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GAP Ministries

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Chillies, and How to Grow Them

ChilliRed Chili Pepper Clip Artes are certainly one of the most intriguing plants God has created and is mostly known for its hot qualities. The biggest value lies in the spicy flavor it adds to many dishes, although it also has some medicinal purposes that are lesser known. On this page, we are giving a brief introduction to the history of the famous chilli pepper, its chemical makeup, and some basic guidelines how you can grow your own chillies, and dry them as we do. Photos on this page from "Chil-a-bit", our own Chilli project.
The Lowdown
The botanical 'genus' to which all chillies belong is Capsicum (CAP-see-coom), from the Greek "kapto" meaning 'to bite'. The genus Capsicum is also a member of the wider Solanaceae or Nightshade Family and therefore Chile peppers are closely related to their genetic cousins, the tomato, potato, tobacco, and eggplant. Capsaicin is the active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. Capsicum produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact. It is an irritant for both humans and animals. Capsaicin and several related compounds are called capsaicinoids and are produced as a secondary metabolite by chilli peppers. Pure capsaicin is a hydrophonic, colorless, odorless and crystalline to waxy compound.


Chemical Makeup
Capsaicin is a chemical compound that stimulates nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes inside the mouth and throat. The chemical makeup of chillies consists of the following combination of chemical elements: (CH3)2CHCH=CH(CH2)4CONHCH2C6H3-4-(OH)-3-(OCH3). With all those chemical compounds one begins to understand why chillies burn so much. 

The Scoville Heat Scale
The Scoville scale is the measurement of the heat of chillies. The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test. The modern commonplace method for analyzing the capsaicin content uses what is known liquid chromatography, making it possible to directly measure capsaicinoid content. See the "Hotter than the sun" -Infographic

With close to an estimated 3000 kinds of chillies it is understandable that there is often confusion in the classification of chillies according to different varieties. Most of us are known with those that we see at the local market or grocer store but there are countless more varieties that are mostly the domain of growers for specialist markets.  Domesticated Chili varieties are classified in the following main groups:
Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as bell peppers, wax, cayenne, jalapeños, and the chiltepin.
Capsicum frutescens, which includes malagueta, tabasco and Thai peppers, Piri Piri, African birdseye chili, Malawian Kambuzi.
Capsicum Chinese, which includes the hottest peppers such as the naga, habanero, Datil and Scotch bonnet.
Capsicum pubescence, which includes the South American rocoto peppers.
Capsicum baccatum, which includes the South American aji peppers.
ORAC Units (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity)
ORAC is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities in food samples. The antioxidant values of foods are expressed in ORAC units, a unit of measurement for antioxidants developed by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US. The antioxidant value of chili powder described in ORAC units is 23,636 μ mol TE/100g. (The ORAC value is expressed in micromoles (μ mol) of Trolox Equivalents (TE) per 100 grams of sample).

Pests and Diseases
Capsicum varieties (peppers) are unfortunately exposed to, and prone to attracting a wide range of diseases and pests. The reward of a healthy crop far outweigh the struggles one encounters on this journey of growing your own peppers. Peppers are therefore not the easiest crop to grow and it will require patience and experience to maintain a healthy crop in a sustainable way. The correct diagnosis of diseases is critical but without the help of an expert difficult. So for the backyard farmer, it is very much a matter of learning through trial and error. Many diseases display similar symptoms and it is only through experience or the help of an expert that one will be able to identify the root of the problem. The whole plant from the roots to the fruit is prone to diseases. Following is a list of the most common diseases and pests:
The Plant:
- Browning stems (Bacterial Leaf Spot and Phytophthora Blight and or insufficient watering)
- Plants falling over (The result of soft and waterlogged soil, wind damage, insufficient support for the plant especially bigger plants and or poorly developed roots)
- Slow or stunted growth (Can be the result of inadequate sunlight, poor soil and not enough nutrients and low temperatures)
- Wilting (Verticillium Wilt, Bacterial Wilt & Phytophthora Blight and or too little or too much watering)

The Leaves:
- Curling/Distortion (This is bad news and caused by Aphids, Thrips, Spider Mites, and viruses)
- Browning (Bacterial Leaf Spot and Phytophthora Blight)
- Holes (Something is eating away at your plants and it is most probably during the night. Grab a torch  and inspect your plants. Most common are slugs & snails and flea beetles)
- Yellowing
- Scorching (The result of a scorching sun and high temperatures. It can also be the result of chemical or fertilizer burns and organic mixtures that have gone wrong)
- Spots/Blotches (Bacterial Leaf Spot, Cercospora Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew, Phytophthora Blight, and Viruses)
The Pods:
- Distortion (Thrips, Spider Mites, and viruses. Sometimes poor pollination can also be the problem)
- Holes (Yes, there are actually bugs that will eat the fruit as well, most probably slugs & snails and pepper maggots) 
- Spots/Discoloration (Anthracnose, Bacterial Leaf Spot, Blossom End Rot, Phytophthora Blight, Grey Mold, and Thrips)
- Soft Rot (Bacterial Soft Rot and Grey Mold) 
Major and Minor Pepper Virus (Cornell University)