From chilli fire to calming chamomile

It was a real surprise a couple of months back to find some young extreme chilli plants on sale in Morrison’s, among the herbs and house plants. The inevitable consequence was that I now have two crazy chilli plants growing away in one of the tent greenhouses.

Bhut Jolokia, aka Ghost chillis
Bhut Jolokia, aka Ghost chillis on the turn

Ghost chilli is also known as the infamous Bhut Jolokia, boasting a Scoville rating around the one million mark. In contrast, a Jalapeno scores about four thousand. And the plant is doing great, with a good half dozen fruit on it. With their characteristic knobbly finish, they’re all now turning from pale green to orange and eventually to red, at which point they’re ripe and ready to well, probably not ‘eat’ as such, they’re far too potent for that. It’s really more a case of brushing the cut flesh against the inside of a pan or dish before cooking something in it. Or drying them for some high potency chilli powder, a tiny pinch of which will give any meal a severe kick.

Strange but true: a few years back the Indian Army equipped itself with ‘chilli grenades’ for riot control: real military-grade grenades that release bhut jolokia essence as a vapour when they land, temporarily but completely incapacitating the target. They’ve been used in anger and are apparently 100% effective. Gulp!

Be afraid
Be afraid

The Ghost / Bhut Jolokia used to be officially the hottest chilli in the world. But today that title is held by the notorious Carolina Reaper. Guess what my other chilli plant is. Oh yes. 2.2 million Scovilles of insanity. Unfortunately it’s lagging behind a bit: a few small fruits growing slowly, lots of flowers and cooling, shorter days. It looks perfectly healthy though, so I might bring it indoors and hit it with the grow lamps, trying to fool the plant that it’s still summer until it the chillis grow fully and ripen.

As I hadn’t planned to grow either of the above, there’s also the usual clutch of more normal chillis grown from seed: some very visual Purple Jalapenos and some long and thin Portugal. The latter really struggled at first and I figured out it was because of the water-retaining granules I’d mixed into the soil. Chilli plants suffer if their roots stay wet and with the granules I was inadvertently soaking the roots all the time. The simple solution was removing the tray underneath each pot so that when hand watering the excess dripped straight out of the bottom of the pot. That rescued them and though the plants are small, they’ve full sizes chillis growing well on them now.

Britney sweet peppers giving it some largesse
Britney sweet peppers giving it some largesse

Nearby, their cousin sweet peppers are having a riot. These are an F1 hybrid variety called ‘Britney’ (which made me wish they were shaped like spears) and were another Morrison’s buy as little young plants. Tell you what, I’ve rarely had such a successful sweet pepper plant: the fruits are huge, tasty and there are lots of them still growing. That leads to the age-old dilemma of whether it’s best to grow from seed or buy starter plants. I love growing from seed, but there’s no beating the crops of a professionally-started F1 hybrid. So as is stands I’m tending to do most things from seed and add a selecton of plants to ensure decent crops of the ‘essentials’ like tomatoes and peppers.

The potatoes turned out OK. I grew two varieties: Charlotte and Shepody, the latter a variety managed by McCain’s and actually used for some of their frozen chip/fries products. You can safely deduce the first thing I made after lifting them and, sure enough, they make nice chips. I grew the potatoes in four grow sacks and the quantities were fair: never as many as you’d really ike but not too bad either. One of my very favourite things in veg gardening is delving into the potato soil to see how many you’ve got.

Left: Charlotte early potatoes, Right: McCain's Shepody maincrops
Left: Charlotte early potatoes, Right: McCain’s Shepody maincrops

Not far from the spuds I’ve been lucky with this year’s Nero di Toscana kale. It’s grown very nicely in a previously troublesome bed, to which I added some targeted brassica feed. The biggest boost is that the plants haven’t been ravaged by caterpillars as they often are.

Black Tuscan kale growing very well
Black Tuscan kale growing very well
This seemed to help deter butterflies and caterpillars
This seemed to help deter butterflies and caterpillars

A few started to appear, but a spray with this anti-crawly thing solution seems to have put them off, which is a huge breakthrough as gardens round here suffer badly from the cabbage white butterfly and I’ve had crops decimated by their caterpillars in the past. This new cure is a relief for the neighbouring bed, where there are half a dozen purple sprouting broccoli plants. They’re just leafy for now but in the new year they should be producing lots of delicious broccoli spears (maybe these should have a Britney variety too).

Meanwhile the fig tree produced more fruit than ever this year, the result of cutting it right back – against best practice – a year ago. I toyed with some kind of fig-flavoured alcohol at first, but plumped for a fig jam, which has turned out delicious. On toast for breakfast, with two jars still to go.

Fig jam raw materials
Fig jam raw materials
Lime-oncello - knocks your socks off!
Lime-oncello – knocks your socks off!

The alcohol thing happened in the end with a bag of limes I had in. They ended up as lime-oncello. You need a spare bottle of vodka hanging around and have to leave the final potion to mature for a few weeks but it’s worth it in the end.

Back to more sensible drinks, the chamomile bush has done well, giving up lots od flowers which I’m drying, mixing with similarly dried lemon balm and mint leaves and crushing them together. That mix goes into ‘fill your own’ tea bags in various combinations: the chamomile and lemon balm being a favourite, with plain mint close behind. There’s definitely more flavour than in some of the commercial herbal teas. And I’m learning that hanging leaves up to dry retains more flavour than using the dehydrator. It can be quite quick too – a big bunch of lemon balm leaves dried to a crisp after hanging up for just a few days.

Chamomile ready for drying into tea bags
Chamomile ready for drying into tea bags

More next time. Bye for now 🙂

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