Friday, 26 October 2012

Chilli Grow a Go Go

I've had a savage restructuring of my chilli plants in preparation for the oncoming winter.  The plants won't survive outside so I've selected the most valuable plants to keep and the rest have been consigned to the great compost heap in the sky.

Those lucky few plants that made it through the selection process have been given a brutal haircut to encourage them to through out new side shoots and put more energy into growing a strong root system.

The Orozco gets a haircut
I've also invested in a couple of Chilligrow planters from Greenhouse Sensation. These clever planters have a reservoir of water and nutrients underneath which continually feed the plants via a capillary 'wick'.  The plants can never be overwatered because they only draw up as much as they need. In addition, any nutrients in the soil aren't washed out as they can be when watering from the top of the pot.
Yellow Scotch Bonnet, Red Habanero and Chocolate Bhut Jolokia fruits
The Scotch Bonnet and Red Hab had performed so well this year that they certainly earned themselves one of the coveted places in the Chilligrow.  The last spot was reserved for one of the Chocolate Habaneros.  These plants produced absolutely no fruit all year but they are sturdy specimens so I decided to give one a second chance and see if it could redeem itself.

Chocolate Bhut Jolokias and a Trinidad Scorpion
The other planter has two of the Chocolate Bhut Jolokias and a Trinidad Scorpion that I grew on late in the season.  Because I had a spare plant and in the interests of scientific endeavour, I planted a second Scorpion in a similar sized pot in identical compost, without the aid of the Chilligrow's reservoir.

The chillies in their winter residence on the windowsill.
This will be my experiment's control so it'll be interesting to see how it fares compared to the sophisticated planter.

Friday, 12 October 2012


Hot and superhot varieties of chillies take a long time to mature so it's no surprise that mine have only started ripening now.  I dragged the camera out again for an update on their progress.

The yellow Scotch Bonnet has been a fantastic plant and is covered in fruit at various stages of ripeness. I grew this with seed collected from a Scotch Bonnet I bought at Sainsbury's.  Not bad value really considering I got a curry out of it as well!

My Black Naga turned out not to be black after all but more of a burgandy/brown colour.  I suspect that it's a Chocolate Bhut Jolokia. Still, the 1,000,000 Scovilles will come in handy I'm sure.

Now these shiny cherry-looking chillies are supposed to be Scotch Bonnets. Except that they're quite clearly not.  I bought these seeds online and, because the plant and leaves are the same size and nature as a Scotch Bonnet, suspect that these are a cross-breed with another variety.  I've not tasted them yet so  I'll report back with my findings.

More of the evil-looking Nagas.

Monday, 8 October 2012

End of year report.

The completed collection of chilli products for the wedding.  Needless to say they were a great hit and disappeared almost instantly.

Well the summer has been and gone (yes, that was it, blink and you missed it) and now I'm preparing the lucky chosen chillies for overwintering in the warm and consigning the less fortunate ones to the compost heap for recycling.

This last year was very much about experimenting with new varieties and learning as much as I could about chilli horticulture. And despite the disappointing summer, I've still learned a great deal and have much more of an idea what I want to grow next year.

So, what pearls of wisdom can I share? Well I don't claim to be an expert but there are some tips I can pass on...

Grow under glass. Chillies love the heat and the sun. Although some plants did cope outdoors, they struggled compared to their compatriots who were in the tunnel or the greenhouse. If you've only got windowsills to offer then go for one or two hot varieties to provide all your chilli needs, rather than trying to grow dozens of varieties in the unpredictable British outdoors.
Even under glass, slugs are a perpetual problem.  Don't think that the heat of chillies will deter them from snacking on your prize plants.
Pollinate by hand when you can. Particularly if you grow indoors, you can't rely on the insects to give you a bumper crop.

Don't overwater. Whilst chillies can cope with drying out, being swamped will stunt their development.

Grow varieties you'll use. Sounds obvious really but if you like Caribbean cooking then grow Scotch Bonnets, if you like Thai then grow Birds Eye Chillies. No point going to all that effort and then not using the fruit of your labour.

These cayenne chillies dry very well due to their thin skin.  They can then be easily ground for flakes.
Write the name of the plant on both sides of the label. So much easier to identify plants on the windowsill if you're not having to remove the label to read it.

Overwinter the strong plants. Those chillies that I've had for a few years now are producing bumper crops on sturdy branches. So save the best fruiting plants and get an early start on next year's crop.  Cut the plants back to 6" or so of good strong stem with plenty of side shoots.  Keep them relatively dry and cool but don't let the temperature dip below about 10 Celsius. They'll stay dorment whilst there is less light around and then in spring, start feeding and watering them and they'll start throwing out shoots.

Deforestation! Some of the chilli collection, chopped back for winter.
Cayenne Chilli that's now 3 years old
So who were the star performers of 2012 and who will be taking home a less than satisfactory report?

Top of the class goes to the Superchilli and the Scotch Bonnet. Easy to grow, sturdy plants producing a mass of fruit. Definitely ones to overwinter. The Scotch Bonnet also produced an amazingly fruit sauce, dubbed Sunburn.

Late starters are my novelty chillies, the Peter Pepper and the Monkey Face. Both failed to make much of a showing until the season was nearly over. They're now on the windowsill, hopefully ripening the remaining fruit before I cut them back for the winter.

Could try harder goes to the JalapeƱo and the Tabasco plants. Despite producing sturdy plants they failed to set much fruit and were an overall disappointment for such famous chillies.

Detention for the Chocolate Habanero for failing to produce a single fruit. Despite having four flourishing plants, smothered in flowers, not a single chilli has been forthcoming. I'll overwinter one or two just to see if they can redeem themselves next year but I won't hold my breath.

The ornamental varieties performed well, Orozco, Loco, Black Pearl and Twilight all drawing admiring glances. The fruit has been useful as well, despite the relatively small size. I'll keep them going overwinter, if for no other reason than to brighten the place up.

I was messing around with the camera the other day and decided to photograph some of the chillies that I'd dried earlier in the year. Interesting what's revealed under a macro lens.
Big Jim
Friar's Hat
Chilhuacle Negro

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Endless Summer...

...hardly. It seems that summer's only just begun and already it's over. It's one as no surprise that this summer has been the wettest on record since Noah paddled his canoe and the garden has suffered accordingly.
A mass of flowers on the pretty ornamental Explosive Ember
Miniature Sweet Pepper - these have been very successful, even with the poor weather.
My garden is north-east facing and consequently receives little sunlight. I also don't have a full sized greenhouse, just a couple of small growhouses. Growing heat-loving plants like chillies does present a challenge and in order to maximise sunlight, most of the plants have been moved outdoors, away from the shade of the house.
It's certainly helped and this last week of cloudless skies has seen plants come on in leaps and bounds. However, there is a downside - the night time temperatures have been plummeting and so, no sooner have I moved all the plants outdoors, I'm now migrating the more precious specimens back indoors to avoid them being harmed by the cold nights. I'm not suggesting that a frost is imminent, but some of the plants have been so late in flowering and fruiting (Black Naga, I'm talking about you!) thatI daren't jeopardise the few fruit it has produced.
A heavy crop of fruit on the Cayenne bush. Just need some sun to ripen.
So once again, the windowsills are filling up and I doubt I'll get a clear view until May next year. Come the end of September I'll be having a cull of chillies and deciding what to overwinter and what to grow next year. Some plants will be getting a glowing school report and some will definitely have to try harder.
The fantastic Superchilli bush, still producing a steady crop of fruit.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Hell's kitchen

With the wedding rapidly approaching I decided it was time to harvest the chillies and make some sauces and chutneys to give away.  Despite the meagre harvest from my own chilli collection, my culinary efforts were boosted by donations from our families' greenhouses to give me enough raw material for all the chilli goodies I had in mind

To start with, wash and top all the chillies you can get hold of...
Half a kilo of scorching Padrons went into the sauce. 
A quick blitz in the processor and then sweat down with onions and garlic 
And the finished product - a scalding, but fresh, chilli sauce named Quemalengua
Next up was the green chilli jam - 'Swamp Thing'
Oven roasted chillies for the chutney.
I named this concoction 'Forest Fire'
The results of a weekend in the kitchen.
And, of course, once the sauces were made I had to design some labels.  I've got some sticky-backed printer paper on order so once that arrives I can print out the labels and affix them to the jam jars and bottles.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The chilli cam

So I decided to dust off the macro lens and take a few more photos of the developing chillies in the garden.  As convenient as the compact or camera phone are, they cannot reproduce the fantasticly shallow depth of field (or 'bokeh' for you purists) that a macro lens and larger sensor can produce.

So, enough of the technical stuff, here's some pics.
A new chilli for me, the Twilight has just started to bear fruit.
The familiar Yellow Scotch Bonnets - still not quite ripe
The consistent Loco, still going strong 
My first Black Naga. Ok, so it's not black but this rare superhot should ripen to that colour.
The colourful ornamental Prairie Fire
Ancho Poblano, a mild, smokey Mexican chilli.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Hoping for an Indian Summer

There's plenty of fruit beginning to set on the chillies but we still need sun to get it ripen. So, a little more sunshine would be greatly appreciated.
I manged to blow my head off with a plateful of Padrons the other day.  I endured a searing heat that had my eyes watering, nose running and about 20 minutes of stomach cramps.

Damn tasty though!

What is supposed to be a mild, sweet chilli with a 10% chance of being hot seems to consistently produce scorchingly hot fruit.  It's not just my plants either - the Padron plants that I gave to Claudio produce similarly hot fruit (although his chillies are significantly larger than mine).
Hungarian Hot Wax
Yellow Scotch Bonnet
The Red Scotch Bonnet plant is beginning to set fruit as well although it's about a month behind its yellow cousin. Moving the plants outside has certainly slowed them down but with the windowsills overloaded and the constant aphid attacks, it was the best solution.

Explosive Ember
Explosive ember is a very pretty ornamental chilli with deep purple leaves and fruit.  It's a much more compact bush than the similarly coloured Orozco and I suspect would be better suited to a windowsill rather than Orozco's spreading habit.

I'm gearing up to a chilli jam making session this weekend so I'm hoping for a few more fruit to ripen to add to the stockpile in the freezer. Hopefully I'll have enough to make a couple of batches of jam at different heats depending on people's bravery and spice tolerance.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Slow progress... really is! Slowly the chillies are growing, slowly they're ripening but it takes the patience of a saint waiting for a decent crop.

For the forthcoming nuptials (yes, I'm getting hitched in a scarily-close five-weeks time) I've purchased a box full of miniature jam-jars and bottles to fill with chilli-related goodness. However, with the rate at which chillies are ripening in the inconsistent sunshine, I may be struggling to fill them all.

Thankfully, Claudio (the father-in-law to-be) has a regular production line of scorchingly hot Padron chillies on the go so I may have to make a special Galiciaian ex-pat sauce in his honour.

Padrons are supposed to be small, green and mild.  Not the way Claudio grows them!
However, all is not lost yet. The yellow scotch bonnet plant is doing well with half a dozen large fruit beginning to ripen. I'm particularly proud of this one as I grew it from seed rescued from a chilli bought at Sainsbury's. How's that for value for money, I got a tasty Carribean meal and a chilli plant for less than the cost of a packet of seeds!

The distinctive ribbed shape of the  Scotch Bonnet
I've had some success with my own Padrons with a steady supply of fruit. However, the superhots are still to make much of a showing with only flowers on the Black Nagas and not even any open flowers on the Chocolate Habaneros.
A reasonable crop of (slightly smaller) Padrons
It would appear that the mystery chilli seeds given to me by a colleague (previously referred to as 'Gino Chillies') are in all likelihood either Ballon or Friar's Hat. Now the plant has fruited it displays a healthy crop of the distinctive tricorn fruits.
Gino's chillies
Friar's Hat
Many of the other plants, particularly the Hungarian Hot Wax and the Cayennes have a good stock of green fruit, we're just waiting for the sun to give them a but of a boost and ripen them up in time for some wedding-themed hot sauces and jams.
Hungarian Hot Wax
Hungarian Hot Wax
The Loco plants are still producing a steady crop of small fruit
The late TrinidadScorpion, De Arbol and Cappa Conic seedings are thriving on the windowsill.