Feel the heat? Hot stuff!
I finally got to visit them! South Devon Chilli Farm had been on my ‘wish to visit list’ for years and, passing the door to go to one of those lovely South Devon beaches recently, I called in.
Well what a place! I expected quite a few chillies but I was completely unprepared for the massive range of varieties this business grows. What was equally impressive was the number of chilli derived products that they offered for sale!
Located near Loddiswell just north of Kingsbridge and set up by Steve Waters around ten years ago, this is Britain’s first commercial chilli farm and is going from strength to strength!
With everything on offer from seeds, plants, growing equipment, fresh and dried fruit, sauces to even chilli chocolate, they have it covered!
Of course, you don’t have to visit the farm [although I strongly recommend that you do], because much of what this vibrant and innovative business offers can be bought from them online. You may even be lucky enough to have one of their 40 regional stockist nearby.
A summer visit [the farm is open all year round] will enable you to see their demonstration collection of plants which at the time of my visit was really getting into full swing. Here you will see the diversity of chillies and realise that many of them are not only good to eat but also very attractive to look at and make very good indoor plants too. As autumn approaches I strongly recommend that you consider trying these decorative edible plants with more conventional autumn bedding plants in your window-boxes and patio containers. I even have a hanging basket planted with them and, with a little heat to get them through the winter in my greenhouse, they are already into their second year!
A map in the café area shows that chillies are to be found in many parts of the world with hot climates being …erm the hot spots! Mexico, South America, Mediterranean countries and India and Asia are the key sources. However, they originated in South and Central America and were spread around the world by early settlers there who adopted them into their cuisine.
But not all chillies are hot to taste as a simple to understand poster in their new smart shop shows. Those that are hot are measured by the Scoville Scale, a measure of ‘hotness’ devised in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville and still used today. The green bell pepper is at the very bottom of this scale and hardly registers but at the top end where the heat is you will find in ascending order; Scotch Bonnet, Orange Habanero and Bhut Jolokia.
The five main species of domesticated chillies are grown today and amongst these there are hundreds of varieties. Many of the more popular varieties can be purchased from the South Devon Chilli Farm as plants to grow on at home in late spring and summer. This is quite easy since chilli plants need good light but require far less heat than tomatoes and so are ideal for a sunny bright windowsill or a sheltered sunny spot on the patio. Many chillies will go on ripening and becoming hotter as we draw closer to the end of the year but they can not be expected to endure sharp frosts or very wet weather.
The chilli year begins by sowing seed in late February of early March with a little warmth [again a windowsill will do], and when germinated each seedling should be grown on in cell trays before potting into 9-10cm pots filled with soil based compost. Plants can be planted outside in a sheltered sunny position in early summer or grown on in larger pots. Greenhouse or polytunnel grown plants will grow larger and produce a heavier yield. At South Devon Chilli Farm crops will go right through until November in their tunnels and are not ripped out until then. To prepare fro the next season the tunnels are then manured and planted with a mustard and clover green manure crop to build up nutrients for the next crop.
Few pests and diseases trouble chillies but whitefly can be problematic and so should be controlled as soon as they are seen using introduced natural predators or by regularly spraying with a contact action and short persistence product such as SB Invigorator.
At South Devon Chilli Farm plants are grown in unheated polytunnels and supported with a network of strings on post to support the developing crop. Watering is done from below with trickle irrigation under black polythene mulch. Around 200 plants are grown [they have two growing sites in the area] and 35 varieties are in production.
In the excellent display tunnel plants of 100 varieties are well labelled and easily viewed. This is free to view and is open from July to November.
Not open to the public but attached to the excellent café and shop is a well organised store where orders are correlated and despatched daily. Alongside is a commercial kitchen full of glistening and high tech machinery where the chillies are added to delicious Belgian chocolate, made into sauces and preserves, dried and even smoked!
What chillies do you grow and which are your favourite chilli products?
Do you use chillies as a decorative plant in your pots or window-boxes?