We’ve all been there: you’ve had a hard day, and it’s your turn to cook the evening meal. You’re strolling the aisles of the supermarket, and are short of time. So you grab the 69p packet of chillies slowly sweltering in a small sealed plastic bag and chuck it in your basket.
Now consider this alternate universe: you’ve come back from work with a spring in your step. Your boss has just given you a raise and a hearty slap on the back. The sun is streaming through your kitchen window, which you crack open with a set of secateurs in your hand. Snip! In your hand is a freshly-cut chilli from your own windowsill plant.
It might sound like an impossible dream, but chillies are the on-ramp for kindergardeners, a simple kitchen staple that can survive even the most heavy-handed horticulturist. And if you want to enjoy fresh chillies from your own kitchen garden this summer, now is the time to put in a little legwork.
Chillies also happen to be – like many types of fresh produce that’s possible to grow at home – in another galaxy of taste compared to the shop-bought ones. And although the chilli originally came from warmer climes in South America, it’s able to adapt to our more miserable weather quite easily.
While you can buy a chilli plant from the same supermarket where you got your packet of three red peppers and place it in some moist soil, the best way to ensure you’ll have plenty of peppers to pick throughout the year is to grow your own from seed (pickling them after is optional, less so if your name is Peter Piper).
It might sound like a hassle, but it’s not a hardship: chillies are adaptable and forgive neglect. Sow them any time between January and April, though if you’re the sort of person who seeks out the hottest curries at a restaurant, you’ll want to plant them earlier to allow the heat to mature into its full fieriness.
The way to do this is indoors. Either sow your seeds in a collection of small pots or a seed tray with damp but not sodden compost. Create a mini-greenhouse by enrobing it in a plastic bag (or topping each tray and pot with cling film) then placing it somewhere warm. In this weather, near a radiator – or even better, a humid place in close proximity to your tumble dryer – would be ideal.
Within a few days some small sprouts should start breaking through the loam. Take off the plastic bag or cling film and keep the soil damp enough that the plants can take up some water until they grow big enough to repot.
Once you can easily handle them, take each plant out of their present home and put them into a bigger pot (around five inches should do) filled with general purpose compost. Once they start to grow tall, they’re prone to topple, so stick a stake in the pot to help support the plant. Then – provided there’s no risk of frost, which is the death knell for chilli plants – take them outside. From there, place them directly in the earth, around a foot-and-a-half apart from each other, or in a growbag, three to a home.
Water them regularly until flowers appear, then give them a dab of liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks. At this point, they’re a self-perpetuating being, constantly replenishing every time you take to them with a pair of scissors or secateurs. Throw that chilli in your evening pasta and live your best life.