Earlier this year I spruced up my tired old conservatory. Previously it had been a dumping ground for DIY debris, overflow from the shed, and a place for the dog to shake off rain and mud. But not any more. Now it has a fresh coat of paint, a solid new floor and is a comfortable room in which to relax, staring at the sky while contemplating whether I should rip off the grubby roof and fit some fancy traditional roof lanterns.
But there has been a downside to this successful makeover: the threat of a ban on any conservatory based veg growing. The room is now too clean for muddy pots…
Needing to get round this preposterous house rule I came up with a cunning ruse: I would conduct some chilli growing trials. The plan involved growing chillies, from seed, in various locations throughout the house and garden to see which zone they favoured. Vital research, I argued. And how could I not include the conservatory in such a valuable trial?
With approval reluctantly granted, and the incubated seedlings strong enough to leave their propagator, the trials began.
All the chillies destined for an outdoor spot were hardened off in the cold frame, but a couple never left. They were planted directly in the soil within the cold frame, with the lid closed until they started pressing their leaves against the glass. The plants grew quickly, are strong and healthy, covered in flowers, but not yet with fully ripe fruit.
As you would expect, those chillies that were jettisoned from the cold frame into the garden grew slower than their glass-lidded siblings. But they’ve survived handsomely and are also dotted with flowers. I’m confident of a decent harvest but suspect they won’t all fully ripen before it gets too cold.
This was the pre-trial favourite – plenty of natural light and heat with the benefits of direct planting over the potted peppers in the house. But vermin broke into the greenhouse and decimated virtually everything. One habanero has just about survived after a long convalescence, accompanied by a miserable looking cucumber and invading bindweed, but it’s a puny plant. Boo.
The chillies that perched next to the north facing kitchen window received some light and consistent warmth. As a result they are doing better than the outdoor plants, but only just. The bushier birds-eye chillies preferred the experience more than their taller cousins, and should give me a decent harvest, although there are no red skins on display just yet.
My conservatory is also mostly north facing, but gets much hotter during the day and is bathed in light. Although temperatures dropped quite low at night earlier in the year, the chillies didn’t seem to mind. The cayennes in particular are much more shapely and full of leaf than those grown elsewhere, and I’ve already been plucking red peppers with many more lined up.
The porch doesn’t let in as much light as the conservatory, but does have the benefit of being south facing, so becomes quite a hot and steamy chilli home during the afternoon, and stays warm for longer. Again the plant quality is good, although the cayenne’s are leggier than those on the other side of the house. The jalapenos seem happiest here but it comes second best for everything else.
It’s a triumph for the conservatory, with a chilli friendly mix of light and heat. Now I have to find a way of allowing more veg to join them next year.
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