Indoor chili growing
I love chilies. Getting the ones you want can be really tough and expensive for a lot of the super-hots, or even just the less common ones that supermarket won’t carry. Peppers grow pretty well indoors, but keeping them smaller really helps with maintaining your space. This is why indoor chili growing is your best bang for the buck.
Chilies are Capsicums and all have nearly the same nutrient, light, and care requirements. The basic ratio for the life time of most peppers is roughly 1:1:1.3 NPK, and front-loaded on nitrogen for rapid vegetative growth, then bump to a high phosphorus and potassium mix for flowering.
About the spellingSo, is it chili, chilli, or chile? The answer is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Seriously, Merriam and Webster has no clue. And while there are plenty of shoe-gazing articles on the Internet waxing about on which is correct for the plant, country, and the soup/sauce that may or may not contain beans, after reading about 6 of those articles, my official conclusion is that it really depends on where you’re from and how you were introduced to the item in question.
None of this stops people from having strong opinions, of course. If you are one of those people, please be aware that I think you are 100% right. But, I’m using this spelling to maximize search engine rank, so if it’s not your favorite, please forgive me.
Like all plants, you need the basics to grow:
- Lights – Peppers do well with all grow lights, and need a minimum of 14 DLI (the cheapest of grow lights), but 50 gets you growing much quicker (cannabis grow lights).
- Air – Minimal breeze and ventilation is needed. I recommend keeping them near the room with your gas boiler. I recommend this because they like it warm: 75-85 degrees is best.
- Nutrients – Be judicious with “grow” nutrients; only use them to get a rapid boost of growth at the begining. Giving a capsicum a ton of nitrogen does not promote flowering, and you’ll get a lot of big leaves. We want fruits, not leaves! You know when it’s overdone when the leaves are a very deep green. Oh, and Magnesium; They need much more than most plants, so CalMag or Epsom salts are handy to add.
- Root zone – This is the weird thing for peppers… they need a lot of root zone aeration. More on this later.
Moving chili plants indoors
A popular option is to start and grow outside and move your plants inside for the winter. Chili plants grow great outdoors and will typically get all the heat and light stress they need to set flowers. That said, once they hit freezing temps, the plant dies. So, if you live in warm climates, you have nothing to worry about – the plants will wither and be cranky for the winter, but ultimately will come back next year with a big root system to help them grow.
Those of us who live where it does freeze have choices to make. We can re-plant the next year, or over-winter the chili plants. You can bring them inside to a full grow setup and continue to harvest all wither at a potentially reduced rate, or you can cut the main stalk off, bring it inside to a warm place and just let it wait out the winter in a warm spot. You put it outside the next year.
Setting up the indoor chili grow
Once you have a vaguely warm spot with a grow light, you need to prepare your media.This takes on a different set of parameters if you’re growing in hydro or soil. Let’s take a look at the special considerations.
If you are growing in soil, go with:
- 1-5 gallon fabric pot. 1Gal will get you a tiny plant you need to constantly feed, but I find that the stress makes them fruit densely. Larger pots make larger plants which can still produce a thick crop, but take a lot longer to get there and experimenting takes longer.
- Soil mixture with at least 30% vermiculite/perlite/sand so it can pull air down as the water goes away. I cannot stress this enough: You need to give your plants excellent root zone aeration or disappointment will be the only result.
- Good drainage – Make sure that your container can drain water or at least has a gravel zone at the bottom so the soil can shed excess water.
Most soils will feed your plant for about 4-6 months at which time you’ll need to start to fertilize. Again, you should continue fertilizing with “bloom” mixes unless you have cut back you plant and need it to grow back, in which case, go with the vegetative or “grow” mix until just before your plant hits the correct size.
The key to getting good heat, flavor, and production is to provide constant, low-level stress during flowering. This means that in order to promote good growth you should do a few of the following:
- Keep the lights bright.
- Let the soil get drier than you would with other plants between waterings. If the leaves are just a touch wilted every once in a while, good job.
- Heat stress is good, and the natural way. Let the temps rise for a couple of hours a day if you can. 90°F works well.
- Over-feed on potassium and phosphorus. This is as simple as putting a full strength hydro nutrient solution in there every 4th watering, or you could add DryKool bloom in a few waterings. Be very careful as overdoing this will kill the plant. Work your way up to see what your plant can handle. Avoid nitrogen unless the leaves turn yellow.
If you want to grow hydroponically:
- Flood/Drain, Dutch Buckets, or Drain to waste coco produce fast, dense plants. They provide lots of root zone aeration and nutrient supply which results in fast growth. We experimented with this and with a modified space bucket were able to grow a plant to full size in about a month. Both these methods require a fair amount of maintenance unless you rig a watering system. Stressing your plant is easy with this one… just change the feed schedule so it gets fed less. Our experiments get maximum growth in a 1Gal pot and a 15 minute feeding every 3 hours, for 15 hours.
- Bubble Bucket/DWC – 3.5Gal bucket works acceptably with MaxiBloom + CalMag as a minimum base for nutrients. However, for a big yield, you will need to actively stress your plant.
- Kratky – We have not had much luck with this, but it is an option for a lazy grow.
Since drying out your plants in hydro can be tricky, to get them to flower and build flavor you should:
- Use heat and light stress to promote flowering if possible.
- Combine whatever you can from the above stresses with nutrient stress. Nutrient stress is probably the easiest way to coax fruiting. I’ve found that 1/4 tsp Dry KoolBloom per gallon will jump start flowering. However, you can just up your normal 1300ppm nutrient solution to 3000ppm and get similar results. Watch your plants carefully when you do this, as again, stressing plants too much can kill them.
If you are doing everything correct, your grow space should be devoid of bees. This means you have to do the that job. Our favorite ways to pollinate:
- A light breeze will do much of the job for you. Flowers can self-pollinate and the breeze can move enough pollen around to get the job done.
- Sacrifice a flower and rub it on the other ones. I use this method because it’s lazy and works reliably..
- Use a cotton swab on each flower to pollinate.
- Vibrate parts of the plant with an electric toothbrush or other object.
Hopefully, this give you a good idea of the basics you need to start growing your own indoors chili. Grow your own and ensure that you have a supply ready when you need it. Remember the basics:
- Maintain good root-zone aeration.
- Don’t over-feed nitrogen.
- Maintain stress during flowering.
- Don’t be scared to mis-handle them too much: most chili plants can take a LOT of abuse, and sometimes need it to get the best product.
- Remember to pollinate
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