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6 Tips for growing chili peppers in your urban garden

A photo of Martinez’s first jalapeño harvest.

Chili isn’t for everyone, especially since we all have different levels of tolerance for spicy food. 

Janssen M. Martinez, however, is a millennial who likes hot sauce, chili powder, and peppery food.

His love for all things spicy has led him to cultivate chilies on the roof deck of his Quezon City condominium.

Read his gardening story: Entrepreneur builds a garden on his condo’s roof deck for unlimited chili

As a novice gardener, Martinez’s gardening journey was not always smooth sailing, especially since he had to start afresh after a few failed attempts. The difficulties did not deter him from producing chilies, even if it meant feeling the heat, literally and figuratively.

Martinez said that his first year of gardening taught him the value of consistency in watering, fertilizing, and pest control. This discipline saves him from killing his chili pepper plants.

He continued, “I also began home composting through the Bokashi method, which taught me how to convert our household food waste (which is a lot) into organic fertilizer in a month.”

These are Anaheim peppers, a mild-flavored chili, that are usually eaten fresh or roasted.

Obstacles in growing chilies

He cultivates chilies with flavors ranging from mild to super hot. The following items are common issues he encounters in nurturing them. 

Pests. His chili peppers are frequently attacked by whiteflies, aphids, mites, and thrips. He controls these by alternating the use of organic and inorganic pesticides to prevent them from developing resistance. He uses nimbecidine neem oil insecticide or potassium soap once or twice a week. 

“Hydroponic nutrient solution is a good option when exploring the use of synthetic fertilizers in synergy with organic slow-release inputs like compost or vermicast.”

Without such pest control measures, he said that pests would multiply fast, particularly aphids and spider mites. 

On the other hand, overreliance on fertilizers has a disadvantage. Discontinuing its use after regular application will make plants go into survival mode and lose their flowers or buds.

Fungal disease. This problem typically appears during the wet season, causing his plants to become stunted. 

“Wet soil promotes the overgrowth of the fungal population in my soil. My growing medium is susceptible to diseases due to my primary organic growing approach,” he explained.

Martinez combats this by watering or spraying plants with a bio-organic fungicide after a rainy day.

His ways of producing chilies 

This condo dweller grows chili peppers from seeds and shared a few tips he has picked up from his own growing experience.

A photo of Martinez’s first jalapeño harvest.

Healthy seedlings = abundant chilies. Taking good care of the seedlings will allow farmers to make them more resistant to pests and diseases. Martinez adds, “In my experience, I use high-quality soilless, well-draining mixes as my seed starting mix.” 

After his seedlings have formed true leaves, he transplants them separately into 18oz cups with a soil mix that contains more organic inputs and puts them in a nursery area where they are protected from the harsh afternoon sun.

Watering style matters. He waters his chili plants every two to three days depending on the season. 

“I wait until the topmost layer of my soil is completely dry before I water. I do not water using a hose as it disturbs the soil and risks exposing the roots to harsh weather and pests. I water all my plants manually, [using] a pail and a long-handled dipper.”

For crops like eggplants, basil, and marigolds, he waters them once a day or once every two days. 

Check your leaves regularly. Many growers check signs of infestation in their plants through their leaves.

Martinez said, “[Leaves] are the key in the early detection of pests and diseases. If you are actively monitoring the leaves of your plants, you will be able to detect if they’re lacking in macro/micronutrients, or having a pest infestation, or suffering from a soil-borne disease.”

Apply fertilizers moderately. He uses organic fertilizer, mainly tropical fruit or shellfish compost, bokashi compost, vermicast, as well as natural concoctions like FAA (Fish Amino Acids), FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice), and FFJ (Fermented Fruit Juice).

“When my peppers are in their fruiting or flowering stage, I use hydroponic nutrient solution as my drench fertilizer three to four times a week.”

Martinez, who turned to gardening at the onset of the pandemic, continues to learn a lot from online groups, fellow chili farmers, and his research. Now that he has a chili garden, he no longer needs to buy chilies from the market all the time.

Photos courtesy of Janssen M. Martinez 

For more information, visit @urbangardenlord on Instagram

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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