Course attended by David Kelly – run by Edible Ornamentals
Shawn and Joanna Plumb are well known to many in the UK chilli scene, having started growing and selling chillies as far back as 2001. Their nursery in Chawston, Bedfordshire now grows a range of ninety varieties of chillies from the mild Poblano to the superhot Carolina Reaper. As well using their produce to produce their own range of gourmet chilli products, they also have a dedicated polytunnel where chilliheads can pick their own chillies.
For some time they have also offered tours of their nursery which also include a brief introduction to growing chillies in soil, however recently they have complimented this and launched a workshop on hydroponics which I was able to attend.
Hydroponics is the system of growing plants in water without soil. Although the term, derived from the Greek “hydro” (water) and “ponos” (work/labour) meaning ‘water working’ was first used in 1937, it is believed that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the first examples of a hydroponic system in use.
Upon arrival at the nursery I was made very welcome by Shawn and offered refreshments. Once everyone had arrived Shawn directed us to an adjacent log cabin on site where the course was to be held.
Shawn opened the workshop by taking us through some initial aspects of hydroponics: the advantages (higher yields, faster growth) and disadvantages of hydroponics (initial set-up costs) offered by it as, and the different growing media need to be substituted for soil with the pros and cons of each.
After this first segment we broke out to have a tour of the nursery and understand the system employed by Shawn for growing the chillies on site. He explained how they use a computer controlled system to supply all of the plants in their polytunnels with the required amount of water and nutrient feed. The system is even sophisticated enough to be able to adjust the concentrations of the feed according to the amount of sunlight being received and the growth stage of the plants. Not something that the average home chilli grower such as I could have at home but very impressive.
Returning to the log cabin the next segment of the workshop was spent learning about the different types of hydroponic systems available. Surprisingly to me, as someone who previously knew nothing about hydroponics, there are many different set-ups available such as Drip, Flood & Drain and Deep Water culture systems to name a few. Almost all of the systems discussed required electrical set-ups because of the pump needed to supply water however Shawn advised that a gravity feed hydroponic system was available from Autopot for those who didn’t want an electric pump system.
No matter what system you choose the key to hydroponics is getting the nutrients correct and Shawn explained the nutrients that chillies plants need to grow, how this balance shifts during the stages of growth and how to prepare nutrient solutions.
At this stage is was near lunch time so we broke for something to eat in the Edible Kitchen, where we were able to order a range of freshly made chilli themed meals made with the chillies grown on the nursery. During the lunch break we able to see the wide range of growing accessories that were available to buy for both hydroponic set-ups and more traditional methods.
Following lunch we reconvened for the final part of the course. This was a hands-on session where we got to prepare some chilli seeds for propagation (which we all got to take them home) before ending with a tasting session back in the Edible Kitchen in order to sample the range of Edible Ornamentals products.
Overall this was a great course for those wanting to know more about hydroponics. Over the three hours that the course lasted, Shawn answered all of the questions put to him by myself and the other attendees. His enthusiasm and passion for chillies was clearly evident and his relaxed yet engaging approach helped the group (who were of mixed knowledge of growing chillies) interact well together.
Bookings for the course (which costs £59) can be made directly from the website