02 – A little about the chili

2 03 2009

So what exactly are we dealing with here?

Well, the chili pepper is the fruit of the plants from the genus Capsicum (CAP-see-coom) which are members of the nightshade family. All capsicum species are indigenous to South America which means that growing them in a climate such as the South Of England is less than ideal and can prove a challenge.

There are five domesticated species of capsicum:

Capsicum Annuum (ANN-you-um) is actually a perennial and is the most widely cultivated of the the five species. These tend to be more tolerant of the cooler climate and most of the cultivars I have grown in the past (and am planning to grow this year)tend to be from here.

Capsicum Chinense (chi-NEN-see) is another one that’s named incorrectly as the species is originally from the Amazon Basin. This species has most of the really hot stuff in it like the Scotch Bonnet and Habanero. In my experience these don’t do quite as well as then annuums in the UK as they generally require a longer growing season which we tend not to have.

Capsicum Frutescens (fru-TES-enz) includes the cultivar Tabasco. Everyone knows of the tabasco because of the world famous sauce. These varieties tend to have small bushy plants that are well suited to containers. They tend to be heavy croppers too and a single plant can produce 100 or more fruits.

Capsicum Baccatum (bah-COT-tum or bah-KAY-tum) generally grow quite tall and the name means ‘berry-like’.

Capsicum Pubescens (pew-BES-enz) is the most difficult to grow and as a result is the least widely cultivated. It’s name means ‘hairy’.

Anyway, enough facts for now – what to grow this year?

01 – Introduction

2 03 2009

You can’t beat a bit of heat can you? Chilli peppers, chillies, chilies, chiles – however you choose to spell it – are highly addictive. You know you’re in trouble when you start having Jamaican Hot Pepper sauce instead of ketchup on your scrambled eggs in the morning!

There’s only one thing better than a nice hot chili pepper and that’s a nice hot fresh chili pepper that you’ve grown yourself and picked straight from the plant.

Some of last year's Jalapeños

Some of last year's Jalapeños

I’ve been growing chilis for the last couple of years with varying degrees of success. Some varieties such as the Apache and Jalapeño have been roaring successes – big croppers with a low failure rate and very few problems overall while other varieties like the Habanero Peach provided a very small yield mainly due, I think, to the growing season here in the UK not being long enough for the fruits to properly mature. (Having said that, the four Habanero Peach fruits that were produced last year were so hot that I still managed to make a load of sauce with them!)

There are lots of factors that can influence the year’s crop – the plant varieties chosen, propagation methods, how and where you choose to grow the seedlings on and knowledge and experience learned from previous attempts but perhaps the most significant factor is the one thing I can’t do much about – the climate!