Growing Chillis in Tasmania
Chilli peppers are available in a myriad of colours, shapes, sizes and heat levels. They range from sweet and mild to fiery and can be used and preserved in a variety of ways. They’re an easy crop to grow and their beautiful and prolific fruit make them a rewarding plant to have in the garden.
Milder chillies are generally easier to grow and can be started earlier in the season. They’re usually a better choice for the mild Tasmanian summers. The hotter varieties are often more of a challenge to grow well and can only be planted into the garden once the soil is properly warm in summer.
Chillies are actually perennials, but in Tasmania they’re usually grown as annuals and die with the first frosts. They need a long growing season, but once they start producing they bear heavily and are well worth the wait.
In Tasmania, chillies do best in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel, which stay warmer than outdoors and provide a slightly longer growing season. Plants can also be grown sucessfully outdoors, although the harvest are often smaller and some varieties won’t reach full-maturity. If you are planting outdoors, choose varieties which have a shorter growing season or don’t need as much summer heat. Cayenne or paprika peppers are both good options.
Make sure you start your plants early enough to make the most of the short warm season, but not before the soil has warmed sufficiently.
Peppers love warmth and sunlight. In warm climates they need some protection from the hottest sun, but in Tasmania, full sun is the way to go.
Prepare your soil with compost and well-rotted manure. The extra organic material will feed your chillies and help with water retention over the heat of summer. Chillies can develop blossom rot if your soil is low on calcium. Add some bonemeal to your soil to improve the calcium levels. It’ll also help your plants develop strong root systems to support them right through the season.
Chillies need excellent drainage. So, if your garden is prone to waterlogging, then rather grow them in pots or raised beds.
Seeds can be started indoors (usually on heat mats) in September or October. Chilli peppers need quite high temperatures to germinate, so if you want a long growing season, it’s usually better to plant seedlings. If you’re after a less common variety then you might need to start your own from seed as only a few varieties are readily available as seedlings.
Simply place the seeds on top of your soil and sprinkle with a very thin layer of compost. Place them in a warm place (like in top of the fridge) or on a growing mat until the plants are up.
Chillies are hard to germinate if the soil isn’t warm enough, so it’s much easier to start them from seedlings.
Plant seedlings into the garden once its consistently warm. (Usually sometime in December)
Try to plant bought seedlings as soon as possible after you get them home and remember to give them a good, deep watering to help them settle in. When you plant your seedlings out, add a small amount of organic bone-meal to each hole. Bone-meal gives seedlings a great start and helps them to develop strong root systems which support a healthy plant.
Potted chillies can be overwintered indoors or in a greenhouse. Prune them lightly in winter.
Larger varieties need to be staked. Tomato cages or a simple stick or bamboo pole work well.
Chillies have deep root systems, so they need regular deep watering. If they have a good mulch, then a deep watering twice a week should be fine, but if it’s particularly hot and they look thirsty, then water them more often.
Feed your plants regularly with compost tea or and organic fertilizer to encourage strong plants and a bumper harvest. An organic tomato fertilizer is also a great option once the flowers start to appear. It helps the plants produce plenty of good-quality fruit.
Straw is a great mulch for chillies. It keeps their roots cool, the water in the soil, and, it smothers weeds that will compete for nutrients. Lucerne, pea straw or sugar cane are all good options. Remember to keep topping up your mulch through the season as it breaks done fast in hot weather.
Use gloves! Those chillies can burn. Some varieties twist of easily by hand, but scissors, a knife or secateurs will help with the more stubborn varieties. Remove your gloves as soon as you’re done and take care not to touch your face. Keep picking chillies throughout the summer to encourage higher production. Most chillies can be harvested as soon as they are a decent size. Many varieties start out green and then change to their particular colour as they mature, but chillies can really be eaten at any stage.
Chilli bushes can be really productive! Can easily have too many and if they’re hot, then you’ll struggle to eat large quantities. If you have too many at a time, they can be frozen, dried, made into sauces, pickled.