Peppers are easy to grow and have the advantage of being highly decorative. You can grow chilli peppers and dwarf sweet peppers (also known as bell peppers or capsicum) in small pots on the patio. To grow full size sweet peppers in containers you will need a 5L pot or a grow bag.
The ‘heat’ of chilli peppers is caused by a family of chemicals called capsaicinoids. It is measured in Scoville Heat Units, named after Wilbur Scoville, the scientist who devised the scale. Sweet peppers are at zero, mild chillies are below 1000SHU and medium chillies are around 5000SHU. The Dorset grown Dorset Naga chilli scored a searing 920,000 SHU!
Chillies get hotter as they ripen, so green chillies aren’t as hot as red chillies from the same plant.
You can buy young chilli and sweet pepper plants by mail order or in most good nurseries. Alternatively you can grow your own from seed. C. annuum cultivars should be sown in late February, other species tend to take longer to mature and so do best if sown late January-early February.
Sow 2 seeds per 9cm pot. Place in a heated propagator or seal in a clear plastic bag and place on a sunny window sill. A steady 20C will give best results. When germinated you can gradually reduce the temperature but keep it above 14C. Remove the weakest of the 2 plants if both seeds germinate.
Pot up the plants as they grow and pinch out the growing tip when the plant is about 20cm high, this will giver neater, bushier plants. Support and train as you would a tomato plant. Feed with tomato fertilizer regularly as soon as the first flowers form. Removing the first baby fruit that forms will give a better crop. Pick ripe fruits regularly to keep the plant flowering and fruiting.
You’ll get fewer pest problems if you keep the plants outside in summer but bring them back under cover as the weather cools to allow the last of the fruits to mature.
Aphids, spider mites and whitefly can all be treated by spraying with pyrethrum, a natural pest control made from Chrysanthemums.