillies are idea for containers (a 5 litre size will do). Aubergines will grow better if you get them into the ground, either in a greenhouse or polytunnel. Water chillies, aubergines and peppers regularly and also mist the plants to keep a damp atmosphere. If you do not have a sunny, sheltered spot outside, it will be best to grow these plants under glass, on a windowsill or in a greenhouse.

Harvesting

Harvest periods will be between late June and September – use a knife or scissors to cut the fruit away. Sweet peppers mature from green to red; chilli peppers can either be picked when green or allowed to redden. Pick aubergines when they have reached the full size for the variety, and when the fruit take on their shiny appearance. An aubergine plant will produce up to five fruits. When the summer ends and autumn takes over, remove the plants and hang them up to allow remaining fruit to continue to ripen.

Through the year

Use sticks or canes to support the plants once they reach 20 cm or so; it is also a good idea to pinch out growing tips to encourage a bushier plant with more fruit. If you pot your plants on into a container, don’t forget that they will need feeding with a liquid feed through the season. A tomato fertiliser will be suitable, or any liquid feed which is high in potash. Do not allow compost to dry out – in hot weather, water several times a day. Chillies, peppers and aubergines are very thirsty plants!

Handy tips

Steady growth without check will produce the best crops. Two pests drawn to aubergines are red spider and whitefly. Dampness will ward off red spider, and whiteflies can be sprayed or hoovered away (if you shake the plant they take off and you can catch them on the wing). Most varieties of sweet pepper are now disease resistant. Don’t use high nitrogen fertilisers as this will result in leafy plants with few fruit.


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