“SHU” stands for “Scoville Heat Units” and refers to the system used to scientifically measure the pungency of chillies (how hot they are). It is named after its creator, a man named Wilber Scoville.

In 1912 he worked for Parke Davis Pharmaceutical Company and was working on a muscle cream that used capsaicin, the substance in chilli peppers that gives them their heat. He was able to devise a method of reliably rating how hot a chilli pepper was by mixing whole ground peppers in a solution of water and sugar. This was sipped by a panel of five testers, in increasing dilution’s, until it reached the point that it no longer burned the mouth.

Here’s a quick view of the approximate Scoville ratings for some of the varieties that we grow:

Sweet Banana (and all other sweet peppers): SHU = 0

Poblano: SHU = 1000 – 1500

Hungarian Hot Wax: SHU = 3500 – 5000

Jalapeno: SHU = 4000 – 6000

Super Chilli F1: SHU = 35000 – 40000

Orange Habanero: SHU = 250000 – 350000

For many years I didn’t really know the answer.  Having tasted lots of chillies that were mature sized but unripe and ripe…I couldn’t tell the difference.

There is now some Scoville testing results of red and green chillies of the same variety and the red ones come out hotter overall.  It’s not a huge difference but the red ones are technically hotter on average.

In my personal opinion, the change of color of the chilli from green to red affects the flavour more than the heat. The sugar content increases when it becomes red, much the same as a tomato, and I believe the flavour evolves and becomes sweeter.

Although both chilli and sweet pepper plants are generally ‘grown’ as annuals here in the UK they are actually classified as ‘tender perennials’ and it is certainly possible to get second and third seasons out of the plant.

Chilli plants generally require a minimum temperature of 7 degrees centigrade. In order for you to extend your season and possibly get a second season out of them you will need to move your plant into a heated greenhouse or into the house. The plant will need to sit somewhere that it can get as much natural light as possible. A sunny kitchen windowsill or a conservatory are both perfect locations. Although you can control the temperature by moving the plant indoors it is sometimes impossible to counteract the extremely small amounts of daylight we get during the very short days in the dead of winter. Chilli plants may very well go into a dormant state. They often lose their leaves and some of their stems will dry up. The plant may appear dead. Remove all remaining chillies in late December. Water the plant less frequently, about once a week. In the new year, if the plant has made it, as the days begin getting longer you will see new growth starting low on the main stem. Cut the old dead stems back to where you see some green. It is a good idea to re-pot the plant into a larger pot with some fresh, multi-purpose compost. Alternatively, feed the plant with a little Miracle Grow.

This is another good question that we frequently get asked. Chillies, when they’re getting ready to change color, will frequently start changing color by displaying these dark purple/blackish spots on them. This is nothing to worry about. You will soon have a red chilli.

Is it ‘Chilli’, ‘Chili’, ‘Chile’, ‘Chilies’, or even ‘Chillies’?

Being an American and living in England I have to admit I’ve struggled with this question as much as anyone. I believe that the answer is ‘it just depends on what part of the world you’re in’; however, in my research I’ve found a LOT of debate and text devoted to the subject.

Obviously, the popular British spelling is “Chilli” and “Chili” is the spelling used widely in the USA and Canada. “Chile” is the Mexican-Spanish term for Capsicums. It is also used in New Mexico and interestingly, many US newspapers have changed their spelling to “Chile” in recent years.

Dave DeWitt, author of “The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia” and an acknowledged international expert on chilli peppers says “In conclusion, the many spellings and the syntax of the words used to describe the Capsicum genus will never be standardized.”

Aphids, specifically greenfly, seem to be the most common pest risk for chillies. If you only have a few plants, we have found no better method of pest control for greenfly than just simply removing them by hand. Alternatively, you can spray the leaves with a spray bottle containing a solution of water and a couple drops of washing up liquid. The solution prevents the insects from being able to land on the leaves. This is essentially what you’ll be getting if you purchase an Organic pesticide from a garden centre. Whitefly can also sometimes be a problem with capsicum’s. This is true particularly with plants grown in a greenhouse or indoors. You will notice little tiny white flies swarming around the plant. If you catch Whitefly quickly you can just put the plant outside for a day and that may disperse them. Alternatively, use the same solution described above for aphids or purchase an Organic pesticide.

This is mostly dependent on the amount of natural light the plant is getting. For example, if we’re getting long spells of direct sun (few or no clouds) you’ll need to water your plant a little every day. When its cloudy and dull, water the plant less frequently, about every other day or every three days depending on the length of the days (time of year). A good indicator is to touch the compost with your finger. If it is moist the plant is fine. If its dry it’ll need water. Try and avoid over-watering.

Once you’ve re-potted your plant with standard, multi-purpose compost there will be enough nutrients in the new compost to last for about three weeks. After that your plants will certainly need a boost of plant food regularly.  We stock Easy To Grow fertilizer which is ideal or you can use any plant food designed for tomatoes. Follow the instructions that come with your fertilizer.

Chilli Ranch Tip:  Mix approximately 30% Perlite or Clay Balls into your compost to increase drainage.  This will bring oxygen to the root zone and will really benefit growth.

Do chilli peppers need another plant to pollinate?  No.  Chilli peppers are wind and self pollinating and although we would be pleased to sell you as many plants as you would like, you will only need one plant in order to get Chillies.

Chilli Ranch Tip:  The real key here is making sure your plant does pollinate itself.  Although they are self-pollinating they do need some help.  Bees are the obvious answer.  Make sure your plant is outside on a patio or an open greenhouse where the bees and other pollinating insects can get to the plant when it is flowering.  Air movement is another critical necessity.  Get the air moving around the plant and this will also help pollination.  Finally, you can do it yourself if you want.  Just get a cotton bud or small paintbrush or even just your finger and go from flower to flower giving them a little tickle.  All of these can help ensure you get chillies.

We frequently get calls and messages from customers saying the flowers are falling off of their chilli plants and asking what causes this.  Flower drops on chilli plants are not uncommon and can happen for a variety of reasons.  Strong wind, changes in temperature or humidity, under watering, and even just re-potting can shock the plant into dropping flowers but the most common reason by far is lack of pollination.  Normally this is when the plant is indoors where there is little air movement and no pollinating insects.

Get the plant out on the patio where the bees can do their thing.  Monitor and try to maintain your growing conditions.  Avoid big swings in temperature or humidity and keep a good circulation of air around the plant.  Even if that means buying a small fan and putting it on a timer to move air around a few times per day.  Chilli plants are very resilient and, given good growing conditions, the plant should recover well and continue flowering and producing chillies.

We’re getting asked these questions more and more and the term “Organic” has become widely used yet also widely misunderstood. Ignoring the obvious, that any carbon based substance is organic, and focusing specifically on the more widely intended definition… that of ’foodstuff grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides’, I can say we’re much closer to the mark.

But on the farmers market (and in the supermarket), the term “Organic” takes on a much more specific meaning. One is only allowed to legally use the term if their company subscribes to one of the organic production schemes administered by one of several certification authorities. There are seven different certification authorities in the UK. Each have their own criteria and costs for becoming certified. The Soil Association has the most well known programme. Basically, producers comply with the standards of the program and are vetted over a period of years. Once certified, they are then allowed to use the “Organic” description to market their products.  And of course they can command a premium for this produce.

So far, we have not yet signed up with any of the organic franchises.  We are always reviewing both the advantages and disadvantages of these schemes (and others) and we will certainly join if we determine it will be in the best interest of the business. We are; however, supremely confident both of the healthiness and traceability of our crops.

We manage our greenhouses using a system called “Integrated Crop Management” (ICM). ICM has evolved specifically to address the growing concerns of ‘traceability’ and ‘healthiness’ of our food. It emphasizes various, progressive steps designed to keep crops healthy and productive.  It starts with obvious steps such as reducing weeds, companion planting and environmental controls. We know that these good practices will dramatically reduce the risks of pests and diseases; however, in the unfortunate event of these problems ICM offers many options, depending on the unique situation, including biological controls right through to using safe, government approved insecticides as a last resort.

Peppers, which are our main crop, are very resilient to pests and diseases and historically we’ve not needed to use chemicals. The main challenge is aphids. We have always found that biological controls are effective in dealing with our little green nemesis’.

If you really feel strongly about ‘organic’ food then I encourage you to learn more about the various schemes and what they really mean.

For example; did you know that “organic” produce can be sprayed? That’s right, certain chemicals ‘are’ allowed within the various organic scheme’s. There’s a good chance your ‘organic’ potato has, in fact, been sprayed since the soil association programme allows the use of up to seven different chemicals.

Also, not all producers or sellers who use the term organic are actually certified. If you feel strongly about organic products then I encourage you to get your supplier to prove it by showing you their certificate.

And make sure the certificate covers the products that you’re buying. Many producers will only be certified in one (1) crop. An organic producer, for example, may only be certified in sweet corn but they might also grow and sell potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and brussel sprouts.

Finally, it’s important to point out that much of the produce sold as Organic here in the UK is imported from abroad where the organic schemes, standards, and importantly, enforcement, are very different than those in place here in the UK.

I know these points complicate the issues; however I think the answer is simple. My suggestion is to buy your produce from local producers. You can find them at your local farmers markets, farm shops and box schemes.  Speak to the seller and ask them how they grow their crops. And, if you’re looking for an Organic producer, there’s a good chance you will very likely find a ‘local’ one at the market.

With chillies you need to look at size. When the chilli reaches a mature size, for that particular variety, it will have full heat and full flavour. Obviously, any chilli that has changed colour to its final colour (red in many cases) is ready to pick. You can pick them green or pick them red…just look at the size of the pod and make sure it is mature.

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