Preserving chillies and tomatoes.

Autumnal abundance is very satisfying but when you cannot eat your pickings fast enough you need to put produce by for the winter. An easy option is to freeze crops but I have a small freezer and prefer not to rely entirely on the freezer. So bottled tomatoes and chilli jam are a store cupboard staple for me.

I have a collection of preserving jars which I use for tomatoes, mostly the clip top type, these are excellent as there is no need to tighten the lid on a hot jar as with the screw top jars, heated air just hisses out. You do need to get hold of new rubber sealing rings if the existing ones looks at all worn, but a cheap rubber ring is a small price to pay for a litre or so lovely homegrown goodness ready to use in the middle of winter. My method is to peel and pack tomatoes into a clean jar pressing down so there is no air in the jar, or fill with a passata or sauce. I then put into an oven on the lowest setting for about an hour. When the contents are just showing a hint of bubbling it is hot enough and you can allow to cool, I have to nudge the setting of the oven up a tiny bit for 10-15 mins to reach the bubbling stage. Too hot too quickly and the tomatoes will boil with messy results. Once cool test that the lid is held on by a vacuum, unclip wire and lift by the glass lid, it should stay firmly in place.

Chilli jam is something I have a real taste for, it goes well with cheese on crackers and in sandwiches. Nigella Lawson has a good recipe based on jam sugar and peppers, but as I have a lot of apples I like to make an apple jelly which then has chilli added.

Basic jelly.
1.5kg – 2kg apples, chopped and put in a big pan, skins and cores included. Add just enough water to nearly cover the apple and simmer for an hour, mashing a few times to produce a smooth pulp.

When this has slightly cooled ladle into a jelly bag over a pan or jug. Do not press pulp but allow liquid to gravity drip for several hours, I find this produces a litre of clear apple liquor. If this liquor were to be heated up with 1 kg jam sugar or ordinary sugar plus a sachet of pectin it will set into an apple jelly on cooling, but I want to spice it up.

Chilli jelly
Get 6 or 7 jams jars clean and ready to fill, check lids, dry jars and lids in the oven.
Heat up the approximately 1 litre of apple liquor and add finely chopped chillies to taste, simmer for a few minutes to soften chillies. I used 12 fresh Aji Limon chillies and included seeds (about 100g), also a juice of half a lemon, some dried chilli powder can also be added now if desired. Next add the 1 kg sugar plus a sachet of pectin or 1 kg jam sugar. Heat and stir until sugar has dissolved and it is nearly boiling. Turn off heat and allow to cool somewhat before ladling into jars, it is very important that it is not put into jars very hot or all the chopped chilli will rise to the top. After about half an hour off the heat the side of the pan should be comfortable to touch and the jelly just beginning to thicken yet still be easy to pour and ladle, a jam funnel is very helpful or just transfer to a Pyrex jug then pour into jars. Tighten lids.

Another variation used the same basic quantities but started by frying in a large pan; 150 grams shallots, 150g red sweet pepper, 150g mixed red chilli (I included some habanero), 3 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp ginger until, all very finely chopped, fry for a few minutes until softened. Then add 2 tsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp fish sauce, and 50 ml wine vinegar.
Thereafter as before, to the shallot mixture in the pan add the 1 litre apple liquor and the 1kg sugar plus pectin, heat and jar once semi-cooled. This is a South East Asian inspired concoction, the fish sauce might sound a bit weird but it adds an umami yummyness, and the sweet peppers and shallot thicken and colour the jam nicely.

Chilli report.

Chillies are always are fairly late to ripen in the Scottish climate even in a greenhouse, many types don’t ripen until October or later, but quite a lot of mine are ready now in early September. As usual I grew too many varieties to give them large pots, so most have been in 3 litre containers. The best performing varieties so far have been Aji Limon, Jamaican Red Hot and Rocato.

Aji Limon has very hot pods with a citrus tang and just four pods were sufficient to make several bottles of spicy yellow tomato ketchup with banana. There are dozens more on the plant so a big batch of yellow chilli jam is in the pipeline, if it works well I’ll post the recipe. This year the Aji Limon has been exceptionally good with really big fruit quite early.

The Jamaican Red Hot has also been early, not quite such a heavy cropper as the Aji Limon but a little goes a long way. I made a delicious dip with this chilli. Simply roast one with a sweet red pepper and chunks of courgette (I used nearly 1 kg courgette) and some unpeeled garlic cloves tossed in a little oil. After roasting for half an hour or so de-seed the chilli and pepper and peel the blistered skin off if it is very blackened, squeeze the creamy roasted garlic out of the skins, then mix everything together in a blender and season. Mix with some sour cream, scoop up with tortilla chips and enjoy, this is great way to use up courgette if you have a glut.

The Rocato chilli is absolutely dripping with lovely looking red pods, a huge number for such a small plant. I have not used any of these yet as I just enjoy looking at it, the foliage is exceptionally healthy looking and I think would be a perfect kitchen window sill plant as it is very attractive and fairly compact. A bit like a spreading bonsai tree but with big red fruit you can eat.

Some chilli plants have remained in one litre pots but even in these little containers they are producing well. Various cayenne types are ripening in these pots, perhaps the most impressive is an unknown type which I know simply as Turkey, because someone sent me seed they had come across while in Turkey. One little plant has about 25 pods, so a couple of these could provide 50 or so, that is about a years supply if you use one a week. It is a thin walled type which should dry easily meaning they would keep well for a long time, hung in a string perhaps. Self-sufficiency in chillies from just a couple of one litre pots is pretty good growing I reckon.

Full on growth.

The summer sun and warmth mean plants are growing apace and in the greenhouse the tomatoes are roof height. Once again the drip irrigation system, controlled by a timer, is  working well and a few main crop tomatoes are ripe already.

What has proved very worthwhile are the early ripening tomato varieties in medium sized pots (9 litre). Though a bit small for a tomato plant they are quite adequate for smallish varieties, which are yielding around three trusses of super early fruit. Most surprisingly, fruit are ripening even on the plants that were cast out of the greenhouse in June. The earliest were Stupice followed by Bloody Butcher , Sub-Arctic Plenty and Glacier. This last variety is actually growing quite tall outside against a wall, with five trusses of fruit forming. 

I am incredibly excited by the growth of my banana which was recently moved from a medium to an Extra Large Air-Pot. This started the season with one or two leaves but now looks like a proper tree with a real spray of exotic looking foliage, AND pups have formed! Four little offsets have sprung up around the main truck so this looks set to be a little banana grove in a pot.

I’m also rather pleased with my onion in a pot just because it is so perfect.

Mid -season update.

The crops-in-pots are mostly still growing apace but not quite ready to harvest. There are plenty of green tomatoes, some of them rather strange shapes, but not many ripe yet.









I am pleased with my onions and leeks in Air-Pot containers, they are bigger in these pots than similarly treated plants in the ground. Giant veg growers produce monster Air-Pot grown onions and this year Mark Shepherd is quietly confident of a world record.

Flowers are being produced in abundance, my agapanthus has filled out nicely and thrown up flower stems for the first time. It split its previous pot and seems to be much better now those vigorous roots are air-pruned.

My hydrangeas have put on a good display despite having been in the same rather small pots for three years. One edible that has just started to yield useful crops are the blueberries, and the mixture of varieties should continue to ripen right through August. The Air-Pot grown bushes have been in large containers since the beginning of the year and look set to crop very well. For the first time some will have to be preserved.


A pair of blackbirds have been helping themselves a bit too freely so nets have had to be deployed.

Coping with cool early Summer.

Even though we are well into June the weather has been wet, windy and cool at times. I am glad the tender plants such as squashes are still in pots in the greenhouse. I find many of the tenderest plants stay in good condition in a 1 litre propagation Air-Pot for a long time without getting potbound.

Sweetcorn barely ripens in a typical Scottish summer so getting plants to a good size early in the summer in the greenhouse really helps them along, The roots continually improve due to the air-pruning. The same is true for sweet potato, chillies and tomato.

Sweet peas have provided a really welcome bit of colour and sweet scent, they are blooming happily in a medium Air-Pot which means I can move it easily now it is in flower.

A Hosta which was divided a year ago has demonstrated the difference between Air-Pot growing verses a ceramic planter. The plant was split in two, one half went back in original pot the other into an Air-Pot of similar volume. Both had the same compost and growing conditions, the half in the Air-Pot now has twice the foliage and ten times the flowers.

An avocado I grew from a stone gathered in Madeira has produced massive healthy looking leaves, could we possibly produce a Scottish avocado fruit in a few years?

Early cropping.

Even though we are still early in the growing season and frost is still possible in Scotland in May I am pleased to have harvested my first early potatoes. These were grown in an Air-Pot potato tower which I planted up in February and kept in an unheated greenhouse. Mid May is a good couple of weeks better than last year when we harvested at the very end the month. I know a second planting is possible in these containers but I thought I would try Sweet Potato for a change, this will be a real long shot in Scotland but it would be a great way to use the potato tower; super-early potato followed by Sweet Potato through the warmest months.

I have been getting good results using Air-Pot salad / seed trays. The broad beans germinated really well in an 8 litre tray, with no rotting as often occurs in the cold ground. I found the roots were easy to tease apart when the plants are about 15 cm tall and one tray gave enough plants to fill a 3 metre row with some spares.

An early sowing of radish has produced absolutely perfect little radishes which are being selectively picked to leave remaining plants space to bulk up, but the early thinings are so delicious the rest will not be around for long. A lovely clean crop with no slug damage or holes in the leaves.

The other pot I am using a lot at this time of year is the 1 litre propagation pot. These are currently filling up with assorted peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweetcorn. The sweet potato plants have also been kept in them and are now ready to go into to 50 litre potato tower. Quite a jump; 1 litre to 50 litre, but that is an advantage of Air-Pot containers, there is no need for small increments in pot size, the roots will fill the entire volume of compost.

Early potatoes and what to pot.

The worst of the winter is past, just about all the stored vegetables are eaten and there is not much to pick in the garden. This time of year used to be known as the Hungry Gap. Extra early crops are especially welcome as they shorten this gap, which is why I try to get a few potatoes ready a little earlier every year. Last year we opened an Air-Pot potato tower at the end of May and got a useful crop. This year I’m hoping to have some ready even earlier. The plants are already well grown in the greenhouse and should survive as long as horticultural fleece is thrown over them on cold nights.

Some ornamental perennials are coming to life including hostas in pots, I was amazed at the solid mass of roots of the old plant I saw when re-potting and dividing last year. After just one season the roots of the re-potted hostas had already completely filled the new pots and were following the pot walls in layers. So, a prime candidate to benefit from the air-pruning achieved in an Air-Pot.








Along with other vigorous rooted plants, like agapanthus, canna and banana, I want to see if air-pruning keeps them happier for longer in a pot. It seems logical that terminating the growth of roots by air-pruning, leading to more branched roots, is better than allowing endless circling and the roots growing layer upon layer around the side or base of a conventional pot. A couple of canna in little 3 litre Air-Pot did well last year and apparently these flower better when they are not over-potted, so they will stay in these for another year.Likewise the agapanthus is being contained by its Air-Pot, this had actually burst its old pot, the new leaf is looking lush. We will see how both these flower this season.


Also lush and pristine is the new growth of the chives, unlike plants which cope with constrained roots, alliums seem to respond well to rich soil and a generous root run and they like good drainage. So I’ve put a little self-seeded clump into a big Air-Pot, lovely Spring greenery close at hand by the back door and hopefully a good show of purple pom-poms this summer.