Grow chillies to diversify your sources of income

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Chillies (Capsicum frutescens L.), hot pepper or pilipilikali, belongs to the family Solanaceae. They are grown mostly for their fresh fruits used to flavour soups and stews and for seasoning and making sauces. Chillies are rich in vitamin C (100-500mg ascorbic acid/g of fresh fruit).

Climatic requirements

In Kenya, the major areas of production are in altitudes below 2000m such as Machakos, Makueni, Meru, Murang’a, Kiambu and Kisumu counties. Most cultivars are adapted to temperatures of 20-30°C. Temperatures above 30°C or below 18°C may affect the production of pollen which is important for the pollination of the crop. Adequate rainfall levels of 600 - 1200mm per year are required for successful production of chillies. Commercial production may require the use of irrigation.


Fertile loam soil with high organic matter content and a pH of 5.5-6.8 is needed to grow good chillies. The quality of pepper is greatly affected by soil fertility and nutrient levels in the soil. Chillies do not do well in clay soils. They grow well in soils well-drained to a depth of 600mm. The soil must permit adequate root growth to support the plant and supply water oxygen and mineral nutrients.

Nursery establishment

Chillies are propagated using seeds. They should be planted in nurseries in plastic cups or by make raised beds 1m wide, 15cm high and of required length (several 3-5m long beds are more ideal than one long bed). Cover the seed bed with a plastic sheet for about three weeks to control soil-borne diseases and even weeds (this process is called solarisation). After sowing chillies in the seedbeds, transplanting can be done 30-40 days after planting when 8-10 true leaves appear.

Hardening of seedlings before transplanting is done by removing shade (do not irrigate 3-4 days after transplanting). Chillies can be intercropped with other perennial crops such as garlic and onions. Plough and harrow the field to a fine soil texture then dig holes spaced at 60x60cm for planting your chillies. It is important to apply compost in the holes before transplanting or spread 10-20 tons/ha and mix it with the soil. Make sure the soil is moist when planting.

It is highly recommended to establish chilli seedlings on wet soil. Always make sure that the holes on the ridges where the seedlings are about to be transplanted are exactly the same size as the seedlings plugs.


Correct application of fertilizers determines the success of any chilli crop. Chilli require soils with a pH of 5.6 – 6.8, phosphorus 30-60mg/kg, potassium 100 - 250mg/kg, calcium 300-2000mg/ kg, magnesium 120-300mg/kg and nitrogen 10-50mg/kg.


Water supply should be adequate at all times - but excess water can damage the crop. It is important to apply just enough water to ensure optimum growth.

Varieties in Kenya

They include

• Long red cayenne

• Cayenne long slim

• Anaheim

• Jalapeno

• Fresno (bullet chillies)

• Bird eye chilli

Pest and diseases affecting chillies

Disease Damage Control
Leaf spot Round spots on the leaves Proper field hygiene
Powdery mildew
(Unique to the
Solanaceae family)
• Invades through stomata
directly to cuticles
• Causes yellowish spots on
• Apply natural fungicide like Fosphite 53 SL® (from Juanco)
• Use flow irrigation
Anthracnose seed
Brown grey sunken spot on
• Hot water treatment of seeds before planting use of certified
disease-free seeds.
• Use hot water to treat own produced seeds.
• Practise field sanitation (removal of crop debris after harvest).
Viruses i.e potato
virus y, tomato
mosaic virus
Mosaic patterns on leaves,
yellow spots, deformation
and distortion, curling of
• Plant resistant cultivars if available.
• Select planting dates to avoid high population of vectors.
• Close plant spacing to compensate for diseased plants.
• Use barrier crops to minimize virus spread.
• Use oil sprays to reduce virus transmission by aphids.
• Use reflective mulches to repel aphids and thrips.
• Use certified disease-free seed in case of tobacco mosaic virus.
Pest Damage Control
African bollworm
The major pest on
Bores in to the fruits and
flowers creating holes that
lead to rotting
• Inspect the field for bollworm caterpillars to start control.
• Practice deep cultivation to destroy pupae in the soil.
• Avoid planting susceptible crops in succession.
• Parasitoids such as Trichogramma spp, and predators ladybird
beetles used with biopesticide like neem
• Use of IPM Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
• Insect growth regulators such as Match
Leafhoppers Suck sap from the leaves
and distort growing points
• Sticky traps
• Removing and destroying infected plants
• Natural predators like lacewings
Whiteflies • Suck sap from leave and
buds leaving honey dew
• Results in wilting
• Parasitic wasp B. tabaci (paralyzes whitefly larva)
• Neem products as pesticide
Aphids • Suck sap from leaves
causing distortion
• Causes leaf curls virus
Neem oils Nimbecidine® reduce aphids

Harvesting and storage

Chillies are usually ready for harvesting 3-6 weeks after flowering. They are either harvested when red or green depending on the use for a continuous two months. Those for drying and sauces should be red when harvesting. Careful handling is important and the harvested crop should be stored in well ventilated crates.

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