I am really excited about growing chilli plants this year.
There is always so much to learn not just from my history of growing (this will be my fifth year now), but from the chillies themselves.
I’ve been doing some research lately around chilli plants and thinking about how different varieties are effected due to various factors like when they are sown, what species they come from and even what their native bearings would have been.
A very short history of chillies
From a climate position the UK is not native for chilli plants. Chillies (otherwise referred to as capsicum) originated from Ecuador (of all the places that you never really hear about) thousands of years before the Spanish invasion of mainland Americas, and have grown and spread overtime mostly in sub-continent countries such as Mexico, India and Caribbean and then got transported over to mainland Europe thanks to one Mr Christopher Columbus (cool guy).
So history would suggest that chilli plants do prefer, and indeed thrive in the warmer climates. The ones with hot to humid conditions over longer months of the year with plenty of sunshine, both of which help to flavour and increase heat intensity of a chilli. Yet that isn’t the whole story.
In a south western county in England a couple have managed to create what appears to be one of the hottest chillies in the world. The couple who own Sea Sping Seeds (and plants) took four years to carefully cultivate what is known as the Dorset Naga, which apparently gave a recording via the Chilli institute of 900,000SHU (A jalapeno is just 2,500 – 8,000SHU).
In fact it’s proved to be even more remarkable than that because not only have they created a new chilli but one that produced 2,407 pods on one plant, in one season! And when I say the right conditions all that means is a big tub and a poly tunnel. Not extra heat other than the sun and a good summer.
Now correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t believe Devon is next to India or any other sub-continent country?
That means I can grow chillies. Well I do, but of course it’s not an easy job when you haven’t got a poly tunnel. Ten months of cultivating, and caring for a plant is a long time to then reap back. So it’s always very encorouging when you read and see stories such as the Dorset Naga to give me encouragement when I love growing chillies but they don’t always love me back.
I want to make sure I can grow the best varieties I can for the area, location and space I have available to me but clearly from others’ experience it would seem chillies of magnitude heat and plant size can be grown well in the UK.
As you can imagine all this has really got me thinking about two things:
- Do chilli growers need to cultivate chillies in order to grow better chillies that are easier to grow over here in the UK (and other northern climates), as is already being done. And if that’s the case what does that add or take away from what was traditional varieties (if there are any)?
- Is the intensity heat being found in new varieties of chillies being sacrificed for what the chillies were/are intended for, or is there just a new market out there requiring hotter pods?
Okay, I won’t get into the heat/flavour debate as I think both are equally as important depending on what they are required for but I do wonder if hotter varieties do overlook the varieties that add either colour or flavour to cooking. Let alone other areas of medicine, weapons and even beer.
What I really want to try my hand at this year though is growing the more traditional varieties along side some new ones.
Apparently most cultivars come down to three species of plant – C. annuum. The tabasco (C. frutescens) and habanero (C. chinense), which means I’ve been growing traditional varieties of chillies since I started!
In the end I think the variety and cultivar of chillies you grow comes down to many things like heat intensity, colour of pods, period of harvest, and more importantly what you’ll be doing with the ripened pods (not wiping your nose with them that is for sure!).
And what is even more exciting is that everyone can grow chillies, just like me.
I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve this year to make my plants grow big and strong, building on my past experiences which I’ll share with you all as the season gets under way.
I’ll be kicking my chilli season off at the end of the month. Stay tuned!