In praise of the phew!

For an ex­plo­sion of colour in the gar­den and flavour in the kitchen, grow your own chill­ies and you will feel the heat all sum­mer long

Irish Sunday Mirror - - GARDENING CLUB -

Chill­ies are hot stuff right now, with celebrity chefs and home cooks chuck­ing them in pretty much ev­ery­thing. They have be­come hugely pop­u­lar to grow in the gar­den, too, which is no sur­prise be­cause they’re a hardy, easy-to-grow and fun-to-watch crop.

The flavour of a fresh chilli com­pared to dried flakes is in­com­pa­ra­ble. So whether you are adding a kick to your lin­guine sauce, throw­ing spice on your pizza or turn­ing up the heat on a curry, fresh chill­ies will soon be­come a friend in your kitchen.

And if you don’t like it too hot, there are some great chill­ies that are mild but still full of flavour. Pen­cil-thin Tokyo Hot chill­ies are great in Thai and Mex­i­can dishes and de­spite the name are only a medium heat.

Red chill­ies also con­tain tons of Vi­ta­min C. To top it all off, these ex­otic, bright, and fiery-look­ing plants are a se­ri­ously at­trac­tive ad­di­tion to your home.

So let’s look at how to get your own win­dowsill chilli gar­den go­ing.

Grow­ing chill­ies is great fun and will save you money. Get them right and they will go on pro­duc­ing year af­ter year.

They have a long crop­ping sea­son, so you could be har­vest­ing fresh chill­ies from late spring to De­cem­ber. And they can be frozen, too, when you have a re­ally bumper crop.

Dur­ing sum­mer, they can sit out­side in warm weather. A bit of breeze will help give your plant strength. But to get them off to a good start, you will need a sunny win­dowsill, porch or green­house.

You can buy them as pre-grown baby plants or pro­duce your own from seed. If you are go­ing for the lat­ter, choose a few va­ri­eties – red, yellow, long, short.

You will want to sow be­tween Fe­bru­ary and April, though at a push you can still grow now if you are quick. But check your va­ri­ety, as they can dif­fer wildly in how long they need to ma­ture.

The seeds can be tricky to ger­mi­nate but once they are go­ing, you’ll be fine.

I wrap mine in muslin cloth, tie with some wool, then soak it overnight in a Ther­mos flask warmed to about 45C.

Next morn­ing, plant a cou­ple of seeds at a time into baby pots about the size of your palm just us­ing or­di­nary com­post.

Pop the seeds on top and cover them with a thin layer of com­post, firm it down and soak thor­oughly. If you’ve got a heated prop­a­ga­tor, great, but any warm, shel­tered spot is fine. Many peo­ple cover them in cling­film and pop them in the air­ing cup­board.

They like a steady tem­per­a­ture of 25-28C and you will want to keep

them moist –but not drown­ing. In about three weeks, you should see signs of ger­mi­na­tion. But don’t worry if they are slow to emerge. Chill­ies sprout when they are good and ready.

Once the seedlings ap­pear, they will want to be un­cov­ered and on a bright and warm win­dowsill.

If us­ing a prop­a­ga­tor, you should ven­ti­late it now. Wher­ever you have got them, don’t let the tem­per­a­ture drop too low at night at this point. And use a nor­mal fer­tiliser at about quar­ter strength to give them a good boost – sea­weed extract is per­fect.

If you buy pre-grown seedlings, again, choose a warm win­dowsill or green­house. As the weather be­gins to warm prop­erly, take them out in the day to toughen them up but don’t for­get to bring them back in at night. When all dan­ger of frost has passed, you can ei­ther move them out­side or pop them into a larger (9-12in) pot.

Af­ter they start to flower, keep feed­ing reg­u­larly through the grow­ing sea­son – about ev­ery fort­night is fine. But make sure you also wa­ter reg­u­larly, es­pe­cially when it is hot. About once ev­ery week or two will be great. I rec­om­mend giv­ing them stan­dard tomato food. They will need stak­ing by the time they are about 20cm, oth­er­wise they will start to lean. Watch out for aphid in­fes­ta­tions and treat ac­cord­ingly if your plant gets hit.

Chill­ies pro­duce their fruit on side stems, so when the plant is around 30cm, pinch off the tops of the stems. That will al­low your plant to fo­cus its growth. And the more side stems, the more chill­ies.

Snip­ping off your first chill­ies while green will en­cour­age fruit­ing all sea­son – July to Oc­to­ber. You can let the next lot of fruit ma­ture to red for a more rounded flavour.

Even if you don’t need them at the time, you should pick them and keep them in the freezer un­til you do, be­cause the more you har­vest, the more the plant will pro­duce.

Noth­ing beats the tang of a fresh, home­grown chilli. Just be care­ful not to burn your mouth.

BLAST Ripen­ing to orange

ZINGER Jalapeno pep­pers ripen­ing BURN­ING DE­SIRE HEAT­WAVE Red hot chilli pep­pers Tokyo Hot chilli

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