Previous years growing techniques
2013 – First year of using the greenhouse, built several self watering buckets
2014 – Converted the greenhouse to a floating floor with guttering as irrigation system
2015 – Half the grow was Hydroponic (NFT technique) & Half Compost
2016 – NFT Hydroponic grow (SureGrow Gully’s and Nutriculture GT901)
2017 – Self Watering Pots called GoGro’s from Plant!t used to grow several hundred chilli plants
If you want to grow chillies and also worry about time constraints then worry not, the less you fuss with them the better you’ll grow. Over tentativeness leads to stress from the grower stressing the plants in my opinion. If you have a few minutes a couple of times per week, you’ll get on fantastically. I say this because after planting the chillies and getting them to a good size simply tap the stems or give them a light shake a couple of times a week. This will help with pollination as chillies are self-pollinating, we’ve all heard of people saying to get a paint brush and touch each flower blah blah blah… Don’t waste your time. Do the shaking thing and plant LOTS of marigolds or other orange flowered plants that are prolific and attract the good bugs such as hoverflies and ladybirds to your greenhouse whilst leaving a few small gaps for them to get in and out.
Aphids / Greenfly
Whether or not you think you can prevent them, you can’t… They’re around in your house even throughout winter when you wouldn’t be aware and hence overwintering chilli plants will demonstrate this no matter how many leaves you remove! It’s a matter of when you get them as opposed to if you get them. From past experience, there’s only one way to get rid of the little blighters and that’s a product called Pyrethrum 5 EC which is very expensive but works! Other sprays work too, again from previous experience don’t go over the top with them though, the leaves of your plants still need to breathe and smothering them with soapy solutions to kill the bugs will inadvertently kill the plants’ ability to photosynthesize…
So onto this years growlog… What are we growing:
- 7 Pot Brainstrain
- 7 Pot Primo
- 7 Pot Yellow
- Aji Limon
- Bhut Jolokia
- Bloody Riot
- Carolina Reaper
- Chocolate Habanero
- Devils Rib
- Dorset Naga
- Early Jalapeno
- Filius Blue
- Infinity Chilli
- Katie Habanero
- Lava Brown
- Naga Viper
- Purple Tiger
- Red Habanero
- Scotch Bonnet Big Sun
- Scotch Bonnet
- Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
- Trinidad Perfume
- Trinidad Scorpion Cardi
So that’s 32 varieties planned but as is the normal scenario, they’ll likely be another few added to the list!
The greenhouse and poly tunnels have been emptied, cleaned and sterilised with Jeyes fluid. Further plans are being put into action to enable us to upscale our grow even more than last year! We have now got around to putting a few things in place and www.warwickshirechillifarm.com is live (to some degree!)
We only use authentic genuine seed from the originators or trusted seed suppliers. Having learnt the hard way in previous years, you need to use your own instinct on what is good seed and what isn’t. We’ve had better quality seed from fellow growers than certain large seed companies or nurseries. We can certainly recommend:
Sea Spring Seeds – Joy & Michael Michaud
Simpsons Seeds – Matt Simpson
Puckerbutt Pepper Company – Ed Currie
As of the start of February we’re only 3 weeks post sowing and our propagation has gone well so far! Germination rate is very good and we have 68% of the required amount of plants showing growth. With only 3 varieties left to sow mid February (Aji Limon, Jalapeño & Red Habanero), we feel like we’re in a pretty good place at the moment. This time last year there was still ground to clear, tunnels to be built and so much more! Despite the farm looking like there’s so much left to do, it also feels like a partial victory.
As we add this final February update it is -2°C and snowing outside!!! The greenhouse is where we have not moved the better-established plants to. These generally have a minimum of 3 sets of grow leaves. We want to get them used to natural daylight to prevent any UV damage occurring when we plant them into the tunnels at the end of April. The mass changes in temperature will also help harden the plants too. If you are to leave your plants in a grow room at a steady 20°C and synthesized light you will definitely stress the plants when they then receive torturous temperatures and very strong sunshine. Starting early and allowing slow steady growth will hopefully be a winning strategy for us. Time will tell.
Here we have setup 5 AutoPot Easy2Propogate systems, these consist of a coir matt with some kind of lycra or stiffening agent to keep them a 1-inch thickness, this wicks the water to your plants. Some points to note when setting these systems up.
- Ensure you remove the film on the propagator lid that is for protection during transit.
- Soak the matting at pH 4.5 for at least 24 hours, we went for three days.
- Drain your coir matting thoroughly then add the nutrient solution within an hour to prevent the soaked coir from drying out. We also mixed our CANNA Start nutrients at pH 5.7 due to the matting potentially still having a lower pH.
- We placed a heat mat under the Garland tray. With a couple of spare trays, we actually sandwiched a large heat mat under one and a medium heat mat under another. During this cold spell, we are keeping the greenhouse at a constant minimum temperature of 6°C and the small heat mat managed to get the soil temperature to 12°C and the large heat mat to 15°C which gives an ambient temperature uplift of 6°C and 9°C respectively. So long as your plants stay above 6°C you shouldn’t have any issues.
Now at the end of February, all seeds have been sown and happy to say that everything is now germinated, well those that need to be. We still have some non-chilli related plants to get growing such as Perilla, Sweet Thai Basil and dare we announce a few varieties of plants you’d expect to find in the far east that was the origins of the spice trade… More on this in the coming months.
We’re now feeding the plants on the CANNA Coir A & B with added Rhizotonic with a pH of 5.6 and EC resulting at 1.9 m$. The 225 FlexiTank Pro previously filled to 200L has also lasted a month. Would’ve likely lasted 6 weeks but had to empty and change to Coir nutrients due to plant size and a little yellowing of some of the leaves, basically the plants were requiring more of the main macronutrients than what the CANNA Start could offer. Upon checking it’s only recommended to use Start for the first few weeks so we should’ve changed sooner, to be honest. Noted for next year!
What a start to March! Snow, extreme cold, more snow, a side order of snow and even lower temperatures dipping to -8°C wasn’t great for the Prices Spices electricity bill! Never the less with the hear mats under the easy2propogate systems and the lids over the plants the temperature of the coir and plants roots were circa 16°C so the ambient temperature wasn’t quite as important as before.
The clocks have changed but the weather remains very wintery! Part of the country is still getting snow but thankfully we’ve dodged the 2nd April snows… Plants are developing slow yet steady. Despite the additional CDM lamp we’ve installed growth would likely have been more substantial under closer lighting and warmer surroundings such as in a grow tent! Perhaps next year we will do a full comparison and show the difference if there is one of course!
Despite what might appear to be slower growth this has been down to a hiccup on our end, for a couple of weeks, the pH was being measured in the FlexiTank Pro and from the end of the line. What we should have done was to take a water sample from actual Easy2Propogate systems. I say this because we had our pH at the lower end of the scale and with the soaking of the brown wicking material at a lower pH this has obviously reduced the pH to a point that certain varieties were getting a little nutrient lockout. I would advise that in the first few weeks following installation of the Easy2Propogate where you have soaked them at the required pH 4 to adjust your feeding nutrients to the upper end as it will likely drop. The varieties that this affected were the ones that have been bred to have chinense flavour but with minimal heat. These are Trinidad Perfume, Trinity and Apricot. If that’s not a coincidence I don’t know what is. Since then we have kept the pH at 6.0 and the plants are looking great. With the addition of the CANNA Rhizotonic, we are seeing tremendous root growth. Not just single long tap roots but all root types including the fine root hairs that are required to take up the important nutrients. The last thing to note about the slower growth is perhaps that because we’re stood towering above them rather than them being head height as per previous years on dutch trolleys they just appear smaller…
Given the hardening off they have been subjected to they will be used to the night time temperatures they will likely experience in the tunnels when they get planted out in May. Also, the leaves are really thick and not wafer thin which seems to be due to the hardening off, the ones sat in the office under a T5 lamp does seem much flimsier in comparison. Also having been out in the greenhouse getting used to natural daylight they should not get UV damage like previous years either.
April 28th was a great day, we were joined by some of the CANNA UK team, (Rishi, Jean-Paul & Peter). With these extra hands we managed to get all of the White XL Autopot filled with the CANNA COCO Professional Plus growing media. We then moved these to the spare poly tunnel to allow the rest of the setup to occur. A BBQ lunch was enjoyed by all, just like plants feed and water with good quality food and you’ll see results! We like to think that our home made burgers and piri-piri chicken helped get more done!
The 4th saw the first wave of plants being moved to the farm in Stratford-upon-Avon. The 5th however was a surprise heatwave rising to 27°C and hitting circa 45°C in the polytunnels. Needless to say the transplantation shock hit a few plants as wilting and CRISPY leaves occurred, wilted leaves will bounce back, crispy leaves will need only one thing… A Flux capacitor in the words of Doc Brown!!!
May 7th thru 10th was potting on for all the plants where they sat waiting for the irrigation to be setup for all the Autopot XL’s.
A week after they had been potted on to the 25L Autopot XL’s in white, it was time to get the first half in place in Tunnel 4. The heat was on (quite literally) as the walk between Tunnel 2 and 4 was quite nice to get a breeze before the surge of hot air hit you again. Having to install every flexible pipe and irrigation pipe, plus cutting them all to length was a lengthy job but also very satisfying. To see 4 lines of piping running the full length of Tunnel 4 was great. The hardest part was applying the Autopot XL Pot Socks (this prevents the roots coming out of the pot and into the AquaValve and tray), they seem to fit very snug. After applying a hundred or so, you do actually learn the technique to get them on easier.
There’s nothing like doing the same job twice – this refers to covering Tunnel 3 that we attempted doing on April 28th. Thankfully it was a hot day and we managed to get the cover at least 6 inches tighter on all sides. Hence it was worth redoing the job as a sheet of plastic costs in the region of five hundred pounds.
The dreaded part of this job was landscaping the Tunnel to get it as level as possible. With some damp patches still about we threw down some of the last years Coco to soak up the water and help get a good level surface to work to. Last year this job saw the back of two garden rakes and my hands actually bleeding! This year I purchased a tarmac rake, I did think that a solid steel rake would not see any damage, how wrong I was!!! It’s not broken but it has bent a little here and there, this should allow you to understand how unforgiving the clay is here at the farm!
The last few days of May we eventually got the rest of the potted on Autopot XL’s put into place in Tunnel 3. We even dug a trench between the tunnels for the hose to connect to the same hose runs in Tunnel 4. The black 16mm hose slid perfectly with no spare room into 25mm MDPE water pipe. We didn’t want anyone to accidentally put a spade through the hose, nor did we want it to get crushed by stones and so forth. This is one of those ad-hoc jobs that seemed to go well. The reason for digging it in was to keep all of the FlexiTanks at the top of the tunnels for easy filling. At the bottom end of the entire run, we also took the advice from Autopot and installed taps to allow us to “flush the lines”. This is a task we will do weekly throughout the season to empty sediment and buildup of nutrients sat in the hoses.
The start of the month saw Tunnels 1 & 2 get some attention, as well as a whole load of cleaning and tidying up. We have set up the 80 x Autopot easy2grow system which we will be growing red and green perilla leaves (also known as shiso), and sweet Thai basil. This was also installed with a flush line. Setting up the easy2grow was very easy indeed. With cutting irrigation, connecting it all and filling the pots with CANNA COCO we were done in under 3 hours, and we weren’t rushing either. The Perilla and Basil before being the Autopot system and being fed properly was a little lifeless. Now both herbs have firm-fleshed leaves with more aroma.
Tunnel 4 we have also got 75% of the Autopot 1 Pot systems setup. We have some interesting chillies growing in these, additionally, we have some of the extra chillies we thought were too good to throw away and there’s room for the next big thing which we’ll announce very soon!
The Rockwool slabs were put down and tomatoes all planted out, we have a total of 60 tomato plants which are:
- San Marzano
- Roma VF
- Sweet Apperetif
The Rockwool on the other side saw the last of the chillies planted out. As of the 8th June, all chillies have officially been planted. We now just need to wait for a final piece of equipment to arrive in order to water all of the Rockwool slabs.
So the plants have transplanted well, despite the heat and not actualy having an irrigation system in place. However, we’re still waiting to hear if the commercial Irrigatia system has landed and waiting to clear customs or whether it’s still enroute? We’ve put some pipes into the lengths of Rockwool that we’ve pierced with scissors in order to get the bags to stay as moist as possible. On the end near the FlexiTank we’ve connected a water timer that will flood the pipes every 4 hours for 10 minutes. This will be adjusted more or less depending on how successful or unsuccessful this works.
A week of so in and we’ve hit the height of summer with 13 hours of sun every day, 28°C every day, thus the heat in the tunnels staying in the mid to high forties! Needless to say the implemented system is more unsucessful than I planned. On the flip side it’s more successful than not watering at all, some of Rockwool slabs are really wet and others are bone dry! No real rhyme or reason that we can see to this.
The importance when growing anything, is to make sure the plants are getting fed and watered properly. The best way to do this is by checking the acidity / alkalinity of the water (needs to be between 5.2 and 6.2 to ensure the plants can absorb the nutrients properly, otherwise you get what is referred to as nutrient lockout). It’s easy enough to check the pH of the nutrient solution in your reservoir, but is what your putting in, what is actually getting to the plant?
Well up until now if you grew in CANNA COCO you’d have to have a sacrificial plant or two and during the season (before and during flowering and fruiting) remove the plant and squeeze the excess water from the COCO around the root zone and then measure the pH.
However!!!! Just launched is the Bluelab Multimedia pH meter which allows you to measure the pH of where your roots take the nutrients. It works in soil, compost, coco coir, rockwool and water! Absolute genius!
So despite keeping the nutrient reservoirs at around pH 5.8 it now highlights that the plants roots are circa 5.0 to 5.1 on a few we tested. So in order to make sure the plants can take all available nutrients and avoid excess minerals around the roots we’ll up the pH to 6.2 in the reservoirs and retest in a few days time.
We check all of the AutoPot Watering Systems Flexitanks upon adding nutrients and also during use with our self written app at iharvest.pricesspices.com – this is a free app available for anyone to log nutrient usage, keep track of pH, EC and temperatures plus allows you to log your chilli harvest too.
A matter of weeks go by and you fail to notice the sheer size the plants are putting on in weight. We are now beginning to experience several plants snapping a few of the lower branches off with leaf weight. We’re still feeding watering in the same way as June and July but now trying to keep an eye on the pH of the CANNA COCO in the individual Autopot XL pots vs the Flexitank reservoirs.
With a few modifications made to the iHarvest app, to allow for adding sub tanks to your main systems we can now monitor pH and EC for each seperate Flexitank of water that has been mixed CANNA nutrients. Off the back of these changes shows the addition of a a new graph which shows the pH going into the Flexitanks and the pH that is reported in the CANNA COCO in each seperate Autopot. Look at the following graph and you’ll see that on average there’s a slight drop in the pH at the root level of the plant than what went into the Flexitank intiially. We are using the same Bluelab probe to test this, so it’s not like there’s a difference in device calibaration.
Huge pods of many varieties now starting to form, not just little ones, but proper sized typical looking pods to the plants being grown. It’s good when this happens as all too often you’ll get pods growing that look very unfamiliar until the plant gets established.
We are seeing a little more flower drop occuring than before as we had virtually none through May and June, now that the plants are getting big they have shed some flowers, despite there being many polenators in the tunnels. Measuring the humidity and perhaps being able to add extra humidity next year may combat this. It’s all a learning curve, and so far so good.
When there’s a little more time to analyse all of the data I am recording from iHarvest at the end of the season, it will be interstesting to see if it’s different strains of plant that are taking more nutrients and causing the larger fluctuation in the root zone pH.
If you’re interested in knowing what your plants are doing and the cause and effects it has across the grow then you need to start logging the data somehow too. For us creating iHarvest was the best way to store the data and be able to use it on a mobile device on the fly. The only limitation is having a phone signal and a battery with charge. We allow anyone to use it for free and welcome the data you input. Certain reports use averages across other everyones grow, for example pod weight of a variety of chilli. There are many websites that have good information about chillies but in order to improve your grow it’s important to collect data. #KnowYourGrow !!
This year we will be able to leverage information about the same plants grown in Autopots, Rockwool Slabs and also in NFT system.
Back to adjusting pH, we are from the middle of the month going to be ensuring the pH going into the FlexiTank is adjusted with the CANNA pH Minus to only a pH of 6.2 to see if we can get the pH in the CANNA COCO back up to around pH 5.5 – we expect that within a week or two we should start to see this, hopefully the start of September update we have proved this to be correct.