It’s been a hot year in the greenhouse and the chillies have enjoyed every sweltering second. Sown in early January, they developed into sturdy seedlings by March and were ready to go out in the greenhouse by late May. I chose fewer varieties of chilli seeds this year in an effort to fit all my plants in the available space alongside the cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and cucamelons, and it worked – just!
Best chilli varieties to grow at home
I picked varieties based on their heat, flavour and uses – some for chillies and curries, some for our spicy homemade chilli jam and pickles, some for their ornamental value, and others for stuffing.
‘Prairie Fire’, described as an ‘ornamental edible’, and the stunning ‘Numex Twilight’ add interest to the kitchen windowsill or patio table with their upturned chillies ripening from green through cream, yellow, orange, red and purple. They produce hot fruit – great for curries and for extra-spicy jam.
‘Hot Lemon’ is an attractive variety with prolific yellow fruits and an aromatic citrus flavour. It suffuses my pickled chilli liqueur with a sweet tang, works well in Thai soups, and is delicious stuffed with cream cheese for those with an adventurous, heat-loving palate. Another prolific cropper this year is ‘Joe’s Long’. My plants have produced many long fruits which look like curled cayennes and are fabulous dried and hung in the kitchen ready for winter chillies, stews and broths.
Chillies to bake
Baked chillies stuffed with cream cheese is one of my favourite autumn suppers: for this I tend to use varieties with sweet, fruity flavours and less heat. The mellow ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and the mild but flavoursome ‘Trinidad Perfume’ are particular favourites, along with ‘Ubatuba’ and ‘Bolsa de Dulce’ (both Capsicum baccatum rather than the more common Capsicum annuum). Baccatum means ‘berrylike’ and ‘Bolsa de Dulce’ translates as ‘bag of sweetness’.
This variety certainly produces fragrant, large fruits rather like sweet peppers but more aromatic and productive, and we’ve had more chillies from these varieties this year than ever before.
Try a chilli tree
Tree chillies (Capsicum pubescens) are an another unusual type that require a long growing period and plenty of heat to mature. I grow ‘Albertos Locoto’ and use the extremely hot fruits for baking, frying or slicing into salads, as they work best fresh.
One advantage of tree chillies is that they tolerate lower temperatures which means they’re well suited to over-wintering and can continue fruiting for up to fifteen years. I’ve had tree chillies in the house fruiting on Christmas Day in previous years.
Extend the chilli growing season
It’s possible to kick start the fruiting season early by growing varieties like ‘Vampire’, and ‘Hungarian Black’. These dramatic chillies have deep purple flowers and relatively mild, Jalapeno-shaped fruits with an eye-catching purple-black shine. They both begin fruiting in July, so by growing these attractive plants alongside tree chillies, it’s possible to extend the fruiting season significantly.
We have a busy few weeks ahead: drying and pickling our chillies, and preserving them in jams to make the most of the bounty brought on by the hot weather. And, as the nights draw in, I’ll be sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of baked chillies, leafing through the seed catalogues, happily concocting my fiery chilli plans for next year…
Head over to our dedicated chillies and sweet peppers hub page for growing inspiration and more fantastic articles on these fiery fruits.
Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Beth Chatto Environmental Award, 2019). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She blogs at www.dogwooddays.net, and Guardian Country Diarist based in North Hertfordshire.
She works for BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and her writing has featured in anthologies, journals and magazines including The English Garden, The Garden (RHS Magazine), BBC Wildlife Magazine and the John Clare Society Journal.