Hot stuff — grow­ing your own

Hastings Leader - - News - BY HENRI HAM Awa­puni Nurs­eries www.awa­puni.co.nz

Chilli seems to gen­er­ate a mass fol­low­ing all over the world.

Did you know we have our own chilli-eat­ing com­pe­ti­tion and hot sauce fes­ti­val in New Zealand? Much like co­rian­der, chilli also po­larises peo­ple. They ei­ther love it or won’t touch it. I’m def­i­nitely in ‘team heat’ and love a good chilli in my cook­ing or even on its own.

Chilli heat is mea­sured in Scov­ille Heat Units (SHU). The higher the rat­ing the hot­ter the chilli. Trained testers dis­solve dried chilli in al­co­hol and sugar wa­ter to mea­sure its pun­gency. They then sam­ple the mix­ture and di­lute it un­til they can’t de­tect any more heat. Now I love chilli, but I’m not sure if I’d like this job.

The cur­rent cham­pion to the ‘world’s hottest chilli’ goes to the Carolina reaper. It has a lit­tle grim reaper shaped tail and clocks in at 1,600,000 SHU. To give some per­spec­tive — the friendly jalapeno mea­sures around 5000 SHU.

Eat­ing hot chilli is not for the faint hearted. Peo­ple of­ten find them to taste ini­tially sweet, with an af­ter burn that can last up to one hour in un­sus­pect­ing vic­tims. And as a gen­eral rule, the smaller the pod the hot­ter the taste.

Chillies are a spring and sum­mer plant. The first va­ri­eties ready right now at Awa­puni are the jalapeno and red hot chilli. This month you’ll see the ha­banero red, bhut jolokia (ghost pep­per) and the jalapeno red flame seedlings be­come avail­able. You’ll have to wait un­til Christ­mas time to get your hands on a Carolina reaper plant.

Here’s our list of chillies in or­der of hottest (start­ing with the hottest of the hot) — Carolina reaper, bhut jolokia, ha­banero red, red hot pep­per, jalapeno red flame and jalapeno. Awa­puni also have two mixed va­ri­ety bun­dles of chilli this year, thanks to cus­tomer re­quests. The medium hot mix has a com­bi­na­tion of the lat­ter three chilli and in the hot mix you’ll find our hottest three chilli.

Chilli are fairly easy to grow. They like a well-drained, shel­tered and sunny spot in your gar­den sim­i­lar to where you’d plant your toma­toes, cap­sicums, basil and pars­ley. If you’ve got space near any beefriendly plants like oregano and laven­der, plant your chillies there to help with pol­li­na­tion.

In­crease the qual­ity of your soil by adding a good gen­eral fer­tiliser and come com­post. Sheep pal­lets are also great to mix in with the com­post, and act as a slow re­lease fer­tiliser.

Chilli plants can get quite big, so plant your seedlings around 30-50cm apart. But they don’t ac­tu­ally need a lot of space, and grow well in pots as well. Wa­ter straight af­ter plant­ing, but af­ter that they only need at­tend­ing to ev­ery few days. Avoid wet­ting the leaves to pre­vent the spread of any dis­eases. And, once your chillies have de­vel­oped, you might like to wa­ter them spar­ingly (de­pend­ing on your taste buds) as less wa­ter­ing will make the fruit hot­ter.

In around two to three months from plant­ing, you’ll start to see some spicy life. First flow­ers ap­pear then, af­ter be­ing pol­li­nated, they turn into fruit.

If you’re un­sure whether your plants have been pol­li­nated sim­ply dab a small paint brush in each flower to help spread the pollen around.

Re­mem­ber as with many fruit plants, cut your chillies rather than pulling them off. This en­cour­ages more fruit to grow. And what many peo­ple don’t re­alise is that a whole chilli freezes re­ally well — last­ing up to six months in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook with them, use an ex­tra sharp knife and chop up your chilli whilst frozen. With fresh chilli about $2 each in the su­per­mar­ket right now, it sure makes sense to freeze them.

Chillies are peren­nial plants mean­ing they can last a few sea­sons.

Once your plant has fin­ished fruit­ing, sim­ply prune back by about a third, and re­move any dead branches. They don’t cope well with frosts. If you plant in pots, move them to warmer ground for win­ter, ei­ther in­doors, or to the deck or un­der the eaves of your house.

Hot stuff — chillies are easy to grow.

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