15 Aug 2016

Best seen from above (my chillies, I mean)

I'm such an noodlehead when it comes to gardening thoughts, being easily diverted from my path by the moment - a chance sighting of a spectacular plant or a conversation peppered with useful tips will send me veering off at a tangent.

As a result of this tendency to wiffle about, I tend to post about something and subsequently fail to return to the subject.  I was reminded of this as I heaved one of my chilli plants back onto the bench from the floor - it's put there when my son wants to create a space to sit in my plant stuffed balcony.

When I look out onto my tiny balcony, I see how beautifully the chilli plants are growing.  I last wrote about these chillies as tiny newly bought plants so it's time for an update.

Chilli 'Tangerine Dream'
~ Chilli 'Tangerine Dream' ~

Viewed from above, Tangerine Dream is a handsome beast of a plant. I am (usually) pants at growing chillies so, flushed with success, I'm sharing this update to show that anyone can have a go and achieve a beautiful plant, whether the fruit gets eaten or simply admired.

I'll confess that I have no idea how best to use these particular chillies (suggestions invited!) but they are undeniably fun and frivolous as chillies go.  I'm accustomed to the more generic red supermarket chillies for my cooking but was intrigued by the names and trying something a little unusual.

Chilli 'Fairy Lights'
~ Chilli 'Fairy Lights' ~

Tangerine Dream is a relatively mild vegetable chilli while Fairy Lights, being a spice chilli, is considerably hotter, although nowhere near the heat of superhot chillies.  When will they be ready to pick?  I have no idea!  I'm not sure that I want that day to come as these plants are a joy to behold at the moment.  Fairy Lights is currently gearing up to transform its fruit from purple through yellow into red - the colours during this change are sublime.

~ Chilli 'Thai Green Curry' ~

The chilli that I grew myself from seed this year is Thai Green Curry (also from Sea Spring Seeds); It's another mild vegetable chilli but has long slim pods.  I sowed the seeds just after I bought the other two plants so Thai Green is less developed than those. At the moment there's only one chilli pod but lots of flowers so I'm hoping for more.  This is not such a pretty plant but may well be more useful. It will be good to have a choice for once - surely the whole point of growing your own!

Growing notes: (What worked for me)
Buy small or sow early indoors (mid-February)
Pot on into 10 litre pot when plant is about 3 inches tall. Be careful not to handle the stem.
Use good multi purpose compost; mix in added fertilizer, eg chicken manure pellets
Water when top 2 inches of soil in the pot feels dry.
Give a boost by watering in additional plant food, eg, liquid seaweed.
Grow in a mild sheltered environment - next to a sunny house wall is ideal.

Both of the purchased chillies have been very sturdy healthy plants that have grown steadily.  I followed the advice given by Sea Spring Seeds at purchase and repotted the plants into their final 12 litre pots using good compost (Dalefoot peat free) with added chicken manure pellets.  They've been fed when I remember (but not more frequently than weekly) using either Tomorite, liquid seaweed or even orchid food added to the watering can; all promote flowering and fruiting. I watered when the soil felt dry at a couple of inches depth.  I didn't move them on from 12 litre pots because, with three chilli plants growing, that's all I have room for on the balcony.  Even so, the plants are a good chunky size.

8 Aug 2016

Full of beans - a recipe for Broad Bean and Mint Hummus

Broad bean hummus

Did you know there's a whole web page dedicated to bean words?  I came across it seeking inspiration for this post title;  let's face it,  there are only so many ways you can sell a post about beans - even in the height of summer!  My favourites? (and I will try and work these into future posts) Clan of the Cave Bean, Love me tendril and The Unbearable Lightness of Bean. No? Alright, then.

But I digress... When I cleared my first sowing of broad beans a couple of weeks ago, instead of just freezing the pods, I found this recipe in Nigel Slater's Tender Vol One book; it's quick, easy, delicious.  If I ever get time to loaf around with a glass of wine/beer/gin (not in the same glass or even sitting) one warm balmy evening, this would be the perfect accompaniment, dipped into with some flatbreads, pitta or other dippers of choice. I mean, why buy supermarket hummus when you can easily make your own - and even better if the veg has come from your own patch! Nigel Slater claims to use this recipe for older, starchier beans but I found it good enough to justify growing beans for this purpose. I do love my snacks.

Have I mentioned that I did a double sowing of broad beans this year? It was an experiment on several levels:  I wanted to see if I could successfully extend the broad bean harvest with two sowings, and this second sowing was also a trial of Marshall's Seeds Red Epicure beans which they kindly sent me.

Just over two months later, I'm very pleased with the results. I have a second crop of beans. The seeds were sown direct in mid-May, every one germinated within a couple of weeks and the plants grew strongly. There were no pests and the plants quickly matched the first sowing in height. The flowers were as expected (white/black) and prolific, the promise of many pods to come.  Which they did. I picked a few at the finger pod stage; those tiny beans, eaten straight from the pod, were delicious - on a par with, if not surpassing, my favourite Karmazyn beans. The mature pods are beautifully shiny and bright green, the beans inside shiny skinned like little red conkers. The skins allegedly stay red when lightly steamed but I'll be skinning them for a summer salad or another bowl of hummus.

Above: 5 weeks after sowing. Red Epicure in first rows in front of Karmazyn at back with pods.

7 weeks after sowing.  In flower while Karmazyn beans behind are ready for picking.

10 to 11 weeks after sowing. Pods looking good but leaves have a tiny touch of rust. Solution is to prune the leaves off.

Red Epicure broad beans
Red Epicure beans looking pink in the evening sunlight.

I'll definitely be growing these again next year, especially now I have the allotment space to grow a lot more - who wouldn't love the look of pink beans to brighten a plate of food!

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