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From tiny seeds, spicy plants might grow (if we all keep our fingers crossed)

We’re not particularly renowned for our green fingered attributes in the Wahaca head office. The one thing we do have however is access to a lot of chilli seeds. So, this week, we’ve seized upon the recent bout of good weather and have started up a little chilli growing competition in our secret Soho hideaway.

We’ll keep you posted on how things go over the coming months, but for now, here are a couple of photos of how we got started.

For a small pot, could there be a little overcrowding going on?
You can just tell Oli’s done this before. But will his 3 seed approach pay off?

Of course, like any wannabe chilli grower, we didn’t even think about touching a trowel until we’d watched the incredibly informative musings of our very own chilli expert and his series of videos, which you can find on this very blog.

The line up. The head office’s pots, complete with specially commisioned plastic greenhouses.

Keep your fingers crossed for some green shoots of success poking through the soil soon. The hot money’s on Katie from accounts, but at this stage, it’s anyone’s game.

If you’re growing chillies and have some tips for us, or would like to leave some words of encouragement, please get in touch by leaving a comment below.

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Send us your chilli plant photos and be part of the Wahaca cookbook

Since we opened we’ve been trying our hardest to turn you into green fingered chilli growers with free chilli seeds for over 4 and half million people and counting. The response has been so great with hundreds of you getting in touch to tell us of your tales of growing glory, bountiful crops and the satisfaction of a fully home grown salsa. We even appointed a Chilli Expert from amongst you, to help out with any growing pains and his videos have proved invaluable support for chilli novices around the world.

Now we have the perfect opportunity to celebrate the most artistic horticulturalists in our growing fan club. We want to use your chilli plant photos in our new Wahaca cookbook.

Yes you heard, a new Wahaca cookbook, hitting the shelves in June and you can be a part of it.

So if your image library is an homage to Percy Thrower with all the style of Rankin, email your chilli plant pictures (in as high a resolution as possible) to us at ola@wahaca.co.uk. We’d love to see everything from your first shoots, through to your first chillies and your bumper harvest. We’ll pick our favourites, who will be featured in the book and will each receive a copy when it’s published. One to show the grandkids for sure.

You’d better be quick though, the competition closes on Monday 13th February. Good luck!

Oh, we almost forgot, here’s the serious bit: By submitting your photograph you are granting Hodder & Stoughton and Wahaca a royalty-free, non-exclusive right to use the photograph in print and online, and to archive the image for future use. Got that? Good.

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Tips from the chilli expert #4: Looking after your chillies

Having followed his tips on planting, re-potting and pollinating, you’ll hopefully now have some good chilli shoots sprouting. But Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress and things do go wrong, so we’ve enlisted the help of our official Chilli Expert, Craig McKnight to give you some TLC tips. Over to you Craig.

First things first. As I’ve mentioned before, make sure that you keep the compost moist and not drenched. If you overwater, then this will not help your chilli plants, and will probably kill them. It is best to water them little and often, rather than nothing for ages, and then drench them in a mad panic because the compost has dried out.

If your plants have produced flowers already, then you can give them a helping hand by putting liquid tomato feed into their water for everyother watering. I tend to use it at half the concentration recommended on the back of the bottle. Alternatively, if you search on the internet, there are specialist feeds for chilli plants.

The second thing to watch out for is the enemy of the gardener, slugs and snails. The only surefire way to get rid of these is to check your plants periodically. You can use slug pellets, but obviously these tend not to be organic. However, I have tried a natural product called ‘Slug Gone’, and had very good results from it.

Lastly, everyone gets aphids on their chilli plants occasionally. A natural way to control these is to encourage ladybirds to live near your chilli plants, as they are the natural predators of aphids. You can even buy them from the internet!
Another way to try to control them is to spray your plants with a very weak solution of washing up liquid in water. However, do not use one that is describes as “anti-bacterial” and use one that is fragrance-free. Also, don’t spray your plants when it is hot, or in direct sunlight, as you will scorch the plants, and kill them.

There’ll be another ‘guru video’ shortly giving tips about how to recognise when your chillies are ready to pick. In the meantime, happy chilli growing!

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Tips from the chilli expert #3 Pollinating your chillies

So you’ve crossed everything that isn’t painful, and now your chilli plants have grown big and healthy, and have developed flowers.

Those flowers are crucial, as they turn into chillies when the flowers have been pollinated. However, don’t just rely on Mother Nature to pollinate your flowers – watch this video to see how you can give her a helping hand, and get lots of chillies as a result!

We’re always keen to hear how you’re getting on with your chilli growing, so please do let us know about your successes, failures and any other chilli related news by commenting below. If you have any pictures to share, then you can put them up onto our facebook page.

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Tips from the Chilli Expert #2 Repotting your plants

So, you’ve planted your seeds, waited with baited breath and crossed your fingers, and all of your dreams have come true – Your chilli seeds have sprouted! But before you get ahead of yourself, just hold on a second, you’ve got to make sure you look after them well if you’re going to be rewarded with precious fruit. In the second of our installment of Chilli Expert videos, our guru grower talks you through repotting your plants to ensure you get an even growth. Over to you Craig…

When your chilli seedling has developed its second set of leaves, it is time to pot it on to another pot.

A mistake that some people make at this stage is to repot it straight into a huge pot, thinking that this ok. If you do this, all that will happen is that the chilli plant will grow to fill the pot, but concentrate on producing foliage, but no flowers. If the plant does not produce flowers, then you will not get any chillies!

As a general rule of thumb, your chilli plant should be potted on to a larger pot when the roots start to appear out of the bottom of the current pot. Personally, I pot on plants from a 3 inch to a 5 inch and eventually to a 7 inch pot.

Keep an eye on your plant and water it if the compost looks as if it is drying out. Again, the idea is to keep the compost moist and not drenched. In the colder months, you will find you only have to water every two or three days, but as the weather heats up, you will probably need to water every day.

When flowers start to appear on the plant, you can give it a helping hand by adding liquid tomato feed to the water. It should be diluted at half of the recommended ratio for tomato plants.

Alternatively, you could use one of the feeds that are specifically designed to be used with chillies.

In the next video, I’ll be giving you tips about how to make sure that all the flowers on your chilli plants turn into lovely chillies. See you then!

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Tips from the Chilli Expert #1 Planting your seeds

There’s been huge excitement around Wahaca all week at the thought of the launch of our first ever Chilli Expert video, and we’re pleased to say that the wait has come to an end!

You may remember back in May we started our search for the Wahaca Chilli Expert, and much tweeting, blogging, filming and soul-searching later, we found our man in none other than Craig McNight (It was his increadibly cool surname that confirmed him as our winner!). Since then Craig (or @wegrowourown to his twitterarti) has been busy filming for us, and here is his first video and blog post. Take it away Craig…

Hi and welcome to the first of my ‘Chilli Expert’ videos for Wahaca. In this video I’ll be showing you how to make sure that your chilli seeds have the best chance of germinating, and growing into lovely big chilli plants.

Chilli plants grow best with lots of warmth and sunshine, so sowing in January or February is ideal to give them a good head start to catch lots of rays over the summer months, however as long as you keep them warm and with in some daylight they should grow any time of year.

There are a few bits of basic equipment that you will need. You’ll need a plant pot, some multi-purpose compost, a spray bottle, and obviously your seeds!

First fill your pot with the compost and firm it down. Spray the compost with the spray bottle, but the idea is keep the compost moist, rather than drenching it.

If you are using the Wahaca chilli seeds, snap off the matchstick carefully and plant it point end down into the compost to the mark on the matchstick. However, if you are using your own chilli seeds instead, just place them on top of the compost, cover them with another 0.5cm of compost, and then lightly spray it again with the water spray.

Now what your chilli seeds need are heat and moisture. You can help them along by covering the pot with clingfilm and putting it somewhere warm like a windowsill over a radiator, or an airing cupboard.

Check the seeds every day, and spray the compost again if it seems as if it is too dry. Remember the idea is to keep the compost moist and not wet!

Also if you have put the seeds in the airing cupboard to help them along, take them once they have germinated, otherwise you will end up with weak, leggy plants which is a big no-no!

You can also plant the seeds directly into compost in a heated propagator, which you can pick up for a few pounds online or at your local gardening centre. If you’re doing this, plant the seeds about 5-6cm apart.

Also, be aware that different varieties of chilli seeds take different times to germinate. On average they can take up to 3 weeks to germinate, but some hotter varieties can take up to six weeks, so just sit on your hands and be patient!

In my next video, I’ll be showing how to make sure that your just germinated seeds grow into lovely large chilli plants. See you then!

You can read more from Craig on his own blog, www.wegrowourown.co.uk