Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Christmas chilli

Lia’s chilli ‘Apple Crisp’ is overwintering indoors, and looking festive while it does

Even in my greenhouse, I sometimes find that it can be tricky to get peppers and chillis to ripen over the summer. I know that some people don’t have this problem, but this is what I have found. Perhaps our greenhouse doesn’t receive as much sun as others, and perhaps we haven’t got our peppers sown quite as early in the year as we should have. Anyway, at the end of the past few years we have been left with several chilli or pepper plants that have not yet ripened, just at the point in the year when it is way too cold and gloomy for any more ripening to occur.

And we have found that it’s actually pretty easy to bring them indoors to ripen and from there to overwinter them. This year, one of the plants that had failed to produce any fruits come late October was ‘Apple Crisp’. We dug it up from the large container in which it was planted and transferred it to a smaller one, then brought it in and put it on the hall table and hoped that a few of the then-tiny fruits might turn into something. ‘Apple Crisp’ looks like a chilli but is actually a small sweet pepper, and it produces these lovely little round red fruits on a nice compact plant. The fruits have no heat at all but are crisp and fruity and really lovely and are known as a ‘lunch box pepper’, because the idea is that they are little and sweet enough to pop into a kid’s lunchbox, or indeed your own.

This plant has looked surprisingly healthy through autumn and early winter, especially as it is positioned right next to a radiator, which you would expect to have dried out the leaves. As well as giving the plant just a little water each day, we placed a little dish of water on the radiator just under the plant, so that as the air heats up some water evaporates too, so keeping the air surrounding the plant moist and humid. We are now a couple of months in and the leaves continue to look green and healthy and there is not sign at all of the dry tips that you would expect from a plant living so close to the radiator.

But what is particularly lovely is that as the fruits of this plant have finally reddened up, just in the last few weeks, they have started to look like round red baubles hanging on the plant. And as we have the Christmas decorations box out anyway they have ended up being draped in some little fairy lights and have been given a sprinkling of tinselly lametta strips. The plant now looks even prettier on the hall table.

Chillis and peppers are of course perennial plants; they can go on happily for several years. We treat them as if they are annuals mainly because it fits in with our seasonal sowing and growing cycle to do so. But actually if you can get a plant through winter you will get much earlier flowers and fruit, so it really is worth a try. After we have harvested all of these fruits (and removed the tinsel) I will cut this plant back to a framework of stem and branches, and then keep it indoors in a fairly cool spot, fairly dry but with the odd splash. In spring I will pot it up into fresh compost and start watering it to encourage it into growth, planting it out into a large pot in the greenhouse as soon as it is warm enough. And we will have another crop of ‘Apple Crisp’ fruits from the same plant, though hopefully a little ahead of Christmas, next year.