Hi Folks, A couple of the permies to whom I sent some chillies asked me for some growing tips. As well as putting down my ideas, I'd like to invite tips from anybody about what works and what doesn't, given that my experience relates to the subtropics in SE Qld, where most chillies will grow as perennials, and we have a decent warm growing season. I've got around 70 varieties on 150 bushes, and learn mostly by trial and error, and I grow them for fun. Chillies generally do quite well with little looking after. My "getting a yield/ return the surplus" is getting good conversation or meeting new people when giving them away or talking about them, as I can't possibly eat several hundred chillies a day! Varieties 5 common species, a couple of dozen wild, and 3000-odd varieties described. Family is solanums (also includes tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, tobacco). Capsicum Annuum: nearly all shop bought chillies, and all capsicums (bell peppers) are Annuum. Most grow well here. Capsicum Baccatum: include the South American Aji's. Also do well. Capsicum Chinense: the habaneros and scotch bonnets. Do OK. Growth not as prolific as the above. Capsicum Frutescens: includes the Tabasco chilli. Variable success. Capsicum Pubescens: (means "hairy") includes the Roccoto chillies. Black seeds, more vine-like and sprawling. Original habitat I think was at higher altitude in Peru/ Bolivia. Struggles here. First fruit just coming through on 30cm bushes after 3 years in the ground. Propagation I've only done it from seed. Haven't heard of tried any forms of striking cuttings, layering or grafting. Would be interested to try if anybody else has info. Germination The hardest bit. Fresh seeds germinate much more easily than dried. Methods depend on whether you've got a plentiful supply of seed, and how keen you are to get a particular cultivar. They do self seed, but not prolifically. Can take a few days up to 3-4 weeks. Need warm temps, over 25 degrees best. In temperate areas could start indoors, and transplant out as seedlings. If plentiful supply, easiest is to grab a pile of fresh chillies and scatter them under a bit of dirt or mulch, crush underfoot first if you feel like it, water, and walk away. Little clusters of seedlings emerge, wait a few weeks and thin out to strongest. More controlled is to germinate in trays or pots. I've had good success putting a bunch of whole chillies into a mix of compost & aged horse manure, just covered and no more, in a broccoli box, and transplanting and thinning out later. If limited supply of fresh chillies can scrape out the seeds and put a dozen or two into seed trays or pots. Germinating mediums I've tried include wet paper towels, standard seed germinating mix, potting mix, compost, manure, and more recently sterile seed raising mixtures in take-away food containers. Medium needs to be kept moist, but not waterlogged. I usually put the tray/pot in a plastic bag or cover with clingfilm till germination starts, then give them some light. Seeds just buried by no more than 5 mm, only just covered will do. I keep out of direct sunlight to avoid day/night fluctuations, but in temperate areas where cooler direct sun might help (?). Dried seed very variable & depends on supplier, age of seed, and variety. I soak the seed overnight first. Transplanting Seedlings are very delicate post-germination, handle as little as possible, and keep just moist. Adequate light so that they don't grow spindly and fall over, and if in a nutrient poor mix, watering with dilute worm or compost tea once a week seems to help. Can transplant when able to handle, usually when first true leaves have developed. I pot them on first, then into the garden later. Soil & Aspect Tolerate and like full sun as long as well mulched, although scattered and filtered light OK. Don't like windy areas, large plants fall over, laden branches snap. Staking helps. Some of my plants are 2 metres by 2 metres, and laden with 100-200 big chillies can need 3 or 4 stakes on the main branches. The better the soil the better the plant, like tomatoes, although I've a few plants that like the clay. Watering, Feeding & Deficiencies I've read that the chillies are hotter if you let the plant dry out completely, and they will tolerate a dry spell. I prefer to keep roots just moist tho' and if no rain give them some water a couple of times a week. The big established bushes only need water when drooping. Like tomatoes, they love compost, aged manure or worm castings. I've used organic extra or blood and bone for sickly looking ones and also fish or seaweed extract, but I think it is all down to the soil. If you overdo the nitrogen you get lots of soft green growth and leaves but no flowers and fruit. Quite a few of my plants show chlorosis, or yellowing of the leaves between the veins, which remain dark green. This is mainly on the older leaves; the new growth is OK. The soil PH to start with was an acidic high 5/low 6, and it was really crappy soil. I used dolomite and lime for PH control (and the calcium & magnesium may help flowering & fruiting), and scattered some crushed rock dust around. I think things are improving just with improving soil nitrogen and structure with compost, aged manure and worm castings. I haven't had a formal soil analysis done (yet!) Fertilisation They generally do just fine on their own. I've read that they will cross-pollinate between the same species and produce chillies not true to type. If this is really important to you then you may need to just grow one type, or plant at opposite ends of the block. I've also tried to help things along by brushing fingertip on the stamens of a flower, then brushing onto the other flowers on the same plant. Pruning When they've stopped producing and we're coming into our dry spell (April-Nov) I prune back the spindly leggy stuff, but it is not essential. Pests/ Diseases Generally pretty good. Not much trouble with aphids but grasshoppers and caterpillars will happily munch on new seedlings. The odd bush will sometimes get rot on all the fruits, and drop the lot. Might be some kind of blight or viral/bacterial cause. Main issue is Queensland fruit fly, which preferentially goes for the bigger fleshier varieties and leaves the little ones alone. First sign is rot in the flesh, though sometimes a black spot round the egg injection site. Put affected fruit in a plastic bag in the bin, don't compost or bury, as this is part of the fruit fly breeding cycle and leads to more problems next year. On bushes where I know there have been problems in the past I tend to pick the chillies earlier at the green, or just a hint of red stage. I wonder if the brush turkeys that do so much damage to sweet potatoes etc actually help reduce fruit fly problems by eating the grubs in the soil? I haven't used any sprays/insecticides or pesticides at all to date. Cooking/ Eating That's a whole new area...no time to write a book now! What tips have all you other hot-heads and chilliphiles got to share? Hamish PS still plenty to give away. PM me.