Around this time every year I always get a handful of emails from readers asking me about black chillies. Why are my chillies black? What have I done wrong? Can I eat black chillies? Are my chilli plants mutant?!

As part of the natural ripening process it is quite common for chilli peppers to be black in appearance or have black/dark streaks on them.

Most chillies such as the common Birds Eye or Cayenne will start off life green and ripen through to orange or red. However as the pods start to ripen, the sugar content in the fruit increases and the skin will often turn a dark brown or black colour temporarily.

As the ripening process continues the blackness will eventually give way to red. These changes in colour can seem like they are taking an age to happen, especially when you’re waiting for pods to ripen at the start of the summer!

Why are my chillies black

How long this ripening process takes depends on a number of different factors such as weather, feeding regime and watering levels. There are no hard or fast rules how long the ripening process takes and the only thing that tends to speed up the process is the amount of sun your plants are getting.

Usually however these changes happen so slowly that you begin to think there is something wrong with your plants. Then inevitably you’ll turn away for a second and your plant will suddenly be full of wonderfully ripe red pods.

The lesson here is to be patient!

Of course there are some varieties of chilli that naturally are black or brown in colour when ripe. The most popular such variety is the Chocolate Habanero (pictured below, these are great for making chutney by the way) that ripens from green through to a deep chocolatey brown colour.

Chocolate Habanero Chilli

Chillies can be eaten at any stage in the ripening process, including when they are black or brown in appearance. However the flavours can change significantly throughout. The best way to work out what is best for your tastes is to try some pods at different stages of ripeness!

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Every year spent growing chillies seems to throw up a different problem. Too cold, too changeable, not enough sun, too much rain….there’s always something getting in the way of the perfect growing season. I suppose that’s the attraction of gardening…pitting your horticultural skills against the unpredictability of nature.

This year the main problem I’m facing with my pepper plants is whitefly. We’ve talked before a few times about aphid infestations and how to deal with them but to date we’ve not really covered whitefly in much detail.

Having got back from a short holiday I discovered a big whitefly infestation in the chilli house. As with all garden pests it’s usually so much easier to deal with the problem if you catch it early.

Whitefly feed on the plants sap which is why they tend to attack the fresh young growth on plants. Left unchecked they will multiply rapidly and cause lasting damage to the host plants, often stunting their development.

The whitely also secrete a sticky residue on the plants which then attracts dust and muck and usually causes problems with fungal growths on the leaves.

 
White Fly Infestation on Chilli Plants

Plant Marigolds In With Chillies

In the past I’ve planted French Marigold into pots and kept them in the chilli house. Marigolds are a natural deterrent to aphids and whitefly and I’ve had some success with this method in the past.

Having a full time job with long hours means that I try to avoid pots as much as possible as I spend all of my evenings watering if I’m not careful. In addition planting marigolds in small pots means they tend to dry out very quickly on hot days which isn’t ideal.

I grow most of my chilli plants in Quadgrows or my DIY self watering pots which saves massive amounts of time watering. I don’t know why I’ve never done it but next year I’ll try planting one French Marigold in each self watering pot. This way there’ll be no extra watering involved or extra space taken up by the marigolds.

Lady Birds

If you’ve got kids around the house then they help is at hand. Send them out lady bird hunting – they usually don’t need much encouragement. Ladybirds are phenomenal for their ability to eat their way through a whitefly infestation so if you can catch a few and release them onto your infested plants they will make a material difference.

Fresh Air

If the infestation is really bad I find the best/easiest method is to move all of your plants outside. By doing so you’ll let the natural predators in the garden go to work on the whitefly. This typically clears the problem up in 2-3 days. While the plants are outside be sure to give the greenhouse a thorough clean to ensure any larvae are removed.

Once the plants go back in to the greenhouse always try to ensure you have as many windows/doors open as possible (temperatures allowing). This will ensure natural predators can get in and keep your plants clean.

Traps

According to the Colorado State University whitefly are attracted to yellow things. This means that using sticky fly traps n the greenhouse is a great method to catch mature whitefly. Personally I’m not a big fan of using these traps as they tend top trap ‘good’ insects too (hover fly, lady birds etc). That said if you have a bed infestation and moving the plants outside (see above) isn’t an option then using sticky traps to get it under control can be a good option.

Cleanliness

One key method to prevent pests and disease in the greenhouse (including whitefly) is to keep things clean. By regularly removing any dead plant matter, spilt compost or other organic matter you’ll be removing habitat that pests like. I also try to regularly wipe down shelves, windows and tables with warm soapy water to improve sanitation.

Insecticides

If you have to use insecticides then make sure they are based on pyrethrins (permethrin being the most common). Neem oil sprays are also highly affected.

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Back in 2012 we wrote an article about a new business Potters Plants that sell chilli plants online. We have always been impressed with the quality of the plugs we’ve received from them so we recently caught up with Rich & Holly (the owners) in search of some chilli growing tips!

How many plants are you growing this year?

For 2014 we set over 2,000 chilli plants and around 500 tomato plants. We had excellent germination so we are currently growing around 2000 plants in total , 50% of which are now already sold by order on the website.

Presumably you have some sort of poly tunnel or glasshouse for that many?

Yes we have three greenhouses and a poly tunnel, the largest greenhouse is sufficient for our chilli and tomato plants while they are in plugs , any we decide to keep and grow on to harvest are then migrated into the other greenhouses and poly tunnel.

How much does the weather affect your plant production?

Weather plays a huge part in how quickly the chillies grow. Warmer , sunny weather is definitely preferred, while harsh frosts mean constant nightly efforts to cover and protect the plants, even inside the greenhouse . Obviously as summer arrives, the sunny warmth is essential for getting the fruit to ripen too.

Potter Senior Inspecting

Potter Senior Inspecting the Crop

What kind of lighting set up do you use?

Last year we used some led strip lights as we didn’t have enough space in the greenhouse but this year we are back in the greenhouse and the daily light is proving much better , our plants are strong and green, we are really pleased with them. I guess there is no substitute for natural :)

What are you most popular varieties?

Well, people seem to love the super hot chillies for sure, Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, Bhut Jolokia, Moruga Scorpion and this year the Carolina Reaper  . One chilli that consistently performs well and matches the super hots for sales is the Pimientos de Padron .

Rich Potter

Holly Potting On

Rich & Holly Potter 

What are the biggest challenges you face growing chillies for customers?

Weather is obviously a challenge, but the biggest challenge is the packaging. It’s time consuming, and after all the hard work growing them, we take great care in trying to make sure the plants are securely packed for their journey.

What variety do you eat most of and why?

We probably eat pardons quite a lot, mainly because the plant produces a lot of them and they make a great tapas dish, and orange habanero , which are so tasty and have a nice manageable heat which works so well in stir fry or chilli.

Any secret growing tips for our readers?

One thing we have noticed is chilli plants love a grow bag . Standard ones you get from the garden centre – we got such a good harvest list year our freezer is still full. We have the benefit of a greenhouse of course, a conservatory is just as good if you can or a warm windowsill for growing your plant. Also , don’t over water the chilli plant, and feed once a week with chilli focus or a tomato feed.

If you’ve left it a bit late to start of your super hots or you fancy trying some new varieties you can order your chilli plants now form Potter Plants.

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Dal Makhani is a classic dish that originates from Northern India. It is a national treasure that until now I have found very hard to and replicate at home. After a few failed attempts using a regular pan and even a pressure cooker making this dal in a slow cooker is the only way I have managed to get an authentic tasting dal makhani at home.

When travelling around North India a few years ago I discovered the delights of Dal Makhani. I’ve since eaten it in 5 star hotels in India, family run restaurants all over the UK. To date by far the best I’ve tasted was the roadside ‘dhabas’ (truck stops) of Northern India.

I’ve heard time and time again, whenever I have asked, that the secret behind truly great makhani is the length of time it is cooked for (not just the cream and butter!).  Traditionally the dal is cooked overnight in the restaurant tandoor after service has finished. The slowly cooling tandoors (that are traditionally sunk into the ground for better insulation) provide a constant source of low heat throughout the night. It is this very long cooking time that breaks the black (urad) dal down into such a creamy, rich texture. Using a slow cooker replicates this kind of traditional cooking perfectly.

Dal Makhani Slow Cooker Recipe

I’ve seen this dal cooked in restaurants in India and often an ungodly amount of cream and ghee (butter) are used to richen the dish up. The recipe below uses only a small amount of both so is relatively healthy. In fact you could easily leave the cream out and not notice it.

Dal Makhani Ingredients

  • 2 Cups of black whole dal (urad dal)
  • 1/2 cup of kidney beans (rajma)
  • 1/4 cup of split channa dal
  • 150g of tomato puree
  • 2 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp of coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp of black pepper
  • 1 tsp of garam masala
  • 1 tsp of dried fenugreek (methi) leaves
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • 3 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 4 thumb pieces of ginger
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 2 fresh green chillies
  • 30g butter
  • 100ml of fresh cream

Method

1. Thoroughly wash the dals and kidney beans (rajma)  in cold water until the water runs clear. Soak in a bowl of water overnight.

2. Wash the dal once more then add them to a pressure cooker along with 6 cups of water and cook for 5 whistles. If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can simply cook them overnight in a slow cooker overnight.

3. The lentils should now be cooked and relatively soft. Mash them roughly with a potato masher to break them down slightly. This helps to speed up the creation of that creamy texture.

4. Using a pestle and mortar or food processor grind the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek leaves, black pepper and dried red chillies into a fine powder.

5. Combine the garlic and ginger into paste along with a little water in either a pestle and mortar or food processor.

6. Add the dal to the slow cooker along with the water they cooked in.

7. Stir in the spice mixture from point 4, the ginger and garlic paste from 5, the tomato puree, salt, butter and fresh green chillies (cut in half). There should be at least an inch of the cooking water above the dal at this stage. If it looks a little too watery then it is probably perfect. If not add a little more water.

8. Cook in the slow cooker for at least 6 hours on a medium heat, ideally for 12 hours on a low heat. You can’t really over cook this dal, the longer the better.

9. Before serving stir in the cream and serve with freshly chopped coriander leaves.

As with all dal dishes this tastes even better the next day as the flavours have even more time to mingle with each other. The recipe above makes enough to serve about 8 people so if you need less simply half the recipe.

This dal freezes very well so I usually make a large batch and before adding the cream separate out any that I want to freeze into an air tight container. To reheat simple add the frozen dal to a pan and heat over a low flame until hot and cooked through.

 

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How to Make Chilli Flakes

December 16, 2013
How to Make Chilli Powder/Flakes

Making your own chilli flakes or powder is very simple and perhaps the easiest way to use up a glut of ripe chillies. Of course if you have a food dehydrator then you can use this however it is just as easy to make chilli powder or flakes with a regular domestic oven. I usually […]

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Harvesting Chillies In December

December 8, 2013
Harvesting In December

This year’s best performing plants have definitely been the Aji Lemons. The indoor plants haven’t stopped producing since June producing hundreds of pods each. Even the outdoor plants are still ripening pods despite the recent frosts we’ve been having… Meanwhile indoors the Spanish Naga is finally producing plenty of pods…   In fact many of […]

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Homemade Yogurt Recipe

November 2, 2013
Homemade Yogurt Recipe

Whilst having a meal out the a few weeks ago I was marveling at how nice the lassi tasted. Whether in a Raita or a Lassi, shop bought yogurt just never seems to have that strange combination of creaminess and tanginess that restaurant yogurt tends to have. Yogurt always tastes better in an Indian restaurant […]

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The Worlds Hottest Chilli Pepper

October 24, 2013
The Hottest Chilli Pepper In The World

We often get emails from readers asking what the hottest chilli pepper in the world is. There is always much debate from chilli heads around the world about what is the hottest variety. The Chilli Pepper Institute at the New Mexico State University is renowned as being the worlds leading research body in all matters […]

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Aji Lemon & Mango Sauce Recipe

October 21, 2013
Aji Lemon & Mango Sauce Recipe

I can’t remember where I found this recipe…it’s something I stumbled across online a while ago and i noted down in my trusty notebook where it lay forgotten until a couple of weeks ago. My Lemon Drop plant has been podding like crazy in our conservatory, producing well over 125 pods this year so I […]

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Demon Red Chillies – Good Things Come in Small Packages

October 12, 2013
Demon Red Chillies

This is the first year I’ve grown any Demon Red (Capsicum anuum) chillies. I wanted a small, compact variety that would grow well on a south facing windowsill and produce lots of edible pods. Anther key requirement was that plant had to look good in order to be ‘granted permission’ to live inside our kitchen. […]

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