With origins in the northern parts of South America, chillies are well suited to summer conditions in Perth. The fruits seem to have found a place in just about every cuisine and there are thousands of varieties from which to choose, all belonging to the capsicum genus. They're members of the solanaceae family, along with cousins potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes.
There are a small number of staple varieties that are easy to find and these can get you started on the chilli odyssey, if this is where you are heading. The heat varies from sweet nothing through to incendiary. All chillies are edible, even Purple Explosion, which is normally grown as an ornamental variety.
Chillies are short lived perennials in subtropical and tropical areas, but are normally grown as annuals in colder regions. Growth and fruiting slows down in winter to the point where some cold sensitive varieties can die. In Perth it is possible to keep all varieties for more than a year, with careful treatment of the more sensitive types. Nurse them through by putting in a warm, sheltered spot and protect from the elements. Often it's best to start again in the new season, in spring, with new plants.
The best time to germinate seeds is in late spring around October or even November. Plant out seedlings from November on.
Most chillies grow best in slightly limey soil; however, they are very tolerant of different soil types. Chillies like a warm, sunny spot, well drained soil and regular watering during dry weather. Add Baileys Soil Matters Clay & Compost to build up fertility and water holding capacity of sandy soils, about 1 bag per square metre.
While chillies like full sun it's a good idea to give then some protection through our blazing summers. Growing in pots is a great way to go and gives you the ability to move then throughout the seasons. Single plants are best in a 200 mm pot, and two or three can be grown in a 30 cm diameter tub. Baileys Premium Potting Mix is formulated for WA conditions and is my recommendation for growing all vegetables and herbs including chillies, it supplies all nutrients the plant will need for 6 months. If you're growing chillies in pots, simply replace the potting mix each time you replant.
Mulching is vital through Summer, both for pots and garden beds. Add a 50-75 mm layer of Baileys Moisture Mulch to reduce evaporation and protect topsoil. Over fertilising can lead to excessive foliage and fewer fruit, just like with tomatoes. Feed with a organic based fertilisers like Baileys Soil Matters Garden, a small handful once a month is perfect.