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.

Going potty

Discussion around the arrangements for the plants when they are in their final growing pots. It seems that potting on into pots of increasing size is recommended. Not just dumping a teeny tiny seedling into a 30cm pot and leaving it to get on with things.

Our seedlings are currently in 6cm peat free fibre pots. These will then be planted straight in to 9cm square plastic pots. We already have a million of these so it makes sense to reuse them. They also fit neatly onto the windowsill trays we have. The next pot sizes are more difficult. In the interest in reducing plastic use we will be comparing non-plastic solutions with a bulk buy of large plastic pots to use every year.

First thoughts bring terracotta to mind. It seems a lovely, old fashioned option, reminisce of Peter Rabbit and friends. However, our greenhouse staging is super wobbly aluminium trestle style benches. The staging might not be able to take the weight of 20 30cm terracotta pots filled with compost, chilli plant and watered every day. What about grow bags? Or potato sacks? Or troughs? And does each type of chilli need such a large pot? More research need.

Research ensues.

We settle on secondhand, black plastic pots. Eek, not so PC these days but still very much out there in the market place. This is with a view to the pots being used year on year. Single use plastics are out of here. Reusing what already exists and cannot be recycled Hardwearing, easy to clean, uniform size and shape, good drainage but with excellent water retention qualities. One issue we have found with the fibre pots is that the water just evaporated right out of the sides of the pots, especially in the sun.

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20L pots found on ebay, being sold on from a plant nursery. Not purchased yet as we are visiting a nursery at the weekend. They may have pots to spare…or may not. Worth waiting to see. The chillies can hang out in the smaller pots for a few more days, no peeking roots out of the bottoms yet.

Pots Galore

It’s been a while. Busy times, you know. A quick status update shows that the February planted seeds are now in 9cm pots, they have 4-5 pairs of true leaves and are being fed ‘Chilli Focus’ plant food once a week (10mls to 1L). The March chitters are in their coir pots. Most have at least one pair of true leaves.

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So what happened in the chitting experiment? Jalapeno, Bulgarian Carrot, Aji Limon, Prairie Fire and Pretty Purple were all stars. Pretty much 100% success rate with the chitting within two weeks. Somewhat confusing results from the other candidates. Scotch Bonnet gave a 50% show. Fresno sent us three germinated offerings. Serrano & Long Slim Cayenne a couple each. Still NONE from Tobago Seasoning and Go Chu. None whatsoever. Disappointing to say the least.

The conditions were a little varied but surely one or two of each seed type should have germinated? We did take a holiday to Cornwall. The seeds were kept warm in the boxes at the back of an Aga the size & colour of a fire engine. They were also kept in the light. One Serrano showed his head in that week but then a few more of the harder types followed suit. Maybe light exposure is also a factor for some chilli types?

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There was also a brief foray into chemical assistance to germination. Some seed cases are tough and can be helped to soften using a couple of techniques: presoaking before chitting and using tea to soak them in. The tannins in the tea helps soften the seed case to allow more moisture in and then the root to break out. Not sure if I am committed enough to try diluted bird poo as a chemical aid. Might try scarification though.

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One tiny glimmer of hope remains in the fact that lots of books, seed packets and website claim that chilli seeds can take up to 5 weeks to germinate. All remaining seeds are basking in warm sunlight during the day and in the airing cupboard at night. If any of the Tobago Seasoning or Go Chu germinate they will be the most precious plants EVER. Definitely ones to overwinter. Come on now, play nice and give me couple of the plants I really want

No surprise there then

Five days in the in the airing cupboard and the chitting results are less than surprising. Chitting means that it is really obvious when they have germinated and Aji Limon, Big Bomb and Jalapeno are all growing little roots. Top of the class again. 10 x each have been transferred to modules of seed compost, ready to send up a shoot. They are being kept in a bright, warm area, and compulsively checked every ten minutes for signs of greenery.

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Latest check: nothing green to report.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (airing cupboard) the rest of the chilli seeds are yet to show signs of life. The remaining seeds have swollen a little, some are slightly translucent now but no rootin’ tootin’ going on.

We are hopeful for Scotch Bonnet and Bulgarian Carrot to germinate next, followed by Prairie Fire & Pretty Purple. These were the next batch to germinate in the compost and so the seed has at least shown itself to be viable. They were also 80%-100% successful. We have limited capacity for fully grown chilli plants so it is already looking like the school Summer Fete will be benefitting from some rather excitingly named (if a little leggy) chilli plants.

Fresno only gave us 4/10 seedlings germinated in the compost. No sign of roots on its chitting seeds yet. It is a mystery as to why the other seeds did not spring to life with the normal addition of warmth and water. Not all were dodgy imported Korean seeds you know! Cayenne and Serrano are hardly unknown in the UK climate. Perhaps inconsistent heat? Maybe half a day of drought when we forgot to water before going out? Maybe the snow scared the life out of them? Hard to know as the remaining Round One seeds are still sitting in their modules, not doing anything, and certainly not letting on as to why they didn’t germinate.

Quick check…still no sign of leaf growth from the germinated chitted seeds.

Chitting Chitting Bang Bang

After somewhat disappointing results from our first attempts at chilli seed germination, the decision has been made to pay more attention to temperature and watering. South Devon Chilli Farm say that 27-32 degrees is optimum chilli germination range and so that is where we strive to be. They also state that surface watering and using warm water are ways to reduce the shock the seeds/seedlings might feel at this delicate stage in their lives. Heard and understood.

Finding a suitably warm (but not too hot) location is far trickier than one would think. On top of a radiator…too hot, 37 degrees or so. On the windowsill…too chilly, 22 degrees or there abouts. In the airing cupboard…too hot again when the heating is on. Back in the heated propagator? Not warm enough with the current weather conditions (snow and an Easterly wind that finds previously unknown gaps around the windows) What to do?

After copious temperature guaging with Old Faithful, the seeds are now, by day, chitting on a sunny, south facing windowsill, above a radiator, and in the bottom of the airing cupboard overnight. Let’s see where that gets us.

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The seeds have been placed into clean, plastic takeaway boxes. The boxes are lined with damp capillary matting. Lids down, one corner slightly askew. No soil involved so we can really see what is going on.

In the previous planting of seeds Aji Limon was the first seed to poke its head above the surface of the soil. Closely followed by Jalapeno. Wonder who will show their face first this time?

Really hoping for some germination from Serrano, Long Hot Cayenne, Tobago Seasoning and Go Chu as there was 0% success last attempt

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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.