Chillies are fairly easy to grow in field conditions and they are a healthy addition to most meals. Here are some production tips to ensure robust, productive plants.
As a general rule, the smaller, narrower and darker the chilli, the greater is its flavour. The tip of a chilli is its mildest point and a good place to test for heat (carefully, with the tip of the tongue).
Chilli enthusiast, David Miller, advises aspirant growers to look at their markets before deciding on variety. “You need a variety with the greatest consumer acceptance,” says David. It’s possible to grow more than one variety of chilli but there is a danger of cross-pollination resulting in hybrids in the following season, that may not fit your selection needs.
Chillies grow well in field conditions as long as they have sun and reasonable shelter from wind.
From planting to harvesting takes 90 days to 120 days.
Sow seed directly into the soil at the start of the season and don’t plant too sparsely. Aim for a planting density of four plants per square metre. Although they are perennials, chillies are usually treated as annuals.
November is a good time to plant because it’s warm enough for germination and night time temperatures shouldn’t drop below 15°C. Seed germinates at soil temperatures of 25°C to 35°C.
Chillies like moist conditions but the roots must not be waterlogged. Watering is critical because if the plants wilt, they tend to drop their flowers and that means no fruit. Seedlings that suffer wilt may not die, but their growth will be set back.
Growth and harvesting
When the plant is about 15cm high, you can remove the growing tip which will encourage the plant to bush out.
Conditions of poor soil and dry weather put the chilli into survival mode, which makes for smaller, but spicier, chillies.
Chillies are susceptible to aphids, tobacco mosaic virus, bollworm and cutworm. They are also prone to attacks from red spider mites, sap suckers that cut off supply to the leaf causing a mottled, bronzed effect that leads to leaf fall.
The capsid bug can also render chilli plants totally unproductive.
There are a few approaches chilli growers can take and regular spraying with conventional chemicals s definitely an option. Use pesticides according to the product specs and comply with the withdrawal period.
Strangely enough many farmers ignore these instructions and select their own dilutions. Always avoid this kind of approach. Common sense tells you that the chemical manufacturer knows more about how to mix the pesticide than the farmer does.
Take careful note of the withdrawal period listed.
Another method is to dissolve a bar of pure, unperfumed soap in a bucket of water and let it cool. Spray this mix liberally onto the chilli plants every three to four weeks, depending on the level of infestation.
If you notice a plant is not thriving and healthy pull it out and carry on with healthy plants.
Flowers appear in late spring and early summer. Nip out the first flowers to encourage fruiting. Fruit should be ready for fruiting in mid- to late-summer. The more fruit you remove, the more fruit the plant will produce. Start picking just before the fruit starts to ripen fully or when fruit appears to have stopped growing.
The longer you leave the chillies on the plant, the hotter the flavour becomes, but leaving them too long will result in a yield reduction. They will start to dry and shrivel on the plant eventually, but they can still be harvested at this stage.