Germinating Chilli Seeds on paper towel

Chillis. I love them. Crunchy, spicy, juicy, colourful, pungent, robust. They add a beautiful depth of flavour to any dish and I’ve been growing them for the last 10 or so years. This year I’ve totally missed the boat with starting my seeds off. By now I’d have at least a dozen or so plants ready for potting on but we’ve been so busy at the allotment that I’ve totally forgot to get them going. Dammit I could kick myself.

Even though chillis are quick to grow, some of the hotter varieties need to be started very early in the year, around January or February, to have any chance of their fruit ripening fully in the summer. Some fruits of the hottest varieties can take nearly two months to fully ripen and if you’re late with your sowing… you’re going to miss out!

As I forgot to plant early enough I’ve gone mainly for mild and medium varieties. I probably won’t get anywhere near the usual amount of fruits that I normally grow in my little home greenhouse, but I can only try.

One thing about chilli seeds is that some species have a rather low germination rate, namely cayenne and habanero. Meaning that if you planted say 10 seeds, only a small amount of them would ever grow into a plant. This is a rather annoying thing about growing chillis. You plant lots of seeds and sometimes you’ll only get 2 plants emerge but for some varieties you’ll end up with all 10 germinating and more plants that you know what to do with. It really is a gamble.

This year I wanted to try something a bit different. With the help of our new snake.

Yes. Snake.

Noodle came to live with us at the beginning of May and she’s being kept in a plastic box INSIDE a larger vivarium where the temperature is a balmy 30 degrees all round. It’s a perfect germination station for my chilli seeds. So I decided to go soil free to germinate my chillis. The added benefit of germinating on paper is that you can see as soon as the seed has germinated without having to wait for it to come up through the soil. If there’s been no action after 4 days – the seed’s a dud and you should try another.

Chilli seeds on paper towel

What you’ll need for paper towel seed germination:

  • seeds of your choice
  • shallow plastic container with a lid
  • kitchen towel / paper towel
  • water spray bottle
  • somewhere warm to keep the tubs

I got 5 plastic takeaway tubs, you know, the ones you get curry in from the Chinese takeaway? I never EVER throw these out because they’re perfect for starting seeds off. Line the bottom with one sheet of kitchen towel. Sprinkle 4 seeds (yes just 4 because you’re likely to get 2 successful germinations) and cover with another sheet of kitchen roll. Spray the paper until it’s moist but not dripping wet. Put a lid on the tub and place somewhere warm. In this case, the snake’s new home. You can use a heated propagator or heat mat to the same effect. I didn’t omit light, the lights in the snake’s tank are on a 12 hour timer and this didn’t seem to matter to the seeds. Don’t forget to label your tubs or you’ll forget which is which as many chilli seedlings look identical!

Tiny sprouting jalapeno seeds

The seeds I planted were: orange habanero, chocolate habanero, Hungarian wax, jalapeno, piquino, joe’s long cayenne, ring of fire and razzmatazz. Some of the seeds were from last year’s fruits and some were from my favourite chilli place – The South Devon Chilli Farm.

After just 2 days the jalapeno and razzmatazz have germinated and have sent little white shoots out of the seed casing, this is the first root coming out to take more water into the growing seedling. Next to emerge will be the first shoot. It’s amazing how quickly they grow under the right conditions and you can plant them straight into a pot knowing that the germination was successful, without having to wait and wait for a shoot to appear. It’s also a good way of controlling how many seedlings you end up with. Wait until the first green shoot appears out of the seed casing and then carefully pot into the surface soil of a pot. Don’t bury it, let it grow a little more, adding compost as it grows.

You’ll have a nice strong plant in no time without an influx of seedlings or the disappointment of empty pots from seeds that failed to germinate.

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