There are basically two types of chilies or chili peppers as it is also known. Chili peppers with bite and those without bite. Chili peppers are actually the fruit of the Capsicum genus, which belongs to the Solanaceae familiy; the same family as brinjals or aubergines, potatoes, and tomatoes.
Peppers originated in the Americas but can be found worldwide nowadays and have been hybridized to suit the needs and palates of those that are cultivating the peppers and chilies. Consequently capsicum has many names depending on its pungency and its use. In English capsicum of the sweet variety is known as peppers and the capsicum of the hot variety is known as chilies. Most capsicum species are perennial though when they are cultivated in areas where the climate necessitates it, these plants are also grown as annuals. Capsicum does not take up too much space in a garden and is easy to grow. Some capsicum species, especially the hot types form attractive little shrubs while the sweeter capsicum stays in a plant shape. Capsicum is not prone to disease and therefore makes the ideal companion plant.
Some capsicum species will readily cross with other capsicum species while others are more resistant to hybridization. Growing chilies and peppers are quite rewarding as well as interesting because one can steer a single capsicum plant selection into a direction where one has achieved the ideal chilies or pepper to one’s preference. To this end one can have the hot chili peppers, a mild chili pepper and even sweet bell peppers.
Cultivation and care
Warm weather and a sunny wind free corner in the garden is the ideal spot in which to grow Capsicum. The averages sized family requires only two plants to provide in their needs. It is best to sow the pepper and chili seeds from late winter through early summer in situ or if you prefer seed trays. Sowing should be done approximately 1 cm (that is 0.4 inches) deep and between 40 and 50 cm (that is 15 to 20 inches) apart from each other. Chilies and peppers are not fussy regarding the type of soil they are planted in, but I found that it is best to apply good compost and fertilizer (if you make use of commercial fertilizers, they are also fine to use). A spade-full of organic compost or even kraal manure and a handful of 3:1:5 fertilizer per plant should be sufficient. Work the compost into the soil and keep the soil moist. The seeds should sprout after 6 to 8 days after sowing.
When your seedlings are approximately 3 weeks old then you should transplant them approximately 50 cm (20 inches) apart. When your capsicum plants starts to flower do water it regularly else the flowers will fall off and consequently you will not have any fruits. The branches of the sweet bell peppers are usually very brittle and should be handled with care. Practice caution when weeding so as not to damage the plant. Cultivate the surface of the soil often to get rid of weeds, but not so deeply that the capsicum plant roots are harmed.
On average capsicum will start bearing fruits from between 6 to 8 weeks before you can start harvesting. With sweet bell peppers you will even find that you may have to harvest 3 to 5 fruits per month and in the case of the hot chili peppers you will find that you may have to harvest continually. And the more you harvest, the more fruits the capsicum plant will bring forth.
With sweet bell peppers you may harvest the fruits when they are about half size. Whereas with Hot Chili Peppers it is better to leave the fruits on the capsicum plant until they have fully ripened to make use of the full flavor and taste. You may harvest them before then (whilst they are still green) it does not matter, it all depends on how you prefer to eat them.
It is also beneficial to the capsicum plant, in the case of Hot Chili Peppers, to prune the little shrub from time to time, not only to improve the shape of the capsicum plant, but also to ensure that the capsicum fruits get more sunlight and air.
In the case of sweet bell peppers, it is best to harvest regularly so as to ensure that the mother capsicum plant remains strong and is able to bear fruits for longer in any one season. Chilies or Peppers will bear fruits throughout the summer as long as the fruits are picked regularly as soon as they’re large enough.
Both the sweet bell peppers and the hot chili peppers make excellent pot plants as well. When potted they require the same type of care as tomato plants for instance. When planting in pots, they should have porous, well-drained soil. Liquid fertilizer may be applied occasionally to prevent the leaves from yellowing. Protect your plants against frost and water regularly but not to the point where the roots are always in the water and the capsicum plant develops root rot. Remember they want full sun.
General tips when growing Capsicum – hot chili peppers and bell peppers
- Gather the capsicum fruits by snapping of the brittle stems or cut them off with a sharp knife.
- Any fruits that haven’t been picked and are hanging on the plant whenfrost threatens should be cut off and stored in a cool but frost-free cellar or similar place. Under such conditions they’ll keep for 3 or more months.
- Don’t over water your capsicum plants; by keeping the soil just moist will result in bushier and more compact capsicum plants.
- Pinching the plants is not a requirement, but if any shoots seem to stray, them may be pinched – Akin to pruning.
- Sweet Bell Peppers and Hot Chili Peppers must have full sun all the time.
- During hot weather, they may be kept in a greenhouse or outside buried to their rims in mulch.
- The chili plants/little shrubs must be brought inside before cold weather sets in.
- If you started the seeds indoors it is best to harden the capsicum seedling off gradually before planting them outside.
- The capsicum plants must never suffer through drought or low temperatures.
- When growing capsicum in containers take care that the pots are not smaller than 20cm (that is 7.87 inches) in diameter and bigger is better.
- If you decide to grow your capsicum in pots then you may make use of the normal commercially available potting soil.
- Chilies do not grow well indoors. They need bees and the other insects for pollination purposes. It’s better to bring a pot indoors for a special occasion and then take it out afterwards.
How to use Chilies and Peppers
- Many people worldwide make use of red peppers as a digestive aid. It is believed that red chili peppers stimulate the flow of saliva and stomach secretions. Human saliva contains enzymes that during the chewing process break down carbohydrates – thus eating chili peppers aid digestion. The human stomach also contains acids and other digestive juices that’s secretion is stimulated when eating red chili peppers.
- Eating hot peppers does not harm the stomach. In fact eating highly spiced meals causes no damage to the stomach in people with normal gastrointestinal tracts. However, beware that eating hot chili peppers may not be a good idea for people who have stomach or intestinal problems. (Tip: Red pepper will burn in the mouth or on the skin, use milk to counteract the burning sensation. The proteins in milk wash away capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the heat.))
- Many herbalists recommend rubbing red pepper onto sore muscles and joints. This can become a bit uncomfortable because the red chili pepper acts as a counterirritant, but in doing so the person suffering the symptoms is distracted from the more severe pain. (Think Deep Heat muscle rub here.)
- It has also been proven that red chili peppers can aid in relieving certain types of chronic pain.
- Cluster headaches can be treated with Capsicum by rubbing a capsaicin preparation inside and outside their noses on the same side of the head as the headache pains. However, one side effect would be burning nostrils and runny noses, but your headaches would be much less.
- Capsicum can also be used to combat high cholesterol levels and to reduce the risk of internal blood clots that may trigger heart attacks.
- As a culinary herb, Hot Chili Peppers and Sweet Bell Peppers can be enjoyed in many ways: fresh chopped and raw in salads, in sauces, in salads, cooked, stuffed, in relish, etc.
- Hot chili peppers and bell peppers are integral ingredients in curries and stews.
- Thai cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Indian cuisine and even Italian cuisine makes use of capsicum.
- Capsicum can be preserved by drying, pickling or freezing.
- You may choose to reconstitute dried peppers whole, or processed into flakes or powders.
- You may also add pickled or marinated peppers to sandwiches or salads.
For the cook
Red capsicum relish (makes 3 cups)
- 1 kg red and yellow capsicums deseeded and thinly sliced
- 1 tsp black peppercorns (in a muslin bag)
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 red onions thinly sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic finely crushed
- 375 ml (13 oz UK / 12 oz US) red wine vinegar
- 2 apples peeled, cored and grated
- 1 tsp fresh ginger grated
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- In a large saucepan combine all the ingredients except for the brown sugar.
- Let it simmer covered for about 30 minutes or until the capsicum is soft.
- Add 1 cup brown sugar and stir over low heat until it is completely dissolved.
- Cover and simmer for 1 ¼ hours, stirring occasionally, until the relish is reduced and thickened.
- Remove muslin bag.
- Rinse three 1 cup capacity jars with boiling water and dry in a warm oven.
- Spoon the relish into hot jars and seal.
- Turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes and then turn right way up to cool.
- Label, date and leave for a few weeks to allow flavors to develop.
- he relish will keep in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.
- Refrigerate after opening.
- A dried flower arrangement using chilies makes a great statement in your kitchen.
- Some capsicum shrubs are very ornamental in a garden.