It's easy to grow your own hot chillies in England if you know what you're doing, and sometimes even if you don't.
They taste amazing, transforming food and giving you a feel good factor, and you can easily grow up to a hundred chillies or more each year from a few plants in pots or the ground. They preserve very easily - you can freeze them chopped or whole, and they can also be pickled in vinegar or dried.
Chillies taste fantastic in so many dishes, and I've included the recipe for the Hot Chilli Jelly Jam that was featured in the opening post of this UrbanFood blog. This can be eaten as a relish with cold food, or be used as part of a dish, eg coating ribs, chicken or roasted vegetables, for an extra flavorsome sticky kick. At the bottom of the page I've also included recipes for vegetable noodles, and glazed ribs.
You can grow chillies from seeds, or buy young plants ('plugs') in a garden centre, and be a successful chilli grower (and consumer) as long as you follow some very simple tips.
1. Choose the right chilli plant species for your taste buds. Thai hot is my favourite; you might like a less hot jalapeno. If you want a lot of flavour, but without too much heat, take the seeds out before cooking / eating.
2. Don't plant them too early. From (bitter) experience, I would wait till at least April to even think about sowing seeds. We've planted out seedlings in pots as late as June - and they've thrived through till November. I know that some websites say you can plant seeds from the end of January - well maybe, if you've got a heated greenhouse with special lights. The times we have had great successes, even in relatively balmy Portsmouth, were when we waited until Spring had truly arrived.
3. Give them water. If they're in pots, they need drainage, but they do need water. Don't ever let the roots become waterlogged (fatal), but don't keep them dry or they won't grow.
Choosing the seeds or seedlings should be fun, as is trying out growing all the different varieties. It's easy these days to find packets of seeds or young seedlings in supermarkets and garden centres. Last year I grew (from seeds) a wide variety from April onwards; and I added a few more from the reduced price 'shelf of doom' at B&Q in the summer. (Funnily enough, these discounted, rejected, poorly-looking plants perked up just fine once they'd been given a soaking of water.) I like a nice variety, such as jalapeno, bird's eye and Thai hot.
In the early months, make sure the chilli plants have light and warmth, and I can't really emphasis this enough. This might be on a windowsill, under a cloche or in a pop-up greenhouse. If you have a conservatory or actual greenhouse, so much the better. In late Spring, you can bring them outside and watch them flourish. In Portsmouth, we've had growing seasons go through to the end of November, so planting in April isn't an issue.
We've found through experiment and practice that chilli peppers need watering. Often. It might seem counter-intuitive that a plant associated associated with hot and arid climates needs lots of water, but it's true. The best chillis I have grown in England have been watered liberally, at least every other day during dry spells.
So don't think it's strange to keep bunging water on chillis - irrigation is normal and necessary in their native lands of South America and the East. And think about this: the locals of the Roman period grew water melons in the Saharan pre-desert of Libya, but the water conservation technology that existed then was superb. Archaeologists have surveyed the remains of massive regional networks of damns, cisterns, wadi walls, sluices and terraces. Water matters. Plants need water, even those from hot countries.