‘Tis the season to chilli

While it’s easy to get swept up in everything Christmas related right now, some people (mainly me!) are equally (if not more) excited about something else during December –chilli season!
Chillies are one of my favourite plants to grow and eat. It’s not uncommon to see me wandering around the nursery snacking on a chilli as I work. Though I’m a little more careful about it since the time I forgot I’d left a Carolina reaper in my pocket and it burnt right through my pants to my leg.
Anyway, if you love chillies as much as me or have always been keen to try growing them, now (as we head into the warmer weather) is the perfect time to plant them.
Chillies are surprisingly easy to grow. All they require is a sunny, well-drained spot in your garden - similar to where you plant your tomatoes, basil and parsley.
Right now, you want to be planting chilli seedlings – that are already around 5 -10 cm tall. You can order your seedlings from Awapuni Nurseries online and have them delivered directly to your door.
There’s a variety of chillies available at Awapuni Nurseries – jalapeno and red hot chilli have a milder spice. Increasing in hotness, you’ll find habanero red and bhut jolokia (ghost pepper). And on the top of the Scoville scale (which measures chilli heat units) is the Carolina reaper – the current ‘world’s hottest chilli’ and hot enough to burn through a pair of jeans.
For the chilli lovers in your life this Christmas, check out the new ‘chilli hot box’ available right now from Awapuni Nurseries. This mega heat selection comes with five different bundles of chilli seedlings, plus a 500ml matrix fertiliser and sample of hot chilli dust. Ideal for the special gardener in your life – or as a treat for yourself.
Now to planting your chillies - like most veges, the better the soil quality, the better start your plants will have. Dig some compost, sheep pellets or seaweed into your vege garden to get it in its best-growing condition. Then dig small holes (around 4cm deep) and place your chilli seedlings in. Plant them around 50cm apart, but check the individual labels as varieties do vary in size. The ghost pepper can creep up to 180cm high, so will need a bit more room between plants.
Over summer remember to keep your chilli plants watered, letting the soil almost dry out between waterings. You can give a good feed of fertiliser every fortnight once the flowers appear. If you’ve got a tomato food fertiliser, you can use this on your chillies too.
Once your chillies are almost ready for picking, reduce watering to increase their heat. Remember to cut (rather than pluck) them off the plant, to encourage more fruiting.
Did you know chillies can also thrive in pots too? You’ll need a minimum 10L pot, with good drainage holes. Remember pots do tend to dry out faster than your garden, so keep on top of your watering. But what I love about chillies in pots is that you can move them round to chase the sun at the end of summer – and into a greenhouse (if you’re lucky enough to have one) for winter.
Chillies are perennial plants, meaning (in the right environment) they could last a few seasons.  So, if you’re not in a frost-prone area, give your plant a good pruning once you’ve finished harvesting (around April) and you could have cracker chillies from the same plant next Christmas as well.

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