During lockdown ‘on the side’, alongside organising and distributing growing packs to households, I did a spot of plant sharing. Once the word was out there that I wanted donations of seeds to include in the growing packs, I started getting offers of plant donations too. I received all sorts, including artichokes, broccoli, broad beans, leek, strawberry, cucumber, tomato, herbs and flowers. Through my job I am in touch with community garden projects throughout Aberdeen City (I try to have a contact for every community garden, but there are probably some I don’t know about. Always happy to hear about it if there are any you think I should know about! 😊 ). So, happily, I was able to get these plant donations to good homes; distributing them to eight projects who were tending their community garden during lockdown. This is where Ellen comes in. Those of you who read my last blog post on beetroots know that Ellen recently donated some of her beetroot harvest for the CFINE emergency food parcel delivery service. But before that, a couple of months ago, she approached me with an offer of a plentiful amount of lovely healthy chilli plants she had grown from seed at home.

The chilli plants were a hit!


Two community gardens took a large amount of chilli plants each which they then distributed to their communities, and the rest I gave out to CFINE volunteers and staff. It really brightened up peoples’ day to take a lovely chilli plant home, or to put it by their desk at work. Some people have shared with me they have cooked with them and enjoyed very much. Others in the office are daring each other and eating them raw from the plant as a challenge (not what I would recommend, but whatever floats your boat!). This is just one example of how we at CFINE are keeping our spirits up as we work hard to provide essential services (again, my idea of a bit and r & r might be more like a soothing cup of tea, but we all have our own ways of keeping ourselves amused! 😉 )
Ellen was not sure of the variety of the chilli plants she gave us. She said they are possibly 'Fiesta' or 'Tabasco'. She grows both and the two varieties look very similar, so she just saves seed from both every year.


Some Chilli planting, care and harvesting tips from Ellen:


Sowing:


As far as sowing chilli seeds, it depends on what conditions you can provide. We have a small area indoors which is very warm so we can sow them early (end of January-ish) along with peppers and aubergines; all these plants need a long growing season. They take weeks to come up, but just when you are giving up hope they appear. They appreciate extra light once they germinate to stop them getting leggy. They grow steadily until it is warm enough to put them in the porch (lots of light, not much heat) and eventually out to the glasshouse which isn’t heated, in mid-May. As they grow, keep potting them up when they need a larger pot but the plants seem sensitive to making a jump to a much larger pot, they sulk and don’t grow for a while so it is best to pot them more frequently into only slightly larger pots each time. They seem to fruit well in big pots in the glasshouse, I've also put some in the polytunnel and they are ok too, and if we were in a less windy location I'd try some outside if I didn’t have the space under glass, but not until the nights are warm. I think it is best to get the plants as big as possible before they start to fruit, you get a bigger crop that way.


Care:


Most years I get an aphid attack and I either take the plants and park them under the bird feeders where the blue tits will clean them up, or if it is later in the summer the wasps come into the glasshouse and do the honours. I used to spray them with derris (not now approved for use, organic and harmless but not sold in sufficient quantities to make it worth going through the very expensive licensing tests) but no longer need to. Water regularly aiming to keep them slightly damp. They hate being soggy, and in cool cloudy weather they may not need watering more than once or twice a week—it all depends on the compost and the temperature and how fast they are growing. Feed with a comfrey tea or tomato fertilizer once the fruits start to set.


Harvesting:


You can harvest them as they go red (they are hotter then) or leave them on the plant and cut the whole plant at the end of the season before frost. As the plant dries out the leaves wilt and fall, pick off any remaining leaves, and hang it upside-down, it is very ornamental and a good way to store them too! And you can save the seed and sow it next year, in a warm place with lots of light, by mid-Feb to get a decent crop.


Ellen adds that she would be happy to grow the same again next year and bring them in for me to distribute! I’ve told her yes please!
Some additional information: If you don’t have somewhere to move your chillies too such as a greenhouse, they can manage fine growing on a sunny windowsill or indoor surface. If you are growing your chillies indoors, you can clean the leaves with some water mixed with a little bit of washing up liquid to get rid of aphids (also known as green fly). You can do this by hand or mix it up in a spray bottle and spray the plant. You might need to do this a few times.


We got quite an aphid attack on the chilli plants here earlier this year. I was keeping them at CFINE, on a large sunny windowsill, but didn’t have the option of placing them outdoors under a bird feeder. A couple of us gave them all a good clean with some soapy water and it seemed to do the trick. That got rid of the hordes of them, and then as I passed them on I suggested recipients check them and clean them down if needed.