Gardening: Some plants like it hot

Chilli peppers can be grown  outside - as long as the sun shines.
Chilli peppers can be grown outside - as long as the sun shines.
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Some like it hot, some don’t, but there is no escaping the fact that chillies are here to stay, and plenty of people are now trying to grow their own

Indoors is not too difficult; outdoors can be difficult although several years ago, in a trial of 40 varieties conducted on seedsman Mr Fothergill’s Kentford, Suffolk, trial ground, plants growing outdoors generally performed better, producing better looking plants, higher yields and more pronounced flavours.

For the best and hottest chillies, start sowing indoors as early as January – the hottest varieties often need the longest growing period. Chillies need plenty of warmth to germinate.

Sow the seeds on the surface of a moist, free-draining, seed compost and cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place them somewhere warm until germination, which usually takes 7-10 days. Once germinated, chillies can be moved to a warm, sunny windowsill or a heated greenhouse. Keep the compost evenly moist but take care not to let it get soaking wet.

When chilli seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual 3in pots of compost and grow them on until all risk of frost has passed and they are large enough to be transplanted.

Transplant them into grow bags or 2-litre containers or well-prepared beds of fertile, moist, well-drained soil. Space them at least 18ins apart.

Water chilli pepper plants regularly throughout the growing season and feed weekly with a high potash tomato fertiliser once the first fruits have set. Pinch out the growing tip of the first flowering shoots to promote more branching and increase your harvest.

When growing chilli plants it’s best to keep them a little on the dry side as stressing them very slightly helps to produce hotter peppers.

Chillies require warmth and long sunny days to ripen properly. In the UK that could be a problem, so you may need to eventually bring the fruits indoors and let them ripen on a warm sunny windowsill.

As to how you like your chillies... the Scoville scale is a measure of the ‘hotness’ of a chilli pepper. It measures the concentration of the chemical compound, capsaicin, which is the active component that produces the heat sensation.

A sweet pepper that contains no capsaicin has a Scoville rating of zero whereas the hottest chillies have a rating of 300,000 – or more.

Some like it very hot.

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