Real cool: There’s a whole world of chilli peppers for you to grow
Those who have only ever bought chilli peppers from the supermarket and never grown their own don’t know what they’re missing.
Scan the vegetable aisles and your choice is likely to be restricted to anonymous red and green chilli peppers – but raise them at home and you can pick from hundreds of exciting varieties in many colours, shapes and sizes.
Now is the time to sow some seeds. These will germinate easily indoors, resulting in young plants that will be ready to go outside in late spring. Grow them on your vegetable patch or in pots placed in a sunny spot and they’ll romp away, producing masses of striking fruit that will be ready for harvesting from mid-summer until September.
There are more than 200 different chilli peppers available to grow from seed in the UK. These vary in size from Tepin, whose fruit are no bigger than a marble, to whoppers like Pinocchio’s Nose, which produces chillies up to ten-inches long.
Red hot: From whopping Pinocchio’s Nose to the volcanic Dorset Naga, now is the time to sow some seeds
While most are grown for their fruit that come in a diverse range of colours (apart from many shades of green and red, you’ll also find chillies that are yellow, orange, brown and purple), some are worth planting for their eyecatching foliage.
Black Pearl has glossy black leaves, while Purple Tiger is particularly showy with cream, purple and green variegated foliage.
The heat of chillies is caused by a compound called capsaicin – the amount within different varieties is measured on the Scoville Heat Scale.
While those at the lower end of the scale taste mildly spicy, some varieties are vividly described in seed catalogues as volcanic. Mild peppers measure between 500 and 2,500 Scoville units, but the Dorset Naga, the world’s hottest chilli, is a staggering 923,000 units.
So what should you grow? Well, if you don’t want them to blow your head off, choose Meek And Mild for its large, heart-shaped bottle-green fruit that are about 4in long, or Rokita. If you want to turn up the heat, Cayenne has slender 10in red pods, while the fruit of Hungarian Hot Wax are yellow.
For those feeling even braver, the aptly-named Etna produces big bunches of red chillies that are held upright from the end of branches, while the pumpkinshaped Scotch Bonnet is an important ingredient in many Caribbean dishes.
Another fiery favourite of mine is Aji Crystal – the fruit have a distinctive citrus flavour if they are eaten while they are yellow and under-ripe, rather than being allowed to turn red.
Hot stuff: Martyn Cox prepares to grow his own chillis
After making the hard decision of what to grow, you’ll find sowing seeds is a doddle.Start by filling a four-inch pot with good quality seed compost, flatten it down to leave a level surface, then sow a few seeds on top.
Most seeds will sprout, so only sow a couple more than you need in case of losses. Cover with a fine layer of vermiculite, pop in a plant label and water.Seeds will germinate quickly in a heated prop agator – if you don’t have one, simply place a clear plastic freezer bag over the top of the pot and hold securely in place with an elastic band.
After the seeds have germinated, place the pot on a light windowsill or on a bench in a heated greenhouse.
When they are an inch tall, move each seedling into its own 4in pot. To do this, hold the seedling’s leaves and lever up using a pencil. Make a hole in the centre of the new pot and lower the seedling in, making sure the roots are covered – the leaves should be just above the surface of the compost.
Firm in, water and place in a light spot under cover.
When roots begin to show through the bottom of pots, move into 5in pots filled with general purpose compost. When plants are about 8in tall, or before if they start to lean, stake with a pea stick. Pinch out the tops of peppers when they are about a foot tall to encourage lots of branches.
Plants are ready to go outside in late May or when all danger of frost has passed. Either plant directly into the ground, spacing them 18in apart, or transfer them to 9in pots to give them plenty of space to grow. Remove the small pea stick and replace it with a 3ft garden cane.Alternatively, you can place three plants into a standard growing bag.
For a bumper crop, water regularly and feed every two weeks with Tomorite or another liquid fertiliser high in potash. Feeding should start when the flowers first appear, usually while plants are still indoors, and should continue until the fruit have been harvested.
Chilli peppers are generally ready for harvesting from July and can be removed from plants with a sharp knife or secateurs – picking fruit regularly will ensure the plant puts its energy into producing more fruit.
Although most gardeners raise new plants each year, it is possible to over-winter chilli peppers grown in pots, rewarding you with a plant that will produce fruit earlier than those grown from seed.
To do this, prune plants back to 6in in late September, then put on a sunny windowsill. Water every two to three weeks to prevent the compost drying out completely.
• Most garden centres stock chilli pepper seeds, 메이저토토 but for a comprehensive range try South Devon Chilli Farm website southdevonchillifarm.co.uk) Mr Fothergills website or The Chilli Pepper Company website