Chilli madness

Cosmetic chillies, wrong radishes and a new use for Kale …

One thing I learned last year was the advantage of sowing chilli seeds very early. Instructions on some packets would have you sow the fiery peppers in the early spring along with tomatoes, beans and many others. But getting chillis going as soon as January gives them much more time later in the season to ripen fully. Suddenly you have usually green jalapeños going red, and there’s time for a bigger harvest overall.

So today was chilli starting time. That bold red font is deliberate: an attempt to reflect the utter insanity of the varieties on this year’s growing plan:

  • Peach Bhut Jolokia – about a million on the Scoville scale
  • Yucatan White Habanero – 300,000
  • Maya Pimento – 200,000 – 350,000
  • Pink Tiger – not measured, but described by enthusiasts as ‘very hot’
  • Early Jalapeño – typically 5,000

I’m growing the jalapeños just so that there’s one I can actually eat. Why on earth grow such ferociously hot varieties? I confess – it’s partly for their looks. How shallow is that… When I first saw the Pink Tiger I had to grow it and see those startling purple stripes on a pale background. Likewise the pale Peach Jolokia and the apple-white Habaneros.

Seed soaking

The thing is, these very hot varieties don’t germinate as well as the more common (and sensible) chillis. Chances of success are much improved by germinating them before sowing them. Along with the seeds, I bought some of the supplier’s special chilli germination solution. I’ve no idea what’s in the white powder but it looks suspiciously like a small bag of drugs, to the extent that it may be unwise to take any through airport security.

Honestly Officer, it’s my chilli germination powder


Mixed with water it makes a solution in which you soak the seeds for an hour. Then you dry them, fold them up in wet kitchen towel, seal that in a freezer bag with plenty of air and put the bag in a warm place.

Bags of fire, on their way to the airing cupboard

Check the seeds every couple of days and, all being well, there’ll be tiny sprouts in a week or two, which you can then put into small pots of compost. It’s quite a routine but once they’re up as seedlings, they grow just like any other plant. Fingers crossed.

Outside, I picked the last of the late season radishes. These are Nero Tondo (Round Black). Indeed those that I grew early in the season were round, but the late ones were carrot-shaped.

Radishes that refused to be round
How they turned out earlier in the year

Cooler soil? Less sunlight and photosynthesis? Fewer nutrients left in the ground? I’m not sure why. But they’re still attractive when peeled and have that strong earthy taste.

Oh and when picking and washing the last of the kale, I noticed the absolute resistance of the leaves to cold water. It beads on the surface like it’s been polished and waxed.

Waterproof Tuscan Kale

Therefore, having been thoroughly soaked in a downpour last week wearing an inadequate coat, to fend off the current rainy weather I propose a range of outerwear made of Nero di Toscana kale. Anorakale perhaps? Maybe not.


  1. I too usually grow my chilli’s in January but this year I’m holding off until March – mainly because I’ve just moved and I’m just not prepared yet. The packet says March so I’m hoping it will still be OK.


    • Thanks for commenting 🙂 I bet they’ll quickly catch up and will be fine. IMHO the January advantage is worthwhile but not hugely different from a March sowing.


  2. Love the idea of a kalorak…as long as it doesn’t come with the scattering of brown slugs that live in mine. Are you going to try eating the silly chillies? (you’re braver than me if so!)


    • Haha yes, the kale clothing would have its disadvantages 🙂 I’ll probably try the hot ones, yes. Thoroughly cooked though; they say raw is medically dangerous!


  3. Thanks for the early sowing tip for chilies Bill. I’m trying Apache F1 this year. Frankly I think that using Nero di Toscana for a range of chic outerwear might be the best use for it. I don’t quite get why it’s so beloved of cookery writers and chefs. I much prefer a decent cabbage, like January King.


    • Ah but how waterproof is January King? Could I make a Cabbage Car Coat? That’s my new criterion for evaluating brassicas. Silliness aside, I’ve heard good things about Apache chillis. Would love to know how you get on with them.


  4. I’m with you on growing chillis for their looks and not necessarily as a masochistic food crop. I’m hoping to grow a couple of bush varieties this year that fit that category. I’ve just done the usual when it comes to sowing them though. I’ll bookmark your method for next year in case mine don’t germinate this time around.


    • I bet the usual sowing method will be fine. The bag of air technique is new to me and I’ll be ready to fall back on the compost and propagator if they don’t sprout soon. Good luck with yours! 🙂


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