CHILLIES are a popular crop to grow.
They don't take up a lot of space, so it's easy to grow a selection of different varieties in a season.
They are very decorative and are useful in the kitchen.
Chillies originated in South America and have spread throughout the world in the past 500 years or so.
They are now an integral part of the cuisine of many different countries, particularly those with warm climates where they are most readily grown.
The fruit usually start out green and can be harvested at this stage. If left to ripen on the plant, the fruit will turn yellow, orange, purple, black or red, depending on the variety.
The colourful, fully ripe fruit are generally hotter and have a more intense flavour than the green ones.
Chillies enjoy similar conditions to tomatoes and capsicum.
A warm, sunny position in a pot or garden bed is ideal.
They don't need much in the way of care and attention.
They are a warm-season plant and can look a bit shabby during winter.
I usually trim mine back quite hard and let them re-shoot in spring.
They do like a humid environment, so you can plant them quite close together to foster this.
Keeping the soil mulched will also be beneficial.
Chillies make good companions for eggplant, cucumber, tomato, okra, squash, basil, oregano and parsley.
They also like geraniums, petunias, lovage, carrots and onions.
Keep them away from beans, broccoli, cabbage and fennel.
The heat level of the different varieties of chillies is measured in Scoville Units, in a method developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912.
When you read about the heat of chillies, the Scoville scale is usually translated into a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the mildest and 10 being the hottest.
At the mild end of the heat scale, you will find the Sweet Temptation, scoring a 2-3.
If you like something with a bit of bite, you might enjoy the Jalapenos.
They are cylindrically shaped, about 5-8cm long, and turn from dark green to red when ripe. They get a heat rating of 4-5.
A little further along are the Caysan chillies, a fruit about 5-7cm long, turning bright red when cooked.
I planted one of these last year and found that I used it far more than the habaneros and the birds eyes, because it had some heat but not too much.
After a hard trim in winter, it is coming back nicely and bearing well.
Habaneros are very hot, a 9 on the heat scale.
They are an interesting lantern shape and there are a few different types, producing fruit that may be orange, red, yellow or brown when ripe.
Also up there at the dangerous end of the heat scale is the Birds Eye, a short, tapered, red chilli that is only about 2-3cm long. The bush, to 1-1.5m tall, bears prolifically.
Be careful when handling chillies, as the juice can be highly irritating to the skin and the eyes.
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