Growing Chillis Up North: Success and Failure

What is your most favourite type of chilli?

Mine is pickled jalapeños. It’s something I only discovered eight years ago when I moved to England. Back in Vietnam, I knew one type of chillies. We called it sky-pointing because of the direction the fruits grow (aka upwards). In England, it’s called bird’s eye chilli and known for being hot.

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Bird’s Eye Chilli or Ớt chỉ thiên

Personally, I can’t tell if bird eye is spicier than jalapeño or not. They are just different. However, there is a Scoville scale which measures the spicy heat of chilli peppers. It varies from zero (the level of bell peppers) to somewhere near two million five hundred (for the likes of Komodo Dragon Chilli Pepper and Naga Viper Pepper). According to this scale, bird’s eye chilli could be 100 times hotter than jalapeños. I found that shocking. Perhaps my taste bud is well off.

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Grow Basil, Make Pesto, and More

Do you know how many types of basil there are?

I don’t.

In Vietnam, we often eat all sorts of herbs together either fresh or with noodle soup. I could tell the taste of different herbs apart but I didn’t know all the names. I had no clue if there was more than one type of basil.

The first shop I worked in was a Thai mini supermarket in Newcastle, England. Every Tuesday and Thursday, there would be fresh herbs coming in, and the owner always stressed how important it was to display them nicely and openly. At first, I didn’t understand the reason for all the fuss. They were just herbs. Man, I was wrong. Tuesdays and Thursdays were always busy because guests came in especially for those fragrant leaves. The Thai basil, both holy and sweet, were popular.

If you go to a typical supermarket in England, you will only find Greek basil. They have a lighter green colour. Their leaves are round with a milder taste. Those are the ones that I end up growing. I use them for everything that calls for basil from a Thai sauce to Italian pesto. I know it’s not by the book but I am a go-with-the-flow kind of chef. Actually, I wanted to grow Thai basil this year, but the website I got my seeds from was always out of stock for this Asian special.

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The Joy (and Benefits) of Growing Bee-Friendly Flowers

I always thought of freshly cut flowers as a luxury, something expensive yet does not last. My husband used to buy bouquets for the house, but since I never made much of a fuss over them and eventually said my thoughts out loud, he stopped.

When I first grew plants on my balcony, it was all about practicality. I went for herbs and fruits for our consumption. I did have some tulips, narcissus, and lavenders but they were gifts. I enjoyed having them, and I did take care of them, but growing flowers only became my conscious choice until this year.

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In the spring, Ian and I started a beekeeping course. We learned to keep bees in a biodynamic way so that we could assist them in their honey making and surviving as strong colonies rather than interfering with their activities to get the most honey. As it would take us a year to learn and god knows how much more time to get our place and keep bees ourselves, I looked for another immediate way to help the bees. The answer was as simple as it should be: growing more bee-friendly flowers.

Before the course, I didn’t know that not all flowers were bee friendly. Some industrial bred flowers have complicated petal systems that prevent the bees from getting the pollen. Also, if farmers use pesticide on their flowers, the chemical gets to the bees and could harm them. However, with a quick search, you can easily find lists of bee-friendly flowers for where you live. Our teacher also gave us some seeds so that I could start straight away.

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How to Care for Cherry Tomatoes from Your Balcony

When I was a teenager growing up in Vietnam, I watched this Korean soap opera. I can’t remember the name or much of the plot now, but it’s probably a tragic love story. It almost always was with Korean soaps of the 90s. They are still very popular in Vietnam, but I have lost touch with home television, so I don’t know if the topic has widened.

Anyway, Korean producers have the knack of romanticising small little thing, and in that series, it was a tomato plant. For years, I really wanted to grow tomatoes.

As I became older and moved away, I kind of forgot about the idea until one day. I was given a little box at the supermarket counter. In the Netherlands, when spring comes, supermarkets like AH give out boxes with seeds in some compost. You might not know this but the Netherlands is really into growing food. This little tiny country is feeding the world.

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I humbly try to feed the two of us with my balcony garden 😀

When I took the tomato box home that day, I thought of a fun idea. I brought it to work the next morning and started a tomato pot on my desk. It’s a shame to admit that I neglected it. No, I didn’t come into work at the weekend to water the tomatoes. Even on work days, I didn’t always spare much attention to the plants. Somehow, the pot kept going for a couple of months.

That summer, I left the office. The plants went home with me and were repotted into container three times the size. As the branches grew out, I used a broken chair to support the skinny arms.

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To my amazement, I had some cherry tomatoes later that year. There weren’t many fruits, but considering the lack of care, I was more than happy to see any at all. I have grown more cherry tomatoes with better results ever since.

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