Chilies and the circle of fire

ChilliNot a Johnny Cash song, but how to take this easy crop full cycle from seed, to plant, to seed.
One chili will give you a good supply of the spicy flavouring and I’d suggest these pretty plants as a first for beginners, or a priority for those with little space.
Chilies need an early start, sow from January till mid March with three seeds to a 9cm pot, or one per module.  They need to be somewhere warm to give them a kick start – such as an airing cupboard, or of course a propagator. When the first bit of  green shows move them to a sunny windowsill if they have been started somewhere away from direct light.  Once germinated they will grow in normal house temperature, but if you have a propagator leave them in it to get a good head start.
small-chilli-plantTransfer each plant to a pot of its own when they get two pairs of leaves: gently ease out the roots with a spoon handle and, holding a leaf, lower the seedling into a 9cm pot of compost. You need to keep repotting as the plant grows, until they are in 25cm pots.
Being  heat lovers they will appreciate lukewarm water in the mornings, and resent being too wet overnight, so make sure they are never overwatered.
To feed apply tomato food when the first flowers appear, and go for a little often. I use comfrey liquid with good results.
All types of chilies and peppers can cross pollinate if there are insects around to carry pollen between them.  Where there are none indoors there is no risk of this. However if several varieties are open to the outside you will have to cover the plants with a fine net (think plant mosquito net), to keep the seeds true to the original variety.Fatalii Chili.jpg
In the absence of insects to cross pollinate chilies will self pollinate, and you can leave them to it, but if you want to be sure of the best crop you can ensure this works optimally be hand pollinating, using a water colour brush to brush each flower on a plant and so move pollen around.

To save seeds you simply extract the seeds from a well ripened chilli and put them somewhere warm and airy till they are dry enough that you can snap one in half, then pack away in an envelope and label ready for next year. The little silica sachets that come with some electronics are worth keeping and adding to stored seed to absorb remaining moisture. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards in some milk to help get the chili oil and heat from your fingers or use disposable gloves.