I started mine off reasonably early in the year, and moved them to the greenhouse at the right time, but they just haven’t come to much. They are very definitely alive but not particularly thriving and certainly not looking like they are going to produce any fruit any time soon. On holiday a couple of weeks ago I happened to pass Seaspring Seeds (www.seaspringseeds.co.uk), the home and nursery of chilli growers and breeders Joy and Michael Michaud, and called in.
They not only sold me some beautiful chillies already bursting with fruit (really, really cheating), but they let me know exactly where I went wrong.
My first mistake was not potting them on enough. I do well with plants like tomatoes because they scream at me when they want re-potting. They keep growing, larger and leggier, get yellow and fall over. Mine were practically dragging themselves up the garden and repeatedly hurling themselves at the backdoor a week or two back. But chillies are too well-behaved for their own good: ‘They respond to their environment, so if you leave them in a small pot they stay small,’ says Joy. She shows me her huge plants grown for their stand at Hampton Court Flower Show (which starts on Monday, do go and visit them). ‘We did start them in January but they are big because we put them into big pots early on.’
Some other tips from Joy and Michael:
- Sow seeds early, no later than the end of February. They take a long time to fruit and ripen.
- All advice says to pinch out the tips to make them bushier. Ignore this. Joy showed me some plants she had pinched out as a control to prove her point. ‘They are at least a month behind those that weren’t pinched out’
- Keep in the greenhouse all summer, and close the door every night, no matter how warm it gets. ‘We’d sell a lot more if I didn’t give this advice, but even at the height of summer they don’t like the chill,’ says Joy.