Gardening: More than fiery heat to the ever-popular chilli pepper

The decorative chilli Loco.
The decorative chilli Loco.

The heat is on ... 2018 has been designated the Year of the Pepper, but there’s more to this vegetable than just fire.

If you’re wondering who decides this, Fleuroselect Home Garden Association, an international non-profit organisation, chooses a vegetable and flower each year, designed to boost seed and plant sales.

Seedsman Mr Fothergill’s wants gardeners to forget about the fire and explore the wide range of flavours in the chilli kingdom.

If you don’t like the heat, growing the world’s hottest chilli isn’t going to be your thing, but the capsicum family has something for everyone.

Mr Fothergill’s trials manager, Alison Mulvaney, said: “The recent introduction of Capsicum annuum Biquino Yellow is a perfect example of a chilli chosen for flavour not heat. This mild Brazilian pepper carries an interesting smoky flavour with just a little heat to add a mild spice and aroma to any dish.”

Apart from C. annuum, mild Peruvian ‘Aji’ chillies are favourites with chefs at the moment. These Capsicum baccatum varieties produce an abundance of medium-sized chillies with a sweet, fruity flavour laid over a mild to medium heat.

Havana Gold is new for this season and is a good introduction to the Ajis, providing a complex fruity flavour and manageable, mild heat.

Capsicum chinense is the dominant species in the Caribbean, with fiery habaneros and Scotch bonnets bringing a balance of sweet, sour and fruitiness to dishes along with intense heat. There are also varieties that carry the pungent flavours with no heat, such as Trinidad Perfume.

For more information, visit www.mr.fothergills.co.uk.

* The heat of a chilli is measured on The Scoville Scale in Scoville heat units (SHU), or capsaicin concentration, named after its creator, US pharmacist Wilbur Scoville.

SHU values range from 0 in a sweet bell pepper to 2,000,000-2,200,000 in a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, or Carolina Reaper.

CHILLI LOCO

I’m no fan of hot chillies, but Loco is compact (about 2ft), bushy and covered with inch-long cone-shaped fruits held above the foliage like little fairy lights.

The fruits start purple/cream, changing from orange to red – the look like plump blackcurrants. Despite its name, Loco is not that hot, slightly less than a cayenne pepper, a medium heat level of about 24,000 SHU.

Which Gardening Chilli Trials 2012 recommended it as a Best Buy and it is UK bred, so makes an excellent plant for the patio.

You’ll find it at Thompson & Morgan, Suttons, Sea Spring Seeds, The Eden Project, Dobies and DT Brown Seeds.

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JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND

Sow broad beans in pots in a cold greenhouse, cloche or cold frame for early crops next June.

Sow green manure such as field beans and grazing rye in empty beds.

Finish pruning blackberries and autumn-fruiting raspberries

Make a cross-cut in cabbage stems when harvesting to encourage a further crop.

Plant wallflowers, forget-me-not, Bellis, Primula, Viola (including winter pansies) and other spring bedding plants in prepared ground or pots.

Continue to plant spring-flowering bulbs.

Plant new herbaceous perennials, as the soil still has some warmth, but is moister than it was during the summer. Lift and divide poor flowering or overcrowded herbaceous plants. Remove stakes and other supports as herbaceous plants die down for the winter.

Lily bulbs can be planted up in pots.

Lift tender bulbs, such as Galtonia and Tigridia.

Continue collecting and storing seed from perennials still forming seedheads.

Grey mould (Botrytis) can be problematic in wet weather. Remove affected leaves and other parts as soon as the symptoms are seen.

Pot up prepared hyacinth bulbs if not done last month. This way you will have them flowering for Christmas or new year. Plant up containers with Hippeastrum (amaryllis) bulbs for a new year display.

Sweet peas can be sown early, in the glasshouse, for next spring.