Newest Review: ... can also be purchased from shops already grown, many places stock them and they come in a wide variety, from sweet chillies though to ... more
Insert bad pun about being hot stuff
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Worth the longer growing time, the chillies you'll get are worth the effort
Disadvantages: Long growing season
If you want a bit of heat in your cooking and want an alternative to the measly two or three varieties that are available to buy in supermarkets, then I'd recommend growing your own chillies. There are about two and a half thousand different types of chillies that can be grown, yet for some reason all we are offered in the shops are scotch bonnets, jalapenos and generic, long finger like red and green chillies. Why?, when chillies come in all different shapes, sizes and colours?
For a better chance of a big crop, start them off as early as you can. Some people plant them in January, but they need special conditions at that time of year like warmth and light which wouldn't necessarily be provided by the average kitchen windowsill. If you've got a heated propagator, this would be ideal, but if not, I would say that the expense of buying one doesn't justify the return. I start mine off in March, and while this prolongs the time it takes them grow, there's a better chance of warmth and light in the autumn months of September and October than there is in the back end of winter at the start of the year, so I find it evens itself out.
Plant each seed in a 3 inch pot about a centimetre deep, and keep the compost warm and moist. Chillies are generally slow to germinate - it could be 3 or 4 weeks before they start to sprout so be patient! When the plants start to grow taller, they can be put into larger pots. These pots can be put outside if we have a spectacular summer, but there is more chance of Slovenia winning the next World Cup than there is of a British summer being hot so it's better to keep them either on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse - they need the warmth to grow and don't respond well to our grey, cool and damp British summers as a rule. After about three months, they will start to produce flowers - the chilli fruits appear from these flowers so it's a good idea to allow bees access to them in order to pollinate them and produce even more fruits.
When the flowers appear, give them a good liquid feed that's high in potassium - this will give the plant an extra boost to produce lots of good sized fruits. Liquid seaweed feeds are a good source of potassium. By September onwards, the fruits should be ripe and you can start picking them. The colours will change depending on the ripeness of the chillies - most start off green and darken through different shades of yellows, oranges and reds as they ripen - although you can get some that look almost black, but which are actually just a very deep purple. As the plant (hopefully) gets covered in chillies, it may need staking for support, although I've found that I've rarely had to do this as it's surprising how relatively quickly the trunk thickens up and looks almost like a mini tree.
PESTS AND DISEASES COMMON TO CHILLIES
Grey mould has the potential to affect chillies - it's a fungus which survives well in warm, humid conditions, which are unfortunately the sort of conditions found in greenhouses where chillies are often grown. It can be prevented by snipping off dead or dying leaves, not allowing dropped leaves to pile up on the growing surface, allowing plenty of air to get around the plant and generally keeping the area around your growing plants as clean as possible so that the fungus has nowhere to live. Grey mould is easy to spot - it looks as its name suggests and will eventually kill a plant if left unchecked. Any parts of the plant affected should be removed and burned, or put quickly into your council garden waste bin for disposal.
As chillies are related to tomatoes and potatoes, they can also be affected by the dreaded blight. Blight is a fungus spread in the air, and will settle on the leaves of plants until knocked off onto the soil by rain or watering. At this point, the spores develop and the fungus takes hold - the plant will turn brown and black and will literally look like it is dying - which it will be. Blight can spread very quickly, so if you see any signs then remove the affected plant straight away and burn. As a preventative measure against blight in my garden, I keep all my tomatoes, potatoes and chilli plants away from each other so that if I do get blight, then hopefully it won't take out all three of those different crops.
Slugs will quite happily munch through a young chilli plant, so I try to keep mine inside as long as possible before they go out into the little plastic greenhouse I have. If you are planting yours into a soil border (only do this in summer, and only then if we get a proper summer ie not like the last few years' summers have been) then be sure to keep the area free from things like big leaves on the soil which a slug will take shelter underneath during the day. There are lots of different ways to control slugs - you can go down the Ghandi route and be non violent, simply removing them by hand and putting them into a different part of the garden (or your neighbour's if you don't get on!) or you can go full on Saddam Hussein and try chemical warfare - very satisfying as you go round picking up the corpses of your enemies which will have blue metaldehyde pellets stuck to their slimy bodies. If you do use chemical slug pellets though, please consider other animals / pets which may visit your garden - they can ingest the poison when they eat the dead slugs.
Greenflies have in the past caused me some headaches with chilli plants, but they are easily removed by wiping them off the leaves with soapy water. Don't leave them unchecked as they will eventually kill the plant either by taking all the nutrients or introducing new diseases.
There is literally a couple of thousand types to choose from ranging from small round mega hot chillies to large, fat carrot shaped relatively mild chilli fruits. If you are mentally unstable, you could try growing one of the Naga types of chillies - although it would be easier to just set your tongue on fire and have someone punch you in the face. A chilli's heat is measured on the Scoville scale which goes over a million - a mild chilli would score about 10,000. Naga chillies have a rating which would be enough to retire on were that figure a lottery win.
If you're not into spontaneous combustion, I'd recommend something like the Fresno Supreme chilli which starts off green in colour and deepens to a dark red as it ripens. It has a small, chunky carrot shape and the plants produce a lot of the fruits, it's quite a heavy cropper. Seeds can be bought via the South Devon Chilli Farm, a Google search will easily find their website. These chillies only score about 6,000 on the Scoville scale.
For an in-between type chilli, I recommend Apache. These medium heat, easy to grow plants also produce a heavy crop of small-ish, cone shaped red chillies. Suttons Seeds sell a pack of 10 seeds for £2.45 - this might sound expensive but ten plants will give you enough chillies to solve world hunger so I think that's a fair price.
They can be dried very easily and stored in an airtight container for around a year. When the fruits are ripe, I pick them all off, give them a rinse under the tap then pat dry with kitchen roll. I make a little slit down the side of the chilli, then do nothing more than leave them on a paper towel on the kitchen windowsill where they dry out within a few weeks. When fully dried, I crunch them up into flakes and keep in a jam jar, from where they are added to food as and when we cook it. They reconstitute very well when added to water (or a tin of chopped tomatoes in a pan for example).
They can be frozen, although in my experience they lose a little bit of their heat. To stop them clumping together in a freezer bag, freeze them individually first on a tray then they can be added together into a bag.
Another thing to try is making chilli oil. Take a washed chilli, then make pin pricks through the flesh with a sterilised needle. Place this chilli into a bottle of olive oil and it will flavour the oil and give it out heat. I don't like to keep a bottle of this for more than a month, as it will start to rot and go off. While it lasts though, it's fantastic as a salad dressing or for drizzling over food that otherwise would be bland without the heat.
Something I made last year and will be trying again this year is chilli jam - a way of preserving them which goes well with cheese or meat. Recipes for chilli jam are easy to find on the internet - you'll need chillies (how many depends on how much heat you want in there), some sweet peppers to bulk out the jam, and vinegar and sugar. We made more jars of the stuff than we could possibly eat last year, so ended up giving a few away as Christmas presents for family members. They're a good thing to have in the cupboard at Christmas time, as it goes brilliantly with cold cuts of leftover turkey or ham.
They are a good source of vitamin C and are also thought to be good for relieving a bunged up nose. They also contain vitamin A which helps boost our immune system.
Provided you provide them with a warm growing environment, they are fairly easy to grow. Their heat isn't to everybody's taste, but if you don't mind a bit of tongue burn then they are very useful for cooking with. One plant will give most families enough chillies to last a year, which when balanced against the cost of a packet of seeds makes them really good value. Overall, I think they're worth five stars.
Summary: Fantastic value for money, and they will transform your cooking