Reproduced below is my fifth entry in the Yates spring veggie growing chellenge this year
In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about the capsicums and chillies we’re growing in the garden this summer. I’d also like to elaborate a bit about how I like to start the seed raising process. I’ve referred to heat pads and my greenhouse in previous posts, but I’d like to share a bit about the processes involved in starting seedlings from seed. Please remember that my way of doing things is not necessarily the best or only way of growing plants! I’m constantly learning, but there’s a few things that I’ve learnt along the way that work well for me.
Every year, I eagerly look forward to growing capsicums and chillies in the summer. I’m not sure what it is about these fruiting vegetables that is so attractive. Perhaps it’s their beautiful glossy green foliage, the formation of attractive fruits which change colour with the sun or the delicious dishes we use them in. I think it’s a combination of all three. Normally I start raising capsicums and chillies undercover on my heat pad in August. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did do that this year, but I also started some even earlier, back in April and May, which I nurtured over the winter. These plants are doing very well and were repotted into 10 cm pots about a month ago, which you can see in the photo I have chosen to accompany this post.
This year, I’m excited to be growing three new capsicum varieties, Muscato F1 from Kings Seeds which is an orange variety, Chinese Giant, also from Kings Seeds and Double Up F1 from Egmont Seeds. All were sowed back in April and are doing very well in the green house, as you can see from the photo. Last season, I grew the capsicums Colour Salad Selection, Californian Wonder and Giant Bell from the Yates seeds range with great success but I thought it would be nice to try growing something different this summer. I also grew the mini variety Jingle Belles from McGregors seeds last year and my two plants were extremely prolific. In addition to bell peppers, we also enjoy the longer style peppers, so I also sowed Cornos Red, Dulce Espana, Mama Mia Gialla and Mama Mia Rosso from Kings Seeds, as well as Palladio from Egmont Seeds. These are at different stages of growth in the greenhouse but all look incredibly healthy. As you can tell, we really love having capsicums in the garden!
Every year, we always harvest so many chillies and have way more than we can possibly ever use. Normally, we freeze quite a few bags of chillies, which can then be used free-flow in dishes throughout the year. This year, I’m looking forward to growing “Bird’s Eye” from the Yates seed collection, as well as “Long Red Cayenne”. I’ve also sown Thai Super Chilli, Early Jalapeno and Sky Hot from Kings Seeds. I’ve also sown an assortment of random varieties given to me from a few different gardening friends, including Serrano, Rocoto, Hungarian Hot Wax, Bishop’s Crown, Indian Jawal, Trinidad Scorpian and Wildfire. Finally, I have sown a few sweet chillies, including Sweet Banana from McGregors, as well as Topepo Rosso and Lombardo from Franchi seeds.
Treat capsicums and chillies as you would tomatoes. These heat-loving plants need warmth in order to germinate. Heat pads are ideal, but if you don’t have them or can’t afford to buy one, don’t worry. You can simply place seedlings in your hot water cupboard to aid the germination process. I’ve done this in the past, before I purchased two heat pads, and the seeds germinated fine. Just remember to take the plants out of the cupboard once they germinate, so the seedlings get some light (they can start looking quite yellow in there without any sunshine!). Another option, especially if you’re creative and good at tinkering around with electronics, is to make your own heat pad. This is what the husband of my best gardening friend Minette Tonoli did for her, and I swear her seedlings always germinate and grow faster than mine!
The punnets I use to sow seeds in are the black plastic punnets which they sell plants in at Bunnings for under $2 (not the 6-cell ones, the ones that aren’t divided). I highly recommend that you use a good quality seed raising mix in order to get seedlings off to a good start. I like using Yates Black Magic Seed Raising Mix, which has a nice texture. I also like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix, a small Auckland business that delivers a range of fertilisers and mixtures direct to your door. This is very convenient at this time of the year if you’re busy in the garden and don’t have time to go to the garden centre. Don’t use garden soil to germinate seedlings. You’ll probably find it doesn’t work so well and you don’t want weeds popping up in amongst your seedlings! I learnt the hard way when I first started gardening. You only need a little bit of seed raising mix per punnet, so a bag should go a long way. I recommend using a new bag every season as like all potting mixes, it does tend to lose its nutrients and dry up after awhile. I always have a bag on the go as I raise seedlings from seed pretty much throughout the year, not just in spring.
In order to protect plants and create a warm growing environment, I place the punnets in incubators which sit on top of my heat pads. Last year, there were so many different things that I wanted to sow at the same time that I needed to use our hot water cupboard as well. I purchased these green plastic incubators from Bunnings for around $8 each a few years ago. Once seeds have started to germinate, I take the incubators off the heat pad but keep the seedlings inside them inside the house for awhile to grow a bit more, before moving them to the greenhouse. I keep all seedling punnets and potted plants in large Sistema crates in our greenhouse, which keep plants warmer especially at night, when the temperature can drop quite a bit. The only plants which don’t fit inside the crates are my larger Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes which you can view in the photo of my previous post. Unless it’s very cold, I lift the lids of the crates every day from around 10.30 am until 3 pm, to let the plants get some air and light. I water the plants as necessary. At the moment it’s quite cool so they don’t need watering very often, usually around once a week.
Around about the start of October, as temperatures gradually increase, I’ll start moving these plants outdoors during the day to start the process of “hardening them off”. Normally, I start by doing this for two hours per day and increase it gradually until they remain outside the whole day but are back undercover overnight. It’s never a good idea to move plants directly from a warm indoor environment to the outdoors without doing it in stages. This way, plants can acclimatise to outdoor temperatures and they’ll be better equipped to survive. Usually by mid-October, I’ll start allowing plants to remain in our patio overnight because I want them to start getting used to being outdoors. After all, they will be planted into the garden around Labour weekend which isn’t too far away from then, and they need to get used to night time temperatures! In saying that, temperatures do vary from season to season, so the process gets adjusted accordingly. Learn to listen to your instincts and do what seems right for you. Usually your inner gardening voice isn’t wrong!
I always grow my chillies and capsicums in large 35 litre black buckets as I’ve never had any luck growing them in the ground. It also saves space for veggies which creep everywhere and require more room, like pumpkins and melons. I find this system works well. The temperature in containers is generally a little warmer than the ground and black radiates heat. We are always rewarded with tons of fruit, much more than we could ever use ourselves so we enjoy sharing produce with neighbours, family and friends. If you’re going to grow peppers in containers like me, just make sure you use a good quality potting or container mix. Some mixtures contain water storage crystals, which helps to conserve moisture during the dry months. Alternatively, you can add a little Saturaid or similar product to the mixture at the time of planting. Normally, I don’t find that my peppers need to be staked but if you grow then in the ground, you may find that some support is necessary. If needed, it’s a good idea to insert a stake at the time of planting to avoid damaging the roots of the plant later on.
Water capsicums and chillies regularly and deeply during the summer months. As with tomatoes, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of liquid feeding plants regularly to encourage flowering and the development of fruit. I like using Yates Thrive Tomato Liquid Plant Food. While formulated for tomatoes, it should be fine to use this product on other fruiting veggies such as peppers, zucchini, eggplants, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons.
The seeds of capsicums and chillies are quite easy to save for sowing the following season, simply by scooping out seeds from inside the fruit when they are very ripe. Let them dry completely before storing them for next season. Be aware, however, that they do cross-pollinate, meaning that if you’re growing more than one type the off-spring might not be true to type ie identical to the parent plant.