Monday, 30 April 2012

Marching in two by two...

I haven't needed to top-up the pond for a while...

With all the rain we've had recently you could be forgiven for building an ark. The ground is sodden through, far to wet to do any planting outdoors.Now normally this wouldn't bother me with regards to the chillies. After all, they're either still indoors or in one of the growhouses.
A rather soggy-looking garden
However, whilst the rain itself might be welcomed by the water-boards, unfortunately it's accompanied by plummeting temperatures and a lack of sunlight. And these have had a detrimental effect on the chillies.The long and the short of it is that everything has just slowed to a crawl. The cold, damp atmosphere is the opposite of what the plants thrive in and without any sunshine, the fruit that has already grown is refusing to ripen.

The sorry-looking chillies in the allotment polytunnel have not made any great progress.
Orozco and Moroccan seedlings straining for sunlight

Pasilla Bajio seedlings
So, with all of the seedlings and more mature plants on hold until the weather breaks, I decided to turn my attention to some more seeds.I know it's getting a little late in the season to be planting any more seeds (and it's not even as if I have homes for all the plants I already have) but I had a couple of good reasons to plant some more.Firstly, not all of the seeds I planted did as well as others and in one or two cases it's left me with just one or two specimens of a particular variety.  I've already had a couple of more mature plants keel over on me for no reason and some have been less fruitful than others. So a few back-up plants wouldn't go amiss, particularly of the more tender or interesting varieties.

The propagator loaded ready for growing

Secondly, I picked up a Jiffy 7 propagator cheaply the other day as was keen to try it out compared to the various methods I've used so far this year for propagation.The Jiffy 7 system is a clean and simple way of raising seedings, using compressed coir (coconut husk) pellets that swell up in warm water as the planting medium. Once the seedings are of a sufficient size, the netted plugs can then be transplanted straight into larger pots without touching the roots and risking damage or root shock. 

One week into the trial...
...the seeds are beginning to show through
Now these pellets aren't as cheap as a bag of compost and a few seed trays so in order to ensure that none go to waste I've planted two or three seeds in each to maximise the chance of a seedling taking. In the case of more than one sprouting then the weaker ones will be pinched out.

They're being grown on top of the aquarium to benefit from the same heat source as the other seeds I've germinated this year so I'll be keeping a close eye on them to seed how they fare compared to the seed trays, peat pots and the toilet-roll tubes that I've used up to now.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Potting on

Well, so far things ate trundling on quite well. I spent the weekend potting on chillies and now most if them have progressed into 1 litre pots or larger. I've been careful not to over-pot plants as having their roots restricted helps to encourage flowering and fruiting. However, some of the plants had started to get pot-bound and an addition of fresh compost has helped to perk ups few of the more tired-looking specimens.

The Padron Peppers get a severe haircut!
The new growhouse is performing well, keeping the plants free of the worst excesses of the April showers and with the somewhat sporadic sunshine some of those plants are starting to produce flowers and fruit.

The growhouse is rapidly filling up
Black Hungarian
Hungarian Hot Wax
Friar's Hat
Not all of the plants have been so successful. A few of them have dropped most of their leaves and are looking somewhat sickly. I suspect this is due to over-watering so I need to keep a careful eye on then in the future.

A rather sad-looking Monkey Face seedling that didn't make the grade
The seeds from the Moroccan chillies have sprouted with a reasonably high success rate. These have been grown alongside some Pasila Bajio seeds,a mild and smokey chilli used in Mole sauces. The initial batch yielded only a couple of plants so I planted some extras, expecting only a few to sprout.  True to form, nearly all have germinated so, once again, the windowsills will be overflowing.
Pasilla Bajio and Mystery Moroccan seedlings on the windowsill
One of the prettiest chillies that I grew last year was the Orozco.  This highly ornamental plant produces small hot black fruit that ripen to red.  The variegated leaves start off dark and then lighten with mottled patches of white.  I've got a large Orozco that I overwintered from last year but I thought it would be worth growing on some new seedlings as it's a popular plant that attracts a lot of attention.

Orozco Seedlings
Orozco flowers and leaves

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Spring has sprung

Well I’ve been a little quiet on the blog front for a while. Truth be told I haven’t been doing much on the chilli-growing front, just allowing the plants to get on with the business of growing and gradually shifting some to the greenhouse outside to harden off.
Pimientos de Padron
I managed to escape for a holiday to Morocco for a well deserved break (well, at least in my opinion it was well deserved) and left the chilli plants at the tender mercies of my family & friends with strict instructions not to forget to water them.

Thankfully I got back to find that none had dried out (I’ve got my assistants well trained!).  However the greenfly had made an unwelcome return and decimated a couple of the plants, causing leaves to curl and shrivel and flowers to drop.  Normally I’d take the eco-friendly approach and spray them with soapy water to get rid of the aphids but I wasn’t feeling in a very forgiving or patient mood and instead treated them to the horticultural equivalent of a napalm strike.

Hopefully the plants will make a recovery but I’m going to have to be extra-vigilant to ensure they don’t make a comeback.

Hungarian Hot Wax chilli
Whilst in Morocco I did buy a bag of dried chillies from the souk. I’m not sure what variety they are but the pods are a couple of inches long and the skins look very thin.  I’ve not tried them for heat yet but the shopkeeper  assured me that they were ‘very hot’.  Judging from some of the chilli sauce I tried in the night market I don’t doubt him. I’ve extracted seeds from a couple of pods and will see how I get on growing them.

Meanwhile the plants at work have been doing well, putting on lots of growth and plenty of flowers.  Of particular note is the Friar’s Hat chilli, which is looking very sturdy and sporting plenty of immature fruit.  I’ve been pinching out the tips of the plants to prevent them from getting too tall and to encourage them to throw out more side shoots and put more energy into producing flowers and fruit.

Friar's Hat
The great chilli give-away has continued apace with more little plants finding new homes amongst friends and colleagues.  I’ve even taken a few up to the poly-tunnel on the work’s allotment.  I had a few Padron peppers that hadn’t fared too well at home (I think in part due to the overcrowding) so I’ve taken a risk and planted them directly into the soil in the tunnel as a sort of kill-or-cure remedy.  Joining them are a few of the Hungarian Hot Wax chillies I had going spare.  It still may be a little cold for them at night so I’ve left them under cloches as well for added protection. We’ll see how they get on – I suspect that if they survive and manage to gain a foothold in the poor soil then the resulting chillies will have a real kick to them.

Padron chillies at the back of the polytunnel and Hungarian Hot wax chillies under the cloches

Back at home, with a battle for supremacy raging between the chillies and the tomatoes for window-sill space I’ve had to find some more room outside.  I’ve purchased a small growhouse to go on the patio and it’s allowed me to shift most of the plants outside.

These little growhouses seem like a neat solution and are reasonably attractive in the garden as well.  The downside is the build quality of these houses is disappointingly low. Even the sturdier (and more expensive) houses are still very flimsy and badly finished.  I had toyed with the idea of making my own, along similar lines to the one I built last year.  It wouldn’t have been any cheaper but certainly would have been more substantial. Unfortunately, a lack of time forced me to compromise and go with a flat-pack version instead.

Maybe next year…