Monday, 30 January 2012

Hot Wax & cold weather

In order to stop the house being swamped by the rapidly growing forest of chillies I’ve snuck a few more into work.

The Pimientos de Padron have been in the reception at work for some time now, basking (and on occasion baking) in the sunshine that pours through the 20ft high south facing windows.  I’ve now added to them the three chillies that I overwintered, a Friar’s Hat, an Orozco and a Cayenne.
Pimientos de Padron in the work reception.
The Friar’s Hat and the Orozco have both recovered well from their pre-Christmas pruning and are putting out plenty of new shoots and leave.  The Cayenne was somewhat slower off the mark but is now showing signs of recovery and hopefully the extra sunshine and fresh compost it’s now sitting in will encourage further growth.
Padron and Friar's Hat Chilli plants enjoying the winter sun.

Back at the end of the summer I was given some Hungarian Hot Wax Chilli fruit by my parents. Before condemning them to the frying pan I collected a mass of seed and tried planting some in November.

Nothing., nada, zero, zilch.  Not a single seedling came up so in frustration I planted the rest in a couple of small trays, maybe 80 odd seeds in all.  Of course, sod’s law, plenty of the seed sprouted this time.  Even after thinning-out I was left with over forty healthy seedlings. 

The Hungarian Hot wax is a really useful chilli, plenty of sweet flesh when green with enough heat for chutneys or pickles when ripe. Even bearing this in mind, 40 plants is still a little excessive for my small garden. I suspect that the local school fete’s plant stall will benefit from any spares but in the meantime I need to house them somewhere until they mature. With the more valuable chilli seedlings staying safely under the grow lamp, the poor old Hot Waxes have been relegated to the somewhat draftier office windowsill. Tragically this exodus has coincided with the arrival of the coldest weather this winter. We'll have to hope that they can survive, I suppose it's just as well I've grown so many now...

Hungarian Hot Wax seedlings on the windowsill.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Come on spring...

The forest of seedlings thriving in the grow room.
With all the chillies rapidly growing I've found it something of a struggle this week to keep up with them and find space for them all.  I shouldn't complain, I've been quite amazed by the speed with which some of the seedlings have grown.

The Chocolate Habaneros have been particularly active - bearing in mind they were planted on the 18th December you can see from the photo quite how much they've grown in just a little under six weeks.

Chocolate Habanero seedlings, 40 days old.
As for the mysterious chilli seeds I was given by a colleague, well they've sprouted and growing at a rate of knots.  Until they can be identified they'll be known as Gino's Chillies.

As for the rest of the seedlings, I've been gradually moving the larger ones away from the light and heat of the grow room and onto window-ledges to harden them off a little.  Hopefully, with the days getting brighter it won't be long before they start to appreciate the extra sunshine and shoot away.  Of the older seedlings both the Tabasco and Loco seedlings seem to be doing particularly well, which is just as well since I already have a couple of people waiting for Tabasco plants.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


The grow-room is looking a bit more organised after a tidy up of the trays.
When I started growing chillies I did make a rule that I wouldn't bother growing any of the super-hot chillies, anything that was so insanely hot that I wouldn't be able to cook with it without the aid of an Biological warfare suit and a trained paramedic on standby.  However, over time most rules become guidelines and guidelines have a tendency to become suggestions.

Enter the Black Naga chilli...

Now whether it was the added difficulty and challenge of growing super-hots, the instability of the strain (you may end up with no dark fruit at all) or just the amazingly cool name, I decided that this chilli had to be my first attempt at growing a superhot. A relation of the fearsome Bhut Jolokia (some claim just a Chocolate Bhut rather than a new strain in it's own right) this sinister and ugly pod rocks in at a mere 800,000 SHU, so that's roughly 250 times hotter than a Jalapeno.

So for this very important chilli I decided to take a little more care with my planting. I'd read that when planting seeds it would be useful to add vermiculite to the compost as this retains nutrients and stops the compost drying out.  Likewise, adding perlite when potting on seedlings would help drainage and improve aeration.  I also decided to test out some small peat pots to see if they were an improvement on my homemade toilet tissue pots - just like the cardboard pots, when roots start growing through the pot you plant the whole thing on into a larger pot, avoiding disturbing the fragile roots.

From left to right: The empty pots, the perlite mix, the vermiculite mix with seed on top and the final planted pot.
So for this experiment I've filled the top half of the pot with a compost/vermiculite mix for the seed to grow in, and the lower half of the pot with a perlite/compost mix for the seedling's roots to develop in.  Seems something of an effort but we'll have to judge from the results to see if it's worth the extra time and trouble. The seeds were placed on top of the vermiculite mix and a thin layer of the same mixture sprinkled over the top.  They were then gently watered, to avoid disturbing the seeds, and placed over the warmest part of the aquarium propagator.

I await with keen interest to see, firstly if the peat pots and vermiculite mix make a huge difference, and secondly, to see if the Naga does actually bear any of the dark brown/black fruit that it's rumoured to produce. Roll on the summer!

Monday, 16 January 2012

The forest grows...

When people find out about my ongoing quest to fill the house and garden with chillies, their reactions tend to vary from boredom to incredulity (rapidly followed by boredom).  However, once in a while you come across someone equally misguided and you share a brief moment of camaraderie.

One such event happened recently when a colleague of mine turned up with a brown envelope of chilli seeds he'd collected whilst on holiday in Sicily. Knowing of my interest he'd scooped up the seeds and drawn a hasty sketch of the chilli pepper on the side of the envelope for me.  I now have a number of these envelopes of mystery seeds people have given me.  It's  all part of the fun waiting to see what emerges and then trying to match it to the appropriate variety. Needless to say they're now on top of the aquarium waiting to pop their heads up.
My collection of mystery seeds.
Meanwhile the chillies I recently transferred to the grow-room are shooting away.  Those that I'd planted in the home-made toilet roll pots have fared very well and potting them on has been a breeze with no damage to the delicate roots.  I soaked the seedlings before transplanting them and gently tore the flaps of soggy cardboard  away to allow the roots to grow down into the new compost.  Definitely a technique I'll continue to use.

The DIY seedling pots in the grow-room.
Speaking of DIY projects, I've been making mini-propagators for the developing seedings that I keep on the windowsill.  I was finding plant-pots a little expensive for all the seedlings I have so I've been using cheap plastic cups instead with holes strategically melted into the bottom for drainage with the aid of a hot skewer.  At 2p each it's definitely a cost effective method.

Making the pots
For the propagator lids I've been cutting the bottom off Pepsi bottles and with holes once again melted into them, they're the perfect size to fit over the plastic cups.

Making the mini-proagator lids
They seem to be doing the trick and although the seedlings aren't coming on quite as fast as those in the grow-room, it's allowing me to put the vulnerable seedlings onto the window-ledges which, at this time of year, would be too cold or draughty for plants this young.

The finished item

Sunday, 8 January 2012

New year, new chillies

Well despite it being January, the Pimientos de Padron are still producing flowers and even a few fruit.
Strictly speaking I shouldn't be encouraging the plants to fruit this early in the season, they should be putting their efforts into growing.  However, the novelty of having fresh chillies in the middle of winter is quite appealing. I'll probably leave one or two of the larger plants to flower and pinch out the flowers on the others to help them put on some more greenery.

Speaking of the Padron chillies, the initial fruit which I picked at Christmas has been fried and eaten and, somewhat surprising, all four of them were hot.  We'll see how future ones perform. Hopefully I'll have enough plants on the go that I'll be able to crop a healthy amount in one go, a dozen chillies would seem like an average tapa for a couple of people. I've got my eye on a small growhouse so I can move the plants outside as soon as the last frosts are gone and there they can make the most of the somewhat limited sunshine in the back garden.

Yet more seeds are germinating on top of the aquarium at the moment, with the very first sign of green peeping through on the Cyklon seeds a mere 6 days after planting.  I knew that the aquarium propagator was quick - most previous batches have show through after 8 days - but this is the fastest so far. It's just as well that I'm back in work tomorrow, I'm running out of space again so I'll be able to move some of the more established plants back into the reception there and free up some more windowsill space.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The current crop...

So with another batch of seeds in the propagator I thought it best to take stock of my seeds and how many more varieties I have yet to plant. 

As it turns out I’ve got seedlings on the go for most of my varieties with just five more left to plant. Not all of the seedlings are in the best of health as a few succumbed to damping off and those that survived are a little weak and spindly. However, the rest are doing well and flourishing under the CFL growlight. 

The idea is to have one or two plants of each variety (space allowing) and with chillies that I use the most, such as the Pimientos de Padron and Jalapenos, have up to half a dozen of each. 

Because I started planting so ridiculously early I’m hoping it will give me the chance to bring on the plants to a healthy size before they have to be moved to the greenhouses outside. And if I should have any seedlings that fail then at least I have plenty of time to plant replacements and still get a long growing season in. 

So here’s the current list of plants growing:


Pimientos de Padron 

Hungarian Hot Wax 

Friar’s Hat / Balloon 

Purple Tiger 

Satan’s Kiss 

Explosive Ember 

Red Cherry 

Black Cuban 




Black Hungarian 

Cayenne Ring of Fire 


Purple Jalapeno 

Chilhaucle Negro  

Nu Mex Centennial 


Bulgarian Carrot 

Monkey Face 

Big Jim 

Facing Heaven

Chocolate Habanero 


…and those waiting to be planted. 

Yellow Scotch Bonnet 

Red Scotch Bonnet 


Prairie Fire 

Cayenne Hot