Storage of Seeds: Store seeds away from children, sealed in their packaging in a cool, dry, dark place, or in a fridge. Never store them in a freezer as the sudden temperature drop is likely to kill them. Don't leave the seeds in direct sunlight as the heat generated may kill them.
Sowing: Sow from mid-August to mid-January. Fill small cells or trays with a good sterile seed compost and sow the seeds on the surface. “Just cover” with a fine sprinkling (3mm) of soil or vermiculite. Keep the compost moist - don't let the top of the compost dry out (a common cause of germination failure). If you wish, spray the surface with a dilute copper-based fungicide. Cover the pot or tray with plastic film or place in a heated propagator, north facing window or a warm greenhouse. The ideal temperature is around 18 to 20°C (65 to 72°F).
Transplanting: When the seedlings have produced their first pair of true leaves they can be potted on into individual 7-10cm (3-4in) pots. Use good quality potting compost and mix in some organic slow release fertiliser. Pot the chilli on again before it becomes root-bound. Water the seedlings regularly, but don't let them become waterlogged as this encourages rot. Don't let them dry out as they rarely recover at this stage. Water the soil, not the foliage. Once the plants have established, it is better to water heavy and infrequently. Allow the top inch or so to dry out in between watering.
Seedlings should be grown in good light, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight from late spring to early autumn. Weaker sunlight from autumn to spring is unlikely to do them harm. Once seedlings have put on some growth they need lots of light. Growing them under a grow-light produces excellent stocky plants, as will a warm sunny windowsill. Adult chilli plants need lots of light. However, more than 4 hours or so in hot direct sunlight will dry them out quickly. Acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 2 to 3 weeks before they are moved permanently outside. Plant them into rich moist soil. Flower do not form and fruit will not set if the temperature is much below 17°C (62°F) for most of the day, so wait until December/January for best results with outdoor planting.
Fertilising: After the first flowers appear, feed every one or two weeks with a half-strength liquid tomato feed. You could also add some seaweed extract to the water once a week.
Pollinating Flowers: Chilli plants are self fertile and will generally pollinate themselves. However, if you want to give them a helping hand to ensure that lots of fruit are set indoors, use a cotton wool bud to gently sweep the inside of the flowers, spreading the pollen as you go. The flower's petals will drop off as the green middle part of the flower starts to swell slightly. This is the chilli pepper beginning to grow.
Harvesting: Chillies will take a few weeks to develop and a further couple weeks to turn from green to red. You may pick them off the plant any time after they are fully developed but the longer you leave them on the hotter they will become. Do not leave them on for too long, as delaying after the chilli is ready for harvest will result in a decline of further yields.
Storage: After picking, if you aren't going to eat them fresh, dry the peppers by putting them into a mesh bag, hang the bag up in a dry, airy, but not sunny spot. When they are completely dry, you can make paprika by grinding the peppers. Don't grind the stalks. You can regulate the spiciness of the result by including more or less of the seeds and veins.
Warning: Be careful handling chilli seeds as they can cause a painful burning sensation: wash your hands thoroughly. DO NOT rub your eyes after handling chilli seeds!
Etymology: Jalapeño is a very popular and versatile Mexican chilli which is eaten both green and red. It is named after the city of Xalapa, capital of the province of Veracruz. Chilli terminology is confusing; pepper, chili, chile, chilli, Aji, paprika and capsicum are used interchangeably for chilli pepper plants in the genus Capsicum. The word Capsicum comes from the Greek kapto, meaning 'to bite' (a reference to pungency or heat).
Overwintering: Many people are unaware of the fact that pepper plants are perennials. We typically plant the seeds, reap the benefits of our labour and then let the plants die off when the cold weather hits. However, with a little effort, you can over-winter your pepper plants and have a more fruitful harvest the following year. Over-wintering your plants will bring you a number of benefits. While everyone else is planting seeds in the spring, your plants will have a head start with well-established root systems and stems. The harvest will come much sooner and last much longer, producing much more that a first year plant would.
At the end of the growing season, when the temperature begins to drop, pepper plants will become dormant. They are finished producing flowers and pods for the year and require much less sunlight and water. This is the time to begin the over-wintering process. The first step for over-wintering your pepper plants is to cut them back drastically, leaving only a short stem. This may seem a bit harsh, but it will make your plant concentrate its energy on re-growth, rather than trying to sustain older, un-productive vegetation. Re-potting your plants in a smaller container will also help your plant reserve its energy for hibernation.
The most important step is to place your plants in a warm area that will give them the best chance of surviving the winter. Most of us don’t have a greenhouse, so a sunny window sill will work well. If the temperature inside is comfortable to you, chances are your plants will enjoy it as well. Continue to water your plant, but do so much less often. The soil should be moist, but not damp as this will promote the growth of mould.