Growing Jamaican Bell pepper chillies from seeds

Jamaican Bell peppers (“Capsicum baccatum”) are a great alternative when you are looking for a tasty and slightly milder chilli pepper. 

After all, growing peppers and chillies should not only be about “heat and fire”. There are actually many great chilies you can grow from seed that range between 10000 and 15000 or so on the Scoville scale and that are more about the taste than the heat.

One of our favourites is the Jamaican Bell pepper (“Capsicum baccatum”) that comes in at a respectable 14 000 SHU on the Scoville scale.

Are you looking for an even milder chilli pepper? Try the Spanish Padron pepper that is a perfect tapas chilli and even comes with a fun bitesize surprise.

Jamaica Bell peppers – hot, medium or mild chillies?

Chilli peppers drying after harvest
Habanero, Jamaican Bell and Cayenne peppers of different strength

When it comes to heat, everything gets relative and indeed very individual. What some perceive as meal destroying and burning hot would be viewed as spicy and interesting by others.

But let’s put it like this. Regular sweet Spanish peppers come in around 100 SHU or less on the Scoville scale. And these peppers are indeed more about crunch and texture than hot and spicy flavour. We can all agree that they are mild peppers.

On the other hand, Habanero peppers come in between 100 000 – 350 000 SHU on the Scoville scale. And habanero peppers are by all accounts very hot and need to be handled with care whether you are cooking with them or eating them.

And then you have the ghost peppers like the Bhut Jolokia that is clocked between a whopping 750 000 – 1 500 000 SHU!

So where does that leave the Jamaican Bell pepper chillies? With a 14 000 SHU on the Scoville scale the pepper is best described as “mild with character”. 

We use Jamaican Bells in marinades and spice mixes as well as stuffed, cooked and served on their own.

How to start Jamaican Bell peppers from seed

Watch this video on YouTube.

Jamaican Bell pepper plants can grow quite large and easily reach 1,5 m / 5 feet. This also means that you need to plan before you start more plants than you can manage.

We start several plants from seed in January but you will have enough peppers to feed a normal sized family from one plant. 

Starting Jamaican Bell pepper seeds in 5 easy steps

1. Fill starter pot with potting soil that hold moisture and drains well
2. Plant one seeds per starter pot and cover with soil (approximately 1 cm / 0,4 deep)
3. Cover with plastic film or dome for most gemination environment
4. Place on heat map or warm surface like refrigerator (22-25 C / 72-77 F)
5. Keep moist but not wet

Looking after the Jamaican Bell Pepper seedlings

Chilli peppers can take their time to germinate even if the conditions are perfect. Be patient and trust the process. 

It can take anything from 1-3 weeks for chilli pepper seeds to germinate.

When seeds germinate and you see first leaves or cotyledons, you are entering the pepper plant’s second stage of development.

Here in the second stage of development you want to

  1. lower the temperature to 18-20 C / 64-68 F 
  2. add extra lighting for the seedling 
  3. remove cover  

Lowering the temperature and adding extra lighting will help develop compact and balanced seedlings with strong root systems.

Removing the cover will reduce the level of moisture that was needed for germination but now would expose the leaves to fungus and diseases. 

You do not have to spend money on expensive grow lights. Use what you have at home and try to get a high number of lumen per Watt. 

When you select your grow lights, use your hands to feel how much heat the light source generates. LED lights typically generate very little heat compared to traditional light bulbs. 

If you are using LED bulbs, place lights at a distance of 5-8 cm / 2-3 inches from the tallest plant.

Transplanting the Jamaican Bell seedlings

When your seedlings are about 5 cm / 2 inches tall it is time to transplant the young plants into a slightly larger pot.

Use a 10-12 cm / 4-5 inches wide pot and fill it with a mixture of potting soil (40), aged compost (40) and perlite (20).

Keep the temperature around 18-20 C / 64-68 F and make sure that the young plants have plenty of light. 

Be prepared to transplant your pepper seedling a couple of more times as your plants develop. Always increase the pot size by 1-2 inches at a time as the root system responds well to a more cramped growing environment.

Too hot and/or not enough light will result in weak and leggy seedlings. Read all about how to fix leggy seedlings.

Moving the Jamaican Bell pepper plants outdoors

You can start preparing to move your plants outdoors when there is no longer any risk of frost and the lowest temperature at night is above 10 Celsius / 50 Fahrenheit.

At this stage your pepper plants are probably growing in 5-10 litre /1-2 gallon pots or grow bags.

We are great fans of growing chillies, beefsteak tomatoes and peppers in DIY grow bags made at home from breathable garden or landscape fabric.

Before moving the plants outdoors they need to be hardened off. This is actually a very straightforward process where you gradually let your plants get accustomed to their new outdoor growing environment. 

Start by moving the plants outdoors from 1-2 hours and avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

Next, increase the number of hours gradually over 1-2 weeks until your plants are ready to be moved outdoors full time.

Place your pots or grow bags in a location with full sun and no wind.

How to care for the Jamaican Bell pepper plant

Make sure you use a garden soil that drains well while being able to retain enough moisture. Chilli peppers will not grow well in compact soil as it will hinder the plant from creating a strong root system.

Also, help your plants grow and succeed by applying the sound principles of companion planting for peppers. Choosing the location wisely and growing the right companion plants will make a big difference to your results.

Make sure you give your pepper plants enough room to develop. We grow all our Jamaican Bell peppers in 27 litre / 7 gallon grow bags and use bamboo sticks to stake and support our plants as they grow.

Alongside good vertical support, remember that Jamaican Bell pepper plants also need a solid base to stand firm and not fall over as they do grow 1,5 m / 5 feet tall. 

If you grow your peppers in pots, containers or grow bags you will find that bottom watering works well if you have big enough containers to work with.

If you are top watering, make sure not to get water on the leaves as it may attract fungal and bacterial diseases.

It is also wise to mulch around your plants to create a layer of protection between the soil and the leaves and foliage. This added layer will protect the plant against soil borne pests and diseases and help keep the soil moist as it prevents evaporation.

Mulch also prevents weed from growing and competing with your plant for water and nutrients.

Feed your Jamaican Bell plants nutrients on a weekly basis when you water your plants. Peppers respond better to lower doses more often compared to giving infrequent and large doses of fertiliser. 

Adding compost and working it into the top 3 cm / 1 inch layer of your soil before watering is another effective way of feeding your plants. 

We do not prune out Jamaican Bell pepper plants as we quite like the main stem growing tall. Pepper plants do however respond well to pruning and topping but for us the Jamaican Bell rarely needs pruning.

Getting the soil right

Chilli peppers need a well draining soil that can hold enough moisture for the plant to grow and thrive.

We add perlite and sometimes even coarse sand to help create a soil that drains well, holds moisture and contains enough air (oxygen) for the root system to thrive.

A mix of garden or vegetable soil, aged compost and perlite or coarse sand can help create that perfect structure to stimulate the development of a strong root system.

Also, water will evaporate more quickly when you grow in containers, pots or grow bags. Further, the plants are unable to reach for more moisture like ground planted peppers or chillies would have done in dry conditions. 

This means that you need to be vigilant and stay on top of watering for your plants to grow and thrive. Try watering early in the morning or late in the evening. Try to avoid watering in the middle of the day when the plant is exposed to heat and sun. 

Finally, grab and gently shake your plant when it is flowering. This simple manoeuvre can help with pollination and is best performed midday.

How to plant a seed

We see it all the time. Gardeners hold a seed between the tips of two fingers and then press it down into the soil.

That is not a very good technique. You lose control over depth and actually compress the soil when making the hole. And we don’t want compact soil. We want well draining, aerated and loosely structured soil.

Instead use one of the following two techniques.

  1. Place seed on soil surface and then cover as you top up pot with soil
  2. Make hole with wooden stick or dibble and place seed in hole

Both these techniques allow us to control planting depth while making sure that our soil remains loosely structured and aerated.

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.