Harvesting-time is when growing your own chillies really starts paying off. With just some simple little touches before and while reaping what you sowed, you can boost your yield considerably.
Harvesting Heat: August grow-log update vid with sexy pod footage
Summertime is usually the most laid-back part of the season for a chilli grower. Pests like aphids are not really a concern anymore ever since their predators like parasitic wasps and ladybugs took care of them back in June. And on from the pollinators’ arrival in June and July, the plants have been funneling all their energy into producing fruit.
During this so-called generative phase it’s a good idea to water the plants as little as possible. Overwatering them will make the pods come out less hot and less intense in flavour. So I only give the plants water when they explicitely “ask” for some, i.e. if their leaves still look flabby about an hour or two after they’re out of the direct sun. While being exposed to the sun, the plants often look sad and dried out, but that’s a normal reaction to the heat and the radiation, so it really is no worry.
In order to support the production of pods, I add three to four tablespoons of an organic (i.e. slow-release) fertiliser high in potassium (Cuxin Orgasan) to a 10 liter watering-can about once every week. Potassium is the most important element for the plants when it comes to putting out pods, so it’s always wise to make sure there’s a constant supply of it once the flowers have been pollinated.
Another thing I sometimes give to my plants are used coffee-grounds. Chillies like their soil to be slightly acidic (a pH value of 5.5 is said to be ideal) and the coffee grounds will lower the pH in the soil. They’re also food for the microbiotic soil-life, so by stimulating it, the coffee grounds will indirectly help to enhance the availability of nutrients for the plants.
For the use in my balcony garden, I simply keep the brewed up grounds from my early morning coffee, spread them out on a plate and let them dry (if stored wet, they will begin to mould quickly). Back in June, I put a tablespoon of grounds each onto the soil of my plants and slightly forked it in. Since then, every three to four weeks I’ve been adding two or three tablespoons of grounds to ten liters of water before letting the mix sit for an hour and then giving it to the plants.
While as with the fertiliser, the coffee grounds won’t do much good if used in excess, the right dosage definitely does facilitate nutrient uptake, growth and pod production from my experience.
I usually harvest my plants when the pods are just beginning to change into their final colour. There is no need to wait for them to ripen off on the plant because they will continue to do so even after they’ve been removed from it. If left on a plate at room temperature, it’s only a matter of a few days until the pods will have put on their final colour. A banana placed next to them will speed up the process because its peel emanates ethylene which acts as a ripening gas.
Harvesting the pods when they’re still entirely green isn’t much of a good idea, though, unless one wants to consume them in that condition straight away (as it’s common with varieties like bell peppers, Jalapenos or Serranos). Chillies are edible even when they’re unripe but most varieties will only bring out their best heat and flavour when properly ripened off. If harvested too early, the pods are likely to either dry out or go soft and mushy (depending on the thickness of their walls) before they have a chance to actually reach their final stage.
The benefit of taking the pods off of the plants as early as possible, is that it will stimulate them to produce new flowers and pods. After all, the plants seek to reproduce and the production of flowers and pods is part of their reproductive cycle. So harvesting early is an easy way to pump up the yield of chilli plants, even in places like Berlin where the growing season is limited to only a few months of a year.
Plants, Flowers and Pods: September harvest from the Berlin balcony jungle.