[personal profile] clovehitched

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

I make no secret of my love of hot chillies. Chilli peppers together comprise the genus Capsicum, which also includes sweet peppers (really just chillies that have lost their ability to produce the irritant chemical, capsaicin, which is what gives chillies their heat). Most everyday chillies which people encounter, such as jalapeños or cayennes, are the species Capsicum annuum, which are relatively easy to grow even at the chilly (no pun intended) latitude of Cambridge, which is 52º north.

However, the really hot chillies, such as the habanero, scotch bonnet, naga jolokia and the current record holder, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, are Capsicum chinense. Both these species have stupid names; C. annuum is, like all chilli plants, perennial and not annual (this is important). C. chinense was so-named because someone who was presumably having an “unable to brain” moment allegedly decided they came from China.

No chillies come from China. All members of the Capsicum genus are descended from wild plants which originate in the West Indies, Central and South America. The ones we eat are cultivars which have been domesticated over thousands of years. C. chinense in particular comes from Cuba and the Lesser Antilles chain, as well as the nearby bits of South America. This is decidedly tropical, experiencing little in the way of seasonal temperature and daylight variations. They are used to growing in hot, bright, sunny conditions, and they’re fussy about it.

They hate it here. They’re difficult to germinate (naga jolokia won’t unless it spends about 6 weeks in soil which never drops below 28º), make tomatoes look frost tolerant and prone to dropping their fruit at the first sign of environmental stress. C. chinense is a true princess amongst chillies.

Which, along with their blistering heat and amazing fruity flavour, is what makes them so much fun to grow.

Despite the crappy year we have just had, what with it missing a summer and all, I have managed to grow a few viable habanero plants from seed (I started in late 2011) and had a half-decent crop of fruit. Now I’m thinking of next year and since I have some proven producers that managed to withstand a few months in my garden in one of the wettest summers on record. I am keen to keep them. Starting from seed each year is a drag and shortens the time they have to produce fruit.

Overwintering habaneros

The survivors are sitting on a windowsill in my dining room, enjoying direct sunlight. They’re a bit pot bound, so once I have all the remaining fruit from them (they are still flowering, but don’t seem to want to produce fruit at the moment, even when fertilised), they will be severely pruned back. This also keeps them a manageable size because there are six of them, and the window isn’t very big and chillies can make rather large houseplants if you let them get out of hand.

In addition, I have planted some naga jolokia seeds for next year. I’ve got 20 seeds, and this variety is so fussy that I might not get a single plant. To give them their best shot, I have them in a heated and thermostatically controlled propagator. They only take up half the room though, so it gave me an idea…

My propagator

My propagator, with cuttings and seeds, kept snuggly and warm!

Since chillies are perennial, and even though they’re reluctant to fruit at the moment, my habaneros are producing copious amounts of new foliage, I have decided to try my hand at cloning them. A bag of seed compost, a few small plant pots and a tub of rooting hormone later I now have cuttings from my most prolific and tasty performers sitting alongside the (hopefully) germinating naga jolokia seeds. The plan being that each year I can have a stock of plants which can live outside in the summer. In winter I will take a few in, cut them back and overwinter them on the windowsill. In the meantime I will take cuttings from them and clone them in my propagator, ready to have a fresh bunch of plants to put outside the moment the conditions become right (hopefully around April).

In the meantime, I will keep the cuttings and the overwintering originals pruned back so they’re nice and small and manageable and not competing for every south-facing window in my house.

It’s too early yet to say whether this will work, but I have high hopes. Wish me luck! I’ll report back in the spring.

Date: 2012-11-14 03:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 1ngi.livejournal.com
Good luck!

We got a heated propagator last year and it was a fantastic investment. Did all our chilies and sweet chocolate peppers (which were awesome) but germinated all the squash as well.

Siôn has hit on an idea to grow our chili plants in window boxes, several plants in a row. This seems to give them more room for their roots, they are easier to transport from house to greenhouse and back again, and it gives them greater water retention. We've still got a window box full of 'rainbow' which are not very hot but have an incredible floral fruity perfume when you chop them.

Something weird re setting happened, due to nervousness about temperature, we only put half our chilies in the greenhouse to begin with and they flowered pathetically but all the flowers set. The ones indoors flowered their hats off and no amount of misting or paintbrushing got them to set, but when we moved them to the greenhouse they then proceeded to set really quickly. WTF was that? So next year I think we should let them flower in the house and only then move them to greenhouse.

These guys http://www.realseeds.co.uk/hotpeppers.html moved to Wales (from Cambridge no less) and set up a heritage seed nursery specialsing in seeds that tolerate the UK climate. While prob won't help in your quest for 'death by chili' they do seem to have some fascinating varieties on offer this year.


Date: 2012-11-14 04:26 pm (UTC)
aldabra: (ghost)
From: [personal profile] aldabra
How does chilli temperature compare to snake temperature? Would the snakes try to eat them?

Date: 2012-11-14 04:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 1ngi.livejournal.com
I like your thinking here!

Date: 2012-11-14 05:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-local-echo.livejournal.com
The tropical snakes enjoy similar temperatures, and they certainly wouldn't eat any kind of plant, but the snake vivariums are all out of reach of direct sunlight as they prefer things dark and mysterious.

Date: 2012-11-14 07:11 pm (UTC)
ext_8007: Drinking tea (Default)
From: [identity profile] auntysarah.livejournal.com
Yes. Apart from the snakes crushing any foliage left in their cages, the plants would die from lack of sunlight.

Date: 2012-11-14 07:10 pm (UTC)
ext_8007: Drinking tea (Default)
From: [identity profile] auntysarah.livejournal.com
The only way a snake is ever going to eat fruit is if a prey animal has just eaten it first, and rats aren't going to eat habaneros unless they're hardcore!

Date: 2012-11-14 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zoefruitcake.livejournal.com
good growing luck!

We have a chilli growing in the library at work. I have no idea what type it is as it was given to us by one of the offenders who works in the gardens

Date: 2012-11-14 11:34 pm (UTC)
emperor: (Phoenix)
From: [personal profile] emperor
Darn, I asked this in the wrong place first time, oops. How hard can you prune them? I guess it's good to leave some leaves on each branch?

Date: 2012-11-15 12:00 am (UTC)
ext_8007: Drinking tea (Default)
From: [identity profile] auntysarah.livejournal.com
Everything I've read on the web says cut them back "hard" for winter.

I suspect, as long as the plant is healthy, you can take all its leaves and it will recover. YMMV and this is the first time I've tried to overwinter them, so I can say for sure.

Date: 2012-11-15 12:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 1ngi.livejournal.com
You can take them down to about two inches. They will grow back better than if you flinch at the pruning.

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