Hartley Magazine

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

Hot & Spicy Chillies – Part 19

Even the smallest greenhouse can benefit from a couple of chilli pepper plants. Two plants will provide enough spice and flavour for a small family for the rest of the season, though if you are hooked on the buzz this crop creates in the kitchen you may want to grow a few more. Each plant will bear up to a dozen or more fruits, which can be harvested and used at different stages of ripening. Generally the peppers start off green and then ripen to a fiery red, orange or yellow.

Chili plants are easy to grow and perfect for a small (or large) greenhouse. There are literally thousands of varieties of this versatile plant and it is grown across the world as an important food source. Most gardeners tend to grow one or two types of chillies depending on the strength of their culinary heat, but different types of chillies actually have very distinct and unique flavours too. What’s more the flavour changes depending on how you preserve and use the fruits. The Peruvian Chilli – Aji (pronounced like a scream) are typically lemony when fresh but when you dry them they taste and smell like a dried banana.

Sow chilli pepper seeds during April in your greenhouse. They need a little warmth to germinate, but if the weather is warm then they should pop up after about 7-10 days. You can use a propagator for basal heat, which will speed up germination. Grow them in modules so you handle them less and pot them up individually into small pots of fresh John Innes No 1 compost as soon as their roots push through the bottom of the pot. Pot them again into larger pots as soon as the roots start to fill the small pot. Feed with a plant food high in potash to encourage flowering or use a tomato feed.

Chilli Growing tips

  • Keep the soil warm, growing in large pots or growing bags in a greenhouse is ideal. If the soil is warm enough they will grow well, 20C or above and they are happy bunnies which makes them a perfect summer greenhouse crop.
  • Don’t over water your plants. They do need moisture, but don’t like to be too wet. If in doubt don’t water – this seems to help to maintain a warm soil temperature.
  • Aphids can be a nuisance use a greenhouse biological control to keep them down or remove manually, but take care to wear gloves to protect your hands from the chilli juice which is an irritant.
  • Chillies are self-pollinating but a good airflow around the plants also helps to improve pollination. Hoverflies also pollinate them too.

Chilli Facts

  • Generally it’s fair to say that the smaller the fruit the hotter they are, but there are ornamental chillies that are heatless. The hottest chilli in the world is fairly big – 2inx1inch at the shoulder and lightweight and thin-skinned.
  • Chilli seeds are inert, it’s actually the placenta that they are attached to that creates the heat and in some chillies that material can spread down all the way down the sides to the ends. If it is a hot chilli then chop it finer and put less in.
  • Birds don’t detect the chemical at all. The plant has survived because low feeding vegetarians didn’t like it. Birds took a shine to the fruit and spread the seed all over the place. There’s lots of protein in the seeds, if you put them in the compost bin it often gets raided by mice.
  • Use habañero powder around seedlings to protect from pests.
  • Synthetic capsicum oil is used as a rodent pest deterrent. You can make your own rodent deterrent by mashing dried Habañero into an oil carrier like sunflower oil.

Power Plants – facts and folklore

Chillies and their heating effect are also thought to trigger the release of ‘feel good’ endorphins which lift the spirits, this has led some scientists to believe that chilli in the diet can be addictive. Ripe red chillies are twice as hot as green ones and dried ones are even hotter.

The active ingredient in a chilli is Capsaicin and is found mostly around the seeds, it is used to create the heat in some topical treatments for muscle pain and arthritis.

It is thought that it has the ability to block pain receptors and instead amplifies your heat receptors. Medical researchers are investigating its use in relieving cluster headaches and migraine. It also has an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect that is thought to relieve the symptoms of arthritis. Capsaicin has also been shown to inhibit the growth of some cancer cells. Chillies are used as a folk medicine for colds and flu and are packed with vitamin A, C and D.