Gary L. Simmons  rev 08/30/07
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Chili Pepper Gardening

Crossed chilies

Welcome to growing your own chili peppers. You are entering a world that can be as basic as a child covering a seed with dirt to electronic monitoring and computer controlled greenhouse environments. This page is devoted to something somewhere in-between those extremes but don't let me stop you from being super simple or massively complex in your efforts.

What I offer here is some basic chili pepper gardening facts and a way of growing chilies in containers that will provide you with a personal supply of mean nasty hot that will last you all year long through the winter until you have the next years harvest on your plate.

  There are as many ways to grow chilies in containers as there are people to try out the technique. You can use my instructions verbatim or you can take an idea presented here and run with it using your own variation. You will find that the climate in which you live directly affects the results. Chilies love hot climates, if you don't live in one or you cannot provide your plants with full sunlight all day long then you will not have results as good as mine and should vary your planting accordingly. I live in Southern California near a desert putting me in a Climate Zone of 9 according to the Sunset Western Garden Book.

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General Information | Obtaining the Seeds | Planting the Seeds | Preparing the Soil | Growing Your Plants | Weeds and Pests | Harvesting Your Bounty

General Information

Sunset Western Garden Book on Peppers

Scientific Name: Solanaceae
All Zones
Full Sun
Infrequent, deep watering during growth

All peppers grow on 1 1/2 to 2-ft.-tall handsome, bushy plants. Use plants as temporary low informal hedge, or grow and display them in containers. The two basic kinds of peppers are sweet and hot.

Sweet peppers always remain mild, even when flesh ripens to red. This group includes big stuffing and salad peppers commonly known as bell peppers, best known of these are 'California Wonder' and 'Yolo Wonder'. Hybrid varieties have been bred for early bearing, high yield, or disease resistance. Big peppers are also available in bright yellow and purple (purple types turn green when cooked). Other sweet types are thick-walled, very sweet pimientos used in salads or for cooking or canning; sweet cherry peppers for pickling; and long, slender -Italian frying peppers and Hungarian sweet yellow peppers, both used for cooking.

Hot peppers range from tiny (pea-size) types to narrow, 6-7-in.-long forms, but all are pungent, their flavor ranging from the mild heat of Italian peperoncini to the near-incandescence of the 'Habanero'. 'Anaheim' is a mild but spicy pepper used for making canned green chilies. 'Long Red Cayenne' is used for drying; 'Hungarian Yellow Wax (Hot)', 'Jalapeno', and 'Fresno Chile Grande' are used for pickling. Mexican cooking utilizes an entire palette of peppers, among them 'Ancho', 'Mulato', and 'Pasilla'.

Buy started plants at nursery, or sow seed indoors 8-10 weeks before average date of last frost. Set out when weather becomes warm, spacing plants 11/-2 ft. apart. Feed once or twice with commercial fertilizer after plants become established, before blossoms set. Sweet peppers are ready to pick when they have reached good size but keep their flavor until red ripe. Pimientos should be picked only when red-ripe. Pick hot peppers when they are fully ripe. Control cutworms with baits. Control aphids, whiteflies with all-purpose vegetable garden dust or spray.

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Obtaining Seeds

There are a variety of ways for obtaining chili pepper seeds. In America chili peppers are coming into general acceptance by the public and out of the hands of fringe lunatics such as... myself. This means you can go into any nursery or garden section of a home improvement store and buy chili seeds. This also means you won't have to wade through weird people with fingers growing out of their heads dressed in black wax paper who jabber like monkeys... like me again, just to get your dang seeds. You can even find vegetable seed packs that include hot chilies in grocery store display stands. There are many seed and gardening catalogs and web sites out there.

Catalogs and Web Sites:

Geo. W. Park Seed Co., Inc.
1 Parkton Avenue
Greenwood, SC 29647-0001


This is a gold mine of resources for you chili farmers out there. Seeds, tools, fertilizers, sprouting kits, supplies.

Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co.
Catalog Reservation Center
PO Box 778
Yankton, South Dakota 57079-0778


Excellent source catalog. Seeds, tools, fertilizers, sprouting kits, supplies.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
300 Park Avenue
Warminster, PA 18974


Lots of different types of chili seeds.

Shepherd's Garden Seeds
30 Irene Street
Torrington, CT 06790-6658


Lots of different types of chili seeds, some tools and supplies.

The Cook's Garden
PO Box 535
Londonderry, VT 05148


A useful variety of chili seeds and gardening books.

Seeds of Change
PO Box 15700
Santa Fe, NM 87506-5700


Organic seed catalog offering some hot chilies and sprouting kits. This is a site for those of you more fastidious than the cannibals of Pango-Pango but less fanatic than the berserk Save-The-Plants/throw-sap-on-you-if-you-eat-a-carrot sect of the Sierra Club.

Redwood City Seed Company
P. O. Box 361
Redwood City, California 94064


Heirloom vegetables, hot peppers and herb seeds.

Vigilante Seed Sources:

Sounds scary eh? This is just another way of saying that you can scrounge up your seeds yourself.

  • You can go into a grocery store and buy some peppers. If they have the kind of hot you like then you can either cut them open and carefully separate the seeds from the fruit pods or dry the entire chili pod. I just dry the pod. Dry these seeds in a pan in a warm dry place. I use my gas oven that is only heated by a pilot light. That works great to quickly dry the seeds so that they do not rot or mold. You should keep the seeds very dry and cool for at least several months before planting for best results. It makes them think they survived the winter and it is spring again.

  • Buy already dried chilies in the store and gently break the pods apart, and plant the seeds immediately if you want to. You can find great dried chilies in the grocery store, or go to an oriental market. The fresher the better in this case, look for a packaging date etc. This is how I get my Thai chili seeds! Look for "Grown In Thailand" or "Product of Thailand" on the bag.

  • Trade seeds with your friends. It's that simple. People who grow chilies love to share their seeds. Some of you might have to go out and actually make a friend for this one. If I did it you can. Sure you're ugly and offensive smelling, but they can't see your squinty eyes, monster zits and wrinkled pig nose if you keep it in e-mail.

  • Steal chili pods from your enemies gardens in the dead of night. Bring a laxative smeared soup bone for the dog. Remember to wear all black and learn to hoot like an owl. If you have a boombox on your shoulder, turn it off. Kick over their garden gnome while you are there and plant some marijuana seeds. For those of you who are really cool, if you are caught, you will self-destruct with a hand-grenade.

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Planting the Seeds

There are schools of thought for planting seeds that range from tossing handfulls of seeds onto the dirt to transgenetic test tube cloning in high tech labs. Again I fall somewhere in the middle. Gosh I'm reasonable! I AM reasonable aren't I?? Please tell me I'm reasonable. Please?? You WILL tell me I'm reasonable or or or... I'll OJ you on your front porch!!

::pound punch pummel:: "Stop dat blubberin' Nicole!!" ::hack chop slash slash slash gash::

Wait, where the heck was I? Did I just black out again? Must be all the peppers. Planting pepper seeds,THAT''S it. Focus Gary focus. I am pretty careful about planting my seeds because I have had some very spectacular failures in the past and by using the technique presented here, you can avoid all of that pain and waste.

First off you must plant at the correct time of year. If you plant too late, the sun will bake your seedlings to death, too early and they will freeze to death. Brutal isn't it? I start 5 to 6 weeks before the last frost of the season. You have to guess this according to the area you live in and the weather you are having that year. You are better off starting too early because you can always leave them inside until it is safe to put them outside. It is warm here in zone 9 so I started this year on the first of March.

I use peat pots to plant in. These are small 2"-3" deep pots that are made out of compressed peat moss. You fill them with dirt and when the time comes to plant, you can just put the entire peat pot into the garden soil and the roots are not disturbed even a little. The roots grow right through the peat pots into the garden soil. The peat pot will eventually break down and be good for your soil.

It gets pickier. I have had problems with organisms in the soil eating my seeds. Look at it from the soil organisms point of view. You had a long, hard, cold winter. You just woke up and are starving and freezing your hinney off. Just then somebody sets a hot turkey dinner down right beside you and walks off. The only way to guarantee that this scenario does not transpire is to use sterilized potting soil available at any nursery, gardening department or home improvement store. Buy a bag, fill your peat pots and press the soil down firmly with your thumbs.

Dig the seed holes in the filled peat pots 1/4 inch deep and wide. Use a toothpick or pencil point and using a circular motion with downward pressure, hollow out a shallow hole for the seed. Put one seed in each hole then push the soil firmly over the seed. The seed must have good firm contact with the soil. I put 2 to 4 seeds in each peat pot if I have obtained the seeds from chili pods. These "vigilante" seeds aren't as dependable as the seeds purchased from a seed supplier. If they are store bought seeds, then one seed to a pot generally works fine. If too many seeds sprout in a pot, you can pinch off the weakest looking sprouts. Pinch now, don't pull, you can damage the roots of the remaining seedling. Take this opportunity to threaten the remaining sprout, shake the dead carcass of his brother at him and tell him he will get the same if he doesn't grow up big and burn the hell out of your mouth.

OK now you have the seeds planted. What now? Now you need to keep them warm and moist like the rains have passed and the spring sunshine is beckoning them forth from the ground. How do you do that? Small table top greenhouses! You can buy these at most of the supply web sites above. Look for "seed starting" or "greenhouse" etc. Basically I just buy the 10X15X4 inch deep bottom pans and the clear top covers and put my own peat pots inside, then set them on a shelf or countertop. Feel free to buy the entire kit and follow their instructions, I'm sure you will have good results.

Buy enough of whatever you are going to get to hold all the seeds you require. That number is totally up to you. How much room do you have? A window sill? A patio? A backyard? A ranch? A Class-M planet? Figure it out yourself.

So they are planted and housed, do we just let them set there abandoned while we spend all day showering and Q-tipping and exercising and munching and primping and whizzing and pasting and pooting and fussing with our hair? No, we make them more at home than we do our spouses. Put enough water in the bottom pans to moisten the soil, don't get it soaking wet or it will rot, too little water and the seeds won't sprout. The soil is moist enough if it sticks together when pinched between your fingers and released. The soil needs to be warm so I bought a waterproof thermometer for an aquarium from a pet store. Put the thermometer under the clear plastic top and set it on top of the peat pods. What temperature is it? For chili peppers it should be about 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32 degrees centigrade. If it is cooler than that, set a lamp stand near it so that the incandescent bulb shines on the little greenhouse you have set up. Check the thermometer often at first and move the lamp closer or farther until the temperature is right.

What's left? Well pepper seeds don't need light to germinate but they do need light after they emerge from the soil and an incandescent bulb isn't going to supply the right kind of light. What I did was to buy a cheap florescent shop light at a home improvement store. DON'T get the "quick start" variety or you won't find the bulbs you need. You can find florescent plant lights to fit your shop light at nurseries and pet shops. Hang or prop this light so the bulbs are about one foot above the top of the greenhouse setup. If you are smart you will put these lights on an automatic timer and let them shine for 16 hours a day. After the seeds sprout disconnect the heating lamp, the sprouts will do better with room temperature.

Expect seeds such as Bird Mouth to come up in a week, Habañeros take about two and Thai chilies can take up to 3 weeks so you see there is not a set time for the seeds to sprout. Be patient and enjoy the experience! You might see a little mold, this is almost always harmless. Remember it is very hot and humid in the greenhouse. It helps to wash your hands very well before you handle the seeds, peat pots and potting soil. Whatever lived on your fingers during planting time has now multiplied a billionfold!

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Preparing the Soil

As promised, this tutorial will focus on container gardening. The containers I use are black plastic 5 gallon pots that are available at any gardening store or nursery. You may have to ask for them if you don't see them. Often they have some of these containers stacked up in the back from returned potted plants that died or whatever. Usually you can find them brand new as nurseries are learning that folks are starting to embrace container gardening. You can use larger containers if you want but I wouldn't recommend using smaller containers as you will stunt the growth of your plants. If the pots do not have large drain holes in the bottom, then make lots of holes, at least a dozen 1/2 inch holes.

The soil in my 5-gallon pots is about 7 years old. I keep reusing and amending the same soil over and over. When I started the containers I prepared the soil in this manner:

  • Sieve one shovel full of garden or lawn top soil through a 1/4 inch grid screen into a wheelbarrow or onto a tarp, crushing dirt clods and removing any rocks, roots and other such debris.
  • Add one shovel full of peat moss to the wheelbarrow.
  • Add one shovel full of rinsed silica or quartz sand to the wheelbarrow.
  • Add one shovel full of garden compost (redwood compost, lawn or soil amendment will do nicely) to the wheelbarrow.
  • Add a small double handful of Ironite, a mineral supplement available at nurseries, to the wheelbarrow
  • Thoroughly mix the ingredients in the wheelbarrow.

If you have very sandy soil you might want to replace the shovel of sand with a suitable portion of clay laden soil. Dirt is different everywhere. If you have what is considered a problem soil that you don't think can be worked as above, you can just buy bags of potting soil at the nursery and you will do very well by it, you can still amend it yearly as described below. To start with, it would be best to put at least a handful of dirt from the garden or yard into each pot to seed it with heathful soil organisms. Add the soil to the 5 gallon containers as you finish mixing each batch in the wheelbarrow. Firmly compress the soil in the pots with your hands. Pack it down firmly, don't be shy. Fill the containers to about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the rim of the container.

Each year thereafter when I am refreshing the soil for the new season:

  • Pull the old plants out and knock all the soil out of the roots into the wheelbarrow.
  • Empty the container into a wheelbarrow.
  • Break the soil apart.
  • (I spend a moment rescuing earthworms right about now. If you are on the planet Mongo, rescue the mongoworms.)
  • Add a double handful of chicken or low-salt steer manure to the wheelbarrow. Experienced gardners wait until it exits the chicken or steer first.
  • Add a double handful of peat moss or soil amendment to the wheelbarrow.
  • Add a handful of Ironite to the wheelbarrow.
  • Thoroughly mix the ingredients together in the wheelbarrow.
  • Re-pack the container pot with the refreshed soil.

I installed a drip line to water my pots, I highly recommend this. The installation of a drip line is beyond the scope of this lesson. If you are up to it, now would be the time to either install the system or give it a yearly testing to assure yourself that it is functioning properly for the coming season.

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Growing Your Plants

Chili peppers are a pretty hardy plant and don't require much care but there is an optimal way to treat them that will give you the best results and a bountiful harvest. Healthy plants require healthy soil with a variety of natural organisms to help process organic material in the dirt, converting them into nutrients that the plant needs. You may notice that much of the instructions here help you maintain the health of the organisms in the soil. If you have followed all the instructions above then you have a great start on a healthy plant but you must still pay attention to some key aspects of plant life: planting, sunshine, water, and fertilizer.


When your seedlings are a couple inches tall and have developed secondary leaves and all danger of frost is past then it is time to plant in their outdoor containers. Usually I have set the seedling trays outdoors for a few hours a day the week before I plant them to acclimate them to the intense light, heat and ultraviolet of sunlight. When the time comes, I dig a plug of soil out of the center of the container soil surface with a bulb planter or a trowel. I put the peat pot into the hole so that the soil of the container comes to the top of soil in the peat pot. Gently but firmly press the soil of the container around the peat pot. The container soil must be touching the peat pot. You don't want to crush the peat pot but you want the soil to firmly contact it.


Peppers require lots of direct sunlight to be healthy. Find the sunniest part of your garden, yard or window sills for your pots. You can't over do sunshine. Dawn to dusk direct sunshine is best, less is less best. If it requires cutting down your spouses prize sunflowers to gain sunlight hours then do it. You may have to threaten your significant other with the pruning shears but don't let an expensive and messy divorce stand in the way of a good chili pepper crop. You'll thank me later.


Chili plants like a long thorough drink of water and then do best if they are allowed to dry out and get thirsty before getting watered again. I like to wait until they show the first signs of wilting at the end of a day before watering them again. This is easier to do if they are in the ground than in pots, the ground is deep and expansive with moisture reserves that the plant can stretch its roots to, the pots are small and finite. If you want to play this "wait till they wilt" game with a potted plant, you have to stay very alert. In fact, during the hottest part of the year I just water them every day, but then I live in a very hot, dry climate. There is an on-off valve I installed on my drip line allowing me to shut all the drippers off from that one location.

You can play it safer than me by following this procedure. If the soil dries out to 2 inches below the surface, give it some water. If the plant shows signs of wilting, give it some water. Check it for wilting in the evening just before dark. It is normal for a plant to show some wilting during the heat of the day. Plants absorb moisture reserves best at night so make sure they get watered at night. Too much water will rot the roots and or drown the beneficial organisms in the soil. The pots must be well drained and ANY standing water in the bottom is harmful. This one is obvious but must be stated: seedlings require less water in the cooler sprouting season than full grown plants in the hot fruiting season, water appropriately.

Ocassionally I spray the leaves to clean them with a fine spray of water from my water hose but in general I think it is best to water the plants at the roots. You can avoid most forms of fungal disease by keeping the leaves dry. In localities with lots of rain through the growing season, it isn't necessary to clean your plants, but here on the desert you almost have to.

When using containers for gardening, salts and minerals present in your water tend to accumulate and will eventually affect the growth and health of your plants. In most cases a fine white crust will become apparent on the surface of the soil when it dries. You should take preemptive steps and leach the salts out of the soil each year or as needed. This is pretty simple to do and only requires LOTS of water. You should perform this sometime after the growing season and before you amend the soil with fresh composted matter. Let the soil dry completely then lightly skim the white material taking a tiny bit of soil with it. Throw it away. Afterwards, flood the soil with water. Repeatedly fill your containers with water to the brim and let the water flow through the soil and out the drain holes. "Lather, rinse, repeat" until you are satisfied. If your water source is snow melt then you will need to do less leaching than if your water source is a rusty radiator with Stop Leak. It's really only a problem if you start to notice the white crust.


If you are a career politician like Tom Daschle or John McCain, just go out and talk to your peppers. Otherwise you will need to supplement your soil with some other form of fertilizer. I have had very good results with Stern's Miracle-Gro for Tomatoes. If you are into only organic fertilizers then you will need to consult elsewhere on how to use them on peppers. I have you supplying the soil with natural organisms, compost and organic amendments so unless you are very picky then this should provide you with enough warm-fuzzy-earthy-crunchy feelings towards your dirt. Whichever route you take remember that soil is alive, and if your soil organisms die, your plants will not fare as well. Do not over-fertilize. Follow the directions on the package for best results. Using "less more often" as opposed to "a lot once in a while" is better. In fact, container growers often use half the recommended strengths at twice the frequency so that the container plants receive a steadier supply of nutrients.

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Weeds and Pests

Lions and tigers and bears oh my! Now that your babies have been sent out into the world, there are all manner of predators hopping, crawling, slithering, skulking and slinking around them looking for a meal or an easy mark to beat up and take their lunch money from. I'm talking about weeds, pests and diseases. There is no one way to handle the vast variety of garden villains you will encounter. I always try to use the least invasive or toxic method first. One thing I have found generally effective in fighting insects is not radioactive sodium-cyanide flavored napalm bombs delivered by gamma ray satellites in geo-synchronous orbit... but simple water. Many times the solution to insect problems is to knock them off with a fine spray of water! They hate that and the looks on their faces are worth it!!

Systemic pesticides are harsh chemicals that are poured into the soil so that your plants roots may absorb them and kill the bugs that are eating the leaves. That is overkill pure and simple. The first time I poured systemic insecticides into the ground, and watched dozens and dozens of earthworms suddenly burst from the ground and trash frantically only to die a moment later, was the last time I used it. These and other toxic pesticides do as much harm as they do good. Sure I killed the thrips in my roses, but I murdered the ground all around it and it took years before the earthworms and other beneficial fauna returned to the soil. Garden soil is not just dirt, it is teeming with plants and animals living their tiny, sometimes microscopic, lives while enriching the environment around them.

Insecticidal systemics and sprays and baits all have one thing in common: they are generally non-selective in what they kill. They kill the good insects as much as they kill the bad insects. What's a dead bug you say? It's an animal that will not pollinate your flowers, scavenge the dead creatures, break down the waste, convert organic detritus to plant food or attract beneficial insect predators to your garden. It is a broken ecosystem that will not function properly. It is you wasting your time and money and resources when you could be doing it better and safer.

Trust me, I'm NOT one of those crazy environmentalists, and I DO believe petrochemicals and poisons play a vitally important role in modern gardening. I'm just saying to use restraint, educate yourself fully about the products you intend to use and use them only when it is appropriate to do so. Do yourself a favor and try to find the least toxic cure to your plant's ills as possible. That goes for weed killers and sprays for plant diseases too. You will be repaid with healthier and happier plants producing more of what you are nurturing them for... pain in your stupid mouth, gurgling lava guts and flames shooting out your butt!


Important at the beginning of the plants life in the great outdoors is careful weeding. The biggest problems I have in this area are spurge, oxalis and grass. Your weed varieties will vary. Somehow even though the soil is kept in a container there are no shortage of weeds to invade them. Some are in the amendments you add, some carried by wind, some by birds some by ants and other insects. You must memorize the looks of your pepper plants and pull only the weeds. I can't stress that one enough. Let me type that again for the visually impaired, DON'T PULL UP YOUR CHILI PEPPERS YOU DOPE. If you accidentally pull the pepper sprouts, the only way you are going to burn your mouth on what grows in your container is to light it on fire with some gasoline and stuff it in your mouth before it goes out.

I go out every morning or so and pull weeds from the containers. I do this every day rather than once a week because I don't want the weeds to develop a root system that will grow big enough to damage the roots of my peppers when I pull the weeds. Also, plants have "root wars", their roots producing chemicals that are toxic to other plants in a gambit to claim root space. Nipping that little tempest in a teapot is worth the time. It only takes a moment to scan your pots and pluck the hapless weed babies. By the way, they go straight to Weed Hell and do not pass go and do not collect $200 and righteous cherubs kick them in the pants all the way down. Your soul, on the other hand, is not harmed in any way by weeding and when you die you go to Heaven and are given a golden trowel lapel pin. Your weeding chores will disappear later in the season, a little perseverance in the beginning pays off.


Oh mama, there are no shortage of these! The worst pests I have in my particular planetary econiche are aphids, caterpillars, earwigs, slugs, millipedes, pill bugs and spidermites. Of course, your pests may vary and will vary according to your geological location and econiche. Here are a list of my pests and how I handle them.

Aphids -

You will notice the new leaves growing out distorted. Look underneath and you will see aphids: small, soft bodied green or red bugs with spindly legs, some wings. Safer Insecticidal Soap works well and it is very nontoxic, consisting mostly of soap, water and oil. Buy this in any nursery. Safer makes great low toxic products, check 'em out. Also effective against aphids is to squish them with your fingers! Be careful to be gentle on the leaves though. Best yet, once your plants are at least a foot high, you can move the pot into the middle of the yard and blast the aphids off with a hose. Use a very fine spray from a nozzle and aim upwards from the bottom of the plant to make sure you knock them off of the underside of the leaves where they like to hang out. Ants often "farm" aphids and will tend them like cattle. No foolin' folks. In extreme cases you may have to destroy the ants or they will just keep bringing in baby aphids from all over your garden. Look for ants with your aphids, if you find them together on the same leaf, you have to go after the ants too. You can buy ladybugs at nurseries and release them into your garden to help control aphids. Stealing an anteater from the zoo won't help you.

Caterpillars -

Cabbage loopers are my biggest caterpillar pest and they can eat your mid-sized plants down to the dirt within a week. Look for missing leaves or partially consumed leaves. Caterpillars eat the leaves at the edges. The cabbage loopers and many other caterpillar will often make a little nest under a leaf by curling it under and "sewing" it shut with silk. You can pick these off with your fingers or tweezers. Any caterpillar can be killed off by using a BT product. This is applied as a dust or sprayed onto the plant as a liquid. BT is a bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis, that is totally harmless to humans and pets and most other critters but it is deadly to caterpillars. This is the way to go for caterpillars if you are plagued by them. Paper wasps and other wasps feed caterpillars to their young. You may wish to encourage wasps as part of your solution. In addition to helping to control caterpillars, wasp adults feed on flower nectar and thereby help pollinate your garden.

Slugs & Snails-

Look for slime trails and leaves with holes in them or the skin rasped off in small spots. When all else fails I use a product called Deadline. You draw a line with it by squeezing it out a plastic container. No mollusk can resist taking a bite of it. This stuff is extremely toxic to all animals. Slugs will try to hide underneath your container during the day so a simple light application directly around (for snails) or beneath (for slugs) your container will solve all your slug and snail problems. Do NOT put the Deadline inside your container. Of course, I solved my entire snail problems early on years ago by going out at night and harvesting them. The next day I would transport them by the hundreds in gallon glass jars. I dropped them off at shopping malls, public buildings and other places that can support the creatures without them destroying a crop of food or be otherwise noticed or harmful. Another nontoxic method is to set out beer in cat food or tuna cans that are inset into the soil around your containers. Try not to drown yourself while elbowing the slugs out of the way.

Earwigs, Millipedes, Pill bugs

Look for holes in your leaves or missing seedlings. These things can be devastating to young plants but relatively harmless to larger plants. I only protect against them when the plants are less than half a foot high. I lightly sprinkle Metro all purpose Bug-Bait onto the soil in the containers as well as more heavily just around the containers. Other than that they don't bother me. I let them have a meal, they attract predators to the garden such as spiders, birds and lizards that help keep the garden in balance. They also consume detritus, converting it into useful soil components. Earwigs will eat aphids! These are necessary pests and only a little control is necessary when their numbers get out of hand or your plants are only sandwich sized to them. If their population is too great you can control their numbers by setting out rolls of moist corrugated cardboard or newspaper for them to crawl into for shelter during the day. Every so often harvest them and replace them with fresh rolls of moist paper. A good earwig trap is to set out old tuna or cat food cans that contain 1/2 inch of vegetable oil.

Spidermites -

Spidermites are devastating to your pepper plants. You will notice leaves drying out, curling up and turning brown or yellow. You will notice that the leaves are covered with a super fine network of spider web silk, mostly on the underside. Spidermites are very very small but pack the punch of a bulldozer. Use a 10 power magnifying glass and look for creatures the size of a dot or a pixel or the period at the end of this sentence. Once they are on your plants you need to act fast or you will lose them. First I take the containers into the middle of the lawn and spray them as I do for aphids. This knocks most of them off and is very effective because they LOVE dusty leaves for some reason. Next, after the plant leaves dry, I carefully spray the plants with Safer Insecticidal Soap being careful to soak the underside of the leaves. Keep repeating this process every couple of days until you are sure you have licked the problem or you are doomed to lose them to the spidermites. Then of course you can always spray them into Valhalla with something seriously toxic, but remember, it is your food you are spraying.

Vigilante seed or pod thieves -

Look for missing chili pods, squirty dog poop all over the yard, and a tipped over garden gnome. Sometimes you can hear their boom boxes in the dead of night or some clown trying to hoot like an owl. There are a number of nontoxic methods to remove these noxious pests from your garden. Set out land mines around your fence line. Do not set them too close to your chili pots. If you have pets or children trudging about in your yard, a better solution is to buy a high power hunting rifle with an infrared sniper scope then set on your roof at night after you first notice "thief spoor" in your yard. If you are religious you might try wearing a skin hat made from a clubbed wombat, jamming a bone through your nose, and voicing this angry curse at your enemy: "May you hang by your aphid-infested, anthrax-infected, pus-lined eyelids from red hot rusty barb wire to keep from falling into a nail lined sewage ditch filled with pissed off cobras, scorpions, tarantulas and lawyers!"


I have not had much of a problem with plant diseases with my chili peppers so I won't be much of a help here. If you notice mold, mildew or rust then find an appropriate fungicide at your local nursery, use it according to directions, and KEEP YOUR PEPPERS IN FULL SUNLIGHT! Water them at the base of the plant with drippers, a watering can or a hose with a bubbler attachment, rather than an overhead method that soaks the entire plant such as a lawn sprinkler would. Remember that fungicides are broad spectrum by nature and fungi are vital to the health of your soil. Use sparingly.

Simply removing infected portions of the plant with pruning shears or sissors is all that is needed. You can prevent many plant diseases just by maintaining a healthy soil and prime growing conditions for your plant and letting your plant fight off the disease itself!

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Harvesting Your Bounty

Let's just say on the off chance that your crop has survived to fruition, and that you are nuts enough to want to go through with harvesting the chili pods. This final section on gardening will supply you with some tips of harvesting and drying your chilies.


This varies. Not much help eh? It is my experience that chilies will ripen in stages on your chili plants. You can normally have flowers, green fruit and ripe fruit on the same bush. It all depends on your personal tastes, the type of chilies and the vitamins you are seeking from your chilies. Lets take this in reverse order:


Green chilies have as much vitamin C per weight as oranges. If you are seeking vitamin C, then harvest them green. Ripe chilies have less vitamin C and instead have as much vitamin A per weight as carrots!


Some chilies are traditionally harvested green but will eventually turn red, purple or orange etc. Thai, Serrano and Jalapeño are cases in point, turning red when fully ripe yet harvested green. I harvest Thai chilies green for eating fresh pods, but I let them turn red for drying before picking. Habaneros are harvested after they turn orange. Cayanne, Tobasco and Bird Mouth chilies are normally harvested after turning red although I also eat Bird Mouth green too.


In general chilies are much hotter green, yet much more flavorful after ripening to color. You can gauge your chilies size as a tip off as when to harvest with only a little experience. As soon as your first fruits on a bush turn color, you have a guide as to the size your fruit is going to grow to. You want them as big as possible before ripening if you want them green. If you want to dry them you will almost always want them to ripen first on the bush.


This one is easy. Because I only have about 25 bushes I don't need a combine harvester and threshing machine or an army of transient workers. I go out daily with a small pair of scissors and a colander. I snip off the fruit that is ready by cutting the stem of the fruit as close to the branch as I can. Once I bring them into the house I dump them onto the kitchen table and remove the stems and calyx from the fruit (the calyx is the green fleshy portion of the stem that rests on the shoulder of the fruit. See this diagram. I always remove the stems before I dry the chilies. I have yet to develop a taste for them and they are a lot easier to remove when they are green. The stems and calyx can be tossed into your compost pile or green waste. I count the fruit because I like to keep records of my harvest them load them back into the colander to take to the sink for rinsing. I dump them out on the sink counter and put the colander in the sink. I'll take a half dozen or so Thai chilies and hold them between the palms of my hand and rub my hands together under running water. The Habañeros are too big and misshapen for this so I hold about 2 or 3 in one hand and scrub them with a vegetable brush under running water. Finally, I rinse them under all at once under running tap water then dry them by tumbling them in a towel. They are now ready to be eaten or dried.


I normally harvest what I am going to eat during the next meal or day of meals. I don't sweat them turning color because if they start, I ignore them and let them ripen fully. You can refrigerate green chilies for very long periods without them ripening or store them for long periods fresh and ripe.


I harvest them in batches once a week, rinse them, remove the stems and then put them in the oven for drying in the same screen mesh colanders I gathered and rinsed them in. Don't overheat your chilies. I set the oven to "warm" at about 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit or 49-60 degrees Centigrade. Store the pods in zip lock or other air tight containers after they become crispy dry. Any remaining moisture in them may cause mold during storage. If you are drying for seeds, use the lower range of drying temperature so as not to kill your seeds. Typically Thai, Habañero, Bird Mouth and Tabasco are dried although you can eat these fresh and many people do. I personally prefer Habañeros dried for the best flavor.

I was asked by a reader, Ken, why I dry my chilies in an oven rather than hanging in a hot dry eve. He also wanted to know how long it took to dry them. Here was my response:

There are a number of reasons I use an oven to dry my chilies. Time is one, they dry quicker in an oven in temperatures of 120 to 130 with a consistently low humidity than on my patio at temperatures ranging from 65 to 100 with humidity ranging from medium to dew point. During the peak of the season I would not have enough room to dry them all. Control is another reason, I can more easily sort the dry chilies from those that need more time when I am sorting a smaller batch that is drying in the oven and I can exactly control the temperature they dry in so I have a more uniform drying scenario. But the most important thing is cleanliness. In an oven there is little or no dust to settle on them bringing with it microbes that will cause spoilage when stored for long periods. No flies can land on them, no insects can lay eggs in them, no birds can peck at them and expose them to bacteria, mold and mildew. They also become drier. The air in an oven is much more dry than outside air, and the drier the chili the longer it will store and the better it will taste when finally eaten.

You see, you cannot wash the chilies AFTER they are dry. They need to stay clean during the drying process.

The drying time varies from chili to chili. The big Habañeros can take up to 4-6 days, the small Thai chilies will dry in about 2-3 days. Drying time varies depending on size, moisture content, and ambient temperature. A chili is dry when you pinch it between your fingers and it crumbles rather than bends and flattens. You don’t have to crumble them all or even one of them, you will very quickly learn to tell just by gently pinching a chili between your fingertips whether or not it is dry. Remember, an intact, unbroken chili will store a LOT longer than a broken or crushed chili. The skin is an effective barrier to pathogens that cause spoilage.

OK bunkies, there you are. Go out and grow your own and may your lips throb, your neck sweat and your face turn red. May your ears itch, your mouth roast, your guts roil with lava, and may your poo-poos be smoking hot!

(If you think ahead - throw a couple rolls of toilet paper in the freezer!)

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