Chilli (Capsicumannuum L.) is a popular vegetable valued around the world for the colour, flavour, spice, and nutritional value it contributes to many meals. Chilli varieties display a wide range of plant and fruit traits, and production practices vary greatly from region to region.
Origin and distribution
Chilli is reported to be a native of South America and is widely distributed in all tropical and sub tropical countries including India. It was first introduced in India by Portuguese towards the end of 15th Century. Now it is grown all over the world except in temperate climate.
Climate & Soil
Chilli is better adapted to hot weather, but it does not set fruit well when night temperature exceeds 24°C. Optimum day temperatures for its growth range from 20 to 30°C. When the temperature falls below 15°C or exceeds 32°C for extended periods, growth and yield are usually reduced. Chilli plants are photo insensitive and day length does not affect flowering or fruit set. Chilli grows best in a loam or silt loam soil with good water holding capacity, but can grow on many soil types, as long as the soil is well drained. Soil pH should be between 5.5 and 6.8.
It is a high yielding variety released from the Kerala Agricultural University.
Released from the Kerala Agricultural University. Fruits are light green in colour and it is a less pungent variety. Suitable for cultivation in southern districts of Kerala. Average yield is 20 t/ha.
Released from the Kerala Agricultural University, green fruits and less pungent. Suitable for cultivation in southern districts of Kerala. Average yield 22.5 t/ha.
Bacterial wilt resistant variety from the Kerala Agricultural University, fruits are highly pungent, light green and borne in bunches. Average fruit length is 4 cm and suitable for high density planting.
High yielding bacterial wilt resistant variety suitable for Kerala condition, released from the KAU. Dark green fruits that turn dark brown on ripening, 6 cm in length and borne in bunches. Suitable for making green chilli and for drying purpose. High pungent variety, suitable for extraction of oleoresins and colouring pigments. Resistant to mosaic and leaf roller attack.
High yielding, early maturing, bacterial wilt resistant chilli variety released from the KAU suitable for cultivation in Kerala condition. Plants are of medium stature with attractive long green medium pungent fruits, which turn deep red on ripening. Average fruit weight is 3.6 g. Average yield is 27 t/ha.
Kovilpatti 1 &2, Bhagyalakshmi, Pusa Jwala, Pant-C1&C-2, K-2, Arka Lohit, Pusa Sadabahar, Punjab Lal, Hissar Sakthi, Andhra Jyothi, Arka Basanth, Arka Gaurav, Arka Mohini and Green gold are other important varieties of chilli suitable for growing in Kerala condition.
Pant-C1, K-2, Vellayani Athulya and Vellayani Samrudhi (tolerant to shade and recommended for Southern zone of Kerala).
Bacterial wilt resistant varieties: Ujwala, Anugraha
Choosing a cultivar
Yield of chilli crop varies widely depending on cultivar and season. While selecting cultivars, it's important to consider parameters like fruit quality, especially consumer preferences for the shape, colour and degree of pungency of fruits; resistance to diseases and pests especially when growing in endemic area; and tolerance to adverse climatic conditions.
Propagation & Planting
Recommended seed rate is 1 kg/ha.
Chilli is a transplanted crop. Seeds are sown in the nursery and one month old seedlings are transplanted to the main field. For sowing the seeds, raised seedbeds of 90 to 100 cm width and of convenient length are prepared to which well decomposed organic matter has been incorporated. Burning rice straw or other dry organic matter on the bed, helps to sterilize the soil. This also adds small amounts of P and K to the soil for the seedlings. After sowing the seeds, mulch with green leaves and irrigate with a rose can daily in the morning. Remove the mulch immediately after germination of the seeds. Under good conditions, seedlings are ready for transplanting 4-5 weeks after sowing. Restrict irrigation one week before transplanting and irrigate heavily on the previous day of transplanting.
Raising seedlings in trays
Transplants can also be raised in sterile media in seedling trays. For this fill the seedling tray with sowing medium, such as peat moss, commercial potting soil, or a potting mixture. The potting mix should have good water holding capacity and good drainage. Potting mixture with 67 % peat moss and 33 % coarse vermiculite is ideal. If non-sterile components are used, it is better to sterilize potting mixture by autoclaving or baking. Approximately 150 g seeds may be needed to transplant 1 ha at a density of 30,000 plants/ha. Sow one seed per cell and cover 1 cm deep. Cover the seedlings with an insect proof net, or sow them inside a greenhouse or screen house. This provides shade and protects seedlings from heavy rain and pests, such as aphids, which transmit viruses. Seeds will germinate in about eight days. Upon emergence, water the seedlings thoroughly every morning using a fine sprinkler. Irrigate with a 0.25% solution of water soluble or liquid fertilizer (10-10-10) when two true leaves appear. If damping off occurs, irrigate with a 0.25% solution of benlate or similar fungicide.
Time of planting
For a rainfed crop, transplant the seedlings during May-June before the onset of southwest monsoon. Planting can also be done during Sept-October for an irrigated crop.
Land preparation and transplanting
Select the land carefully and prepare the soil to a fine tilth by thorough ploughing/digging. Well rotten organic manure is incorporated in the soil and seedlings are transplanted in shallow trenches/pits during May or on ridges/level lands during rainy season. Raised bed plantings are especially useful during rainy periods; they improve the aeration of the roots and minimize losses due to root diseases and flooding.
For transplanting, the seedlings are lifted from the seedbed by loosening the soil with a fork, and carefully separating the roots from the surrounding soil, discarding damaged or inferior plants, and binding into convenient bundles for transport to the field. The seedlings uprooted should be kept cool, moist and shaded. Transplanting can be done manually or by machine. Transplant in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day to minimize transplant shock. Irrigate immediately to establish good root-to-soil contact. Transplanted seedlings may also be given temporary shade for 3-4 days during summer. Care should be taken to avoid planting chilli in fields where a preceding crop of chilli or other solanaceous crop has been cultivated. However, a preceding rice crop is often helpful in that the flooded soil is depleted of many soil-borne pathogens and weed seeds.
Transplant less spreading varieties at 45 x 45 cm. For spreading cultivars like White Kanthari provide a wider spacing of 75 x 45-60 cm.
Amount of fertilizer to apply depends on soil fertility status, and therefore a soil test is highly recommended to determine the available N, P, and K. A general recommendation would be to apply well rotten FYM/compost @ 20-25 t/ha at the time of land preparation and mix well with the soil. A fertilizer dose of 75:40:25 kg N:P2O5:K2O /ha may be given. Half of nitrogen, full phosphorus and half of potash may be applied as basal dose before transplanting. One fourth of nitrogen and half of potash may be applied 20-30 days after planting. The remaining quantity may be applied two months after planting.
Weeding followed by fertilizer application and earthing up may be done at one and two months after transplanting.
Mulching reduce weed competition, soil compaction, and soil erosion. Mulching also maintains a uniform root environment and conserves soil moisture. Organic materials like rice straw (5 t/ha) is good for mulching.
Chilli plants are fairly shallow rooted and have low tolerance to drought or flooding. Fields should be irrigated if there are signs of wilting at mid-day. Thorough irrigation provides uniform soil moisture, essential for optimum plant and fruit growth. Furrow or drip irrigation are recommended; overhead irrigation should be avoided as wet leaves and fruits promote disease development. If overhead irrigation must be used, apply early in the day so that leaves are dry before nightfall. However, chilli plants cannot tolerate flooding and fields should be drained quickly after heavy rain. The plants will generally wilt and die if they stand in water for more than 48 hours. Phytophtora blight and bacterial wilt may cause total crop loss following prolonged flooding.
Mulching provides adequate protection against weed growth. However, if mulch is not available, or does not provide adequate weed control, manual weeding or chemical weeding can be resorted to.
Stake the plants to prevent lodging, particularly when they have a heavy load of fruits. Each plant is individually staked before flowering stage. Yields are generally higher with staking.
General recommendation: Seedlings in the nursery can be protected using mesh netting or yellow sticky traps. After plants are in the field, regular surveillance and spraying plant extracts are effective. Chemical pesticides should be used mainly as a corrective measure. If possible, choose a pesticide that targets the specific pest that is causing the damage, and avoid pesticides that kill beneficial organisms. Choose pesticides that have short persistence, i.e., the effects of which last only a few days. Chemical pesticides should be applied in the evening, and if multiple applications are needed, rotate pesticides that have different modes of action.
The major pests found to cause serious damage to chilli crop and their management practices are detailed below:
Aphids (Aphis gossypii, Myzus persicae)
Aphids are small, succulent, pear shaped insects that vary in color from yellow to green to black. Theses insects pierce leaves and suck the sap, causing foliage to become distorted and often curled under. Aphids exude a sticky substance that attracts ants and leads to the development of a sooty mold on plants. Aphids are vectors to many viruses.
Control: Spraying dimethoate at 0.05% is effective for controlling aphids.
Broad mite (Polyphagotarsonemus latus)
Yellow or white, tiny, crab like insects known as mites suck plant juice near the mid vein on the undersides of the leaves causing leaves to curl downwards and become narrow. Most damage occurs between veins of young leaves. Corky tissue develops on fruits.
Control: Use of tolerant cultivars, weed control, crop rotation, and spraying acaricides such as dicofol helps to reduce mite infestation. Spraying dimethoate at 0.05% is also effective for controlling broad mites.
Thrips (Scirtothrips dorsalis, Thrips palmi)
Thrips are very small insects that group together along the mid vein or along borders of damaged leaf tissues. Thrips cause young leaves to curl upwards. Brown areas develop between veins of both young and old leaves. Corky tissue develops on infested fruits.
Control: Reduce thrip damage by controlling weeds, rotating crops, using predators and parasites, and rotating insecticides. Dimethoate spray at 0.05 % is effective for controlling thrips.
Tomato fruit worm (Helicoverpa armigera)
Tomato fruit worm feeds on flowers, pods and fruits of chilli. Larvae move from one fruit to the next, destroying only small portions of each fruit. Damaged fruits may drop, ripen prematurely, or become infected with disease. The entrance hole near the pedicel develops a dark scar. Young larvae are light yellow and spotted. Mature larvae are brown to gray in color with lengthwise stripes along the body and are usually found inside the damaged fruits.
Control: Monitor closely for the larvae on plants and destroy them. Remove infested fruits to reduce pest populations. Spraying any contact insecticides will help to kill exposed larvae.
Nymphs and adults of mealy bugs suck sap from the leaves, tender shoots, and the fruits. Leaves show characteristic curling symptoms and heavy black sooty mould may develop on the honeydew like droplets secreted by mealy bugs. When the fruits are infested, it may lead to fruit drop or the fruits remain on the shoots in a dried and shriveled condition.
Control: Spraying insecticides like dichlorvos (0.02%) or quinalphos (0.025%) with fish oil rosin soap control the insect population. Unlike the adults, the crawlers are free from waxy coating and therefore the crawler stage is the most effective stage for spraying pesticides.
Root knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp.)
Root knot nematodedamages the root system resulting in the formation of small galls on the roots. The infested plants become stunted and yellow. Severely affected plants may wilt. This nematode has a very wide host range. Its eggs can remain dormant for a few months. Warm temperatures and light sandy soils are conducive for its development.
Control: Cultivating resistant varieties and crop rotation; flooded rice field in particular greatly reduces nematode populations. Destroy alternate hosts harbouring the nematodes. Ploughing during the fallow season will expose nematodes to sun and predators. Soil fumigants or nematicides may also be used.
General recommendations: Use high quality, pathogen free seeds and seedlings. Cultivate resistant varieties in disease endemic areas. High plant density leads to weak and susceptible plants, therefore use the proper plant density, both in seedling production beds and in the transplanted field. Follow clean cultivation practices, remove diseased leaves and seedlings promptly, and control weeds regularly. Many pathogens spread through irrigation water, and therefore never allow irrigation water from diseased field to enter disease free field. Prevent plants from being overloaded with fruits. Crop rotation, particularly a rice-chilli rotation, helps reduce disease and insect problems. Chilli crop should never follow other solanaceous crops as these crops share many soil borne diseases. Do not plant chilli after sweet potatoes, due to allelopathic effects. The following are some of the most common diseases on chilli:
This is a serious disease in the nursery. High soil moisture and moderate temperature along with high humidity especially in the rainy season favour the disease. Two types of symptoms are observed, viz., pre emergent and post emergent damping off. The pre emergent damping off results in rotting of seed and seedling before emerging out of soil, whereas in the post emergent damping off, seedlings after emergence are infected near the collar region at ground level. The infected tissues become soft and water soaked. The collar portion rots and ultimately the seedlings collapse and die.
Control: For avoiding damping off of the seedlings in the nursery, sow the seeds as thin as possible in raised beds prepared in the open area during summer months. Spray nursery and main field with 1% Bordeaux mixture at monthly intervals during rainy season.
Bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum)
The initial symptom is wilting of lower leaves followed by a sudden and permanent wilt of the entire plant without yellowing. Bacterial ooze streams out when cross sections of the lower stem are suspended in water. It is more severe on tomato, tobacco, potato and eggplant, but it can be very damaging to chilli. The bacterium is found to survive in the soil for long periods. It gains entry through natural root wounds or wounds created by insects, nematodes or implements. High temperature and high soil moisture favour disease development.
Control: Using pathogen ree seedbeds to produce disease fee transplants and fumigating seedbeds help to contain the diseases. Use raised beds to facilitate drainage. Rotating with flooded rice, and other non usceptible crops provides limited control. Crop rotation with brinjal, tomato, and potato should be avoided. Avoid cultivation operations that damage roots. To avoid soil splash, the use of mulch and furrow irrigation, rather than overhead irrigation, are preferred. Removal and destruction of affected plants and use of disease resistant varieties like Manjari, Ujwala or Anugraha in bacterial wilt prone areas help to reduce the disease incidence. Before sowing, the seeds should be dipped in a solution of streptocycline (1 g/ 40 litres of water) for 30 minutes.
Anthracnose (Collectotrichum spp.)
Anthracnose may occur in the field or develop as a post arvest decay of chilli fruits. Typically, symptoms first appear on mature fruits as small, water soaked, sunken lesions that rapidly expand. The lesions may increase to 3-4 cm in diameter on large fruits. Fully expanded lesions are sunken and range from dark red to light tan. The disease may occur wherever chilli is grown under overhead irrigation or rainfed conditions. The pathogens can be seed borne in chilli and persist in crop debris and have a wide host range.
Control: Use seeds collected from anthracnose free fruit and treat seeds with a fungicide. Hot water treatment at 520 C for 30 minutes is also recommended. Crop rotation with non host crops and mulching to reduce soil splashing onto fruit and flowers are also effective. Avoid overhead irrigation to reduce periods of wetness on chilli fruit. Harvest fruits as soon as it ripens since anthracnose develops more readily on mature fruits. Weed regularly and avoid injuring chilli fruit. Remove and destroy infected plant debris. Avoid planting overlapping chilli crops nearby. Apply protectant fungicides to plants starting when the first fruit is set.
Phytophthora blight (Phytophthora capsici)
This disease can occur on chilli grown anywhere in the world, at any stage of growth, and on all plant parts. The most common symptom is a stem or collar rot followed by sudden wilting without foliar yellowing. Other symptoms include damping off and tip blight of young seedlings; dried tan colored lesions on foliage, as well as softened fruit.
Control: Since Phytophthora blight is soil-borne and more prevalent on poorly drained soils, ensuring adequate drainage and following careful cultural practices are important for providing good control. Practice crop rotation with crops other than tomato, eggplant, and cucurbits for at least 3 years to reduce the soil inoculum. Overhead irrigation, will encourage disease spread and should be discontinued if the disease is present.
Aphid transmitted viruses
Chilli veinal mottle virus (ChiVMV), cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and potato virus Y (PVY) are the major viruses that are transmitted through aphids. Symptoms vary, but generally these diseases show mosaic, mottled or deformed leaves. Plants are stunted and the loss of marketable yield can be drastic.
Control: Use of resistant cultivars, and controlling aphid vectors by destroying weeds, using insecticides, and using mesh netting to exclude aphids from seedlings provide good control.
For fresh use, chilli can be harvested either at the green immature or mature red stage. It takes about 55-60 days after flowering for fruits to fully ripen, depending on temperature, soil fertility, and cultivar. Warmer temperatures will hasten ripening, and cooler temperatures will delay ripening. If conditions are favourable, chilli production can continue for several months. Fruits can be harvested weekly. On an average 20-30 tonnes of chilli fruits can be harvested from one hectare of crop.
Fresh chilli fruits should not be washed unless they will be kept cool (10°C) until sold. Fruits should be stored in a cool, shaded, dry place until they are sold. At typical tropical ambient temperature and humidity (28°C and 60% RH), fruits will last unspoiled for 1-2 weeks. Anthracnose is the major cause of fresh fruit spoilage.
For dry chilli, it's important to preserve the red color of the mature fruits. Drying them in the sun is a common practice, but this tends to bleach the fruits, and rainfall and dew promote fruit rot. Solar dryers have been developed, but they require fairly constant sunshine. Cloudy weather increases the drying time and the risk of post harvest spoilage. Blanching the fruits in hot water (65°C) for 3 minutes and removing the pedicel and calyx can decrease drying time, increase color retention, and reduce post harvest losses. In general, cultivars with low dry matter content and thick flesh are difficult to dry and are generally sold fresh. If ovens are available, dry fruits for 8 hours at 60°C, then reduce the temperature to 50°C and continue until fruits are completely dry (about 10 more hours).