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Chillies don't have to be challenging

PUBLISHED: 16:49 09 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:49 09 January 2014

Steve Waters in the show tunnel at South Devon Chilli Farm

Steve Waters in the show tunnel at South Devon Chilli Farm

MATT AUSTIN

If you’ve always been loathe to discover the colourful and flavoursome world of chillies then it’s time to think again, says HAYLEY REYNOLDS

Photography by Matt Austin

Steve Waters’ Top Ten Tips!

1. Select varieties that will suit the space you have to grow them in

2. Buy good quality seeds

3. Use free-draining composts for seeds and potting-on (such as John Innes mixes)

4. Use a heated propagator to germinate the seeds from mid-February onwards (25-30 centigrade)

5. Water well when dry. Avoid over-watering and leaving pots sat in water

6. Pick chillies as they become ready to encourage more flowers to set

7. Feed plants with a liquid feed mixed for chilli plants

8. Chillies freeze very well - chop them up to save space

9. To dry chillies, pick a thin-walled variety and provide good air circulation

10. Check our website for lots of tips on growing and cooking with chillies!

During these cold, wintry days it’s comforting to think of something hot and fiery. Over the last ten years or so in this country there has been a huge rise in popularity of a tasty little morsel that has the potential to make tears fall from your eyes and warm you through even on the coldest of winter days. On the other end of the scale, it can be as mild as a common pepper. It is, of course, the chilli.

Inspired by the wonderful range of international cuisine now on offer and the hugely experimental chefs who entertain us on our TV screens and educate us in their cookbooks, the chilli is a regular in our kitchens.

For many that still means one of two things, namely green or red! Spend a little time with chilli expert Steve Waters or visit South Devon Chilli Farm and you’ll unearth an exciting new, incredibly visual world and are likely to start catching on to Steve’s passion, which is quite contagious.

“People think of chillies as adding heat to a dish, but there are many different flavours that they offer,” he says. “Here on the chilli farm we have over 160 different varieties and are constantly trialling new ones.” It’s through studying Mexican cookbooks and planting his own chillies, initially on a window-sill, that Steve has formed a detailed understanding and knowledge of this versatile ingredient.

"‘People think of chillies as adding heat to a dish, but there are many different flavours that they offer’"

Why not try something new and grow some chillies for yourself? It’s very easy to do and you don’t need a lot of space. According to Steve, now’s definitely a good time to start thinking about planting - the seeds are best sown in February and March. With plenty of love and care you will have blooming chilli plants in just a few short months.

By June the chillies should be ready to pick, then you have the fun of trying out new recipes with your chosen varieties of chillies. If you’re feeling a little nervous as a first time grower look out for the one pot growing kits on offer which will provide you with everything you could need as a novice. Join this latest chilli growing craze and you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your efforts throughout the summer.

Whilst your chilli plants are doing well at home you can then go and see how the experts are getting on and be truly astounded by the huge variety of chillies grown. Stand in the show tunnel on the South Devon Chilli Farm in Loddiswell between the months of June and October and you will be amazed by the number of different chillies on show and the stunning kaleidoscope of colours. Ranging from orange and red Habaneros, bright yellow Aji Limón chillies, green Pimientos de Padrón to those in unexpected colours such as purple and black, the spectrum of this mixed planting is as vibrant as a Jackson Pollock canvas.

For those who still like to search out the hottest chilli, they also won’t be disappointed. The heat of a chilli is measured in Scoville units, devised by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. This year, South Devon Chilli Farm has grown a few plants of the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilli with its tongue numbing two million Scoville heat units, some Trinidad Scorpion Butch T peppers which have a mere 1.4 million Scoville heat units and the, once hottest ever but now has been overtaken, Bhut Jolokia chillies at 1 million Scoville heat units.

Talking about these, Steve says that these unbelievably hot chillies really do have to be handled with care. They always use gloves when picking and preparing them there. “They’re not the easiest to grow but it’s worth giving it a go if you’re a serious heat enthusiast.” The Bhut Jolokia chillies are used in the chilli farm’s ‘Extreme’ range of sauces, salsas and chocolates.

The shop and café at South Devon Chilli Farm are open all year round. There’s always someone on site to answer your chilli related questions. Visit southdevonchillifarm.co.uk, call 01548 550 782 or email enquiries@southdevonchillifarm.co.uk.

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