Chillies vary greatly according to variety, from very mild to very hot.
Chillies vary greatly according to variety, from very mild to very hot. PHOTO Contributed

Green Thumb: Hot chillies rock

CHILLIES are a fun crop to grow. They don't take up a lot of space so it's easy to grow a selection of different varieties. They are very decorative in the garden and are an integral part of the cuisine of many different countries.

The fruit usually start out green and can be harvested at this stage. If left to ripen on the plant the fruit will turn yellow, orange, purple, black or red, depending on the variety. The colourful, fully ripe fruit are generally hotter and have a more intense flavour than the green ones.

Chillies enjoy similar conditions to tomatoes and capsicum. A warm, sunny position in a pot or garden bed is ideal. They don't need much in the way of care and attention. They are a warm season plant and can look a bit shabby during winter.

I usually trim mine back quite hard and let them re-shoot in spring.

Chillies make good companions for eggplant, cucumber, tomato, okra, squash, basil, oregano and parsley. They also like geraniums, petunias, lovage, carrots and onions. Keep them away from beans, broccoli, cabbage and fennel.

The heat of chillies varies greatly according to variety, from very mild to ridiculously hot. The hottest chilli in the world is currently the carolina reaper. The trinidad scorpion and naga jolokia are not far behind.

At the mild end of the heat scale you will find the sweet temptation. If you like something with a bit of bite, you might enjoy the jalapenos. They are cylindrically shaped, about 5-8cm long and turn from dark green to red when ripe.

A little further along are the caysan chillies, a fruit about 5-7cm long, turning bright red when cooked.

Habaneros are very hot and have an interesting lantern shape which might be orange, red, yellow or brown when ripe. Also up there at the dangerous end of the heat scale is the birds eye, a short, tapered, red chilli that is only about 2-3cm long. The bush grows to about 1-1.5m tall and bears prolifically.

Chillies are very decorative and make a great gift or table decoration. Sometimes you will see potted chillies that are marked as ornamental chillies. This usually means that they are either extremely hot, hotter than most people might enjoy, or have little flavour at all. They are grown purely for their decorative effect but they won't hurt you if they are eaten (apart from perhaps the burning).

Be careful when handling chillies as the juice can be highly irritating to the skin and the eyes.

If you end up with too many chillies you can always pickle them, just as you would pickle onions or cucumbers. Some varieties can also be dried and stored for long periods.

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