Page 67 - Simply Vegetables Winter 2020/21
P. 67

                                 Vary Tasty:
Chilli Diversity
with Professor
What to do when a passion for growing starts to take over your life? A case in point. Neil Ferguson (AKA Professor
Pods) cultivates exceptional chillies in
the unpredictable and short seasons of Southwest Scotland for his own brand
of scientifically unique condiments. His problem is the sheer variety and quantity of capsicums required in order to pursue his vision of the perfect hot sauce. Like many growers, Neil’s drive to produce a diverse range of specimen plants can prove draining when it comes to taking care of the essentials - feeding and watering.
Cultivating 50-80 different varieties
of chillies every year, all with differing requirements, inevitably necessitates either Neil’s human touch or a means of feeding that can truly meet each and every plant’s individual needs.
Whilst hand feeding does allow for precision tailoring of feeds, supplements, and watering levels it is incredibly labour- intensive on a crop this varied. In Neil’s own words it “painted me into a corner where I was the only person experienced enough
to do the work”, chaining him to between 400 and 600 plants for much of the season. How then to alleviate workload without compromising on quality or variety?
For 2020 the Prof. put AutoPot Watering Systems through their paces, taking on the wildest range of chillies imaginable to try and find a better way to feed and water. Two 24Pot XL test rigs were set up – one in a glasshouse, and one in a poly tunnel. The
A few of the 1Pot XL modules twelve weeks into the greenhouse trial
 promise of AutoPot was it’s Plant Controlled Irrigation - whereby a simple, power-free AQUAvalve5 in each module tray supplies water and nutrient solution only as and when required by each individual plant.
The reality of life with AutoPots was quickly apparent. “The labour and time savings that AutoPots gave us were game changers. Whilst I like to check the plants and monitor EC/pH values regularly, the plants could be left completely unattended for 4 to 5 days, with no issues at all. Bomb proof reliability”.
Hard labour had been vanquished - Amen. But what of productivity? “The 25 litre XL modules basically allowed the chilli plants to grow colossal. Never in my life have I seen or had 5 – 6 foot tall Habanero plants, yet this seems to be the norm when growing them
in AutoPots. With such a large plant, and with such high node densities of flowers and good fruit set, one can get very high yields per plant. Much higher than with my normal approach.”
Credit for that is also due to the Mills substrates and nutrients with which the plants were potted and fed. The DNA Mills Soil and Cork - a mixture of peats with coir and cork, used throughout the trial - unquestionably helped produce what Neil describes as “some of the most lustrous green chilli plants I’ve ever had”.
Destiny calls for the pods. Even before Neil’s seeds are planted the presumed fruits are pencilled in for melding into scientifically planned sauces. Lots of sauce producers lay claim to a scientific approach but few have credentials as legitimate as those
of Professor Pods. “By training, I’m a biophysical chemist with expertise in how biological molecules behave under different pH, salt concentrations and temperatures. By luck, these are key parameters used
in hot sauce recipe development. The processes we’ve developed allow us to capture the essence of the fresh chillies that were used to make them”.
All being well, 2021 will see chilli fans able to experience the thrill of the grow as well as the taste of the sauces. Professor Pods AutoPot 2020 trial all went on in the public eye, at Threave Garden and Estate in Dumfries - to the great acclaim of visitors. “There has been a considerable amount of interest. The recurrent themes have been people being staggered at the speed of plant growth, their size and the quality of the pods produced”. Threave have been ardent supporters of Professor Pods so special thanks are due to Michael Lawrie (Head Gardener) and Brian McMillan (No. 1 Gardener).
Our immense thanks go out to Neil
for time and energy devoted to his participation, both in the trial and here. Follow his progress via @professorpods and #48chillies48autopots on Facebook and Instagram.
 Node to joy Professor Pods reckons AutoPot grown plants have proved some of the most productive he has ever grown

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