Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ornamental and Culinary Chillis

May, June & July are always a little frustrating, even angst ridden.  No matter how I try I have never been able to finish our planning for spring on time... like back in May.  Well it's the same this year, I'm still fussing over the final details of a plan that should serve us for the next 12 months.  Really I should be well into organizing seed and label orders, all of which need to be done in advance.

Of course all of that makes this the most stimulating time of year as we look at what we have done and what new things we want to try.  This year we are looking at expanding the range of Chillis and Capsicums we grow.  Now I know it's a little early to start talking about plants that you don't expect to start planting until September at the earliest but we have been sowing various Chillis for 3-4 weeks now, so I'm on a roll.

We are offering more Chillis because of the intense interest they have generated over the past 2 years, particularly the question we continually answer: "Can we eat ornamental Chillis?"  We have decided that our habit of identifying Chillis as Ornamental or Edible creates the confusion so from now on we will use the terms Ornamental and Culinary.  Genius! Yes, now everyone will understand!  Perhaps not, but the idea is (to my knowledge) there are no poisonous Capsicums, but there are plenty that taste terrible.  Our rep Di who is a real foodie has tested this theory and supports it fully.  Of course, just because a Chilli tastes terrible doesn't mean it isn't hot.  Chilli heat is a quite separate thing to taste and I should point out that not all ornamental Chillis are hot.

Now, I have said that to my knowledge there are no poisonous Chillis but I do need to remind you that Capsicums and Chillis are from the Solanaceae family that includes Tomatoes, Potatoes and Deadly Nightshade.  The leaves of these plants are poisonous to greater and lesser degrees so I don't recommend eating the foliage.

Just to add to the complexity of this group of plants we produce them for sales in two distinct seasons.  The first is the culinary Chilli and Capsicum Season.  We start selling traditional varieties like Capsicum Californian Wonder and Chilli Red Hot Cayenne in August for enthusiasts with green houses to protect their crops.  Although I generally regard the Capsicums as hardier than Tomatoes, at least they tend to suffer fewer growing problems they are less vigorous than their pomodori cousins in cold weather. Both will Capsicums and Tomatoes turn quite black at the slightest hint of frost.   These are the young seedlings we offer in punnets and the more advanced plants in single 100mm pots.

The second season is for the ornamentals.  Of course this is really just the fruit of our earlier labour.  We hope to produce brightly coloured fruit by Christmas from the plants we first started sowing back in May, generally though we expect our Chillis will produce their best colour in January and February next year.  The development of the fruit is fascinating to watch as the small green berries fatten into more recognizable Capsicum fruit and the colours come, then go, then finally take on their mature colours which range through yellow, orange, fire engine red to purples and black.  Eventually the fruit dries and shrivels on the plant, it will usually hold its colour to this stage.  When the skin has dried like this the seed is ready to collect and should be quite viable to produce a new crop although I can't vouch the new plants will be true to form if you have been growing a selection of different Capsicums in one area.  Keep in mind that Capsicums as a group are actually short lived perennial plants that can be over wintered in Victoria and will produce successfully in the second and possibly third season if they are re-potted or at least given a cut back and a good feed. 

So why do we identify some Chillis as ornamental?  They have been bred to be used purely as ornamental plants, generally the plant will be more compact and carry a lot of fruit in bunches that are particularly striking.  Flavour is ignored altogether. We have done a little research this year  and have found a few culinary varieties that produce attractive, compact plants so we'll see how they go come December and January.  The pic above is Capsicum Courtyard a great tasting Pimento (heart shaped) Capsicum with the added benefit of growing on a very attractive plant.


  1. Andre and Susan Greensmart Pots ElthamJuly 4, 2010 at 6:09 AM

    Peter check this out..

  2. Andre and Susan Greensmart Pots ElthamJuly 6, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    very useful and interesting article also.. Nice photos too.. We are going to try and keep ours over winter and feed them and see if they re fruit in next season.


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