Help! We’ve had a bit of a disaster.
My tree chilli is my pride and joy. It’s now three years old and has settled in nicely, colonising the back left-hand corner of my no.1 greenhouse with such enthusiasm that nothing else gets a look-in.
But oh dear. I popped by this morning and look what’s happened to him. There are two sweet peppers under there somewhere, too. Somewhat squashed by now, no doubt.
I never had much luck with chillies before I found this one: they struggle to get enough light and heat in a single growing year here in the rainy old west, and since they die as soon as it gets cold the odds are stacked against you right from the start. Keeping them in the greenhouse seemed to help, but still the results were so-so.
Then I stumbled upon rocoto chillies, Capsicum pubescens – one of the few types which are more tolerant of cooler temperatures. Crucially that means that they have half a chance of surviving the winter, especially tucked inside a cool greenhouse: they can even – just – manage a couple of degrees of frost as long as they’re not damp at the roots. And two-year-old-plus plants are not only more productive, they’re also more resilient so can cope with more cold… and you have a virtuous circle.
My chilli is now so perennial it has a trunk. The fruits are fantastic, prolific and ripening to fiery red with the jet-black seeds typical of rocoto types: they’re blisteringly hot, about the same heat as a habanero, so you only need a quarter of a chilli to fire up a whole dish. They’re too fleshy to dry so I freeze them whole: I had so many last year I was supplying all my family and friends too.
I had been optimistically propping him up with a few canes and some string but they were as matchsticks when it came to holding back this behemoth. His relentless rise to the roof ridge – he hit it last year and I fear may push it off its moorings this year – has made him so top-heavy he’s collapsed sideways in an ungainly heap. And he’s not even laden with fruit yet: who knows how heavy he’ll get by then.
I do have some rather handy bolts in the greenhouse frame which I shall have to press into service for this one, I think: I’m thinking three sturdy tree stakes driven into the ground, plus horizontal slats to make a kind of cage around that corner.
As always I wish I’d done it at the start of the season: staking late is never a good thing as you invariably end up trussing things up and that’s no good for air circulation or health in general. But I shall have to live with it for now as the status quo isn’t an option. I may need a bigger greenhouse…