Best Practices for growing indoor chilies

Indoor chilies make a great crop. However, getting the most out of a plant, takes a little planning. Let’s go over a few things you can do to try and succeed with indoor chilies.

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This article covers the process on how to get an indoor pepper plant producing a large amount of pods, while minimizing costs and space. If you want to dedicate an entire grow tent to growing chilies, try our article on large-scale indoor production (coming soon).

Plan the grow

Thai peppers under a fluorescent plant light

Our goal is to get a plant to produce a lot of peppers, and to do this continually over its life. Our restrictions are that we can’t have a massive plant, nor huge requirements for lights. Our advantages are that we can make a much better environment than an outside garden.

  • What are you trying to grow? Commercial varieties like jalapenos and habaneros are bred for fast growth and lots of pods. Ghosts, reapers, and most of your super-hots are bred to hurt you. They take about 90-120 days for a mature pod, whereas a hab will be ready in less than 45.
  • Where will the plant grow? The more space you have, the bigger it can be, but the more light and plant food you will need.
  • Will you grow via soil, coco, Kratky, or hydro? I’ve listed the grow types in order of speed, and maintenance requirements. A DWC system will get you fast growth and maturing pods, but requires a bit of stuff and setup. Soil will work just fine and just take about 50% longer to get to maturity with a lot less work.
  • How will you light it? As we’ve said before, don’t skimp on lights, but if you can keep your plant small, you can get away with a fairly small light. The key is to shape the plant to take advantage of the light spread.

Environment

Your plant will need a place to grow that works with what you want from it.

  • Do you want this plant to be decorative as well as delicious? Put it near people and use a small grow lamp. Don’t try to make it too bushy.
  • Do you want this to maximize yield? Put it in a space that has white or reflective walls on 2 sides, and light with a mid-sized LED panel. Supplement with a small fan for air flow, and heat the spot to over 72F (21C), and ideally over 78F (25C).
  • Doing this for fun? Give it some light and try not to forget about it.

Peppers grow best with at least 14 DLI of light, which translates to 250PPFD for 16 hours a day; easily achievable with a good window or small grow light. They also prefer tropical temperatures, which for us up north is a bit tougher to get. I have found that 70F/21C is about right indoors. They do grow far better in well-draining soil, and without that, they get droopy due to lack of root zone aeration.

Starting your plant

If you are planning on buying a seedling, skip to the next section and we’ll assume you’re doing this in soil.

Before continuing, we need to figure out the overall grow. Let’s go over the various methods.

  • Soil is best for organic grows, and requires the least amount of effort. Buy bagged soil for vegetables, mix that soil with about 40% perlite, and use that long term.
    All soil grows eventually run out of nutrients in them so you will end up having to fertilize. At this point, you can treat it like a more absorbent coco coir and fertilize most feedings, dress with compost, or supplement with a slow release fertilizer.
  • Coco is a hydro method that appeals to soil growers. It provides great support, great root zone aeration, and faster growth than soil. It also will support an organic grow. You will need to water carefully so as not to get fertilizer buildup in the coco, but that really only amount to watering until it runs off, and then a little bit more. You can do this every few days, but most feeding will have fertilizer.
  • Kratky is a simple hydro method requiring very little effort. Put a nutrient solution in a bucket, stick the plant roots in it, and clean if it gets dirty. While this method will grow a plant quickly, it is prone to root rot, and bacterial build up in the reservoir. I combat this using a little bit of an inoculant so that beneficial bacteria grow in the tank and crowd out the stuff that can kill your plant.
  • Traditional hydroponics: in this case I’m going to assume DWC (although grow cubes also work great). Similar to Kratky, but with an air pump in the nutrient solution, as well as the planned replacement of nutrient solution. This method will provide very fast growth, but unless you design your system for easy cleaning, it will require a fair amount of effort when it comes time to change the nutrient solution or clean. I setup mine with a spigot on the top for topping up the solution and refilling, a drain, and a level indicator.

So germinate some seeds in an inert medium. I typically use peat pucks because they are cheap and versatile. However, rock wool is also popular, and especially in hydro grows.

Grooming the seedling

Once you have a seedling, you’ll need to mature it into a plant with 4-6 nodes. We will begin topping the plant.

Move your plant to an appropriate container. I will typically use the best pot available for small plants: The keg cup. Cut some slits in the bottom for appropriate drainage, and fill with potting soil.

Next, we need to make the plant a little bushy. Let the plant grow naturally for a while. You need it to be about 6 inches tall, and have 4 nodes.

When your seedling gets to about 4 nodes, clip it down to 3. At this point, your plant will begin growing in 2 directions. Do this a couple more times. Tie of the branches so they start to grow out instead of straight up. This squat little plant will be much more efficient to light and produce more because of it.

Transfer your seedling to its forever pot

Pepper plant in coco
A pepper plant in coco coir

At either this point, or when your plant begins to outgrow the seedling container, it’s time to move it to another pot. For productivity, I have found that the best container is a Rain Science grow bag. They allow the plant maximum root zone aeration for soil or coco, and survive for many seasons with little care. For most peppers a 1 or 3 gallon bag will be perfect. You can use the 5 if you want a particularly large plant.

Pepper plant in decorative bucket
Pepper plant in decorative bucket

For a more decorative approach, I’ve found metal buckets work well as a decorative piece. Simply lay down about 3/4 to 1 inch of perlite or rocks on the bottom and then add media above it. I find it helpful to stave off fungus gnats by putting a layer of perlite on top as well.

In DWC or Kratky, you’ll need the correct containers. I would recommend at least a 3.5Gal bucket for a productive plant.

Growing out your indoor chilies for a big harvest

Now let your plant settle in and grow it out to the correct size for you. This will take a few weeks. You can boost nitrogen fertilizer by a little to get it bigger, faster, but it will slow down the plant going into flowering. If you’re shooting for a slightly larger plant, though, it would be good to give it 1-2 feedings with an extra hit of a high-nitrogen fertilizer mix.

When it’s time to make chilies, the plant will start to flower. If you want to encourage your plant to start flowering, stress it. This can be in the form of:

  • Heat – Get the temp over 95 (35C) for a few days. Works best for soil grows as it won’t greatly upset the soil flora. Overheating a hydo grow can lead to root rot.
  • Lack of moisture – Let it sit without water until the leaves droop a little. Soil or Coco work well with this method. Very difficult to do in hydro.
  • Nutrient stress – Over feed it. This is especially good for hydro methods. I use Amazon from General Hydroponics at .25tsp/gal. It works best as it doesn’t include any buffers or vitamins that most fertilizer supplements use to lessen shock on the plants. I have had success at around 3500ppm for a week.

Keep your indoor chilies fed and producing

From here on keep them well fed on a low-nitrogen, high P-K diet if you want to maximize fruiting. In soil, I would use a 1/2 concentration of fertilizer with most waterings. In coco and Kratky, you can ramp up to 2000ppm as the plant grows to maximize output. DWC affords you the ability to run higher PPMs, and get amazingly good growth.

I recommend the following fertilizers:

  • In hydro and coco, I will typically run General Hydro FloraMicro and FloraBloom in a 1:2 ratio and start feeding at 600ppm and end up as high as the plant will tolerate (>1,500 ppm)
  • Also, in hydro and coco, and when I get lazy enough I don’t want to mix, CNS-17 Bloom & Ripe are my go-to products. Start with bloom and increase PPMs with Ripe as needed to get the nutrient solution to the right concentration
  • In soil, Down to Earth’s Vegetable Garden blend is excellent, but does take a while to break down and become usable. If you need immediate nutrients, you’ll need either some very ready compost, compost tea, or something less organic.

Once you get peppers, you can harvest at any time. For best results:

  • If you want green peppers, harvest as soon as they get full size. No need to waste time maturing them. The plant will have more resources to make more peppers
  • Harvest ripe peppers a week after they fully change color. Again, no need to let them sit for a long time after they are ripe. They will eventually rot after a 2-3 weeks.
  • Prune the plant if it starts to get big. As long as you leave growth tips, the plant can fully regrow. Because of this, you can safely start cutting large chunks of the plant off if it gets out of hand. This is how overwintering works.
  • Pickle, ferment, or freeze peppers to preserve them.

Indoor chilies: Common problems

Aphids

F%^&ing aphids. They will kill your plant within a week. The recommended way to deal with them is to spray a mixture of neem oil and Castile soap on the plant. This will work if you are vigilant, but a sulfur-based pesticide will work much better. Defoliate what you can, put double-sided tape everywhere, and spray with pesticide. Isolate any plants that have this

pH problems

This can kill your plant in about 3 days. The grey, falling leaves are the tell-tale sign of a large pH problem. Milder issues will manifest as random nutrient deficiencies.

Nitrogen Toxicity

Big, deep, green leaves and no fruit. This is not any immediate danger, but back off the N if you want fruits.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are annoying and detrimental to older plants, but absolutely deadly to smaller ones.

Since they have short life spans, I have found it easiest to put a 1/2 inch layer of diatomaceous earth over the top of the soil, and top that with perlite. Avoid top watering if possible, or make a single place where you can do that to prevent a wet top layer of soil. This leaves a dry layer and a layer that the larvae can’t penetrate, which prevents the life cycle from propagating.

1 year ago

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