True leaves

Time for an update on the 20 varieties of chilli we have growing here at The Birdhouse in sunny and blustery Hampshire, England.

A quick reminder of the seedlings’ journey so far…

The seeds were soaked in tea and left to chit in a humid propagator. Once the seeds had rooted & shooted they were put into small newspaper pots. They were kept fed and watered until their roots peeked out the bottom of the pots. Potted on into 9cm square pots. No science behind the square pot choice. We just have lots of them. They fit & balance well on our windowsill trays. And there we are, the story so far.

Chilli varieties with varying numbers of true leaves. Showing days since germination…

And if we do it all again next year?

We have not used heaters, reflectors, heated pads, lights or anything else too specialist…yet. Next year we might consider providing extra lighting once the seeds are germinated and potted up. A quick social media peek at specialist chillihead groups soon reveal the types of plant that can be grown under specialist UV lights with a little extra heat. Short, dark, glossy beasts that are poised to surge up when the frosts are finally over. Something to aim for.

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.

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.

Potting on and Beyond

So, Round One of experimentation is done. The results are in. It turns out germinating chillies is not easy peesy lemon squeezy after all. A plug-in, non-temperature controllable, heated propagator is not a reliable enough piece of kit to germinate all types of chilli seed. Some loved it but some super sulked, like teenagers abed. In addition to an amateur range of equipment, snowy conditons outside (including daytime temperatures of -6) do not make for good windowsill conditions.

On the 18th February 2018, a mix of chilli seeds were planted into 1″ square root trainer modules. The compost of choice was John Innes Seed Compost with added perlite. Ten of each carefully selected chilli varieties were planted and placed, lovingly, into said heated bubble. Temperature unknown as Old Faithful, the Birdhouse thermometer, was nowhere to be found.

We waited with baited breath. Condensation appeared. It took an actual eternity for any shoot to show its tiny little self. Seedlings finally emerged on 23rd February. A frabjous day! Aji Limon were first up. Delicate green, slim leaves unfurled pretty quickly. Eight of them popped up within a couple of days. Next were the Jalapenos, Prairie Fire and Scotch Bonnet and Bulgarian Carrot (secretly they’re my favourite but don’t let on now). Fresno and Big Bomb made a later appearance. Fresno only sent three little darlings to the surface but Big Bomb’s module was littered with seedlings galore.

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A mega no show from Go Chu (darn it, this is the variety we are hoping to grow most of) Long Slim Cayenne, Serrano or Tobago Seasoning. Must try harder says their report card.

After a brief foray into the Airing Cupboard (like Narnia, only less snow and more pillowcases) we move swifty on to experimentation Round Two. We will be carefully controlling temperature for seed chitting. All seed varieties will be resown using this method, in the interest of fair testing. Meanwhile, outside the snow has started to fall again. Perhaps this round of chilli germination will yet again be thwarted by plummeting external termperatures.