Chillies are a great crop to grow and certanily one of our favourites here at Organic Allotment. The thing that we really like about them is that, if you plan things and preserve things correctly, there's no reason that you can't be self sufficient in them. Imagine that... never having to buy a bland and disappointing chilli from a supermarket ever again? Pictured above are some fiendishly hot Venezuelan peppers we grew last year and dried at the end of the season that should keep us going until summer when this year's crop will be ready. The other good thing about drying chilli is that, unlike some crops, the drying process can actually improve the flavour of the pepper meaning there is no sacrifice of taste in eating them dried rather than fresh.
These factors combined probably explain why I've gone a little crazy planting chillies this year. The seeds were planted a few weeks ago as you really need a good long season to get them to fruit and ripen in time in summer. The seedlings should be ready to be potted up in a couple of weeks then moved on to the greenhouse in early summer when the last chance of frost has passed - you could probably get away with moving them eariler if you have a heated greenhouse though. Here's a list of the different chillies we're growing:
- Sunnybrook, Dulce Italiano and Marconi Rossa are all sweet peppers. I have had less success growing these in the past as the weather had tended not to be warm enough to ripen them to a sweet red. However, the results are so good when they do ripen that I always make space for a couple of sweet pepper plants every year.
- The Cayenne pepper seeds I'm planting were given to me as part of a seed swap last year. They are famously hot and pungent peppers taking their name from a river in Guyana. They are well known as a high-yielding variety and are perfect for drying.
- Purple Venezuelan grow on a plant that is almost entirely purple (including the leaves that have a lovely purple tinge). The final chilli is medium in heat but also has a pepper taste not disimilar from the Szechuan Pepper that is common in North Chinese cookery.
- Bartletts' Bonnet is an unusually shaped pepper that looks almost like a squashed bell. It is also very unusual and I have only seen it available on the brilliant Real Seeds website.
- Nigel's Outdoor is from Real Seeds as well and is unusual in being one of the only chillies that will tolerate growing outside in the UK.
- Early Jalapeno are a classic chilli that produces medium green bullet shaped fruits. The seeds are easy to get hold of and the peppers are the kind that are typically used in Mexican cookery.
- Bialka Shipka is a rare Eastern European hot pepper that tends to be light green in colour before it ripens and that is fiendishly hot.
- Ring o' Fire is one of the most popular hot peppers for home growing. It is no dissimilar to Cayenne and can be bought from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- Padrón peppers are one of my absolute favourites as they remind me of many happy visits to Spain. There these small green peppers are served fried with olive oil and sea salt. Most taste sweet and mild, though some are particularly hot and spicy, so eating them is a kind of culinary Russian Roulette.
So that's an idea of all the peppers we're growing this year. I'd love to know what fellow growers have currently got in their propagators and greenhouses. And if you haven't planted your own peppers yet don't despair. It's a bit to late in the year to plant any now but there are plenty of great nurseries selling chilli plants so it's still possible to spice up your growing season.