I have a New Years day tradition and that is to sow my chillies and peppers for the year ahead. Currently we are sitting under a blanket of frost and light levels are low which is less than ideal for our tropical friends so, to keep them happy, I use a heated propagator and LED grow lights. The reason I start them so early is that many chillies take 80-120 days from sowing to fruiting in ideal conditions but I find, in the UK, that the superhots will not start fruiting properly until July/August, even when sown in January.
A variety I sow every year is jalapeño. Its it a very widely grown chilli and you will often see it scattered on an American style Pizza or TexMex food. The chilli originates from Mexico, from the city of Xalapa which is where it gets its name.
In the Kitchen
Jalapenos are a fairly mild, meaty chilli (up to 8000 on the Scoville rating). In Mexico they would be eaten green in salsa, on their own blistered on the grill or fried (Chiles Toreados), pickled as a garnish, or stuffed. If left to go red and smoked and dried it makes the chipotle pepper. Why not try with Sweetcorn, Roasted Vegetable Chilli, Quesadillas with refried beans, Nachos or instead of Padron Peppers lightly fried with salt. You can also stuff with cream cheese, coat in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and deep fry.
For green chillis, pick when they are about 2 inches long, just before you start to see white faint cracking on the sides of the pepper. Do not let them go red unless you want to have a go at making your own chipotles.
Yield and plant Health
Jalapenos are pretty much bullet proof to grow, easy to germinate with a little heat, they will grow in to a sturdy plant about 2ft high and needs little support. Expect to get around 20 chillies per bush, any time after 80 days from sowing which means they are earlier than many. It is this ease or growing and versatility that means I grow it year after year.
Nearly every seed supplier will sell them
Chillies and peppers need a heated propagator to get going, with a steady heat of 27-30 degrees for a minimum of two weeks, but occasionally up to twelve for super hots to germinate.
In Jan/Feb, make a mix of 2/3 seed compost to 1/3 perlite. Sow a few seeds in to a three inch pot and cover with 5 mm of either the seed mix or vermiculite. Label and place in the propagator. Water sparingly (misting the surface can be ideal) until germinated.
Once germinated and you can see the first set of true leaves, gently pot on in to three inch pots in a good free draining compost and keep in a sunny spot, with a minimum temperature of 12 degrees C. If you are able to grow under LED grow lights then your plants will be stockier and more robust. Blowing on them them gently everyday will also encourage that, stimulating wind.
Water sparingly until they are 3-6 inches high when you can pot on in to 9 inch pots or, if passed the risk of frost, plant in greenhouse soil or in a sunny, sheltered position outside. Feed and water once a week.
Chillies can take varying times to start flowering. Padron peppers are very early, habanero can take 100 days. If you are growing inside you will need to fertilise the flowers yourself with a small brush. If growing in a greenhouse or conservatory ventilate well on hot days as temperatures over 36 degrees can lead to flowers dropping off.
Alternatives for Jalapeños are a bit tricky as they are meaty a bit like a pepper but with a little bit of heat..Similar heat levels are