There is an intensity to growing chillies that we think you will love. We are already obsessed with our own chilli seedlings, which have just produced their first set of true, pointed leaves, from there sunny spot on the studio windowsill. We sowed them 3 weeks ago, and have been fussing over them like a gaggle of broodies ever since, worrying over their heat, light and water and rejoicing as their green shoots started to unfurl.
It is not too late to sow your own, although you need to get sowing by the end of April before the weather turns too mild. Many of the hotter chillies need to germinate in very early Spring, but there is still plenty of time for the relatively milder, and often more fragrant varieties. Try the South Devon Chilli Farm for an extensive selection of seeds; we are trying our luck with Aji Limon seeds, from which we are hoping to harvest a fine crop of medium hot, yellow chillies, perfect for making chilli jam and also great for freezing and using throughout the year.
Sow seeds in trays on moist seed compost to a depth of about a (nail extension-free) finger nail and ideally place on a heat mat, or inside a propagator, to aid germination. This can take up to 14 agonising days. Once most of the seeds have germinated move the trays to a sunny window sill or greenhouse, and resist the temptation to over-water (the compost should be damp but not sodden) or risk the seedlings damping off (essentially rotting).
You could skip this stage, and buy ready grown seedlings. These tend to sell out fast to get ordering now.
Find tins to keep seed packets or plant markers and mugs for tea in the garden whilst you dig, sow and prune.Discover More
As soon as your seedlings show their first true leaves, carefully transfer them, each into a small pot filled with free-draining compost. Now it the time to be patient, as the seedlings will be working hard to establish their root systems but there will be little change up top. It will probably be June before you transfer them to their final pot, the size of which will be determined by the chilli variety you have chosen. Our Limon chillies will want a 15-20 litre size, and we are growing them in the greenhouse to better regulate their environment.
Your plants will blossom and then the fruit will start to set-feeding them at this stage will encourage more growth, as will picking a few early fruit (they will taste milder but are still worth savouring). Leave your chillies on the plant for as long as you can bear- the more they mature, the better and hotter they will taste, not to mention how glossy and beautiful they will look.
We crop our chillies in a single, glorious session, incapable of stopping as the basket fills with its jewel-like harvest. As a general rule chillies freeze brilliantly, and can be plucked from the freezer and chopped into the cooking whenever some heat is needed, so there is no such thing as a chilli glut. But if you were to want to celebrate the harvest, try this mind-altering chilli relish, which adds a delicious, fiery hit to grilled meat.
4 x chillies
6 x medium tomatoes
½ red onion
10 ml Olive oil
Chop the chillies finely then grind to a paste in a pestle and mortar with ½ tea spoon of salt, and transfer to a medium sized bowl. Add the tomatoes, chopped into small cubes, the olive oil, and the chopped coriander. Taste for seasoning- you may need to add more salt- and leave to intensify for at least ½ hour before serving, with caution.
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