Welcome to the wonderful world of chillies! Can YOU feel the heat?

The last couple of weeks Britain has had the perfect weather for growing the much loved chilli!

Say hello to the five domesticated species
of the genus Capsicum:

  • Capsicum annuum: The most common domesticated species; includes sweet peppers and the majority of garden grown chillies
  • Chinense: Generically known as ‘habaneros’; includes the hottest chillies ever measured.
  • Frutescens: Best known for the notorious Tabasco chilli.
  • Baccatum: Known as aji throughout South America.
  • Pubescens: Often called rocoto, these fruits have dark purple seeds.

Chillies are heat loving, long-lived plants that are started as transplants. Seeds must be sown early in the year; the emerging seedlings are then pricked out and grown in small pots or modular trays. It takes about eight weeks for the seedlings to grow into a suitable size for being transplanted into their final growing place. To the inexperienced pepper grower, chillies can seem quite fiddly to grow, so we have come up with twelve simple rules that will help ensure success…

PART ONE chillies

With thousands of varieties, choosing the right ones to grow can be challenging. Getting the right variety, though, doesn’t have to be confusing: it’s simply a matter of deconstructing chillies by considering these essential traits:

Heat level
The heat in chillies is caused by a group of chemicals called capsaicinoids. Their concentration is expressed in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), and the higher the concentration, the hotter the fruit are. Heat levels can range from 700 SHU in mild ones such as Apricot to over a million for the superhots like Dorset Naga, Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion. As a rule of thumb, most Brits find heat levels of about 5,000 to 20,000 SHU high enough to suit their needs.
Culininary types
Chillies can be broadly divided into two culinary types. The more familiar of the two are the spice-type chillies which have small, relatively thin-fleshed fruit valued mainly for their heat. They include the cayennes and habaneros that are normally added to a dish in such small quantities that their physical presence goes unnoticed.
In contrast are the vegetable types such as Hungarian Hot Wax and the poblanos that have larger fruit with thicker flesh. They add bulk to a dish, in much the same way as sweet peppers, and tend to be milder.

Plant Growth and Habitat

The natural height and spread of chilli plants varies substantially. This is an important consideration for gardeners with limited space. Some varieties, for example, are short (Prairie Fire and Medusa); others look like shrubs (Hungarian Hot Wax and Early Jalapeño); and still others are tall and gangly (the rocotos and poblanos). Planting in pots rather then in the ground often reduces plant size, while pinching out the growing tips of young plants can make them bushier.

Look out for part 2

Thank you to Sea Spring Seeds!

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