Edible Ornamentals – Introduction to Hydroponic Chilli Growing Workshop

Course attended by David Kelly – run by Edible Ornamentals

Edible Ornamental CabinShawn 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.Edible Ornamental Nursery

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.

Edible Kitchen 2Returning 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.Edible Kitchen 1

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

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East Midlands Chilli Fest 16/17th August 2014

Event attended by Marty Greenwell

The East Midlands Chilli Festival at Newark is the first for the area. For far too long and far too far as is happens, events for chilliheads have either been way up North or way down South, so for chilli fans in the Midlands it was an event that had to be visited.
The CrowdsThe weather hadn’t been super kind for the start of the event with some of the stall holders struggling to keep their marques up, but a bit of wind and grey skies were not enough to keep the crowds away.
Mr VikkisThere were plenty of chilli producers there to show off their wares and let people sample the products. From obvious noobs asking what the hottest chillies are to the seasoned vets soaking up the heat, the UK’s artisans had it covered with a few festival exclusive products if that sort of stuff is your thing.
Chilli WizardsMr Vikki’s, Edible Ornamentals, Wiltshire Chilli Farm, Chilli Wizards, Grim Reaper Foods, Bim’s Kitchen, Capsicana Chilli Co, The Chilli Jam Man, Chilli Wizards, Chilli Alchemist and Chilli Devils will be familiar names and there were a couple new to me such as Crazy Fred’s and the Sauce Shop.
The Chilli Jam ManAlong with the chilli sauces, chutneys, jams, ciders and other consumables, there was the opportunity to buy some fresh chillies from the super hots to the not so hots. Plants were also on sales as well as caterers of the exotic meat variety. Zebra burger anyone?
Exotic MeatsTo entertain the crowds away from the Scovilles were a brass band and on-stage demonstrations from hydroponics to overwintering chillies. For those camping or stopping for the evening, local bands Skin & Bone, Acoustica and Giles Rivers Company are there for the aural delights.
Fresh ChilliesClifton Chilli Club were on hand to oversee the Chilli Eating Competition for the brave (and perhaps foolish) souls that laugh in the face of molten lead and smirk at lava cakes made from actual lava. If that was a little bit too extreme, the Lemon Easting Contest was open to the children and chilli intolerant parents.

On StageWith plenty of parking space and being easy to find (if lacking a little bit in sign posting), it’s fair to say that everyone in attendance was having a good time. Hopefully the festival will have been successfully enough that the first one for the East Midlands won’t be that last so that next year a few more of the UK producers will attend.
Chilli CiderThe festival was on Saturday 16th August and Sunday 17th August at the Newark Showground with evening entertainment and camping available too. If you missed it this time around, with luck Chilli Fiends might see you there next time.

Wristbands are cool

The Great Dorset Chilli Festival Ticket Competition & Info

With the chilli festival season well under way (see our calendar for a list of the various events) there will be plenty of places to go and try out the latest hot sauces, or to challenge yourself in a chilli eating competition. One of the big festivals is the Great Dorset Chilli Festival, which is now in its fourth year.

In conjunction with Chilli Fiends, the Great Dorset Chilli Festival is giving you the chance to win a one day family pass for free entry to the event on either the Saturday 2nd or Sunday 3rd of August (but you will need to travel there under your own steam). All you need do is follow @ChilliFiends and @GrtDorsetChilli and Tweet the following in your Twitter timeline:

“@ChilliFiends @GrtDorsetChilli I will brave the fiery heat. The Great Dorset Chilli Festival 2nd/3rd Aug http://bit.ly/1kvSl4F #iwantowin”

The competition is open from now until the end of Friday 25th July, the winner will be selected at random and announced shortly afterwards.

Need more details on what entertainment the festival will provide? Then carry on reading, we have all the information you need below. Sadly there is no camping over the weekend on site, but tickets can be purchased in advance should you not be a Chilli Fiends winner on the Great Dorset Chilli Festival website, so long as you do so before 28th July.

Great Dorset Chilli Fest

Competition of all kinds is heating up for the Great Dorset Chilli Festival this year, taking place on the first weekend of August in the beautiful surroundings of the Earl of Shaftesbury’s St Giles Park.  From cook-offs to chilli eating, and sauce to plants, professional and amateur chilli lovers alike will be doing battle to take home a coveted red rosette.  For those new to the scene, expert chilli growers and chefs will be on hand to offer top tips and demonstrations … this year’s novices could be next year’s winners.

This year, the Great Dorset Chilli Festival team have once again joined forces with the UK Chilli Cook-off Association to create this regional heat of the national chilli cook-off competition.  The cook-off will be held on the Sunday of the 2 day Festival, and those who believe they can cook the best chilli in Dorset are encouraged to enter.  The rules are simple: teams have four hours to cook a gallon of chilli-con-carne (or vegetarian chilli) from scratch, using their own combination of ingredients and spices.  The winner goes forward to the national finals, with the national winner competing in Las Vegas in the Chilli class of the World Food Championships.  Don’t feel like cooking?  Don’t worry!  The chilli festival visitors will get to taste the entries by paying a donation to the CLIC Sargent children’s cancer charity in exchange for a sampling spoon.

Those with green fingers have already been nurturing chilli plants for several months, ahead of the annual chilli plant competition on Saturday 2nd August.  Amateur growers are welcome to enter their plants into either the open class or the Numex Twilight variety class, exclusively for specimens of this striking ornamental chilli.   Experts from Sea Spring Seeds, Simpsons Seeds and Amateur Gardening magazine will select the winner of each class on Saturday afternoon, and each will be awarded a £50 garden centre voucher.   Meanwhile, the pros, namely Dorset-based chilli and vegetable seeds specialists, Sea Spring Seeds, will be displaying only the very best examples of this year’s crop in the Chilli Plant Exhibition tent.

Often dubbed as the highlight of the day, the Chilli Eating Competition will be testing the limits of even the most hardened chilli-heads.  Brave competitors will subject themselves to ten rounds of increasingly hot chillies, which they have to consume in its entirety before they progress to the next round.  The last man or woman standing will be crowned the winner.  Willing volunteers need to email to request an application form ahead of the event.

For those who like it hot, but don’t like to have an audience, the Tasting Tent will be the ideal destination.  Professional producers will be going head-to-head to discover who creates the best chilli sauces, chilli jam and spicy chutney, and it’s up to the public to decide!  A blind tasting will give visitors a flavour for what is on offer to try and buy from the many stall holders.  Organisers are exceptionally proud to introduce their brand new 2014 Great Dorset Chilli Festival sauce, exclusively created by The Upton Cheyney Chilli Co.  But sauces and condiments won’t be the only things on sale; a huge variety of traders will be selling everything from local cheeses to chilli seeds, and ceramic kitchenware to English sparkling wine.

With all these fresh ingredients on offer, expert chefs will be showing how to use them in the Demonstration Tent.  Focus will be on creating excellent family suppers using chillies, showcasing home-cooking at its best.  New for this year, White Pepper Cookery School’s very own expert on Japanese cuisine will be talking to visitors on Saturday, whilst Christine McFadden of Dorset Foodie fame will be sharing her ‘hot’ tips on Sunday.  Any budding competitors for next year’s Chilli Cook-Off mustn’t miss Cook-Off Organiser, Jon Doody, who will be sharing his insider tips on how to make the best chilli-con-carne.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there will be plenty of family entertainment throughout the weekend; falconry flying displays, fire breathing, and performances by Alfredo the Magician.  For hands on fun, there will be face painting, tree climbing, carriage rides, bouncy castles, and a caricaturist.  For the ‘big kids’, there will once again be a great selection of performers in the music tent, including Dorset skiffle band Quinns Quinney and The Montgomerys.  The beer and cider tent will quench thirsts, with the help of the brand new cocktail tent.

It almost goes without saying that there will be an amazing selection of the very best artisan food producers and spicy street food vendors.  With even more caterers attending this year, there will be something to suit the spicy and less-spicy palate alike; from vegetarian and gluten-free snacks and curries, to gourmet sandwiches and exotic tagines.  If you feel the need to cool off, Dorset-based Purbeck Ice Cream will be on hand with their delicious offering, whilst others will be serving up everything from frozen yogurt to traditional French crêpes.

The development of the Dorset Naga, at one time reputed to be the world’s hottest chilli, has really put Dorset on the map for chilli enthusiasts, so be sure not to miss this fun, friendly festival guaranteed to be Dorset’s hottest event!  Advance reduced price tickets are on sale now, so head to the website to pick one up!

East Midlands Chilli Festival – August 2014

For ages Midlanders have looked North and South and seen half a dozen different festivals compared to the meagre pickings of the area. However, this summer, local growers ChilliBobs Chilli Farm has organised the first ever “East Midlands Chilli Festival” at the Newark Showground in Nottinghamshire!

This event will be held over the weekend of 16th & 17th of August for chilli lovers and non-chilli lovers alike. There will be something for everyone, including the children. As said by Chilli Bob himself: “we want to make this an inclusive event that becomes a true calendar favourite for everybody.”

To achieve this, there will be an impressive line-up of over sixty stalls selling everything from edible plants such as chillies and herbs, condiments and ceramics, to cakes, clothes and street food (spicy and non-spicy).

For a small entrance fee, children will enjoy free entertainment such as face painting, Punch & Judy, bouncy castle, and even a doughnut or lemon eating competition on stage.

For the budding chilli heads, there will be cookery and plant cultivation demonstrations and the infamous chilli eating competition. There will also be the great Chilli Cook-Off, for which the event is a qualifier for the prestigious International Finals held in Las Vegas in early 2015.

On the Saturday, after music all day from local bands and musicians, in the evening there will also be a ticket-only music festival. Here, you can listen to a variety of music until midnight, whilst enjoying the street food and drink and the best the stalls have to offer.

Sunday is the day that the teams will be fighting it out in the Great Chilli Cook-Off. Teams of one to five people have to create one gallon of chilli-con-carne (or con-veggie J ) over a four hour period, which will be judged at the end. The winning and runner-up teams will qualify for the national UK finals in September. The celebrated National winners get the chance to go to Las Vegas for the international finals in November – so get your entry in on the website now!

For those who want to make a weekend of it, there will be camping /caravan facilities in the showground at very reasonable prices.

For more information and to book online, visit:  http://http://www.em-chillifest.co.uk/ for an early bird discount or simply pay at the gate on the day.