Are these red hot chilli peppers to your taste?

Chilli cheyenne.
Chilli cheyenne.
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WE are surrounded by red hot colours and tongue tingling chilli vegetables. Who said autumn was boring?

Some people derive great enjoyment from red hot chilli peppers but neither the group of that name, which apparently has just released a tenth album, nor the vegetables, are quite to my taste. But I do love growing them.

Chilli Medina

Chilli Medina

Most savvy gardeners will know that there exists a sub-culture in the horticultural world that delights in honing-in on a particular plant species, donning an anorak and seeking out like-minded souls.

All harmless stuff, and there must be a chilli appreciation society somewhere online.

Meanwhile, I’ve been concentrating on raising the best pot-grown chilli pepper possible in the name of competition, as a little aside to our fortnightly Lionheart Radio programme, The Weekending Show, hosted by Carl Stiansen.

It began back in April when young James joined us in the studio as he occasionally does and laid down the challenge for each of us to grow a plant from seed and compare all three at the season’s end.

Lilium cezanne

Lilium cezanne

Challenge accepted, we each set about the task manfully. The process involved germinating the chilli of our choice, potting it up and on in stages, then presenting a healthy plant dripping with fruits. There was no mention of tasting for hotness – thank goodness.

Growing a decent chilli plant in a pot on the greenhouse bench or windowsill is no big deal.

Offer good light conditions, a reasonable quality compost, regular watering and weekly feed as basics, but most importantly, mist spray daily to encourage fertilisation and deter aphids.

Miss out on any of these and you have a sorry-looking plant on your hands.

Fast forward several weeks to the proposed day of reckoning suggested by friend James, and we only had Carl’s specimen and mine in the studio to compare.

Carl’s chilli plant was well-balanced and bushy but had obviously suffered from a dry spell at some stage for the leaves were quite yellow. All it required to bring it back from the brink was regular watering and feeding over a period.

The big plus was an estimated 52 developing peppers.

This fellow’s by comparison, was a good shape with healthy green leaves but only carried 25 peppers.

But where was James? Had he forgotten the date or was he playing mind games?

I’d already given Carl something to think about by carrying two large pots of grafted chilli plants into the studio, Medina and Cheyenne, each bristling with fruit. But later revealed they were not in the competition.

Then the text arrived to say that James was unable to come due to work commitment – could we delay the competition a further two weeks! Now we’re concerned that he has something special up his sleeve.

Peppers both sweet and chilli can be found in the main seed catalogues or at garden centre displays in the spring.

Some even stock grafted plants, which are more vigorous but obviate the sowing and early growing at a price. Thompson & Morgan for example, stock a dozen hot chilli varieties, some with tempting names such as Prairie Fire, Inferno and Tropical Heat.

The only disappointment is that the level of heat is described in words rather than numerical form.

So although ‘moderately hot,’ ‘hot’ and ‘very hot’ do offer a clue as to what is about to be consumed, it would be more helpful if an approximate Scoville Scale reading were offered.

The scale was introduced by an American chemist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. He devised it after experimenting with capsaicin, the hot substance in peppers.

By soaking the chilli pod in alcohol he was able to extract the capsaicin content, which was then diluted by adding sweetened water. The amount of water required to make the capsaicin almost tasteless on the tongue, represented it’s numerical status on the scale.

This said, the range of Scoville is enormous, with ‘milder’ chillies such as Jalapeno and Cayenne lying at the lower end, under 10,000, the hotter Orange Habanero registering circa 250,000 and a handful of others scoring way above 1,000,000.

The hottest chilli peppers are rapidly emerging from places such as Thailand, Africa, the Caribbean and South America.

Until April of this year, the Bhut Jolokia was top of the heap registering 1,041,000 Scoville units, only to be replaced by Trinidad Scorpion with a tongue-scorching 1,463,700.

If you’re interested in trying several chilli types visit www.worldofchillies.com where the ‘megascoville collection’ comprises six varieties for £11.95. Another choice is nine varieties of ‘the world’s hottest.’

Seeds of the Naga Jolokia chilli are being offered in the 2012 T&M catalogue, a packet of six for £3.99.

This is another of the new super-hot breed registering one million plus Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

I’d have a large jug of iced water handy if you’re adding that to a meal and, as T&M suggest, ‘use sparingly and with care!’

Liliums are such valuable plants during the mid to late summer period. Their rich colours and heady fragrances are quite outstanding. We have potted groups dotted around the patio areas both east and west of the house, with extra on standby as gap fillers in the mixed border.

Neither are they a problem when winter arrives. No cold greenhouse facility or protective fleece is required.

The pots are simply lined up along the west-facing house wall, and came through last winter’s minus 10 Celsius nights unscathed.

This encourages us to buy more bulbs. So earlier in the year, when the ‘Artists Collection’ offer appeared for £10 in a national newspaper, there was no hesitation.

Three bulbs each of Picasso, Monet and Cezanne arrived by post and were immediately planted up in large pots. Although the accompanying blurb suggested growth would be in excess of one metre, it also made clear that support would not be necessary. Five months on, the growth of each group is a disappointing 60 centimetres but that is possibly due to medium sized bulbs.

The positives are; the bulbs will grow year-on-year, the plants negotiated recent gales with flying colours, in Cezanne we have a real stunner, still flowering at present. The colour is very similar to autumn raspberries ‘Joan J’ and ‘Tullameen’ which are being picked by the bowlful right now. Talk about autumn colour coordination - we’ve got it!