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