Hot chilies? Feel the heat!

 In Container gardening, Gardening, Gardens Visited, Grow your own, Indoor Plants, Protected Cropping, Travel, Vegetables

Hot chilies; I’d heard about a place that grows them in South Devon. I finally got to visit them!

South Devon Chilli Farm had been on my visit ‘wish list’ for years. Passing the door to go to one of those lovely South Devon beaches recently, I called in.

mixed chilli bunches

Mixed chilli bunches

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 offer for sale!

Located near Loddiswell and just north of Kingsbridge this hot chilies mecca was easy to find and well signposted.

Set up by Steve Waters and friends around ten years ago, this is Britain’s first commercial chilli farm.

When I visited I found that it is going from strength to strength!

 

 

Buying their products

With everything on offer from seeds, plants, growing equipment, fresh and dried fruit, sauces to even chilli chocolate, they definitely have it covered!

Don’t worry if you can’t visit the farm because much of what this innovative business offers can be bought from them online.

You may even be lucky enough to have one of their 40 regional stockist near where you live.

 

Visiting the Farm

chilli plant display at south devon chilli farm

Chilli plant display at South Devon Chilli Farm

I’d recommend a summer visit which will enable you to see their demonstration collection of plants.

The farm is open to visitors all year round but it’s wise to call ahead.

In their plant collection you will see the huge diversity of chilli plants.

Like me you’ll discover that many of them are not only good to eat but also very attractive!

In fact many make very good looking indoor plants.

As autumn approaches I strongly recommend that you consider trying these decorative edible plants in your autumn garden displays.

Mix chillies with conventional autumn bedding plants in your window-boxes and patio containers!

I even have a hanging basket planted with them! With a little heat to get them through the winter in my greenhouse, they are already into their second year!

Where do chilies come from

There’s a great cafe for refreshments on site. In this area you can learn a lot about hot chilies and in fact about all forms of chilies.

A map in the café area shows that chillies are to be found in many parts of the world. 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. From here they were spread around the world by early settlers. They adopted them and added them to their cuisine.

 

How hot are hot chilies?

hot stuff

Chilli-ometer

But not all chillies are hot to taste. A simple to understand poster in their new smart shop shows this.

Those that are hot are measured by the Scoville Scale. This is a measure of ‘heat’ 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.

At the top end where the heat is, you will find in ascending order; Scotch Bonnet, Orange Habanero and Bhut Jolokia.

 

 

 

Varieties to grow

Five main species of domesticated chillies are grown today. And there are just hundreds of varieties!

Many of the more popular varieties can be purchased from the South Devon Chilli Farm as plants.

These can be taken home in late spring and summer to grow on.

Growing chilli plants is easy.

I find that chilies need really good light.

These plants need far less heat than tomatoes!

I can recommend smaller varieties as ideal plants for a sunny bright windowsill.

I’ve grown them very successfully in 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.

Beware that they can not endure sharp frosts or very wet weather.

 

Growing your own chilies

The chilli year begins by sowing seed in late February of early March.

You’ll need a little warmth and again a windowsill will do.

When germinated each seedling should be grown on in cell trays before potting into 9-10 cm pots. I find it’s best to use soil based compost.

Plants can be planted outside in a sheltered sunny position in early summer.  Or you can grow them on in larger pots.

Greenhouse or polytunnel grown plants will grow larger and produce a heavier yield.

 

Chili growing at the Farm

During my visit I learnt that South Devon Chilli Farm crops grow right through until November in their tunnels.

To prepare for the next season the tunnels are then manured and planted with a mustard and clover green manure crop. This is to build up nutrients for the next crop.

mixed chilli plant display

Mixed chilli plant display

Few pests and diseases trouble chillies.

Whitefly can be problematic. These can be controlled by introducing natural predators.

Adding these natural predators just as soon as the first pests are seen is vital.

Alternatively regularly spraying with a contact action and short persistence product such as SB Invigorator will give control.

South Devon Chilli Farm grow their plants in unheated polytunnels.

I was interested to see that plants are supported with a network of strings.

Watering is done from below with trickle irrigation under black polythene mulch.

Around 200 plants are grown and 35 varieties are in production.

I saw an excellent display tunnel filled with 100 varieties of plants. These were well labelled and easily viewed. This is free to view and is open from July to November.

 

Behind the scenes

south devon chilli farms commercial kitchen

South Devon Chilli Farms commercial kitchen

Behind the scenes I saw an area that is off limits to the general public.

And in this area is a food preparation area and so naturally access is strictly limited.

A large and well organised store is hidden behind the excellent café and shop.

In this store orders are correlated and dispatched daily to customers far and wide.

Alongside this is a commercial kitchen full of glistening and high tech machinery.

Here chilies are made into delicious sauces and preserves. I was surprised to find that they were dried and even smoked on site!

 

What chillies do you grow and which are your favourite chili products?

Do you use chilies as a decorative plant in your pots or window-boxes?

If you’re going to grow your own chilli and pepper plants I think that you will find this helpful.

You might be interested to read my tips on growing tomatoes here. And I have written on tomato variety trials here.

 

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