Grow Chiltepin #WithMe 1: Seeds and Sowing

It’s a bit late in the year (I’m starting this mid-May), but I couldn’t resist some chiltepin – and that should still work.

Let’s go and see about it, then!

Chiltepin is the wild forebear of the largest diversity of chile peppers; all the peppers that belong to Capsicum annuum come from this type of chilli.

That makes this plant with pea-sized spicy pods the trunk of the evolutionary tree from which everything from cherry peppers and cayennes to mild vegetable peppers branched out.

Chiltepin have long been a fascination of mine.

Chiltepines Drying
Chiltepines Drying

They were considered difficult, if not impossible, to grow, but turned out to be the chilli that is easiest to overwinter and keep for years.

They also have some spicy characteristics that are just too interesting; those tiny pods of theirs hide a strong pungency and a flavor that is great and subtle.

Chiltepin Growing Hints

If you want to grow chiltepin yourself, here’s what I’ve found to help:

Seeds

Perhaps the most important factor to successfully growing chiltepin is getting high-quality seeds.

This may sound like it’s a matter of course, but I have, over the years, seen only too many chilli seed sellers who sold something as chiltepin that definitely wasn’t.

Sometimes, it even looked like the idea that chiltepin was hard to grow may have come from – or been used by – seed sellers who sold seeds that were simply not viable.

Thus, step one: Get high-quality seeds from a good source. Someone like Native Seeds/Search is ideal; they can even tell you where (near-)exactly those seeds originally came from.

Chiltepin amarillo, piece of pod with seeds
Chiltepin amarillo, piece of pod with seeds

Germination

Much has been made of germination of those seeds being really difficult.

When they are not good, it may easily be impossible.

With a few “accessions” of chiltepin (i.e., ones from different places, brought into plant seed banks), I have seen a seed dormancy.

These really took longer until they suddenly decided to germinate.

Usually, though, chiltepin seeds can be treated – and germinate – like any other chilli.

Sowing Chiltepin

Just put the seeds into a (seed-starting) potting mix, covered by soil to about 2-5 times the seeds’ diameter (meaning, they should be under the soil and remain there when watering, but not be buried too deep).

Keep moist and warm.

Wait for it.

That’s what I have done so far this year; next steps, with a next video – hopefully ;)

Chiltepin I’ve Started

Oh, I guess I should add in what types of tepin I’m now trying – which are actually not all tepin:

  • Sonoran Chiltepin (red)
  • Sonoran Chiltepin amarillo (yellow-ripening pods)
  • Sonoran Chiltepin cappuccino (brown-ripening pods)
  • Chiltepin XS – I don’t know the name/label anymore; it might well have been DOI002/B
  • Three other chiltepin I’ve been growing the longest
  • Bird Ají (not a chiltepin, but a tepin-like wild “bird pepper” belonging to the species Capsicum baccatum)
  • Charapita (also called ají charapita; it looks like a tepin again, but clearly belongs to Capsicum chinense)

One of the interesting things to observe – provided things work out as they ordinarily should:

The charapita seeds were probably pretty old, thus might not germinate anymore.

The bird ají seeds are from 2017, if I labeled them right, which is probably at the limit for their viability.

The Sonoran chiltepines and the XS seeds are from last year; those should germinate well; the other chiltepin seeds are a mix of older and newer, so we’ll see…

8 thoughts on “Grow Chiltepin #WithMe 1: Seeds and Sowing

  1. Marisa Lerew says:

    I have a chiltepin starter that I want to pot. What soil mix are you using? Thanks

  2. I’ve usually used whatever plant soil I could get cheaply, sometimes mixed with some of my own garden soil (which is rather sandy with some loam). Will try a mix of soil and some (clay) potting granules this time around, I think – and I need to get to the potting myself!

  3. Hi! You said that you didn’t start germination of the seeds until mid May, but what zone are you in? I’m zone 9a and forgot I had the seed packet (bought and put away=forgot), and was hoping I could start it now even though for me it’s the beginning of May. TYIA

  4. Climate here is like Zone 5, iirc. April still had some frost; now we’re at cool temperatures at night, pretty warm ones during the day. Last year, I might even have started later than May, but because I wanted to overwinter the chiltepines anyways. I lost a few plants doing that, but hardly any compared to how little I cared for them during their overwintering (in a mainly cold, then pretty warm, room)… That’s actually something where I need to get back to this series!!

  5. Rene Azzara says:

    I realize that I am extremely late to this conversation. I’m from Alaska, where we start (almost) everything indoors and move the seedlings outdoors to harden off and slowly acclimate to the weather. Is there any reason the chiltepin seeds couldn’t be started the same and moved out doors during warm days to get the benefit of the sunlight and indoors to protect from the colder evenings until the plants are somewhat established? It’s a gardening ritual that I’m already accustomed to. Any input?

  6. There’s definitely no problem with you getting to this conversation late; I’ve never continued this series even though I overwintered those chiltepin plants, have them growing in a greenhouse now and will soon(?) need to move them indoors again.

    No, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t proceed as you suggested, as with any other chilli. At first, I was thinking that Alaska might never be warm enough for them and too cold at night pretty soon, but with chiltepin being shrub desert plants, I wouldn’t be surprised if an Alaska greenhouse in summer for hot days and rather chill nights weren’t somewhat similar to what they naturally experience. Overwintering and the short growing season might be issues, perhaps.

  7. Dennis J Covey says:

    Earlier this year, I planted seeds that my cousin sent from Tucson. It was slow growing at first but over the summer they went crazy. I have two large planters with several plants growing. The plants are about 2 1/2 feet tall with hundreds of green peppers.
    The weather here in North Alabama is turning colder now with frost expected within days. I’m wondering if I should winter them in my storage shed or build a small green house?
    I would love to have your feedback. Thanks.

  8. If you have enough of them in different planters, maybe try both!

    Frost typically gets into greenhouses, though, and that would kill them off (at least, what’s above ground), so the advice for ripening is definitely to put them somewhere frost-free.
    Don’t forget that green chiltepin can also be used!

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