We have a chilli shoot!

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We have a chilli shoot!

Avid chilli growing fans may have read about the Wahaca head office chilli growing competition that we launched last week. Well gang, there’s news, we’ve got ourselves some progress. Look at this little blighter:

This tiny shoot is just the beginning of our horticultural journey and as one adventure begins, so another ends. Much like a great circle of life. Some people have recently enquired whatever happened to last Summer’s My Destination chilli off. It was so hyped, it even had its own twitter hashtag, but unfortunately hashtags and twitter followers count for very little when it comes to the nitty gritty of keeping a chilli plant alive. Team captain Alex “Plimiento” Plim explains what went wrong (Please be warned, this post contains images and descriptions of mistreated chilli plants):

“The chilli war is very much alive, and Team Inferno is the team to beat…” These were the final words of the last My Destination blog post, which was published almost exactly eight months ago. Since then, there has been not a hint of an echo of a murmur of a whisper from the offices of My Destination; the chilli war that was very much alive very much died. So what happened? How did the competition end? Did Team Inferno blaze to victory, or were their dreams extinguished by the Vindaloo Vixens?

“We were riding a heat wave of success after our first chilli appeared”, Captain Plimento recalls, “it started with one and then came another, and before we knew it, Hector and The Don were rife with fruit, like little green dreadlocks weighing against their limbs.” And how big was that first chilli? “Oh, it was big alright, but I didn’t get chance to measure it. Team member Will plucked it from The Don’s grasp and gobbled it when I wasn’t looking.”

Full Bloom on August 8th

Annabell Pepper couldn’t even contemplate such cavalier behaviour, for she had to wait another month before seeing the first fruits of her undeniably lax labour. “I just couldn’t understand why Team Inferno beat us to that first chilli”, she looks perplexed. “I mean, I did everything I could; I put biscuits in the soil so they had enough food, I gave them a desk lamp so they had light, and I even watered them once too.”

Soon, the boys registered their first measurement: 57mm. They were understandably proud, and spent the ensuing week making puns about ammunition and guns that only they found funny. This alone would have been enough to eclipse the Vixens’ only entry into the competition, a flaccid fruit measuring 54mm, but their next chilli came out at a whopping 65mm. The contest was destroyed. Team Inferno didn’t even need their final three fruits to confirm their place as My Destination Chilli Growing Competition Champions.

But then the Vindaloo Vixens’ apathetic attitude, barely concealed since Day One, began to infect the entire office. Team Inferno had spectacularly clinched victory, but the thrill that had been the chase turned into a burden that had to be watered every once in a while, occasionally coming in handy as a window stopper. In essence, it became a battle to the death.

Ironically, this battle suited the Vindaloo Vixens much better, and they applied themselves to neglect with vigour. For months the chilli plants withered, until Plimento buckled: “I just couldn’t stand to see Hector and The Don like that, rotting away to nothing as if they were just shrubbery poking through a crack in the pavement.” He decided to pull the plug, which in gardening terms means tossing the plant pots into a wheelie bin.

A chilling image

And that was that, an inglorious end to a glorious competition. The safe money always had been on Team Inferno, of course, but at least the Vindaloo Vixens took part, and that’s the main thing. It’d be untrue to say they gave it their best shot, but without them the contest would’ve been no more than a group of guys growing a couple of plants, and the My Destination office would never have erupted into a fervour of green-fingered activity.

Despite this rather gruesome end to the competition, we’d like to thank Alex and Anna for their chilli growing updates. We hope that the Wahaca head office growers have a little more success. We’ll keep you posted with how we get on over the next months. If you’re growing your own chillies, don’t forget to share your photos with us on facebook.

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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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Chilli growing photos: Our Competition winners

This June will see the launch of our new cook book Wahaca, Mexican food at home, which will talk you through some of our favourite recipes from the past 5 years in the restaurant. And as you may know, we’ve saved a page in amongst these delicious recipes for our most green fingered customers to show off their growing skills.

We had a huge number of entries in our competition (including from far flung outposts of Eastern Europe) and we’ve now chosen our winners, who will all have their picture featured and will receive a copy of the book to treasure when it has been printed. So congrats to Heather Rainbow, Laura Halvey, Rosie Martin, Nick Owers, Michael Anton, Jose-Paolo Roldan, Alistair ban Ryne, Alex Plim and Anna-Lucy Terry. You’re all winners and we’d recommend the book as a early Christmas present for all of your friends. Please send us an email to ola@wahaca.co.uk with your address so we can post a book out to you when they’re printed.

For all of those people who sent in photos that haven’t been chosen, we’re sorry that we couldn’t include you all, but please do keep up the chilli growing and don’t forget to check out our chilli expert’s series of videos for tips to help you along the way. One person who deserves a special mention is Sarah Walker, who sent in the photo below. It’s the first time we’ve seen chillies growing like this. Is that some kind of cross breed? We’ll have to get some seeds from your next harvest.

A new variety of chilli plant?

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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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Growing tension in the #MDIChiliOff

There’s been a flurry of excitement over at the offices of MyDestination.com, where the infighting continues between the boys and girls teams in their chilli plant growing competition, but their efforts are starting to become fruitful. Alex Plim (aka Captain Plimiento) fills us in on their latest developments:

In the unlikely event anyone other than my Mum and Dad is following this competition (hey guys!), you will remember that the last MyDestination.com blog post left our crusaders in a shaken yet resilient state, rocked by a series of devastating setbacks, but looking forward to a more stable future.

For a time, the competition’s progress continued auspiciously at a dogged pace, like a Zimmer frame user heading for the biscuit aisle in Sainsbury’s, while the plants settled into four shiny new pots within which they had been re-housed.  The My Destination office looked on in quiet anticipation, noting the sprouting of each new leaf from stems that plodded ever further along their journey against gravity.

In fact, it was all going so well that Team Inferno decided to christen their plants, and it was thus that Hector Suarez and Don Juan Pablo came to be, like a 21st century Bill and Ben.  But Mexican.  And without arms and legs and heads.  Plant pots with faces drawn on in black marker pen then, really…

But controversy and catastrophe is never far away in the My Destination chilli war.

The Vindaloo Vixens, in a level of disgrace previously thought impossible, chose an especially blustery day to place a defenceless Hector Suarez on a windowsill as a window stopper.  The consequence was inevitable.  In an instant Hector was displaced onto the office floor, strewn across the carpet in a scene befitting a brutal and bloody murder. 

Team member Will was stunned into a shocked silence, leaving Captain Plimento to salvage the disaster and perform an emergency repot by himself.

Following this unfortunate episode, Team Inferno retired into a period of frenzied care for Hector and the Don, while the Vindaloo Vixens slipped into a habit of apathetic neglect, leaving their plants to shrivel into a pathetic, wilting mess.  Captain Plimento briefly considered referring this abuse to charity, before realising no such charity exists, then considered setting up his own plant-care charity, before realising this would be an utter waste of time.

It was upon the return of the Vindaloo Vixen’s adopted captain, Kirsty, from a trip to Dubai that the girls sprang to a sudden and panicked attentiveness.  Oblivious to the surfeit of information on the internet warning against over-watering chilli plants (‘the surest way to kill ‘em’, according to Wahaca’s own chilli growing expert), the girls launched a tsunami campaign against their plants, drenching them every day with enough water to fill Winston Churchill’s bath tub.

While this turmoil was unfolding, however, a far more sinister force was at work: aphids (or, to use its deceptively common name, the greenfly).  Don’t be fooled by the ‘ph’; aphids are the aids of the plant world, leaving in their wake a trail of merciless desolation as they destroy otherwise healthy shrubbery.  In an almighty anti-climax, the entire chilli competition became somewhat nuclear holocaustic.  The aphids attacked the plants, munched their leaves and toppled their stems.  Everything went dead; not just limp, but completely and utterly dead.

And that was it.  Everyone gave up.  They shook hands and moved on.  Team member Will began talking again, and the Vindaloo Vixens stopped being so vindictive.

The chilli competition ended.

But – and this is a big, big but – the faintest glimmer of the slightest shred of hope remained in the form of one formidable man, a man who refused to relinquish his dreams of one day holding a veritable, real-life chilli in his mighty palm.  That man was Stefan, the office’s token German, the very same German who rose to the occasion in My Destination’s previous blog entry and cared for the chilli plants as if they were kin.

Armed with nothing more than a spray bottle containing water and washing liquid, Stefan diligently purged the aphids, bringing the chilli plants back from the brink of oblivion.  It was like a scene from Rambo, except Stefan didn’t have a gun, per se, and he was wearing a shirt.  The plants’ recovery was slow, and by no means absolute, but gradually, to the gormless astonishment of everyone at My Destination, they made their way back to health.

All of which leads to 28th June 2011, a date that will forever remain in the memories of Team Inferno as the day that Hector Suarez, thrice depotted against his will, overcame immeasurable odds and sprouted his very first flower, bringing with it renewed hope for the future of the My Destination chilli war.  More flowers followed, like tiny white light bulbs dripping from branches which bowed under their weight.  Each new morning brought with it another, until each plant swelled with splayed petals.

And then came the day it all went galactic: 22nd July 2011.

If 28th June will forever sit within Team Inferno’s memory, 22nd July will be passed down to their offspring and to future generations beyond that, to be celebrated every year from now until the end of time as a day of monumental significance.  For it was that morning that Captain Plimento performed a routine check on Don Juan Pablo and found, to his deep and lasting astonishment, two and a half inches of firm, spicy goodness in the form of a ripening chilli.
Goodness knows how he, along with the rest of the My Destination office, omitted to notice such a specimen during its growth, but omit it they did.  It took a full week before either team could deal with the discovery and take stock of its earth-shattering implications.

Two things are now very clear: the chilli war is very much alive, and Team Inferno is the team to beat.

You can follow the progress of the Mydestination.com chilli growing competition on twitter, just search #MDIChiliOff.

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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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The chilli growing contest heats up!

Earlier in the chilli growing season, you might have seen our article introducing the chilli growing competition that’s going on in a quiet little muse in Maida Vale. Well things have been sprouting all over the place down there and we’re pleased to bring you their latest update on how things are heating up (Get it?) between Mydestination.com’s Team Inferno and the Vindaloo Vixen chilli growing nuts:

Who’d have known chilli growing could be so exciting? Mere hours after the first instalment of the MyDestination.com chilli war, the competition’s first keen shoot was seen poking through Team Inferno soil, sending the boys into a state of delirium. Having thought this moment would take at least six weeks to arrive, the euphoria was understandable. The fact the shoot looked more like a weed than a sturdy chilli stem was ignored.

In a bid to claw back their disadvantage, the Vindaloo Vixens took their pots into hiding, only to return them to the office shelf a few days later sporting a worrying amount of mould around the cardboard seed sticks. The situation looked bleak. Against these odds, however, and with a little inspiration from Team Inferno’s techniques, the girls’ pots soon featured an infantile shoot too, and then another, and another, until all four pots were awash with greenery, and the MyDestination office was a happy place once again.

But the harmony was short-lived.

On the 5th of April at approximately 10:32hrs, Team Inferno dedicate Will reported a crime on the street, where Captain Plimento had placed his team’s chillies in a bid to catch some direct sunlight. Some jobs-worth had taken a swing at the defenceless pots, leaving pot number four soilless and pot number three shaken. The shoots didn’t catch sight of the culprit before he fled, and neither did Will.

‘Scandal!’ they cried. It was a blatant act of sabotage; salvaged from the wreckage was a long, straggly hair and an elastic hair bobble. The Vixens vehemently deny any wrongdoing, and have pointed a well-manicured finger towards the street’s dogs. The investigation is on-going.

Courageously, Team Inferno overcame their shock by picking the traumatised baby shoots from the destruction and re-planting them in fresh soil. With a significant amount of TLC and cuddles over the ensuing days, the roots re-established themselves, and soon all the plants began sprouting leaves at a herculean rate.

It was around this time that Captain Plimento took a holiday, for the stress of the chilli competition had taken significant toll upon him. On his return he learnt that Stefan, the office’s token German, had become particularly attached to the chillis, talking to them daily about current affairs and sports news, and forcibly ensuring they were kept well watered. It was a powerful display of paternal instinct, as if he had incubated the seedlings personally in his very own womb.

The Vindaloo Vixens claimed further foul play during this period: a single upturned stalk that smacked of revenge. No further accusations have been made, however, and the incident is being viewed by the majority as recompense for the insensitive manner in which the Vixens reacted to Team Inferno’s previous misfortune.

The chilli plants have since faced a tough couple of weeks, suffering from abject neglect over the bank holiday weekends which has left them looking pathetically wilted and weak, and demanding of them another fight for life that belies their nonconfrontational nature. It’s difficult to imagine there ever having been a chilli plant which has gone through quite as much undeserved trauma as these plucky survivors….

Tune in next time, or follow the live updates on twitter by searching for #MDIChiliOff to hear if the growing competition turns fruitful.

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It’s war! The chilli growing contest kicks off

A few weeks ago we spotted a tweet by @AnnaLucyT announcing that they were going to hold a chilli growing war in their office. Following the trends of the day, we thought it was only right to step in, and we agreed to arm them with all the chilli growing ammunition they required. In return we asked the avid chilli growers over at the offices of MyDestinationInfo.com to share their stories and photos with us so that we could all keep abreast of their growing challenge.

Here are our team captains – Anna Lucy Terry (Or AnnaBell Pepper) of the “Vindaloo Vixens” and Alex Plim (Or Captain Plimiento) of “Team Inferno”.

You can follow their updates live on twitter by checking out #MDIChiliOff, but here’s their first account of what’s going down in a sunny office in Maida Vale:

The first few days of the MyDestinationInfo.com Chilli Competition have seen a convivial office full of goodwill and friendships descend into near-anarchy, as whispers of underhand tactics, jealously and conspiratorial plots have circulated the desks.

Captain AnnaBell Pepper’s “Vindaloo Vixens” took a fairly indifferent approach to the potting process, relying upon rival Captain Plimento to prepare each tub for them so that they didn’t have to get their nails dirty. Captain BellPepper then decided to lavishly drench her tubs in water from a plastic beaker, while Team Inferno used a spray bottle from a pound shop to moisten their soil (having understood this was the right thing to do from their Wahaca blog research.)

It was the girls who then took the initiative and led the planting process, deciding on a stick formation (one seed in each corner and one in the centre) that the boys promptly copied, before slyly changing one of their pots to a circular pattern, hoping that this variance might place them ahead in the long run.

Both teams then decided to cover their pots in cling film – a tip that the Vindaloo Vixens had heard and failed to keep quiet – in an attempt to create miniature greenhouses that encourage seed germination. Captain Plimento went one step further deciding to source a couple of shower caps from his personal collection which he placed over his pots and secured with elastic bands to keep them airtight.

The Vindaloo Vixens keep their chilli pots on the office windowsill, while Team Inferno have made the first truly bold move of the competition by keeping their plants perched on an electric heater (which is completely safe, we hope…). They have since consulted a specialist chilli guru who has scared the team by suggesting this could bake the chilli seeds (presumably a bad thing.) Only time will tell whether this decision is inspired or tragically misguided.

At this stage it is impossible to tell which team is edging the lead. Captain Plimento nearly dropped one of his pots while in transit today, which he is trying to keep quiet in case it has had a malign effect on his team’s chillies. He feels pretty bad about this. Otherwise, there is little difference between the two teams; each pot just looks like a mound of dirt.

Keep your eyes peeled for more on this growing saga as the summer progresses. If you are growing some of our chilli seeds, please do post your pictures to our facebook page and bask in the glory of our collective adoration towards your green fingered exploits. Our favourites could win free meals at Wahaca. If you want to give some words of encouragement, or advice to this plucky group of chilli growers, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Wahaca helps Gateway Primary School go green

A few months ago now we had an email from Gateway Primary school near Edgeware Road who were looking for ways to expand their Eco-Club. Always keen to help out with community growing products, we eagrely popped some chilli seeds in the post to them and awaited the first news of shoots. 

We’re very happy to hear that now, they’re going stronger than ever with green-houses made from plastic bottles helping the seeds on their way through the winter. Here’s what they had to say…

Hello!  We are the Eco Team at Gateway Primary  School and we’re working very hard to make our school a more sustainable and environmentally friendly place!

We have lots of projects going on at the moment such as recycling at school and reducing the amount of energy we use,  but our favourite is our growing project! Last year we grew potatoes and chillies (thanks to our teacher having been for dinner at Wahaca in Covent Garden!)

 Here are 2 photos of us planting the chilli seeds and we were very excited to see shoots appear! 

This led us to think that we could get lots of children and their parents involved in growing chilli plants as we all love spicy food at our school!

So we have started an Eco-competition every week in our school newsletter… and the prize is a “Grow your own Chillies kit!” like the one here! 

We want to say a huge “Thank you!” to Wahaca for offering to provide us with the chillies we need to get the whole school growing!  Muchas gracias!

De nada! We’re looking forward to hearing more about how your Eco-Club grows, and hearing a little about the delicious food you make with those chillies! Please do keep us posted.

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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!