The race is on

The chillies have been chitting in their heated propagator. After their tea bath they were carefully strained then snuggled into the chitting pods (takeaway container + capillary matting). Finally they were placed into the heated propagator on the 17th January.

In the propagator the temperature stays above 25 degrees (even on the coldest of – 5 nights so far) and reaches the sweaty heights of 35 degrees +. The pods are stacked with the Chinense types at the bottom, nearer the heated base, and the Annuum varieties on top, not quite so warm.

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Without a thermostat it is impossible to keep the temp constant but it seems that most of the varieties have responded well. Here are the results so far…

Chilli (A=Annuum, Ch=Chinense)Date started chitting (after a soak overnight in some tea)Date of first germination
Jalapeno (A)17.01.1919.01.19
Serrano (A)17.01.1920.01.19
Aleppo (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Cow Horn (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Cherry Bomb (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Golden Greek Peperoncini (A)17.01.1921.01.19
Sweet Banana (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Scotch Bonnet (Ch)17.01.1922.01.19
Espelette (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Madame Jeanette (Ch)17.01.1922.01.19
Trinidad Perfume (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Padron (A)17.01.1922.01.19
Habanero Primero Red (Ch)17.01.1922.01.19
Guajilo (A)17.01.1925.01,19
Mustard Habanero (Ch)17.01.19Yet to germinate
Orange Habanero (Ch)17.01.19Yet to germinate

Not bad results for 8 days after starting.

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Jalapeno seeds starting to germinate just two days after soaking & chitting.

You may notice that a couple of previously mentioned chilli types (Poblano and 7 Pot Bubblegum) are missing from the first list. They have not yet turned up in the post. A refund will be requested. And, the very observant amongst you will have seen the addition of Serrano. These came free from one company. Lovely.

The seeds that germinated in the first few days are now in need of planting in their very first pot. These are newspaper pots filled with nutrient poor seed compost. We don’t want these tiny seedlings growing too quickly as daylight hours are still short and too much food will produce leggy seedlings. Hmmm, note to selves: do we need to think about a lamp?

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Cherry Bomb seedlings ready to be potted up.

Off to buy some seed compost and make 100 million more paper pots.

Anyone for a cuppa?

The 16 varieties of seeds have finally arrived. Some from Devon, some from Athens, some from Italy and some from Holland. All very pleasing.

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The kettle is now boiling. High tech stuff. The seeds will be soaked overnight in tea. The hope is that the tea will soften the seed case with a chemical action similar to that of the seed passing through a digestive system. Thus making things easier for the root to break through and give a higher rate of germination.

The Chinense varieties are harder to germinate (according to last year’s results) so we are keen to support them in any way possible. A good cuppa will hopefully work its magic.

Clean up your act

With the mild weekend weather, we ventured up to the greenhouse for a general clean up. All whitewash was scrubbed from the glass. Floors were swept. Surplus flower pots were removed and stored. Oh, how many there were! Just where do they come from? And why are they ALL different sizes & dimensions? All the odds and sods will be put to good use at the school Summer fete.

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The inside of the greenhouse was given a good wash too. Followed with a vinegar rinse. That should deal with any critters that have taken up residence over the growing season! Dettol was the personal sponsor of the event. And has continued to sponsor the house for a few more days.

A brand new bubble wrapping system of suspension wires. A single wire was hung between the two points of the roof and large sheets of bubble wrap were draped over. This made the task considerably more simple than last year. Snug as a bug in a rug.

Now the greenhouse is ready, willing and able to host the yet-to-even-be-sown chilli seedlings. Current daytime temperature 16 degrees, night time temp was a balmy 10 degrees. Let’s see what happens when the snow fairy has visited.

All bottled up

In the lull before the growing season, what to do? Two out of three seed orders have arrived but it seems silly to start chitting without the other seeds. Email query sent, the thumbs are twiddling again. Ahhh, the fermented chillies! That’s what we can do.

At the end of the harvest season we collected and bottled a range of chillies. Not vast quantities but enough to play with. One jar of whole Prairie Fire chillies (plus garlic, turmeric and ginger slices). The chillies were too hot, too small and too seedy to be of much use.  Another jar filled with deseeded red Scotch Bonnet chillies and a last jar of mixed peppers (Aji Limon, Bulgarian Carrot, Fresno, Big Bomb & Jalapeños) all deseeded with garlic. Salt and water was added and the ferment was ON!

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The jars were left on the south facing windowsill. They made a beautiful display. Then things got a bit lively. Fizzing and overflowing despite the lids being screwed on super tight. Saucers were put under the jars and they were left to continue their journey. They’ve been sitting there since October, quietly bubbling, fermenting and developing a wonderful flavour.

It turns out that making a fermented hot sauce is not tricky at all. Strain the contents of the jar. Whizz up the chillies with a bit of the fermenting water, some apple cider vinegar and this case, some honey. Other flavours can be added at any stage of the process. Cook it up and/or can it if you want it to halt the fermenting process there & keep outside of the fridge. If not, it will keep for a month or so in the fridge, and will continue to ferment.

And the end result? Fermented super hot Prairie Fire chillies make…yes you guessed it…a super hot chilli sauce. The mixed peppers made a more orangey hued sauce. Hardly any heat (although maybe my mouth was numb from tasting the Prairie Fire sauce?) Yummy all round flavour. The Scotch Bonnet sauce is beautiful. An almost glowing scarlet sauce with a stunning flavour. Hot, yes, but the flavour is worth it. Off to order some more Scotch Bonnet seeds for this year, despite the Chinense category being over subscribed already.

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Left to right: Prairie Fire, mixed peppers, Scotch Bonnet

How hot is too hot?

Germination was erratic with some chillies last year. What were the factors? It’s hard to tell as the chillies can’t tell us. Temperature is cited as a key factor. This year we will be attempting germination as follows:

  • Chitting, not in soil or vermiculite. This way it is really obvious what is going on with the seeds.
  • Keeping a consistent temperature, night and day.
  • A high enough temperature for the Chinense type chillies. These all seem to prefer a hot kickstart. It looks like a balmy 27 degrees might suit most chillies.
  • Not excluding light. Airing cupboards are a no no according to some folk.
  • Be patient. With some chillies listed as taking up to 6 weeks to germinate it it a waiting game.
  • Maybe a soak the seeds in some warm strong tea, to act as a chemical scarifyer.

Other charted information for future reference and in preparation for the pot stocktake and greenhouse reorganisation in February.

Chilli
Latin group
No of days to germinate
Suggested germination temp
Days to maturity
Height of plant
Pot size required
Cherry BombAnnuum10-21 days21oC80 days60-75cm3L
EspeletteAnnuum14-21 days24-35oC80-90 days50cm-1.5m3L/7.5L

Cow Horn

Annuum10-21 days24-29oC75 after potting on1m (tall)5L

Guajilo

Annuum10-21 days24-32oC85 days1.5m (yep, big)7.5L
Habanero Primero RedChinense11 days-5 weeks32-35oC45-60cm3L

Aleppo

Annuum21-30 days21-29oC80 days to red from potting on1.2m7.5L
7 Pot Bubblegum
Chinense21 days22 oC90 days1.1m7.5L
JalapenoAnnuum10-14 days18-27oC75 days from seed1.5m7.5L
PoblanoAnnuum6-12 days21oC75 days from potting on1m7.5L
Pimientos de PadronAnnuum14 days24-32oC55-68 days2m7.5L, then the ground?
Golden Greek Pepperoncini
Annuum7-21 days29oC bottom heat85-95 days1m5L
Sweet BananaAnnuum12 days18 oC75 days40-60cm3L
Trinidad PerfumeAnnuum5-7 days 14-28 days elsewhere21-24oC80-85 days 71-80cm5L
Madame JeanetteChinense12-21 days22-28 oC90-100 days85cm5L
Orange HabaneroChinense11 days-5 weeks24-32oC120 days from potting on70cm x 70cm3L
Mustard HabaneroChinense11 days-5 weeks24-32oC100 days75cm3L

Hot New Contenders

In the running for ‘Best Chilli of 2019’ we have…

The Reds

Cherry Bomb. Heat of Product : Medium. Very easy to grow. The plant produces an abundance of eye-catching bright red fleshy fruits (5cm round) which mature in around 60 days from potting on. They can be stuffed with cheese and baked, or used for cooking and fresh salsa. Heat: 6,000 Scoville Heat Units. Expectation that each plant will need a 3L pot and will grow to approx. 75cm tall.

Espelette-type (Capsicum anuum Gorria). Heat of Product : Medium. The Espelette chilli pepper is a protected variety and the name can only be used if the chillies and seeds are from the Basque region of France. Traditionally the Espelette-type chilies are used to make a bright-red chilli powder to add to soups, stews and many other dishes, popular in the Basque region. The plant produces a heavy crop of fruits about 13cm long and 3cm wide on a plant growing to about 50cm. The fruits ripen green to red. Heat level: 4000-6000 scoville units.

Cow Horn. A lovely, bright, cheerful, cayenne-type red chilli with a mild heat. Most fruits reach approximately 6-8″ (15-20 cm) long and start off green, maturing to red, with thick flesh. Skin can be a little wrinkled in appearance. Plants reach approximately 1 metre tall. These are beautiful when dried and hung up, but equally, they are good for frying and making sauces. Origin: New Mexico. Heat: Mild – approximately 2500-5000 SHUs

Guajilo. The Guajillo (“gwah-hee-oh”) is a very popular chili pepper in Mexico. The pods are between 10 and 15 cm long with a diameter of about 2.5 – 3 cm. They are reddish brown and when dried they turn black. This chili pepper dries well because of its thin fruit wall. The chili peppers have an erect habit. In Mexico, the Guajillo pepper is often used in salsas and sauces. It’s also used to make chili pastes. In Tunisia this paste is called Harissa. The Guajillo has a sweet taste and is medium hot. Who knows how big they get?!

Habanero Primero Red. Scientific Name : Capsicum chinense. Plant Habit : Mounded. Spacing : 18 – 24″ (46 – 61cm). Height : 18 – 24″ (46 – 61cm). Width : 18 – 24″ (46 – 61cm). One of the earliest ripening habaneros on the market, with fruit ready to harvest as early as bell peppers. Produces huge yields of fruit larger than other standard habaneros, with just about one-third the heat. Early flowering – can be sold in large pots with flowers and immature fruit. Days to maturity from transplant:75 to 80 to full ripe, 60 to 65 to green.

Aleppo. The Aleppo is a rare chile from the region of Northern Syria and Southern Turkey. Also called the Halaby pepper. There are a few peppers named Aleppo one is a Cayenne type. This is the more rare Pimento type. The Aleppo pepper is named after the famous city of Aleppo that is on the famous silk road that was used to trade spices and goods as early as 200 B.C. it ran from North Africa though Arabia, Persia, Turkey and China. Aleppo peppers have a sweet taste with a nice kick of heat. Culinary experts and Chefs agree it is hard to find real pure Aleppo powder. Aleppo plants can grow over four feet tall and peppers ripen from green to dark red. It makes a great chilli powder. (Capsicum annuum)

7 Pot Bubblegum. The red color that seems to creep up the stem. The red you see in the picture is unaltered and happens in the last few days of ripening. The flavor of this pepper is very nice compared to some of the other super hots. It has a sweet and fruity taste with some floral undertones and INSANE HEAT. Scoville Heat Units~1,800,000 SHU . Days to Fruit 90 Days. Silly, I said no silly heat, and now look what I’ve gone and bought!

The Greens

Jalapeno. Heat of Product : Medium. The Jalapeño (Capsicum Annuum) is probably the mostly widely know chilli variety in the world. The chilli gets its name from the town of Jalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The fruits are conical, thick-walled and typically sold and used green. They usually ripen to red and develop a distinctive ‘corking’ pattern (light coloured marks) as they reach full size. The plants are upright, 3 to 4 feet tall with woody stems. The fruits take about 75 days from sowing to harvest with each plant producing 20 to 30 fruits which are typically 6 to 8cm long and 2 to 3cm wide and conical. The plants usually need some support as they start to fruit to avoid branches being broken by the weight of fruit. This variety of Jalapeno produce large fruits which have a heat level of around 6000-8000 Scoville Heat Units. Big 7.5L pots as the plants gets to over a metre tall.

PoblanoHeat of Product : Mild. This large mild chilli is revered in Mexico and the USA and used extensively in Mexican-style cooking. The fruits are up to 15cm long and are traditionally stuffed with meat, rice or vegetables and then baked. The plants will grow up to 1m high and the fruits are normally harvested green – from about 75 days after potting on. If left to turn red, the fruits are traditionally dried to make ‘Anchos’, another very common ingredient in Mexican dishes. Heat: 1000 Scoville Heat Units.

Pimientos de Padron. Heat of Product : Mild. These peppers are traditionally picked immature (usually when about 5cm long) before they have developed any heat. You may have seen the fruits in Spain or in a Spanish Tapas bars; they are usually quickly fried in olive oil and sea salt and served hot. There is a Pimientos de Padrón recipe on this link. The plants can grow to 2m high and produce a perpetual crop throughout the summer provided you keep picking them. If left to mature, the fruits turn a light red and grow to about 10cm long and 4cm wide at the shoulder. Heat: very mild if picked early, 3,000 Scoville heat units if left to mature. Eeeek, going to need a plan for 2m tall plants!

The Yellows

Golden Greek PepperonciniThe pepperoncini plant is a bushy, annual variety that grows to a height of about 100cm (3ft) tall. The peppers it produces are tapered, wrinkled along their length, blunt and lobed at the ends. They are usually harvested at 5 to 8cm (2 to 3in) long, while they are still sweet and yellow-green. When allowed to mature, the peppers turn bright red and grow stronger in flavour.

Sweet Banana. Heat of Product : No or very little heat. Long cylindrical fruits, tapering to a point. Fruits ripen from yellow to red. Final size: 18cm long, 4cm wide. Great for grilling and usually used when yellow. Plant 40cm high. Fruits mature in 70-80 days. Heat: No heat.

Trinidad Perfume. A high yielding HEATLESS Habanero – all the wonderful flavour of a Habanero with very little heat. Great for salads or cooked into food for a great flavour. Harvest: Pick when the fruits turn yellow – about 140 days from potting-on. Size: 70cm High, fruits 3cm green to yellow.

Madame Jeanette. The fruits are shaped like small bell peppers. Madame Jeanette chilis are very hot, rated 125,000–325,000 on the Scoville scale. The peppers ripen to reddish-yellow but they are larger and not symmetrical. Its flavour is described as “fruity”, with hints of mango and pineapple. It is often confused with the yellow Adjuma, which is less elongated and said to be more spicy but less flavourful. Madame Jeanette is used in almost all facets of Surinamese cuisine. The plant is very prolific. It has a relatively compact growth and dislikes cool sites. It will also grow indoors.

The Oranges

Orange Habanero. Heat of Product : Very Hot. Easy to grow. The fruits are up to 2.5cm x 4cm and are produced on a shrubby bush up to 70cm tall x 70cm wide. The fruits are ready to pick at around 100 days after the seedlings have been potted on, and the plant will continue cropping as long as suitable conditions are maintained. This is probably the most prolific habanero variety. The fruits are very hot – up to 350,000 Scoville units. Harvest: Pick when the fruits turn Orange – about 120 days from potting-on. Heat: 250,000 – 350,000 Scoville Heat Units. Size: 50cm High, fruits 3cm green to orange.

Mustard Habanero. 95-100 days. Outrageously colourful habanero-type fruit starts out a very light green blushed with purple, and ripens to a unique mustard colour and finally to fiery orange, with plants bearing fruit of all colours simultaneously. Super hot, like most habaneros.

New Year Resolutions

Despite lack of posts, chillies did grow at The Birdhouse. Actually they grew in the greenhouse at The Birdhouse. So big and so strong they were bursting out all over the place. Neighbours, friends and family and indeed actual strangers were gifted copious bags of multicoloured, mega Scovilled goodies.

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We spent the Summer tasting, cooking, preserving, researching, stalking and fermenting chillies. Hits of the season were the Jalapeños. Wow, what a flavour and a heat that everyone can enjoy. The plants were tall (the height of our small greenhouse really), prolific, early too.

Big Bomb were also pretty darn good. Loads of fruit, great colour, sweet heat and plenty of chillies on each plants. Easy to prepare. The plants were a manageable size. Quite upright and strong. Surplus chillies were pickled to be stuffed at our leisure, like homemade Peppadews.

The surprise hit was the Scotch Bonnet. Only four plants germinated. Not promising. They sulked at every stage of the growing process. Hid at the back of the greenhouse for a month. But then, once they got going, they were truly excellent. Stunning shiny scarlet baubles, wonderfully fruity flavour and vast quantities of crisp chillies. Hot hot hot. Made a phenomenal hot pepper sauce with them. Nom. We cooked up a a similar sauce with Aji Lemon and Bulgarian Carrot too. One red, one orange and one zingy lemon yellow. Definitely worth the effort.

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And so to this year. What will 2019 bring to The Birdhouse? Here come the New Year Resolutions…

  1. Start the growing process a little earlier. Order seeds asap and then chit. Don’t give up on seeds that take longer than a few days to germinate. Some can take WEEKS! Consistent temperature, good air circulation and perhaps a bit of scarification on the hotter seeds as they were the harder to kick start.
  2. New varieties this year to include milder chillies, ones that are noted for their individual flavour and types suited to cooler climes. As well as a few faves. Don’t waste time on tiny chillies, pretty chillies, chillies that are mind blowingly hot.
  3. Make sure the height of the staging in the greenhouse is not too high. Chilli plants were generally much taller than expected and so were squashed up against the roof. Any chillies growing outside need structure to support them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to give plants away. Too many plants lead to pests and diseases spreading quickly.
  5. Sort a watering technique/system that works simply. Especially during the Summer hols when we are away. Maybe ventilation too. Oh, and an adequate heater for the early months.

And there we have it. Izzy whizzy, let’s get bizzy.