Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Wonders of the Chilli

Chilli Cherry Bomb
Chillies. I absolutely love them. Not just for their culinary uses but because they are beautiful plants that fruit in a way that makes them look jewel encrusted. You can have really small plants to plants that are up to and over a metre in height, that are variegated, that have deep purple leaves and that have variegated fruit. You can buy seeds of well known varieties such as Joe's Long to really rare varieties that have been bred by folk who are far more obsessed than I to the infamous Chilli that looks like a willy!!. There are a wealth of chilli seeds for sale online-just Google chilli seeds and the world of chilli seed will open up in front of your eyes. I can strongly recommend, and as great chilli people but there are countless folk out there who's lives revolve around the fruits of the plant and what to do with them.

With that in mind, there are lots of chilli festivals around the country each year, with more popping up every year. The biggest festival of the year is the festival at West Dean Gardens which this year is from 27th to 29th July. You can find more info at Here you can see everything from chilli based pickles and sauces to chilli beer and vodka, alongside great chilli growers selling plants, including Michael Michaud of Sea Spring Seeds who has regularly been seen as the River Cottage maestro of chillies.

Chilli Fish-variegated leaf and fruit
So once you've chosen your varieties they are easy to grow as long as you keep on top of them. The seeds need to be sown early in the year-I always sow mine on January 1st, as the plants need a long growing period to ensure fruiting. I put mine into a heated propagator as I've found I achieve a quicker and more even germination rate. However a warm windowsill above a radiator will work too.

Once the seedlings have a true set of leaves they need to be pricked out which I do into 3inch pots and they can then sit on a warm windowsill and grow away. The important thing to remember is that chillies hate to be pot bound so as soon as they appear to have stopped growing, pot them into a larger size pot and watch them start to grow again. Some varieties will end up needing up to a 5ltr pot but they will thank you for this by rewarding you with lots of fruit to do with as you wish.

A quick side note is that they will reward you further if you feed them well!! A good dose of tomato food once a week once the flowers start to be seen will encourage the fruit to set well and keep the plants looking healthy as well as keep them fruiting for longer. The other thing to remember with these plants is that they like to be keep moist so need regular watering. They will thank you for it.

Chillies are, of course, seen as being annual plants that need warmth to grow well. However there are several different types of chilli and some of the South American varieties have been found to cope well overwinter in a cool greenhouse on a heated mat. I am experimenting with Chilli pubescens Rocotto this year to see if they will overwinter here in sunny Bucks. I shall let you know!!
Joe's Long Cayenne

So that's how to grow a chilli plant in one easy lesson. They grow beautifully in pots outside, are a great gift to give to people and you can make fantastic recipes from Chilli con Carne to pickles and oils. Its not too late to get them going now and once you've grown them once, you'll be hooked. to quote one chilli grower I spoke to at Waddesdon Chilli Festival last year, "I started with 30 plants and now grow 3000+ each year"
Why not join in-its a great thing to do!!!!

In other news in the 52 week salad challenge my seeds are germinating away nicely and I'm looking forward to sowing lots more in the next few weeks in the window boxes underneath our kitchen windows, There I shall be planting sorrel. peas for pea shoots which I adore and lots more mixes. And I shall be following the advice of someone from Twitter, who took all her old salad seeds, mixed them together and sowed themas her own mix, using up old seed which usually would have just sat around until thrown away.

In the mean time, we're nearly at the end of January. Roll on Spring.

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