Saturday, 31 March 2012

Five Strategies to Cope with the Hosepipe Ban

Yes, from the 5th April many of us will have to lock up our hoses and find other ways to make sure our gardens get enough water. You can find further details of who is affected and exactly what they can and can't do at - in my area it means I can't use a hose attached to the mains to water any plants, fill or maintain ponds or pools, or wash cars or windows. I can, however, still use watering cans and buckets to my heart's content, and run hosepipes from my own stored rainwater or greywater (bathwater etc.). While this won't affect me at the allotment - we have to haul water in cans there anyway - it'll make watering the home garden much, much more of a chore. At home there are dozens and dozens of pots which dry out quickly, most of my fruiting veg which will need water every day, and several thirsty trees which tend to dry out the surrounding areas. At home, we regularly give the garden a long soaking with a hose during dry periods. And even now, it's been a while since we had any rain at all...

So I've been thinking a lot about how to manage things without use of a hose, and in drought conditions when we're not receiving enough rain, and here are the five main strategies which I think can help us all:

1 – Look after your soil
Soil containing lots of organic matter holds more moisture. Dig compost into your beds (or spread it on top and let the worms do the work for you). Try to avoid growing things in small pots, which dry out very fast. As well as physically holding more moisture, a larger pot (or open ground) allows a plant to spread its roots more.

2 – Grow strong plants
Tiny seedlings are much more susceptible to water shortage than larger plants as they have tiny root systems. Grow seedlings on in ideal conditions until they're strong and healthy before planting out. BUT don't let them get too big either - planting out while they're still small encourages young plants to reach down for water and develop better root systems in the long term. Create depressions around plants, to hold water near to them, and keep weeds down to reduce competition. Water deeply a couple of times a week rather than lightly every day - a light sprinkle doesn't reach deeper roots before it dries out, and encourages your plants to grow only shallow roots. Treat plants monthly with biostimulant seaweed extract, which improves their health. Spike and feed lawns now and they'll be that little bit healthier all summer long (and grass is tough stuff anyway, so if it goes brown don't worry; it'll green up again quickly after a rainy spell).

3 – Minimise evaporation
Water during cool weather, or in early mornings or evenings, to prevent evaporation in the sun. Mulches reduce evaporation drastically and a wide range of materials are effective; try woodchip or bark, straw, stones, leafmould, pine needles, grass cuttings, cardboard - anything that shades the soil. Even a thick layer of compost or manure is a good mulch until it is worked into the soil itself. Minimise evaporation on your lawn simply by letting the grass grow!

4 – Save water
Install water butts if you don’t already have them (or consider more if you do), to make the most of any rain. Think about using greywater too, such as water from your bath, shower, washing-up or cooking - just make sure you use a natural phosphate-free soap, in small amounts, and bear in mind that greywater is not recommended for use on edible crops, and should not be stored as bacteria may build up. You can run a hose from your water butts if you install a pump to provide the needed pressure, but your supply may not last long like this. Instead, consider a drip system using a perforated hosepipe buried in the soil – this radically reduces evaporation and maintains a slow, steady supply of moisture right where it’s needed. Otherwise, water economically at the base of plants, instead of wasting water on bare soil or sending it splashing over foliage. Before watering, push your finger into the soil and check for moisture – even if the surface is dry, the soil may still be damp an inch down, and this is usually enough. Bury upturned plastic bottles with their bases cut off just above soil level, to funnel water right down to plants' roots where it is needed.

5 – Use mycorrhizal fungi
Applied to the roots of a plant, this fungus forms a symbiotic relationship which effectively gives the plant a whole secondary root system, increasing root area by around 70%. The fungus reaches deep into the soil and provides the plant with water and nutrients in exchange for carbon, making the plant more vigorous and drought-resistant for the rest of its life! I haven’t tried this yet but I'm thinking about it - it sounds like an amazing benefit, and it’s all-natural, sustainable and British-grown. This article from Permaculture Magazine shows one man's experiments with using it on potatoes - the treated plant lived much longer without watering, and produced much bigger tubers!

What are you doing to cope with hosepipe bans and water shortages this year?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Proud Plant-Mom!

Yes, the bulk of the watching and waiting is over, and I am now the proud and anxious guardian of more seedlings than you can shake a spray bottle at!

We have here...
20 sunflower 'Russian Mammoth'
40 tomato 'Angelle', saved from last year's plants and the ones before - I'll give surplus away. (I was blown away by the germination rate of these. I figured I'd grow six of each generation, sowing ten of each so I'd have extras to give away, and dropped two seeds in each hole just in case... Every single one grew, and every single one has been potted up!)
4 tomato 'Amish Paste'
5 tomato 'Dr Carolyn'
2 chilli 'Ancho Grande' (poor germination from these - I'd have liked more plants)
6 chilli 'Jalapeno'
1 pepper 'Doux Tres Long Des Landes' (all other seedlings - and seeds - eaten by a nasty soil-dwelling pest)
2 pepper 'Kaibi no 2'
2 pepper 'Californian Wonder'
3 pepper 'King of the North'
3 aji pepper 'Dedo de Mocha'
2 aubergine 'Black Beauty'
6 summer savory (to plant with beans on the plot and at home - got very leggy very fast; more light next time)
8 'West Indian Gherkin' (these were tricky to germinate - must sow in the heated propagator next year)
6 'Cornichons de Paris'
3 cucumber 'Moneta' (and three spares)
2 courgette 'Black Beauty'
2 courgette 'Astia' F1
1 pumpkin 'Atlantic Giant'
2 pumpkin 'Big Max'
2 pumpkin 'Baby Bear' (poor germination last year, but they did much better in the heated propagator)
2 squash 'Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato' (and one spare)
2 squash 'Crown Prince'
2 squash 'Butternut Hunter' F1
2 squash 'Waltham Butternut'
2 squash 'Uchiki Kuri'

These are all living indoors overnight, and out on the shed roof in the sun during the day.

In the greenhouse night and day (with the door open in sunny weather) I have...
6 broccoli 'Early Purple Sprouting'
6 broccoli 'Autumn Green Calabrese'
6 kale 'Nero di Toscana'
6 celeriac 'Prague Giant' (made the mistake of sowing these outdoors and got nothing - but they soon appeared when I brought them inside for a few days)
4 brussels sprout 'Green Marble' F1
4 cabbage 'Offenham 2' (spring variety)
4 cabbage 'Primo II' (summer/autumn variety)
4 cabbage 'Langedijk 4' (winter variety)
8 kohlrabi, red, green and giant
4 swedes 'Marian'
4 swedes 'Angela'
8 Swiss chard 'Bright Lights'
8 perpetual spinach
10 celery 'Full White'
large tray peas 'Douce Provence' (for pea shoots)
medium tray leeks; 'Musselburgh', 'Malabar', 'Autumn Giant' and 'Porbello'

Outside, on and around the patio, I have...
2 pots parsley (1 flat, 1 curly)
2 pots coriander
3 short rows mangetout 'Golden Sweet' (and more on the way)
short row lettuce 'Little Gem - Pearl'
short row radish 'French Breakfast'
short row purslane, green and golden
short row mizuna
5 early potatoes 'Foremost'
3 early potatoes 'Charlotte'

Still to join the party, I await:
8 crisphead lettuces 'Balmoral' and 'Webb's Wonderful'
4 kale 'True Siberian'
4 kale 'Sutherland'
9 Jerusalem artichokes
short row carrots, mixed varieties
5 rows broad beans 'Bunyard's Exhibition' and 'Aquadulce' (on the plot)
tray of poppies 'Oriental Dwarf Allegro'
tray of petunias
trough of Chinese broccoli 'Kailan Express'
trough of beetroot 'Detroit 2'
trough of spinach; 'Bordeaux' F1, 'Matador' and 'Picasso' F1
pot of chervil
pot of catnip

Already growing...
strawberries (four varieties... ummmm...)
raspberries (three varieties)
asparagus (variety long forgotten, but I think it's 'Gijnlim')
'Red Spur' dwarf apple tree
'Lilliput' dwarf pear tree
Various herbs: marjoram (common and golden), mint, lovage, sage (common and tricolour), thyme, tarragon, rosemary, feverfew, lemon balm, chamomile, chives, garlic chives, sorrel, horseradish, lavender
basil 'Genovese' (indoors)
perennial 'Daubenton's' kale
perennial cut-and-come-again cauliflowers
Lamb's lettuce/corn salad
Spring onions 'Eiffel' and 'Japanese Bunching Long White Tokyo'
Onion 'Radar'
Shallot 'Yellow Moon'
Garlic 'Provence Wight'

And still to plant or sow this year...
Maincrop potatoes 'Kestrel'
Orache, mixed green, gold and red
French bean 'Delinel' and 'Cherokee Trail of Tears'
Runner bean 'Polestar'
Drying beans 'Pinto', 'Cannellini', 'Dwarf Orca' and 'Black Turtle'
Turnips 'Snowball' and 'Giant Limousin'
Parsnips 'White Gem'
Florence fennel 'Romanesco'
Sweetcorn 'Double Standard Bicolour'
Maincrop carrots 'Autumn King 2'
Flowers: borage, nasturtiums, marigolds, poached-egg plant, cornflowers and calendula

Wowsers. Am I crazy? It feels like quite a lot of pressure when I list them all like this! I think I'll have to keep better records this year and take more notice of how much produce I actually get. I'm sure a few plants - or even whole crops - will fall by the wayside somehow or othe - but I've certainly made a pretty good start! Next job: figure out where I'm going to plant them all...

Monday, 26 March 2012

Green Garlic

At the allotment recently we noticed we must have left a few garlic bulbs in the ground last summer - they were popping up again like little bunches of spring onions. With each clove in the bulb now growing separately, they wouldn't have space to form decent bulbs packed together like this. But this 'green garlic' can be lifted and used just as it is.

Green garlic has a milder, sweeter flavour than mature garlic bulbs, without the bitter edge. Apparently you can occasionally pick it up at farmers markets and posh greengrocers and it's becoming a bit of a trendy ingredient! Some gardeners plant extra garlic just so they can get some early in the season.

I'd never used it before, but wasn't going to pass up the opportunity now. With quick reference to a few online recipes, I sautéd seasoned chicken until just golden and threw in the whole bunch of green garlic, white and green parts, chopped finely, with a knob of butter and a splosh of wine. I cooked this for five minutes or so, finished it off with a splash of cream, and served with spaghetti and purple sprouting broccoli.


Saturday, 24 March 2012

If you go down to the woods today...

Well okay, it's hardly a picnic, but with everything springing back to life after winter there is a lot of free food to be had out there right now.

We went out looking for edible greens earlier this week and brought home this lovely lot - all from within a short walk of home; a mix of stinging nettles, garlic mustard, goosegrass, chickweed, hogweed, dead nettles and ground elder! I'm pretty proud of how my foraging is coming along!

Everyone who was ever a child recognises stinging nettles, the most commonly-used wild green.

Dead nettles look very similar but don't sting - they look sort of softer and less hairy, are generally smaller, and have either white or purple flowers. The leaves are best picked, I'm told, while the plant is flowering.

Goosegrass is that fuzzy stuff you used to stick all over classmates' backs in the playground, otherwise known as cleavers, and abundant around here.

Chickweed is a very common garden weed with teardrop-shaped leaves, pretty little white flowers and a low branching habit, which I am always pulling out of my pots!

Garlic mustard grows tall upright stems in the summer, but now you can already spot its first clumps of leaves appearing. Crush a leaf and it will smell subtly of garlic.

Hogweed is lauded by some as the tastiest wild green. Its large leaves are quite distinctive, and its furled new shoots are apparently delightful lightly steamed and served simply, like asparagus. Must put this on my to-try list...

While many gardeners are plenty familiar with ground elder, you do need to be sure it's ground elder, as water hemlock can look fairly similar (though it only grows in wet places) and that's not a mistake anyone wants to make! Pick the leaves before the plant flowers. (And do, of course, be sure you know what you're doing picking any wild food - not all weeds are edible and some will give you a nasty stomach upset or even kill you. If you're not already familiar with these plants, this page may not be good enough for identification purposes! Try to forage away from roads where plants might be polluted, and be careful where people walk their dogs. Eww.)

So, what to do with a bagful of greens? Like spinach and other leafy veg - kale, chard, collards - all these leaves are pretty versatile and can go in virtually anything you like. Pastas, risottos, pies, stews, egg dishes, cheese dishes, sides, soups, salads (well, don't try eating nettles raw...)

But being the sort of person for whom one challenge at a time is just not enough, I decided to attempt my first-ever souffle. Frugal meets fancy. And here it is!

It sunk a little while I was getting my camera out - it was higher than that when it first came out the oven, honest! It was light and tasty. You could serve it just with toast and/or salad, or with salty meats like sausages or bacon. We had it with sausages and a simple tomato sauce, which was lovely. For a posh starter, make it in ramekins and reduce the cooking time to 10-13 minutes.

Wild Greens Souffle
(serves 4)
  • Butter a one litre souffle dish thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 200C, and in it place a large roasting dish with an inch or so of water.
  • Wash 150-250g foraged greens, and place in a large saucepan with an inch of water and a pinch of salt. Steam until all the greens are well wilted, stirring occasionally to turn things over. Drain them and squeeze out as much water as you can, then chop them quite finely.
  • Melt 25g butter in a pan, and stir in 2 tbsps plain flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then gradually add 150ml milk, whisking all the time, until you get a smooth sauce, and simmer gently for a couple of minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in 80g mature cheddar. Then add the chopped greens, 2 or 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a generous grating of nutmeg, and season well. Stir in 2 large egg yolks.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk 4 large egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks.
  • Fold the egg whites into the cheese and greens mixture, gently and a little at a time. When it's all well combined, spoon into the buttered dish.
  • Place in the preheated roasting dish and water, and bake for 20-25 minutes until the souffle is golden brown and nicely risen.
  • Handle gently and serve immediately!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Pea Tip

Sowing peas is always a silly game here - the mice come and dig them up overnight and I have to resow. Sometimes it's a wonder I manage to grow any at all!

But this spring I remembered that mice are supposed to hate the smell of mint, and since I hadn't cut back the dead stems of last year's mint yet I did so, and scattered the cut-up stems and dried leaves over the soil after I'd sown my peas.

The peas are all up now, with not a single gap in the rows. Hurrah!

There's a tip I'll remember in future!

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Foragers

You may have noticed there was no Wild Food Night post in February - the evening was unfortunately cancelled due to the illness of the chef. So it seemed the perfect opportunity to check out a more local 'wild food' restaurant which has popped up right here in St Albans - The Foragers @ The Verulam Arms. Unlike the Country Bumpkin's once-a-month set-menu event, The Foragers serves a full menu featuring wild foods every day.

The Verulam Arms is a familiar pub to us - we were quite fond of it a couple of years ago when we used to live just around the corner. It first opened in 1853, so it's been part of St Albans for a long time! But it's outside the centre of town, in a quiet area, and increasing competition and changing culture have caused it to struggle time and time again over the last few years. During the five years we lived nearby it closed down and opened again more than a couple of times! And it had just closed down again when 'the Foragers', George and Gerald, met the landlord and told him they were looking for a place to set up a wild food business... The Verulam Arms is still a pub (now with their own beer on tap, and occasional homemade wines and flavoured spirits) but offers a restaurant-style foodservice as well. And I can't believe it's taken me this long to get round to trying it!

Eddie and I started with home-smoked whiskey-cured trout with nettle salsa verde and crispy lardons of homemade chorizo, garnished with crispy fried fish skin and beautiful trout eggs (how's that for making the most of a catch?), and a sprig of goosegrass!

This was a wonderful combination, very rich and flavourful - in fact I would have liked a little more of the lovely nettle salsa verde to temper the richness.

Dave had this pig’s head and rabbit white pudding terrine with tomato chutney, pickled baby carrots and toasted sourdough. He said it was really good, and he particularly enjoyed the pickled carrots!

For Eddie's main course, he chose braised ox cheek with a stilton, wild garlic, roasted shallot and mushroom ragout, and toasted spaetzle pasta. The slow-cooked ox cheek was amazingly soft and tender, and really tasty.

Dave chose battered skate wing with pea purée, goose grass, parmentier potatoes and crispy capers. It looked lovely!

I read once that goosegrass should be cooked to get rid of the hairiness, but actually, served raw like this, the hairiness doesn't really matter, and of course it disappears as soon as you chew anyway. Goosegrass tastes pretty good, and I have added it to my 'to forage' list...

I had venison wellington (the last piece - sorry guys!) - venison wrapped in mushroom duxelle and flaky puff pastry, served with nettle sauce, pommes dauphine and home-grown blackcurrant game jus.


Again, this was wonderfully rich and full of flavour. The blackcurrants complemented the rich wellington really well, the mushroom duxelle was delicious, and the meat was just perfect. I'm always a bit nervous about rare meat, as it can be chewy and I'm not a fan of that, but this was incredibly tender and lovely.

For dessert, we picked chocolate fondants with a white chocolate and hazelnut sauce. There's not a lot you can say about a chocolate fondant, is there...? (Except maybe 'more please'!) But yes, it was just right, and the hazelnuts were a very nice complement.

All in all, a really great meal and a great evening. You can see how much love and care goes into both the sourcing of the ingredients and the preparation of the dishes, and flavours are brought together perfectly on every plate. The atmosphere was pretty busy (and I'm so glad they're busy!) but service was quick and very friendly, and the barman even recognised my name and answered in person a question I had asked on facebook - how's that for service?! Unfortunately it's a bit pricey for us to go regularly, so it won't be replacing wild food night, but I do hope we can go again. And while at our regular wild food nights there's a sense of 'this is what's available this month', seeing the full menu at the Foragers brings home what a huge variety of wild and local seasonal foods (including, of course, stored and preserved foods) are, in fact, available at any time of the year!

Thank you, Foragers!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Winter Heather to Feed the Bees

I've been feeling a bit bad for the bees in our garden - they've been out and about for a while now due to the mild winter but, except for the odd primrose and a few short-lived crocuses, there are hardly any flowers round here for them. And we've just cut down several years' worth of overgrown honeysuckle, which they'll miss. And I can't expect them to pollinate my tomato plants all summer long if I don't look after them in the winter, can I?!

Reading up on the subject tells me all the usual spring flowers are good for bees - crocuses, primroses, daffodils, rosemary, dead-nettles, forget-me-nots and fruit blossom - but when bees come out super-early like they did this year (I saw several in January) these may not have bloomed yet. Early in the spring, pussy willow and hazel catkins can provide nectar, and winter-flowering plants are a great help too - heather, hebe and lungwort are particularly recommended (though I don't see our lungwort flowering yet...)

So when I spotted these little winter heather plants for sale yesterday, I had to get a couple - it's well known that bees love heather, and winter varieties flower extremely early and for a long time. I picked plants with lots of buds, so I knew they still had plenty of flowering-time left in them.

I planted them out today, forking some compost into our heavy soil first, planting them level with the surface, and treading them in lightly. It may be too little too late this year really, but they'll be much bigger and much earlier next year, to feed our precious pollinators.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Charity for the Facebook Generation

In this age of information, I am regularly appalled by the amount of misinformation out there, and the number of people who repeat what they've heard without verifying their facts. Sharing links is one thing - you're just pointing people to an author's opinion. Taking on that opinion yourself and spreading it without even a cursory look at the evidence is inexcusable, and foolish.

You probably already know that a campaign video made by charity Invisible Children has taken the world by storm. The campaign's aim is to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, the leader of a guerrilla army in central Africa responsible for the abductions of up to 66,000 children and the deaths and displacement of many thousands more, and to put pressure on governments (who apparently think the matter is irrelevant) to do something about it. If you haven't seen the video, you can find it here. You'll need half an hour, and tissues.

Not long after the video started trending on the internet, the backlash began - a couple of bloggers pointed out what they felt were flaws in Invisible Children's methods, and an apparent lack of transparency surrounding their finances. You can read all that here, here and here, if you want. Accusations have spread about as fast as the video itself did, and include spending too much on awareness and media and not enough on actually helping people, oversimplifying a complex issue, exaggeration and manipulation of facts, foolish tactics, funding Ugandan militia who are known for their own humanitarian crimes, perpetuating the 'white man's burden' and saviour complex, promoting 'slacktivism' (the belief you might be able to change things by sharing stuff on the internet), over-sentimentality, propagandism, and being 'a scam' - an accusation made without any indication how so. Invisible Children posted this this morning to rebut all the claims made about them - a must-read for anyone who is not sure what to think. (This brief interview with the man behind the film is worth a read too.) For the record, they absolutely deny that they fund the Ugandan military, and their financial records are online for all to see.

But I'm afraid the damage has already been done. Most people see too much in black and white, and will have dismissed the campaign. It makes me furious how some cynics will condemn something when they find it isn't perfect, without recognising the value it has even in its flawed state.

Sure, if you don't want Invisible Children to have your money, don't donate. But don't dismiss the campaign to make people more aware, or to pressurise governments to act. Those are the key things here and they're entirely valid.

So called 'slacktivism' is better than ignorance. Simplification is unavoidable in a short campaign video, and in any focused campaign. No-one's claiming this guy is the only evil in the world or that getting rid of him will solve all of the region's problems - again, he's just the focus of one little campaign, and it's a step in the right direction. The white saviour thing is something we should think about but not a valid criticism. Anyone accusing the filmmakers of making an uncomfortably moving and provocative piece of propaganda has failed to realise that's just the way the world rolls these days. And on some rare occasions, sadly, military intervention is a necessary evil.

Invisible Children, as well as building schools and managing welfare and economic projects, puts more importance on producing media and spreading awareness than most charities. So what? Who says there's only one way to run a charity? I give monthly to a major global charity, but I don't keep up with what campaigns they're working on or where my money's going. Isn't that wrong? Aren't I just giving to satisfy myself, sitting comfortably at my computer, rather than because I see an injustice or feel a burden for someone? If the charity I support, or any other, made moving and rousing films about everything they got up to, less money would go to their causes - but I might be prompted to give more, and more might be prompted to give. It's different, but it's not wrong. Kony 2012 is charity for the facebook generation - it's visible, it's colourful, it's focused, it's exciting, it's dramatic. It's waking whole generations of kids up to the fact that Justin Bieber/being thin/Twilight/Louis Vuitton is not the only thing that matters. I never saw Christian Aid, Oxfam, Greenpeace or Cancer Research do that.

Awareness is so important. I know how it is - everyone's so busy worrying about money and school and work and chores and family that there's no time to think about stuff that doesn't affect them. And there's so much stuff going on in the world we'd never catch up with all of it, anyway. But it's dangerous to assume that foreign issues will never affect us. There's a hell of a lot going on out there - I've been blown away by some of the things that have shown up on my radar since I've had enough spare time and energy to start paying attention. My whole world view has changed (it's amazing how narrow the lens of the mainstream media is, when you look outside it). We must always strive to be more aware of what is happening in the world.

This guy has to be stopped. However much research you do into the situation in central Africa, however complex things are over there, you won't find a reason to justify what he's doing nor to allow it. And if we don't act, that's exactly what we're doing - permitting it. Yes, you and I are extremely limited in what we can do, but I'm not letting the government who represents me - who can do something - turn a blind eye just because it doesn't affect our country. If enough of us put the pressure on, maybe we can change things. Maybe we can't. But shouldn't we try?

You can find more info on Kony 2012 and what you can do here, and a UK e-petition here. There are also many, many more charities supporting human rights, peace and development in Africa.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Overwintered Peppers

As temperatures dropped last autumn, I brought my favourite pepper plant and my only chilli plant indoors to see how they'd last. A friend of mine kept peppers all winter in a south-facing attic under a velux window and they did great - I only have an ordinary south-eastish-facing windowsill, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

The chilli did fine for about six weeks and produced a new flush of flowers, then suffered some ailment and dropped lots of its leaves as Christmas approached - but it has pulled through, put on some new growth, and given me occasional fruits throughout the winter, which has been really nice. (I had to hand-pollinate the flowers, of course - as easy as dusting the centres with a soft paintbrush.) As you can see, it's looking a bit spindly (and one-sided) from less-than-ideal light levels and the dropping of its leaves, but it's doing fine now and producing more and more flowers. If you look closely, you'll see three little chillies on its branches. Let's see how long I can keep it going...

The pepper, however - the 'Dedo de Mocha' sweet Aji type which was wonderful when it finally fruited early autumn - has not enjoyed being indoors one bit. The fruits remaining on it ripened to red in the warmth of the house, which was nice as they'd showed no sign of it outdoors, but when the days got shorter, the plant got taller and taller, reaching for light that I just couldn't provide, and the thing ended up crawling over my curtain rail, producing long spindly branches which it couldn't support, and finally getting very unhappy indeed.

Ah well; you win some, you lose some. If I had a heated greenhouse or conservatory I'm sure I'd have got much better results. I think it's certainly worth overwintering more chillies in future. But the pepper plant has gone in the compost bin now, to make way for this year's new subjects!

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