Tuesday 26 April 2011

Chilli Season 2011 : Hydroponics & Builders Buckets

Some of the Crew

This year in particular I’ve done everything in my power to get the chillis as big and bushy as possible in as short space of time as possible to make for a longer season. I started everything off in January in my Vitopod, I pimped the propagator in March and since then I’ve been singing early 19th century Northumberland folk songs to them with my Hurdy Gurdy*.

I started this year off with –

  • Too many Pimento de Padron
  • 3 × Joe’s Long Cayenne
  • 3 × Twilight
  • 2 × Masquerade
  • 3 × Gold Cone
  • 3 × Calderon Jalepeno
  • 5 × Super Chilli
  • 2 × Dorset Naga
  • 2 × Black Naga
  • 1 × Apricot

Most of these have now been planted onto their final home in builders buckets and two lucky specimens (Dorset Naga & a Padron) have been selected for use in my first foray into hydroponics using the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). Here’s how they are all getting on.

Pimento de Padron & Joe’s Long Cayenne

pimento de padron

These chillies are amazing. Pick them unripe and fry them in smoking hot olive oil and then sprinkle with rock salt. Needless to say I wanted lots of these this year and I certainly achieved this. However I do think that I’ve overwatered all but a few of them and as a result, I think I’ve stunted their growth. At first I thought they’d contracted a disease from somewhere, but it’s becoming clear now that I’d probably over watered them.

Over Watered Padrons

You can see from the pictures that the leaves are a “little knackered”. What you can’t make out in the pics is the texture of the leaves As soon as sunlight hits them they wilt and are very tender to the touch. My solution to fix this problem was to put them in large Crystalix tubs and let nature run it’s course. Chillies are tough little cookies and it’ll take more than my over zealous watering to take them out.

The three that have remained in the greenhouse have not suffered this problem however and they’re already starting to flower. Just to be sure though I’ve ordered another five padron plug plants and they’ll be here next week. ( I am curious to see how plants are sent in the post in though )

This was the only remaining Long Cayenne after I’d given away lots of the plants to relatives and it’s also been over watered and left to nature to run it’s course.

Joe's Long Cayenne

Twilight & Gold Cones

These plants haven’t came on as much as the others, but that’s ok because they’re meant for decoration, not harvesting. I’m very excited to see these later on in the year and their multicolour fruit bounty.

Twilight —

NuMex Twilight

Gold Cone —

Gold Cone

Super Chiles & Caldera Jalepeno

I was looking for some early bumper crops this year and these ones look set to do just that. I’ve got two of each plant in the greenhouse and they all look super healthy and are growing in size faster than a similar crop last year.

Super Chile — Super Chile

Caldera Jalepeno — Caldera Jalepeno

Comparison —

2010 cherry bombs and 2011 super chiles


So far this year, this is my favourite plant and is being super productive, it’s fruiting already and the fruits are deep purple. It’s great to see colour in the pods at this stage in the season.

Masquerade Fruits


It’s not the biggest plant in my crop this year, but it is the bushiest, with the Apricot coming a close second.

Apricot & Black Naga

If you haven’t tried one of the super hot chillies you’re missing out; it’s not about the heat though it’s about the taste. Naga (especially Dorset Naga) are the tastiest chillies that I’ve ever tried. The best way to think about them is like fine whiskey - take them in small doses. I’m curious about whether or not the Black Naga’s will turn out black, but if they don’t then I’ve still got a another batch of Naga to freeze - which is no bad thing.

Black Naga —

Black Naga

The Apricots are from Sea Spring Seeds and they promise to pack a full chinense taste, without the heat. In fact it’s documented that they’re as little as 700SHU. This should make for some very tasty salads and some good looking plants because they’re green and habanero shaped when immature, but ripen to apricot as the pods mature.

Apricots —


As with the Black Naga, this plant is not even close to being as big as the others ( which are mostly capsicum annum ) because they’re both capsicum chinense and they do have a longer growing time. They are much bigger than the last years Orange Bhuts where at the same time of year though. Here’s last years Orange Bhuts on exactly the same day —

2010 Orange Bhuts

Last But Not Least - Hydroponics

I’d decided not to go down this route this year, but last week I made a snap decision to give it a try. I’ve opted to go for a NFT tank because this is how the folks from Chllis Galore got started with it all in 2004. The entire system is a GS100 NFT from Greenhouse Sensation and came in at 69.99. I could have probably pieced the parts together cheaper from ebay, but Greenhouse Sensation have been great so far and buying it in one go meant that it was here for the bank holiday weekend.

Here’s the NFT in the corner of the greenhouse.

NFT in the corner

It’s been placed in this location because I’ve got a hunch that the plants will grow massive and I don’t want them to block the afternoon sun from the others. As you can see both plants are looking very happy in the tank. The Dorset Naga took a mini huff at having the soil washed off it’s roots, but it soon perked up.

Close up

This padron was chosen over the others because of it’s structure. If you look at the stem you’ll see that it’s practically three plants. It’s been like that since it was a seedling and because it looks happy and strong, I hope it outputs a boat load of tasty pods for me and the mrs to munch on.

Crazy Padron

If my hydroponic yields are higher than my soil yields then next year I’ll be doing more in hydro.

Plug Plants

Just incase my padrons all fail to produce fruit (highly unlikely, it’s just me being the eternal optimist)I’ve got five plug plants on the way and I’ve also got two coming from Sea Spring ‘Trinity’ a 40,000 SHU habanero type and a ‘Turtle Claw’ a 80,000 SHU which is also a chinense. I have no idea where they’re going to live. I may have to expel one of the Jalepenos and a Super Chile.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.


* Not actually true.