Grow your own chillies to get your food as hot as a scorching summer’s sun. This is perfectly easy in Scotland with the new varieties that tolerate cooler conditions and lower light levels.

These New World chillies arrived in Europe early in the 16th century, and unlike most American imports they quickly became very popular. As with other empires like England, the Spaniards brought home seeds and plants from their colonies, hoping they could exploit their economic value.

Chillies became significant tools in Spain’s conflict with the Dutch and Portuguese. Having tried and failed to control Portugal at the end of the 15th century, Spain was keen to undermine the Portuguese and Dutch spice trade by promoting chillies as an excellent alternative to pepper from the spice islands.

So thanks to the economic war between the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch empires, chillies caught on much more quickly than other New World finds such as tomatoes and potatoes. And they were highly valued by the mid 16th century.

The Herald: Sweet peppersSweet peppers

Capsicums, chillies and sweet peppers, had been developed by American peoples for around 6000 years. Most of our modern varieties belong to one of five species, with most in the species Capsicum annuum.

In their native Americas, some varieties, including those in the confusingly named Capsicum annuum, grow as quite large perennials. It is challenging but just possible to treat individual chilli plants as perennials in Scotland but much easier to treat them as annuals.

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As ever, I recommend growing chillies from seed if you have facilities to do so. You’ll easily find 20 or more varieties available in catalogues in a rainbow of colours and different shapes and heat strengths. Some behave like Ohnivec, with the fruits starting pale yellow, intensifying to orange and finally ripening to deep red. The darker the colour, the fierier the flavour, so pick yellow ones if you’re only after a hint of heat.

Get sowing now. When treating as an annual, chillies need a long growing season to produce a good crop.

Vitally, capsicums need temperatures of 20-25C and plenty of light, so place seed trays in a small propagator in a sunny place. Germination rates are fair but not brilliant. Even so, I can be sure of four plants by sowing six seeds and I only use a small quarter-size tray, sowing the usefully pale yellow seed very thinly. The seedlings then develop two pairs of true leaves before transplanting.

Plants prefer a small pot that restricts root growth so only transplant into 7cm pots and wait till the roots emerge from the bottom before transplanting into the final 10-15 litre container.

Keep the moisture levels right. The compost should be damp, but never wet. With a propagator, check the gravel base to ensure water hasn’t built up in the gravel. When we were away on holiday, a kind friend was often overly generous with the water. I came home to find the propagator’s grit was buried beneath an inch of water.

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And when fully grown, I always empty the saucer under the pot to prevent deadly water building up inside and rotting the roots.

Plant of the week
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite, is a member of the buttercup family with bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers that sit in a ruff of deeply divided green bracts. Winter aconites thrive under deciduous trees in semi shade and well drained soil. 
If happy they can spread to form impressive drifts of yellow that really brighten up the garden.
Like snowdrops, they are best planted “in the green” when clumps are divided after flowering. The small, knobbly tubers can be planted in early autumn but some will fail and others may well not flower the first spring. But perseverance and patience can pay off.

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