Exploring the Art of Growing Chile
January – time to plan your crop and get a jump on the competition.
What types of chiles are you planning to grow? If you are selling your crop, this is the easy part. Your customers will let you know what they want. If you are “playing” the market, you have to decide on growing widely used chiles (more likely to find a home for them) that are less valuable or niche/specialty chiles (less likely to be needed, but may also have less competition in the market place) that can be quite valuable to the right customers.
I like to spread my risk by doing a little of both. Most of the potential customers for specialty chiles are in the specialty sauce business.For the most part, they will use a base (usually jalapeno, anaheim, or cayenne) and for flavor, will add the expensive stuff. So talk to potential clients or roll the dice- but make a plan now and get your seed.
Seed is extremely important!
Poor seed will frustrate you and could potentially ruin your project. You are picking the characteristics of your product in this step. Environment will only have about 5%-10% effect on your end product. Hot varieties make hot chile. Mild varieties make mild chile. Buy your seed from a company that knows what they are doing. Read descriptions carefully. There are many common names that apply to the same peppers. Ask questions. This is no time to be timid.
Soil & Water
Your soil and water types are an important factor in the success of your crop. Well drained soils are better for peppers; the less saline the water, the better. If your conditions are not the best, consider augmenting your soil with peat, manure, etc.
Climates will determine what will be able to finish. A longer growing season (further south you are) will give you more opportunity to finish your crop outdoors. If you are climate controlled (green house) this is not an issue. Shorter season varieties may be necessary if you are in the north or are planning multiple crops. Habanero takes an extremely long time to mature.
When to Plant
Now you need to look back to what decisions you have made regarding seed cost, climate and soil and decide on whether to direct seed or grow plugs. Expensive seed is almost always started in green houses. Small seed projects can be done inside a house. If you are going to plant plugs, figure out when the temperature will support chile and count back 30 days. This will allow you to get a jump on the season since you are growing plugs anyway. Larger scale, cheaper, seed projects typically cannot afford to do everything in transplants and are better candidates for direct seeding. If you are going to direct seed, make sure to plant in moisture when the temperature gives the plant the best chance at surviving and is within your growing season limits. A plant that struggles as a seedling will be a problem all year long. Sometimes it is better to restart rather than nurse a bad stand.