29th March - Operation Mousetrap Begins

Well after enduring hoards of slime slugs, scorching sun rays and plagues of mice, the fight back has begun!! After a trip to the local DIY store, I have returned with more bags of seed compost, seed trays, protective netting and some mice poison. I regard myself as an animal lover and have, in the past turned a blind eye to the odd slimy trail or mouse dropping beside the dog’s bag of biscuits (stored outside). But after seeing a whole seasons worth of seedlings wiped out in one night, I have reluctantly begun Operation Mouse Trap.

After surveying the bewildering range of mouse annihilating products in store, I opted for two poison filled plastic bait boxes rather than the conventional decapitating mouse traps. The bait boxes contain a slimly looking green mixture which the instructions promise will unleash a quick and relatively painless death to any of my hungry furry friends. I hope death is quick as the last thing I want to do is to finish off a half dead mouse writhing around in agony – even if it was the critter that ate my 7 pod plant.

Just before bed last night, I placed the two bait boxes in the outhouse well out of reach of our inquisitive dog. I awoke this morning to find that the first night of operation mouse trap went surprising well, maybe too well. Three rather cute looking, but distinctly dead mice were lying on the floor of the outhouse, which I quickly scooped up using one of the dogs ‘poo bags’ before introducing them to their new home – the bin. However, I don’t know whether I’m now more worried than relieved. I was expecting to find one, maybe two dead mice over the first few days of operation mouse trap, but three in the first few hours!! I hope I’m not introducing too many more mice to the bin over the next few days. A few stray mice I can live with but not an infestation.

Death Count Update:
Day 1: Five!!
Day 2: Five
Day 3: Two
Day 4: One
Day 5: One
Day 6: Zero (problem sorted?)

27th March - Looks like my seasons over before its begun

Its looks like my chilli growing season has ended almost before it has begun. Just when I thought it couldnt get any worse, Ive just been down to chilehouse to find my last tray of 25 varieties of Chinense, Pubescens and wild chiles species (the only survivors of this weekends mouse attack) have been cremated by todays strong sun. When I planted up a load more seeds on Sunday to replace the ones felled by the mice, I mistakenly mixed up the propagator of seedlings with another one and left it in the direct sun light rather than the shade. The result - 70 or so cremated seedlings and only two very sick looking survivors - a Jamacian Red Hot (which is even hotter now!) and a sole Trinidad Scorpion. The biggest blow is my pride and joy - my sole 7 pod seedling. Thats been baked to obilivion and back.

In all my years of chilli growing Ive never experienced such a devastating series of set backs. It looks like I going to be concentrating on developing the chileman site and a series of sauces rather than growing chillis this year. Im so gutted Im just lost for words. Im off to drown my sorrows in a nice bottle of red wine.

24th March - Disaster Strikes - my army is chopped / eaten down!!

I've woken today to a scene of total decimation and heartbreak. It was only yesterday that I posted details of how my little army of chile seedlings were roaring along. Today is a different matter as the 'curse of the black pearl' as Im now calling it has stuck again (I been jinxed ever since I took possession of that black pearl plant - thanks Tony!). The culprits are not the 'Darlington Slugs' but an even worse menace - mice! They have some how got into the outhouse, chewed clean through one of my plastic propagators before eating alive all my little seedlings. I'm absolutely gutted.

On a brighter note most of the seedlings lost are annuums which germinate pretty quickly so its only set me back a fortnight or so. I'm pretty sure have got replacement seeds and time is still on my side so all is not lost. My other tray of seedlings containing the slower to germinate species (Chinense/Pubescens) and the rarer wild varieties has escaped relatively untouched . This tray contains all my Trinidad Scorpions and the highly prized 7 Pod seedlings so it could have been so much worse.

Well, I'm going to have to get myself of to the garden centre, buy some more seed compost and some mousetraps. I hate these little bastards so much, I think I'll leave out a plate of my Naga Snakebite sauce for them to try. That should ensure a nice painful slow death!

23rd March - My little Army's on the move

Well its two weeks since i planted the first batch on this years seeds, one tray of mainly Annuums (Purple Prince, Masquarade, Fish etc) and another tray of Chinense, Pubescens and some wild species. As expected nearly all of the annum varieties germinated within the first 7 days and after two weeks I have had nearly 100% germination. Indeed all 20 annuum varieties planted have germinated.

The chinense species inparticular require slightly higher germination temperatures and normally take a little longer to germinate. Pubescens seeds with their distintive black colour have slightly thicker seed walls and these also tend to require a little more time . However the old 'electric blanket trick' has once again worked its magic and 26 or the 32 or so varieties planted have at least 1 out of 3 seeds poking through. These include 10 out of 16 Trinidad Scorpions and one out of two 7 pod seeds. I'll be taking extra precautions to make sure the slugs don't nibble these little gems.

A full list of the 50 or so varieties I have selected to grow this year (so far) can be found here.

The only ones Im waiting on are chinense species Aji Chombo (0 out of 3), Potka Booni Morich (0 out or 6), Ivorian Pimente and Super Pube (PI 595622), a pubescens, although my 'Hyper Pube' and 'Ultra Pube' have germinated fine. Three wild species Capsicum Eximium, CGN19198 (Capsicum Sp) and Capscum Lanceolatum have yet to rear their heads also. Not only are seeds of the wild species very difficult to get hold off, in my experience they tend to be very difficult to germinate. In previous years some have taken up to 6 weeks to germinate. I like a challenge!

The Curse of the Black Pearl

Well this years chilli growing season is barely underway and already the 'Darlington Slugs' have already claimed their first victim. One my friends, Tony Ford (of Naga seeds fame) sent me a luscious, glossy black leaved little plant back in December and it had been growing nicely on my kitchen windowsill. The plant - a Black Pearl is one of the most beautiful chile varieties I have come across and this is what it should look like.

With the weather getting a little warmer, I thought I would transfer my plant to the chile house. Two days later this is the result- absolute carnage. Not only have these slimey little bastards devoured every single leave, they have even chewed half the stem. A 8 inches plant devoured to a paulty 2in stub in one night. Ive got the salt and scissors at the ready and the season first slug hunt is imminent!!

10th March - First Chilli seeds hit the compost

Its Saturday the 10th of March. After a cold, dark and depressing winter the mornings are starting to get a little lighter (and the nights a little longer), the weather getting warmer and the daffodills are starting to open in my garden. The crisp early morning sun is beating down and the birds are singing my favourite Lilac tree. If you listen really carefully, you can even here the sound of chilli seeds been dropped into seed trays - yes its that time of year again, chile growing season. Wipeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

Ive been a little slower of the mark that Julian, but patience is a virtue in the chilli growing game. Most people in the UK start plant seeds in late January/early Feburary and there is nothing wrong with that, particulary if you are using artifcal lighting or growing some of the slower germinating varieties like Habaneros and Naga Morich. Most people (like Julian) just can't wait.

However when natural light levels still pretty low and the risk of a sharp frost still present up until May or so (bad news for young tender plants), up here in Darlington I usually leave it a few more weeks. Anyway with milder autuums becoming more of the norm, even up here in the North of England, the chilli growing season extends right through to October/November so theres plenty of time to get those seeds in the soil if you havent done do already. In previous years, ive planted some of the shorter season varieties like Cayenne and Jalapeno as late as June and still had pods ready in time for my homemade chilli con carnes.

New Chilli Grower?
If youve never grown chillis before don't despair. Despite their 'exotic' appearence, chilli peppers are actually from the same horticultural family as the humble tomato & potato and are an absolute doddle to grow. Luckily unlike the boring potato, they are thousands of highly ornamental and tasty varieties to grow. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they come in every colour imaginable, except bright blue! They grow quite happily in plant pots or window containers so you don't need an allotment. You don't even need a garden or a greenhouse or even soil! (see hydroponics). All chilli plants require is a warm spot, well drained soil, the occasional light sprinkling of fertiliser and a little loving care.

I grow most of my plants in containers as well as in the chilehouse (my cedar greenhouse), the out house, garden borders and anywhere else the missus will let me squezze a few in.
Before I waffle on anymore, if you fancy growing something different this year why not get yourself down to the garden centre, buy a bag of seed compost, a couple of cheap plant pots, some plant labels and some chilli seeds. Thompson & Morgans stock and excellent range of starter chilli peppers. If your really stuck for seeds, or need further advice www.thechileman.org will be more than happy to help you. If your new to growing chillis and are interested in finding out, more about how to grow them, click on these links for a beginners guide and a more detailed starting seeds & germinatiion guide.

This year Im trying my best to restrain myself (to keep in the missus good books) and have limited myself to 50 or so varieties. You can find my provisional growing list here.

Chilli growing is such an addictive hobby and Ive made many new friends on the various forums dedicated to chilli growing. Even if you plant only one or two varieties this year for a bit of fun, you'll get loads of advice and support on these forums and I'll guarantee you 'll want to grow many more varieties next year.

Good luck


Over wintering your Chilli plants

Contrary to popular belief Chile pepper plants are perennials and can grow for many years if over wintered successfully. Unfortunately over wintering your precious plants can prove to be a very fickle & frustrating affair.

However you can improve your chances of success by:

- Growing specific varieties that are more cold tolerant
- Artifically improving the climate in which they grow
- Correctly harvesting plants prior to over wintering
- Keeping pests and diseases at bay
- Controlling water regimes

Ive had many over wintering successes & failures over the years and if you want to read a more comprehensive guide on how best to overwinter your chilli plants click here

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