Chillies and peppers are a simple and healthy way to pump up flavours of your food to the max. When you grow your own chillies and peppers at home, you can add valuable vitamins and delicious flavour to any meal for just pennies a serving
Many different cuisines around the world use chilli peppers to spice up their dishes and enhance the flavours of the ingredients. From India to Mexico, Trinidad to Thailand, chillies add a spicy kick to a variety of meals. While you might only associate peppers with spicy food, there are many varieties of pepper that have a sweet and mellow flavour, bringing a depth and complexity to your palate.
It can be next to impossible to grow peppers outdoors in the UK, but with a polytunnel you could be harvesting these beauties by next season.
When it comes to growing peppers and fiery chillies in your home garden, always remember that these tropical plants need the sun and heat in order to come to fruition. You will also need to ensure that the soil itself is nice and warm, as well as moist.
You might be working with an F1 hybrid, a varietal that helps UK gardeners grow these warm weather crops. If so, you won’t be able to grow your peppers from your own collected seed each year, and you will need to purchase new seeds.
To get started, you need to sow the seeds indoors in a warm spot (or even a propagator) in your home, ideally in February or March. Once two leaves have formed you should pot the wee seedlings in 7 – 9 cm pots in mid May. At this point you can continue to grow your peppers in containers indoors, or you can plant them in soil in a polytunnel.
If you are growing bell peppers (or any varietal with heavier fruits), you will likely have to tie or stake them. Once your pepper plants reach 20 cm tall, pinch the tops in order to encourage them to thrive and bush out broadly and reach its full potential.
Water your plants regularly, and never let the contents of your polytunnel dry out for too long. If you want to add fertility to your soil and help everything stay moist, consider laying down a layer of high potash organic mulch. Another good idea is to lay down a ground cover companion crop, such as basil. This can help to maintain soil moisture.
As soon as your peppers or chillies have reached their mature size and have changed into the correct colour, they are ready to harvest. Some people like to harvest them a bit early and let them ripen on the counter, while others like to leave them a little longer so that they are fully ripe when plucked. In order to prolong the shelf life of your chillies, you can dry them and use them all year. Bell peppers can be roasted and packed in oil to preserve them, or you can pickle them for future use.
Working with particularly spicy chillies? Make sure to avoid touching your eyes! The capsaicin from the chillies can cause a very painful reaction.
Harvesting: Pepper and chillies are often ready to be harvested around August or September.
Sowing: After planting seeds indoors in February, sow your seedlings in a polytunnel around mid to late May.
Depending on the dishes you plan to make, there is a wide world of chilies and peppers out there that can help you to add flavour, texture and nutrition to any meal.
• Green bell peppers – Raw in salads, blackened in fajitas, and sautéed as a base for soups – is there anything green bell pepper can’t do?
• Red Bell peppers – Roasted red bell peppers can be added to any Italian dish for an extra layer of flavour
• Jalapeno peppers – Add a pop of flavour and heat to Mexican and Tex-Mex food, and taste great when pickled
• Thai red (bird’s eye) chillies – Excellent in Thai curries and Southeast Asian stir fry dishes, these pack a serious dose of heat
• Scotch bonnet peppers – Do you want to really blow your taste buds away? Scotch bonnets are some of the spiciest chillies on the planet.
No matter what kind of food you love to cook and eat, growing chillies and peppers in your UK garden is possible with polytunnels. Watching your seeds grow, thrive and transform into healthy plants is a true pleasure – happy gardening, and bon appetite!