Chilly Chilli Shed Masterclass

Chilly Chilli Shed Masterclass

There are several ways of getting warm.  We tried three. The first was to make a small fire.L1020490

The second was to eat cake.

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Delicious Victoria sponge made by Debbie Mitchener. The bag of apples is just for show.
And the third was to go into the shed and lick a chilli seed or two and learn a lot more. For our second Grow A Gardener workshop this year, we ran a session on basic seed-sowing followed by a master class by the knowledgeable, interesting and resourceful Raul Couselo.  He grows chillies indoors but it is also possible to grow outdoor varieties in London (bring them in in the winter). Chillies are often difficult to germinate. They need a long period of warmth with a soil temperature of at least 18 degrees C.  Raul has designed a fail-safe seed propagator using a bit of folded cardboard in which you put your seeds, wrap it in a plastic bag and put on somewhere warm.   He gets 100% germination (as opposed to my rate which is about 30%).

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Cutting edge seed propagator made from cardboard and staples. Place the seeds in the recesses , dampen and enclose in a platic bag. moisten the cardboard every couple of days.
Once the seeds have germinated, transplant them to pots and place them on damp cardboard in a mini greenhouse made from a croissant box placed on an electric blanket.

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Raul runs the beautiful Beecholme Community Garden off the Lea Bridge Road
L1020498L1020497L1020511Raul gave us some brilliant tips.

  • Once they have grown and produced flowers, to get more even, bigger and better crops of fruits, hand pollinate with a paintbrush. It’s much easier than it sounds.  Just move pollen from the stamen to the stigma. Use different brushes for different plants to avoid cross-pollination.
  • Soak cardboard beneath pots to keep plants moist.
  • Add good quality soil to water so that you are watering your plants with nutrients. Comfrey is too strong!
  • Prune chillies. They are perennials and benefit from the stress.
  • Save seeds from shop bought chillies as well as your own.They may not come true but you can experiment. You must! 
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Orange Day

Orange Day

We have invented a new tradition: Orange Day.  It was inspired by our discovery that oranges were grown in Hackney in the 17th century in one of the grand houses that used to stand not far away from Cordwainers – Brooke House, in Clapton (who’d have thought?).  Samuel Pepys (no less) was impressed: “Mrs Pen carried us to two gardens at Hackny (sic) (which I every day grow more and more in love with). Mr Drake’s one, where the garden is good and house and the prospect admirable.  The other, my Lord Brooke’s, where the gardens are much better but the house not so good, nor the prospect good at all.  But the gardens are excellent; and here I first saw oranges grow.”

As winter is marmalade and orange season and as February is a pretty dreary month, we thought we could combine all these orange things to cheer us up with an event (and colour) that anticipates spring: a seed swap.  So we made orange cakes, punch, tea and marmalade and gathered in the biting wind to swap interesting (or otherwise) seeds and, perhaps more importantly, those we’d collected ourselves – and so were well adapted to local conditions.

The day was part of Our Grow a Gardener project (funded by Hackney Council), which supports people who want to set up or maintain community gardening projects.  A few alumni from our 2015 course came along, including Raul who had an amazing collection of seeds he’d gathered from a wide variety of chillies, tree cabbage, dwarf tomatoes, giant Greek butter beans, achocha, amaranth and much more.  Our plan is to start a local seed bank, gathering seeds from those plants that have adapted well to the unique east London conditions. In the meantime it was a chance for gardeners with a common interest to meet each other and talk about growing veg in general (Raul has a huge well of knowledge – some of which he was passing on to Derek), or growing in small spaces – yes, you can grow chillies on a windowsill; growing activities for children; how to get a TRA to get going and start a community garden on an estate; where to get wood to make raised beds and how to make orange punch.