Cambridge Chilli farmer, Tim Murphy chats to Resident about growing, cooking and eating chillis
Tim Murphy with his son Harry at the Benington Lordship Chilli Festival last year
Q: What common mistakes do amateur gardeners make when growing chillis at home?
A: The most common misconception about chilli plants is that they require high temperatures to grow well. In fact, when plants in a greenhouse are subjected to temperatures above 35C, flowers start to drop and pollen becomes sterile. Daytime temperatures of around 25C are fine for most varieties.
A lot of people think that a windowsill is an ideal position for a chilli plant, but it really isn’t. The fluctuations in temperature are too great and the plant will have a tendency to lean towards the light. There’s no airflow (important for pollination and to reduce the risk of disease). Plants kept outside are less likely to suffer from aphids because the insects that predate on the aphids can get to the plants.
Q: What are your top tips for growing chillis successfully in an urban garden?
A: Start as early as you can with seed sowing – we do this at the end of January.
For plants in pots use a soil-based compost (John Innes No3) rather than peat-based. The latter is difficult to re-wet once dried out.
Drainage is important too. It’s far better for the plants to need watering regularly than to be sitting in a poorly drained, claggy compost.
Plants can be fed when the first flowers open with a half strength general tomato feed. Although chilli peppers belong to the same family as tomatoes, they aren’t as hungry so be sure not to over feed.
Q: Which varieties are easy to grow and what do you do with them?
A: Jalapeno: Pick when green (late June onwards), stuff with cream cheese, wrap in bacon, wrap up in foil and cook under a grill or on a barbeque. There’s no better snack!
Ring of Fire: A heavy cropper producing fairly hot red chillis from mid June onwards. These are great for Thai style cooking.
Aji Limon: Originates from Peru and is one of my favourites. Plants are usually large and one of the best for producing a big crop. It will need support as the plant grows. The chillis start off green, before ripening to a bright yellow, are quite hot and have a distinct citrus/lemon flavour. Great with fish and chicken.
Q: What’s the most unusual variety you grow?
A: One of the most notable of recent years is the Yellow 7 Pot chilli. It is a ‘super-hot’ variety, producing large, rounded, rough skinned fruits which have a distinct pineapple flavour.
- Cambridge Chilli Farm will be at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market in Market Square on Sundays 12th, 19th 26th August