The Chilli Trial: my experiments

In January I happily agreed to join the vegetablism chilli trail and @5olly sent me my 5 varieties in plastic bags: Piqullo, Guindilla, Hungarian Yellow Wax, NuMex Centennial and Chiltepin. Here’s my report on progress, accompanied by my usual out-of-focus pictures:

Seeds for Chilli Trail 2013

I duly sowed 2 of each on 17th February, keen to see them germinate and grow. I was a little concerned that I’d not be able to germinate the Chiltepin as I wasn’t entirely sure how I could imitate the digestive system of a bird: This variety is one of the hardest to germinate as it usually passes through a bird’s digestive system 1st.

My preparations were elaborate; I don’t have a heated propagator, but I know chilli seeds need heat to make heat so had sat the tray on top of several hotwater bottles for a couple of days to warm the compost before sowing. After sowing, I kept the hotwater bottles heated for 10 days, morning and evening, the tray wrapped in an old towel and bubblewrap – never have seeds been so lovingly nurtured! My attempt at substituting hotwater bottles for a heated propagator, so successful with lettuce seed and leeks in January, failed miserably with chilli seeds – seems they need constant temperatures of 21oC until germination – obviously not hot enough for them – or dud seed?

seeds in damp kitchen roll

I think perhaps I may have germinated some of the seeds, but if so, they’re not doing very much, possibly sulking in the cold. I’ve since retrieved the single seeds I kept back ‘in case’ and am going to try another experiment: soaking and chitting them. I’ve wrapped them in kitchen roll and popped them back into their plastic bags, dampened them with warm water and have left them on top of the radiator. I ‘mislaid’ 2 of the seeds as I returned them to their bags, so only 3 in my experiment, now.

 Are these chilli seedlings: Chiltipin & NuMex possibly?
Chiltipin chilli seedling?

NuMex Centennial chilli?

Winter’s over when my peas start growing!

Last year I was late getting our pea crops in the ground because the winter continued cold & wet through January. On 17th January last year, I noted that we’d had over 1 month of snow, with freezing temperatures. We had also lost our fruit cages due to the weight & volume of snow accumulated. The brassicas that had stood over winter, particularly the Red sprouting Broccoli, had suffered from the freezing temperatures & I had to strip most of the leaves because they’d actually frozen, probably due to the brassica beds being in a frost pocket at the bottom of our allotment. I also noted: ‘Been v. wet-tomorrow promises to be a wet, windy stormy day. We both have storming colds!’ Jan 27th 2010.

For those of you living in colder, more northerly areas, this is probably nothing new, but for the South Downs it is; we have usually very mild winters, but 2010 & 2011 seem to herald a change that is prompting us to re-think our sowing & planting strategies.

I didn’t get our early peas into the ground until mid-April last year, from chitting them in late February, pods at the end of June. I’ve been determined to get a crop earlier this year, so chitted some early peas at the beginning of January,planted out in root trainers, in the ground mid February. To protect the plants from both the cold & the pigeons I enclosed them with blue builders netting (picture below). These were planted out in February; yesterday I took the netting off, put hoops of blue water conduit over & netted with fruitcage netting. I also planted spinach seedlings along each frame (have still to download picture to illustrate this – will post later). I never sow peas in the ground due to marauding mice/rats/squirrels digging them up – I’m not sure even soaking them in urine (recommended by some!) would help. Instead, I soak, chit & plant out in root trainers as explained earlier.

I usually have 2 rows of peas lengthways along each bed; I use chicken wire threaded on posts (old bamboo or stout sticks) with thinner bamboo/sticks threaded along the top to prevent the wire collapsing once the peas have grown. Once I’ve a frame made, since all the beds I’ll grow peas in are approximately the same size, it’s just folded away each autumn/winter & stored until the following spring. I leave enough space between the frames to allow picking comfortably.

early peas-Piccolo Provenzale, in kitchen extension before planting out

Piccolo Provenzale peas planted in bed either side of chickenwire frame

I’ve produced a chart so you can see what I’ve done & the time frames involved; I’ll up-date it as the crops develop. I’m also planting up whole beds, or at least am keeping 1 variety of pea to each frame: this helps when seed-saving so you don’t get confused about what variety you’ve saved & don’t end up with tubs of saved “misc peas’!

You might be interested to note when the full moons were in relation to chitting & planting out:19th Jan, 18th Feb, 19th March.The new moon in January was on the 4th, hence chitting the 1st set of peas on 5-6th. The 19th March full moon was particularly strong & it’s influence seemed to lag particularly over 2 days afterwards (more in a later post).

Pea Variety Soaked/ chitted In root trainers In ground
Piccolo Provencale1 – 1st E round seed 5-6th Jan 16th Jan 21st Feb
Piccolo Provencale2 16-18th Jan 27th Jan 21st Feb
Douce Provence – 1stE round seed 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Early Onward1 – 1stE wrinkled seed 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 12th March
Robinson HSL (CP) 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Clarke’s Beltony Blue (CP) 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Hugh’s Huge (CP) 13-14th Feb 23rd Feb 19th March
Bijou Giant Sugar Pea (CP) 16-17th March 24th March
Early Onward2 16-17th March 24th March