Growing Chilies in New England
Many people seem to think that chilies can only be grown in the hot climate of the Southwest. This is far from true, though growing chilies in New England requires the same kind of planning and care that is required to grow tomatoes. One must start the plants early and give them the proper care through the early season.
A thorough guide to chili culture can be found at the Ontario Canada government site.
My own experiences
Selection of varieties
Jalapeno and Serrano chilies are probably the two most versatile types.
For hotter chilies, habenero chilies are very prolific. It doesn't take many plants. I never do more than 2 plants.
Within the New Mex chili varieties, I have tried 4 or 5 and have had the best luck with Joe Parker.
Starting the Seeds
For Connecticut, I like to start plants around February 1-10. Chili seeds take a while to germinate and their early development can be slow.
The biggest mistake is to move the plants to the garden too early. There seems to be little gained by transplanting before June 1. In 1997, the month of June was so cool here in Connecticut that even that proved to be too early.
I find porous black plastic mulch is the best method for chili culture. This warms the ground early in the season and keeps down weeds. I place a drip irrigation hose about 3 inches deep under the plastic and use this for regular watering. My schedule is every third day for about 2 hours. ( 2GPM Flow rate with 200-250 feet of soaker hose. Adjust time as needed for other systems) I side dress the plants twice during the season with a good fertilizer. Leave at least a 6 in diameter opening in the plastic. If it is too close it can kill the plants and also makes it hard to work in the fertilizer.
I always get more chilies than I can use at the end of the summer. Here are some suggestions for preserving the surplus.
Growing in Pots
Chilies are a great indoor plant if you have a reasonably sunny place for them. As perennial, they can be moved outside in the summer and back indoors in early Fall. The biggest problem is insects moved in with the plants in the fall.
I like to place the plants in a plastic tent with a "No Pest Strip" for a month when I move them indoors. I pick all chilies that are ready to eat before I place them in confinement. When they come out of the plastic, I like to wait a few weeks before I eat the chilies to give time for the pesticide residues to evaporate. This is usually a time when I am working with the surplus from the garden, so I don't need the chilies from the potted plants. If you want to eat them sooner, be sure to scrub them carefully.
Indoor plants will continue to bloom periodically. They may also loose many of their leaves and start new growth in late winter. You may prune them to shape them, but be careful not to cut them back too severely. When new growth appears, it is a good idea to add fertilizer.
Revised 9/19/97 David E. Henderson