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  • lukeathompson

Sowing Hairy Chillies

4th February. I’m sowing the Rocoto seeds first. They want a longer growing season so I thought I’d give them a week or two’s head start. Using a multipurpose compost, which should be okay. I’ve also cleared out the greenhouse, although it needs a bit of upkeep. I think maybe clearing out some of the harsh soil from last year and building it up again will be an idea. The old borders of the greenhouse have kind of disappeared and I’d quite like to build it up.


The greenhouse, I understand, was put up without the landlord’s permission by a previous tenant, and I think it’s basically sitting on stone, which is why I want to put in borders and create raised beds. We’ve grown chillies in this greenhouse before but last year the only ones that did well were in pots. It’s been some time since we got a good harvest, which is why I’m putting in a little more effort this year and taking over the greenhouse completely.


For the first couple of months the chillies will be in small pots in the house. I was thinking about getting a grow light, as it’s pretty gloomy, cool and dull still, getting light around 8am and dark soon after 5pm. I might still, but today the seeds are just sitting in the windowsill. They have a lovely view down the valley, which I hope will prove motivating.


Rocoto seeds are this greyish kind of colour, rather than the familiar yellow, and when the fruits mature the seeds inside should all be black. They’re called pubescens because the plants have this downy fur on them.


Two things drew me to the Rocoto. Firstly, it appears to have a long history, being one of the oldest domesticated chillies, and I’m a sucker for a good story. It’s native to the Peruvian Andes and now grows all the way along the mountain range from the north-west of South America to the far south-west. Rocotos are said to have been used by the Incans and while I’ve found different online sources claiming different dates (2,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago, 10,000 years ago) The Royal Society of Chemistry put together a pamphlet about chillies, citing archaeological findings of Rocotos being used ‘at least 8600-5600 BC’, with further remains at sites that date 7600-6500 BC. Also, being native to the Andes, it has to be hardier than other varieties, surviving much colder weather, apparently as low as -5 °C. It’s not quite that cold right now but we do often get another cold snap in March and I’m hopeful these Rocotos, which should be little plants by then, will take that in their stride.


The seeds are from Nicky’s Nursery, which has mixed reviews online. I used them because the range of available chillies was better than anywhere else. I knew which varieties I wanted this year and I could get them all from the one place. The more negative reviews question the viability of the seeds - how many hatch. I’d like to have six or eight Rocoto plants so I’ve sown all 10 seeds. Let’s see what happens. One of the seeds did not look full so I’m already thinking that effectively I’m starting with nine rather than ten.

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