A heaping plate of nachos would be little more than crisps and cheese without fiery jalapeno slices to fire up the flavour. Used in everything from burritos to salsa, these fierce little chilli peppers are easy to grow and need little more than sunshine and water. Native to Mexico, the jalapeno plant does well in arid climates, so in the UK you'll usually need to grow them in a sheltered, sunny spot outdoors or under glass outdoors. They grow as tall as 90 cm (3 feet) and will spread to as much as 60 cm (2 feet) wide.
Start your jalapeño plants indoors, using a seed tray. Keep the soil moist and the tray in a warm place. Seeds can take as long as 12 weeks to germinate and the seedlings are slow-growing.
Plant your jalapeno seeds 60 cm (24 inches) apart in an area that receives six to eight hours of sunlight. Water frequently, keeping the soil moist but not too wet. You don’t want the soil to become waterlogged, which can make it difficult for the roots to become established.
Once your seeds have germinated, and the seedlings are well-established, begin watering more deeply. Apply a nitrogen fertiliser, but not too close to the bases of the plants. You can find fertiliser appropriate for peppers in local garden centres or nurseries.
Jalapeno plants are slow to start; don’t be discouraged. They need to develop their branches and a profusion of green leaves before producing peppers. At this point, just water every two to three days, keeping the soil moist. Once you start to see small white flowers on the stems, you’ll know the peppers are coming.
You should see the first of these white flowers about eight weeks after the plants become more developed. It may take a little longer, but don’t worry. Once you see a few white flowers, you will see a lot of white flowers. The chilli peppers come very quickly after that.
Jalapeno peppers can be harvested when they are around 7.5 cm (3 inches) long and dark green. Sometimes they will grow as long as 12.5 cm (5 inches), but a rule of thumb is the smaller peppers have more heat. You can allow the peppers to ripen to a bright red colour for a sweeter taste before harvesting, but they will still be hot chilli peppers.
Harvest peppers from the plants as long as the plants continue to produce. As the weather cools, the plants will produce less and finally stop. At this point, if a plant is still healthy, you can cut it back. You may get a second season and sometimes even a third season from a healthy jalapeno plant grown in a greenhouse.
Growing jalapeno peppers isn’t difficult. Plenty of sunlight, frequent watering and continual harvesting will keep your plants growing and producing.
Don’t confine your jalapenos to Mexican cuisine. Try them in Asian cooking or as a pizza topping.
Take the heat down by removing the veins and seeds before chopping.
Don’t touch your eyes or face while cutting jalapeno peppers. The juice will burn. Always wash your hands after handling cut peppers and be sure to rinse the cutting board to avoid cross contamination.