I love chillies. Some people think chillies are simply about heat but they have such a variety of fantastic flavour too. It’s the combination of the heat and the flavour of the fruit that makes them a welcome ingredient for the kitchen.
The funny thing about growing my own chillies is that I’ve never come close to growing them as well as I did when I first started growing my own veg!
Twelve years ago, when I caught the grow-your-own bug, chillies were one of the first crops I grew. This wasn’t because they were easy to grow, but rather a result of restricted space.
Those who are anxiously waiting on allotment lists or wondering what to grow in that tiny backyard or balcony, this factor alone should make growing chillies and peppers appealing.
At the time, my home had a small, concrete back garden and creating a veg patch was simply not possible. However, I owned two small plastic greenhouses from Wilko.
In most parts of the UK, you really need to grow chillies undercover to provide the climate they require to thrive and produce a good crop of ripe fruit. With a rearrangement of the shelving, these greenhouses allowed me to accommodate a few chilli plants in each.
When it comes to deciding which chillies to grow, as is the case when you grow much of your own fruit and vegetables, the choice is phenomenal. They range in heat, flavour, colour and size. It really comes down to how much room you have available and how you plan to use the chillies.
The popularity of chillies
Twelve years ago, hungry for chilli growing knowledge, I discovered a huge and passionate community of chilli growers online. It was incredible. I thought then that growing and eating these mighty fruits was popular, but in the last decade, the popularity of chillies, both in terms of growing and utilising them in our kitchens, has risen dramatically.
Perhaps it’s a result of the opportunity to grow chillies when space is restricted? I believe it’s also a combination of our love of spicy food, our expanding desire to cook and create fantastic dishes at home and the increasing demand for inspiring, quality ingredients to cook with. It really shouldn’t come as such a surprise.
When I began growing chillies all those years ago, Chillis Galore was a resource I used frequently and today it’s still a top source of information and means of communicating with the numerous chilli heads across the globe. Richard & Kathy started growing chillies in 1990 and started the website to share their knowledge and experience.
As you might guess, these days Facebook is the place to set up and join online communities who share the same passion and interests. If its chilli chats you want then there are two groups you should think about joining.
UK Chilli growers currently have 3,000 members and provide advice and tips for the hobby grower or professional. Chilli Heads & Keen Growers UK have over 2,000 active members and is a place to share knowledge and experience of growing chilli’s and recipes.
Chillis need a long growing season here in the UK. We must sow early, with the support of heat to accommodate their growing and fruit ripening needs in what is usually a short summer.
This is why January and February are popular months to sow seed indoors. A heated propagator is useful, but you can get away with a warm, sunny windowsill.
I struggle a little with sunlight in the windows in our house. Therefore, I’ve learned to wait until the later stages of February before I sow any seeds. This isn’t really about the ability to germinate the seeds, but more about the management of the plants as they grow. Even sowing in early March will provide the length of growing time required to get a crop of chillies if grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
This year I’ve managed to get the chillies off to great start and I’m grateful to the lovely people at EarlyGrow who asked me to try one of their heated propagators. EarlyGrow is a young company based in Yorkshire and they manufacture all of their products here in the UK.
I’ve tried very hard to restrict the number of chillies I’m growing this year. This is incredibly difficult with the sheer variety of chillies available offering different levels of heat, flavour, shape and colour. However, I still have to be able to sensibly grow them all in the polytunnel along with all the other heat-loving crops I want to grow this year.
On the cards for 2019 are: *
* Habanero Orange
* Habanero White
* Hungarian Black
* Slim Jim (Courtesy of vital seeds )
* Lemon Drop
* Corno Di Toro Rossi
What about you? Are you a chilli fiend? I’d love to hear about the varieties of chillies you are growing this year. Drop me a comment below.
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