With temperatures climbing daily, this month is perfect for sowing lots of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit which thrive in hot, hot and hotter weather. And where better to start than with the very essence of Pakistani cuisine and a fruit yes fruit not vegetable which without sufficient heat throughout its growing season, will not add that much loved, lip-numbing zap, to dishes such as biryani, nihari and even the traditional pakistani daal recipes. Come on gardeners, let it be chilies by the basket full on a daily basis and don`t forget that any excess can be preserved by sun-drying, turning into mind blowing pickles or achars. Or, depending on how the electricity behaves of course, they can be tossed in the freezer where they will keep, this may surprise some of you, for a full year or thereabouts before passing their expiry date; plus, sharing with friends, family and neighbors is a heartwarming, in this case quite literally, thing to do.
Grow green chilies at home
Chilies require a growing position in full sun, soil / compost that is rich in organic material and is well drained. They are perfectly at home grown directly in the ground or in pots and containers of any description, provided that drainage is catered for. These pots and containers, even hanging baskets can be used to optimize space, can be placed on sunny balconies, verandas, rooftops or wherever you happen to have space. Pots / containers can be no more than six inches deep unless, that is, you happen to be growing an exceptionally tall variety which will need a soil depth of nine to 12 inches to allow for root development: tall plants may also require supporting. Dwarf and medium-sized plants should not need any support. If the plants, irrespective of variety, show no sign of bushing out once they have reached a height of approximately six to nine inches, nip out the growing tips of the tallest stems to encourage side shoots to form.
The bushier the plant, the more chilies it has the capacity to bear.
Chili seeds can be started off in prepared seed beds, seed individually sown at a depth of a quarter of an inch and spaced three inches apart, or in seed trays or pots. Be careful not to saw seeds too close or else the emerging seedlings will have to compete f`or soil nutrients, water and sunlight and may use up all their energy doing this.
Overcrowded seedlings often grow faster and taller than correctly spaced out ones, thus giving the illusion that they are doing well when they are actually rapidly outgrowing their strength, such seedlings rarely produce decent plants.
With seedlings it is a matter of` carefully and slowly does it.
Seedbeds / trays / pots should be kept moist, not wet. If too much water is applied, humidity increases beyond tolerable levels and seedlings are then susceptible to fungal stem / root rot or what is more correctly termed `damping off` and it is not at all nice to go out one day and discover that your seedlings have suddenly degenerated into black slime. Watering seeds / seedlings, lightly, just once a day preferably in the cool of the evening is sufficient.
Seedlings should be transplanted out into their final growing positions when they are three to four inches high: handle them with care as they are surprisingly brittle and break easily.
If growing in the ground, space plants at a distance of 12 inches apart for dwarf varieties, in rows also 12 inches apart and 15-18 inches apart for larger growing varieties in rows also 15-18 inches apart. If growing in pots / containers, then one plant per 10-inch pot is enough and if in larger containers then, depending on the soil / compost surface area, you may be able to put in two to three plants or even more.
Water well after transplanting the seedlings, then water, in the evening, every other day until the plants are established, at which stage watering can be reduced to every three to four days depending on the ambient temperature.
Allowing soil / compost to completely dry out in between watering and then flooding the plants, can cause blossom to drop without setting any fruit so please do not let this happen: if you do, then both the plant and yourself will suffer.
Chilies can be harvested when green as everyone knows and harvesting them green encourages the plants to produce a larger crop than if you leave the fruits on the plant until they are fully ripe and red. Seed taken from green chilies is unripe and will not germinate. If you want to harvest your own seed for future crops then the chilies must first be allowed to ripen fully.
The most common chilies are green ones ripening to red but there are other varieties too: some of these start off yellow, as does Hungarian yellow wax` before turning red, others such as `Italian white wax` remain a creamy white throughout and yet others, `Piripiri` for example, produce green, yellow, orange, red and black fruits all on the same plant at the same time.
Capsicum peppers belong to the same family as chili peppers but are sweeter and milder tasting than red hot chilies. They are cultivated in exactly the same way but have a longer growing period as they can be started off earlier and will fruit longer. Plants may be much larger than chilli pepper plants and will therefore need correspondingly larger planting distances and depths. Capsicums also start out green before ripening to red, orange, yellow, purple or black and there are pure white varieties too; plus, the writer understands but has yet to taste one, there are chocolate colored capsicums which taste of chocolate too!Vegetable seeds to sow this month include: lady`s finger, tomatoes, cucumber, sweet potatoes (Tubers / cuttings), aubergines, radish, spinach, leaf beet, lettuce, cauliflower, loose leaved cabbage and even some last minute pumpkins, zucchini, courgettes, marrows and tindas along with loki.
Grow leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, leaf beet and cabbage, in the shade over the summer months.
Herbs to sow now: basil, borage, coriander, summer savoury, chives, garlic chives, calendulas and ginger.
Fruit: sweet melons and water melons.
Flowers: Amaranthus, celosia, coreopsis, cosmos, sunflowers, gompherena, portulaca, petunias (single ones are more heat tolerant than doubles), marigolds, tithonia, nicotiana, gaillardia, matricaria, tagetes and zinnias.