You can grow most things in Blighty. Even Chillies. Hot ones, at that.
The very first seeds that I had ever sown, were chilli seeds.
I put them straight into 7cm pots, covered them with a good bag and left them in the garden. Exposed to the elements of Britain’s weather, during a May Bank Holiday. I was training to be a teacher at the time, and sowing seeds seemed to be a good chill out exercise at the time.
That was five years ago, and sowing seeds is still a good chill out exercise.(Plus Horticulture is being used as therapy for folks with common mental health concerns. There have been lots of initiatives nationally by mental health charities. I’ve even tried to start a sunflower challenge this year, amongst my teaching colleagues. Growing a sunflower to help chill out stressed staff!) Any way, back then. At that time, beyond the retained, a bit vague knowledge, of GCSE Science, I didn’t actually have a clue and I more or less did everything wrong. It was only through some sheer fluke that the seeds grew into rather robust plants and produced a crop of about two dozen chillies.
Five years later I have graduated from plastic pots that cluttered Dad’s garden to having an allotment plot that is 200 square metres with a poly tunnel sat on it. I do still borrow Dad’s window sills to get things started.
That very first chilli variety was ‘Cayenne’. The sort you can very easily pick up from your local supermarket, the green and red ones that once added to your dinner, add flashes of flavour and also colour.
Since then, the experimentation of growing chillies has continued. There have been peaks and there have been troughs, all valuable learning experiences. I have tried to become a tad more adventurous, and even tried to grow one of the world’s hottest chillies, the ‘Dorset’ and ‘Bengle’ Nagas.
You’d think that growing a chilli on the allotment would be fairly simple. There are always plants floating around in garden centres. Over the last five years, I’ve realised that as lovely as chillies as, they do require a little bit of love, some attention, and a spot of scientific enquiry. There is a lot of debate as to when you sow the seeds. I started sowing at the wrong time of year, when I first decided to sow seeds. Then I did some research, spoke to some seasoned-forgive the pun-allotmenteers, and started adding things together. My chilli sowing experiment started two days after boxing day. Painstakingly, seeds were sown into recycled yogurt pots that had been filled with moist compost. Covered with a food bag, these were then left somewhere warm and sunnty. In late December, that doesn’t give you a lot of options. Cue daily checks, just to make sure that the chillies were still there. I even made a back up sowing in early January. Chillies require a long growing season, and if you want chillies in July, there has to be some Yoda-like patience. The pots were kept moist, and when the first baby leaves came through, the food bag cover was whipped off as though we were doing The Pasa Doble. Now the chillies needed both heat and warmth. In my case, that’s a warm window sill. Though proper expert chilli heads will fashion heated grow lights for proper guaranteed progress. I’m not that technical, so it was case of open the curtains, pray that the tiny things didn’t keel over.
Today, since the sun was out, I have time to review the chilli babies. They are growing strong, and trying to escape their pots in some cases. There is a rather a varied assortment of chillies that have been sown or bought in the case of the ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Dorset Naga’. I have, wait for it, it’s a long list. Cayennes, since it all began with them. Serrano, orange and chocolate habaneros, Aji Limo, Hungarian hot wax, pumpkin, pettie bell, rain drop and bellaform. These vary from the rather tall, ready to go Cayennes, to the hot, heavy, slow growing habaneros. From the mild, and relatively mundane, to the batten down the hatches, pass the milk, Dorset Naga. Have potted them on today from 7cm pots to 12 cm pots. By the time we get to early summer, they will go into the last posts and live in the poly. Once the night temperatures get to ten degrees and above, they should be robust enough to leave home.
I mentioned previously that growing chillies has been something of a learning experience. This is what I have learned and like to share. Chillies like-in my experience-a bit of tight spot. For example, in one pot, I have five Aji Limo’s. And they like it. If they have too much room, they get a bit too chilled out, and don’t do an awful lot. Last year, I experienced epic disappointment in the poly tunnel. Sank the plants into the open ground, got lots of leafy luscious beauties.But not an awful lot of fruit. Keeping them snug, keeps them happy. Feed ‘em, when they want you to, and are screaming. When the soil is arid, and feed ‘em enough to keep the soil moist to the touch. Feed them, at the base of the plant, and water from the bottom if in a pot with tray. They like it hot, but not too hot. There have been a few dramas where the babies got a bit too hot, crinkled and cooked.
Chillies can be simple, they needn’t be complicated. Most of all, chillies, are spot of spiced fun.
Follow the Horticultural ‘obbit’s chilli journey on twitter: @HorticulturalH