In the northern hemisphere, early March is the time of year some people start to worry about not getting their chilli seeds sown early.
Don’t panic! Planting now is the perfect time, as long as you give them a healthy start and don’t stunt their growth with cold dark conditions they will perform perfectly. Too many people fall into the trap of planting earlier and earlier each year because last year their plants were slow. Change your conditions not your planting time and remember a laboratory grown habanero plant given perfect temperatures, light, food and humidity, will go from seed to fruit in 3 months. Most of us take nearly twice that time to achieve the same, but keep chasing that goal all the same.
But for those that are behind the times and haven’t even bought seeds yet, you still don’t need to panic, here are 10 chillies that will guarantee a bumper crop even if you don’t plant them till the end of March or April. If they are planted in the middle of March all of these bar the last one should bear you fruit by early July, so you see there is plenty of leeway, and they will do most of their growing, and catching up, in May and June when days are long and temperatures warm. For more info on germination times here is a page entry from last year.
1/ Apache F1 – This is definitely one of the easiest; almost foolproof germination, super-quick to grow, and pretty hot too. Its compact size means that it can be kept in a warm window without fear that it will outgrow its space. In the UK buy them from Sutton Seeds or any garden centre.
2/ Pimento de Padron – This is quick, because the fruits are picked immature and fried to eat whole, instructions on how to grow and prepare them are here. They are very quick growing plants but they do get big, well over 1m tall, so they need the space of a greenhouse or conservatory to prosper. You can buy them from most garden centres or South Devon Chilli Farm.
3/ Hungarian Wax – These are another one that benefits from early picking, they end up red, but are most often picked when they have turned from yellow/green to a nice yellow banana colour, in fact they are often referred to as banana chillies. They can be chopped into salads or stuffed and grilled. they grow on a bushy plant, up to 75cm high and the same width. All garden centres and online seed sellers will stock these.
4/ Cheyenne – This is a compact plant with a slightly trailing habit so it is great for windows and smaller spaces, even hanging baskets. They are mildly spicy, good for general cooking and turn from green to orange when ready. Most garden centres stock this, or get it direct from Sutton Seeds.
5/ Bulgarian Carrot – For something reasonably hot, around 25,000 SHU, and great flavour, try this one. They are quick to ripen and grow close to the stems on strong upright plants, this makes them a manageable window plant. They have a distinctive fragrant taste and the fruits are firm and meaty with a long shelf life. In the UK you can buy them from Nikky’s Nursery, but most online seed sellers will have them.
6/ Chimayo – This is an old breed, but one that is renowned for an early crop of tasty red chillies. If it is classic looking red ones you are after, but don’t have much time, then this is the one for you. They are incredibly quick, almost as fast as Apache, but the plant is a bit of a rambler so they need some space. If you are into drying chillies and making powder this is a great one to grow. If you buy from the USA you can get them anywhere but in the UK try Nikky’s Nursery (again).
7/ Caldero – This is a Santa Fe, type chilli. Similar in uses to Hungarian wax, but smaller, a bit hotter, and slightly earlier to fruit than the standard Santa Fe. It is also more compact so it serves as a good window plant.
8/ Jalapeno la Bomba – You will always need jalapenos however late you plant, and this is quicker than the standard by a few days. In the UK you can buy them from Nikky’s Nursery, if you can’t get La Bomba, try Chichimeca, another quick one.
9/ Prairie Fire – Small hot chillies tend to be slower growing, but not Prairie Fire, they are probably the quickest of the little multi-coloured ones and of the 10 on this list they are the most compact too, so you can keep them in the window into the winter to maximise your crop. They are hot, at least 100,000 SHU which makes them a very quick win in terms of heat against time. You can buy them in most garden centres or online.
10/ Habanero – Paper Lantern – I would steer clear of Habaneros if you are planting late unless you have a warm greenhouse to keep them going into the autumn. But if you want to try it then go for paper lantern, they are a bit quicker than the standard ones and also a little bit hardier with their furry leaves and stems. In the UK get them from Thompson and Morgan but you can find them elsewhere online, particularly in the USA.
Don’t limit yourself to this list, there are many many more and most chillies don’t take that long too grow, just be sure you read the description and don’t overstretch your limits by choosing something that just won’t fruit in time.