Let's face it: Chillies’ natural environment is usually warmer than what we experience here in southern Tasmania.
The good news is that we can still sow and grow chillies successfully here, but we need to do a few simple but important things to enjoy that success. Chillies are members of the SOLANACEAE family along with tomatoes, capsicum, potatoes – all warmth-loving plants.
Firstly, we need to be patient and wait for warmer spring weather (October/November) before we actually plant out into the garden.
Secondly, we need to organise access to some warm, low/medium humidity conditions for propagating our seeds and developing them to the planting out stage.
This can simply be a warm north facing, draft-free window.
It may be buying some inexpensive ($30 ish) heat mats that maintain a constant warm temperature to promote germination and growth.
We can build ourselves an inexpensive, effective “cold frame” (mini greenhouse) See: https://goodlifepermaculture.com.au/cold-frame-gardening/.
Or we can build our own greenhouse or negotiate access to a neighbour’s greenhouse that is underused, or not used at all.
The aim of all these strategies is to keep seeds and seedlings in warm, controlled conditions until they are mature enough to be planted outside.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to a large poly tunnel, or grow-house, then your whole chilli growing (and tomatoes, eggplant, basil, cucumber and corn) experience can be in warm controlled conditions more akin to chillies’ natural environment. No planting out required…. your production is in the poly tunnel.
In the interim, starting in August, we can be doing some useful things to have healthy, resilient, bountiful plants to plant out in the spring.
At propagation – experiment with pre-soaking some of your chilli seeds in rainwater for 8 to 12 hours before sowing and then observe whether the soaked or unsoaked seed germinate at different rates. Labelling is vital. Record your observations
Also, ensure you have a coarse, free draining seed-propagation medium. Buy at a hardware store or make your own. See: https://www.milkwood.net/2015/05/11/how-to-make-best-ever-seed-raising-mix/ for a good recipe.
Ensure propagated seed remains moist but not wet until shoots appear. The appearance of shoots may vary from 2 – 6 weeks – patience still required.
Thin out and pot up as required into a commercial or home-made potting mix and nurture until planting out in Spring.
Chillies are such a diverse plant, fun to grow, beautiful and very useful in the kitchen.
by Ed Wykman
for Cygnet Seed Library