What’s In A Name? Capsicum Annuum

Chillies are deliciously fascinating – their forms, colours and flavours tantalise the senses; their names alone are enough to make your tongue tingle in anticipation.

IMG_20170114_193200_518

The alluring colours of last year’s harvest

I’ve been growing far more chillies over the past few years than sanity should dictate. I’m drawn in by the evocative colour and spice of names like ‘Bolivian Rainbow’, ‘Numex Twilight’, ‘Machu Pichu’, ‘Trinidad Perfume’, ‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’, ‘Apache’, ‘Cayenne’ and ‘Prairie Fire’. There’s a gentle charm to ‘Russian Red Fatty’, ‘Bulgarian Carrot’ and ‘Chocolate Cherry’, and a sense of mystery behind ‘Ubatuba Cambuci’, ‘Albertos Locoto’ and ‘Aji Fantasy’. Once I’ve tasted an exciting name, it’s too late, I’m hooked.

 

 

DSC_0109 (2)

This year’s darker crop

Capsicum, the genus including both chillies and sweet peppers, is a member of the Solanaceae family which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and deadly nightshade. Chillies originate from South America; a fact reflected in many of their names. The origins of Capsicum are obscure, but it may have come from the Latin capsa ‘box’, referring to the pods (hence the name of chillies such as ‘Aji Bolsa De Dulce’ where bolsa is Spanish for ‘bag’ or ‘purse’ – literally the ‘chilli bag of sweetness’) or the Greek kapto meaning ‘to gulp’.

DSC_0756 (2)

Today’s chilli harvest…

When Capsicum is combined with annum ‘by the year’, I like to think of my chillies as my ‘yearly gulp’. I’m not sure whether this refers to the relish with which I sample the first ‘Comet’s Tail’ of the year (a chilli whose parent seeds have spent time in space on the Chinese Academy of Space programme to improve size and yield by exposing them to zero gravity) or the yearly uncomfortable swallowing motion experienced when I see the hundreds of tiny seedlings emerging every spring and wonder how I will:

a) accommodate them all until they can be transferred to the unheated greenhouse

b) explain the chilli invasion to my husband

IMG_20160729_203854

Chillies make everything OK!

Next year I’m planning to add a few new chilli labels to the collection with ‘Aji Habanero’, ‘Pearls’, ‘Fresno Supreme’, ‘Trinidad Chilaca’, ‘Loco’, ‘Hot Lemon’ and ‘Poblana Ancho’ and I’ll be sharing seeds from my current plants with others to spread a bit of chilli magic. With names like these, who could resist growing a few… and then a few more? Just don’t tell my husband!

IMG_20170923_161140 (2).JPG

First batch of chilli jam

If you’d like to follow my blog and read more about my crops for 2018, you can click below to subscribe. Thanks very much and happy gardening…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Chilli Harvest 2016

Earlier this year I brought my overwintered chillies out of the spare room and sowed a range of new seeds in the hope that I would be knee-deep in chillies by the end of the summer. I’ve been pleased with the results of what has ended up as a collection of 39 plants with 17 different varieties.

DSC_0061 (2).JPG

Chilli nursery in early spring

 

Our Favourite Chillies

We’ve enjoyed endless suppers of ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ chillies stuffed with cream cheese. Despite ‘Hot’ in the title, HHW is actually a mild 2000-8000 on the Scoville heat scale. I sowed an entire seed packet because the seeds were out of date and was amused and surprised when they all germinated. Even after selling many of them at the school fete plant stall I have had enough HHW chillies to dine royally throughout the summer.

dsc_0010_2

One of my trays of Hungarian Hot Wax

 

DSC_0061_4 (2).JPG

HHW maturing nicely

‘Purple Gusto’ has been another favourite, with good production rates and a spicy Scoville rating of around 10,000. The fruits mature to a beautiful deep purple, creating an attractive display.

DSC_0070_3 (2).JPG

Gloriously shiny ‘Purple Gusto’

‘Cayenne’ did well as usual and produced lots of long, spicy fruits (30,000-50,000 SHU) and I also grew ‘Cheyenne’ which at first I thought might be the same variety with a different spelling, but actually turns out to be a fatter chilli which matures to an attractive orange colour and has a SHU of around 40,000.

‘Cayenne’ and ‘Cheyenne’

Another favourite which overwintered successfully and has produced a good crop is ‘Aji Crystal’ which has a spicy citrus tang and scores around 50,000 SHU.

DSC_0152.JPG

‘Aji Crystal’ with its beautiful light green fruit

I’ve grown ‘Apache’ for years – it was the first chilli I grew from seed and I love the spicy fruit (70,000-80,000 SHU) which mature to a vibrant red. I only have one ‘Apache’ this year, rescued from a nursery where it was in a sorry state and retailing for an attractive 50p. I refused cake with my cup of tea and bought the chilli and a couple of its spicy neighbours instead.

img_20160909_165709

After some TLC this ‘Apache’ looks much more cheerful

 

Underperforming Chillies

Several varieties have been disappointing this year including some of my favourites – ‘Numex Twilight’ (30,000-50,000 SHU) with its tiny upright multi-coloured fruit, ‘Jalapeno’ (2,500-5,000 SHU) normally a prolific fruiter and the sultry heirloom ‘Hungarian Black’ (around 5,000 SHU). None of these have been heavy croppers this year and seem to have taken a long while to recover from their winter hibernation.

dsc_0134

The only ‘Jalapeno’ fruit – although being in the green roof hasn’t helped. An unsuccessful experiment as the plants have suffered from the dry environment. Worth trying, but not to be repeated

 

DSC_0083_3 (2).JPG

‘Numex Twilight’ with its meagre crop in August

dsc_0142

‘Numex Twilight’ had recovered a little by this week

 

dsc_0147

‘Hungarian Black’ has sulked all summer. Its foliage is naturally variegated, but has been stunted and slow to develop

My tree chillies ‘Alberto’s Locoto’ have also been disappointing so far, with lush foliage and a branching habit, but no flowers at all until the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong – maybe they need feeding more than other varieties – my feeding regime has been rather haphazard this year. They are recommended to be particularly suitable as perennials, so if I can be bothered with the palaver of spare room chillies again this winter maybe they’ll do better for me next year.

DSC_0076_3.JPG

Healthy foliage, but no fruit on my ‘Alberto’s Locoto’

DSC_0145.JPG

Deep purple flower buds are just appearing on the tree chillies…

 

New Chillies on the Block

Some of my new chillies new this year were ‘Almapaprika’, ‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’, ‘Joe’s Super Long’  (its chillies are currently super non-existent), ‘Piri Piri’, ‘Habanero Red, ‘Habanero Big Sun’ and ‘Prairie Fire’. ‘Prairie Fire’ (70,000-80,000 SHU) has lovely little upright fruits which start the softest cream and then mature through yellow, orange and purple to red.

DSC_0137 (2).JPG

‘Prairie Fire’ starts off a really pale cream…

‘Almapaprika’ is another Hungarian heirloom variety which has unusually shaped rounded cherry fruits and is very mild (1-1,000 SHU). It is also known as Hungarian apple pepper. The chillies start as a pale yellow and mature through orange to a rich red colour. Apparently you need lots of plants if you are going to dry it for paprika which I don’t have, but it tastes good stuffed like Hungarian Hot Wax and is an interesting novelty.

img_4764

A sweet little Hungarian apple pepper

‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’ is an aji type like ‘Aji Crystal’ and has a rating of 30,000-50,000 SHU. The long, hanging fruits start a pale green and then mature to a light yellow. They are great in curries and good to stuff if you fancy a hot lemony treat.

These ‘Lemon Drop’ chillies will get lighter as they mature

I haven’t had fruit to try on the other varieties yet as some arrived a little late as plug plants. But they all have either flowers or ripening fruit, so I’m looking forward to a late tastebud tingling harvest of ‘Joe’s Super Long’ (15,000-20,000 SHU), ‘Piri Piri’ (175,000-250,000 SHU), ‘Habanero Red’ (150,000-325,000 SHU) and ‘Habanero Big Sun’ (250,000-350,000 SHU)!

DSC_0045.JPG

Some of the chillies in the greenhouse before the tomatoes took over and obscured the view

DSC_0153 (2).JPG

My crazy chilli display

An amazing array of different colours, shapes and sizes – I love chillies as they tick both my boxes – ornamental AND delicious…

So all that remains is to hope for more warm weather so all the chillies will continue to grow and ripen, and start concocting more devilish chilli plans for next year. In the meantime there will be more roasted chilli suppers, Thai curries and still chillies left over to freeze for winter curries, soups and stews. What better way to remember a long, hot summer than with steaming Thai tom kha soup on dark December evenings?

Chilli Seeds and Plants

I save seeds from my chillies as well as overwintering some plants and growing new varieties each year. I’ve particularly enjoyed the chillies I’ve either bought as plants or sown from seeds from these sources (these links are not sponsored, but based purely on my own experiences and recommendations):

Pennard Plants – Pennards have a fabulous collection of heirloom vegetables, fruit and herbs, including many chilli pepper seeds which I’ve been sampling and growing for several years. This year I visited their stand at Chelsea and bought a chilli trio recommended by Chris at Pennards. Can’t wait for January so I can sow the seeds and start a whole new chilli journey…

Real Seeds – really unusual varieties with excellent information about the required growing conditions, histories of the cultivars and customer recommendations. I love Real Seeds because every time I visit the website there’s more to learn and new varieties to try…

Suttons Seeds – wide selection of chilli seeds and plants, with some excellent offers later in the year which enabled me to get a set of 10 chilli plug plants this year for £4.99. Suttons have been exploring more unusual vegetables, fruit and herbs over the past few years working with James Wong. I’ve enjoyed sowing their seeds and have now established several plants I’d not be without, such as cucamelons, Chilean guavas and my particular favourite this year… the trombocino (more on my soon-to-be prize winning trombo later in the month) 😉

chillies pennard.jpg

The chilli trio from Pennard Plants that is getting my pulse racing…

 

Has the weather been kind to your chillies this year? What varieties have performed well and have there been any disappointments? I’d love to hear your chilli stories, so please do leave me a comment. Thanks 🙂

Follow my blog to get further updates on my chillies and other harvests…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Old chillies v new chillies: how do you grow yours?

To sow or not to sow?

It has been a real labour of love overwintering last year’s chillies in the spare room. It’s the first time I’ve tried to grow chillies perennially and it’s been mostly trial and error. First they had a bad case of fungus gnats, then greenfly. The room was filled with little flies when the in-laws came to stay and the windows covered in sticky residue and blobs where I had squashed hundreds of insects. Then nearly all the leaves fell off, leaving them resembling pots of dead sticks. I fought back with nematodes (very successful – killed all the gnats) and organic fatty acid spray – killed the greenfly provided it was repeated periodically. I collected up the dead leaves and waited to see what would happen come spring.

DSC_0048

A rather leggy specimen

Renovation pruning

Then, a couple of weeks ago, tiny leaves started to unfurl on the leggy stalks. (I was very bad at pinching the chillies out last year – partly through inattention and partly through sentimentality, so they grew much taller than I would have liked and lacked a vigorous, bushy shape.) I’m experimenting at the moment by cutting several of them down to about 15cm from soil level, thus removing the forked stems higher up, to see if I can restructure the plants as the new leaves emerge. I’ve also given them a feed in the hope that a bit of TLC will perk them up. So far it seems to be working and in a week or so I might cut the rest down, once I’m sure they’ll eventually forgive me.

DSC_0052

Radical pruning seems to be yielding results

A growing collection

At the same time spring started breathing life into the old chillies, I began sowing new ones to increase my stock and experiment with different varieties. Last year’s veterans include ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Aji Crystal’, ‘Hungarian Purple’ and ‘Numex Twilight’. This year I’m sowing ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and ‘Albertos Locoto’. I was also waylaid by some small chilli plug plants at the garden centre who threw themselves into my basket, namely ‘Cayenne’ and ‘Purple Gusto’ (I’m noticing a certain penchant for purple fruit and vegetables in these blog posts.)

DSC_0053

‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ seeds were out of date so I sowed lots – they all germinated…

Chilli ‘Alberto’s Locoto’ intrigued me as it’s supposedly well suited to overwintering, so I’ll be attempting to keep it in the hope of earlier, heavier crops next year. It’s a rare chilli sometimes known as the tree or Rocoto chilli and has big purple flowers, black seeds and numerous fruit in late summer and early autumn. More information is available from Real Seeds.

DSC_0054

Vigorous ‘Alberto’s Locoto ‘ seedlings

How do you eat yours?

For several years we’ve been using fewer chillies as child-friendly meals generally require milder flavours. But as the kids get older their tolerance for spicy food is growing and last year we also ate many of our crop filled with cream cheese and baked, to reduce the heat. This became a favourite supper. I suppose the sensible approach would have been to grow milder or fewer chillies, but where’s the fun in that?

I’d love to know if you have successfully overwintered chillies. How do you prune them in spring and have crops been heavier in subsequent years? How do you cope with a growing chilli collection – do you stop buying new seeds or just move to a house with more windowsills?!

DSC_0061

Full window ledges and so many seedlings to prick out…